Our very best of 2017

2017 has been another incredible year on the road. In 2015 when we left the Netherlands to see the world we didn’t think we would still be traveling more than 2 years later. Yet 2017 brought some of the most incredible sights in our journey. We want to share them with you in this pretty compact list. Hopefully it will bring you inspiration for travels in the years ahead.

  1. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

We travel to discover something foreign, a culture, a sight, a cuisine which we don’t have at home. Gardens by the Bay is something truly unique, that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. For me it felt like a vision of a future city, green, modern and a perfect symbiosis of nature and people. I could go back there a thousand times, over and over again and to all of you I recommend it as my unbeatable number 1. Don’t miss the light show by the main Super Trees site. More about the Gardens here.

  1. The Kaluts desert, Iran

That’s Jandirk’s  number 1 and the first place we saw in 2017. The silence, the rock formations and the feeling of landing on the Moon made it one of our very favorite sites. Not to mention the beauty of solitude out there. More about the journey here.

  1. Fuji mountain, Japan

Japan as a country has stolen our hearts. Jandirk has been fascinated by their manga, food and culture for a long time but for me it’s a very new love. Japan as a whole is an incredible journey full of surprises on every corner. But if we had to choose a specific place we would say Fuji Mountain. It can be seen from so many different places and it’s so perfectly symmetrical and majestic. We were lucky enough to see a lot of it from many different angles and we somehow can not imagine a trip to Japan without it.

  1. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In 2017 we saw many incredible mosques in Oman and Iran but there was one winner and surprisingly it was in Abu Dhabi. It was completed in 2007 so I didn’t expect more than tons of gold and kitsch. I was wrong, the mosque is breathtaking! Every bit is magnificent, stylish, very thoughtfully made. In the evening it looks like a fairytale palace from Aladdin or 1001 Nights. It’s lit according to the phases of the moon so the color and intensity of the light changes every day. That should give you an idea about the amount of work and thought that went into this masterpiece.

  1. Pingxi mountains, Taiwan

I love mountainous views. Especially at sunrise there is something magical with the morning mist and clouds disappearing in between rays of light. I have to admit that I am not the type of person who likes hiking just for the joy of it. I have to have something spectacular at the top of the peak. Well Pingxi mountains gave us just that, super short, strenuous hike and absolutely magnificent views worth every bit of sweat and fear. About how to get there and exactly what to see go here.

  1. View on Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

I’m not going to lie to you. We were not enchanted by Sri Lanka. We were stunned by the amount of garbage, scary transportation and not overly kind people. But one view stayed with us and it was the one on the Sigiriya Rock. It looked so blissful, so green, so Avatar-like, something we won’t ever forget. Tempted by this sight we actually visited the fortress on the top of that rock. We recommend you guys not to make that same mistake. It’s not worth the overpriced entrance and the slow, tiring walk up in a column of tourists.

  1. Japan in bloom

People tend to think that bloom in Japan means only cherry blossom and cherry blossom is only seen in Kyoto and Tokyo. The truth is cherry blossom is everywhere but just varies in period very much. This spectacle of nature, although very brief, brings Japan to life, pushes locals to celebrate and cherish what's fugacious in life. There are picnics and festivals everywhere and the trees look just breathtaking. After few days when the petals start falling it almost looks like snow. More about where to see cherry blossom here.

Except for cherry blossom we were lucky enough to see plum blossom which is almost as beautiful. It comes before the cherries and it’s more peaceful, less touristic.

  1. Kyoto, Japan

Every bit, every kilometer of it. It’s the city that charmed me the most this year. Kyoto is just pure essence of Japan for me. There is so much history there, so much soul but also plenty of modern, pleasantly weird Japan. I seriously can’t wait to go back there. For more info about our favorite places in Kyoto go to the post.

  1. Montserrat, Spain

No mountains are like those surrounding Montserrat Monastery. They look like sleeping giants overgrown with plants. I still can’t believe that all these times I came to visit Barcelona I didn’t think about coming here. Short trip away to huge joy.

  1. Tea plantations, Malaysia

We are massive tea drinkers and disappointed by tea plantations on Sri Lanka we decided to give it another tea try in Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Although the villages in the tea region were hideous, the plantations made up for it pretty fast. Hills of green, filled with bushes of tea. Unforgettable experience.

  1. Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Already the name says it all. It’s a spectacular location that has a lot to offer when it comes to nature, culture and even modern architecture. Perfect escape from somehow chaotic cities of Taiwan. Every Dutch person will be delighted to hear that the best way to explore the area is by bike. More here.

How much does it cost to travel in Singapore? Our budget and tips

Our budget from Singapore is, by far, the most we spent in a country per day. For low budget lovers: it might be tricky to enjoy your time on budget especially if staying in an Airbnb, hostel or hotel. On the other side if you manage to volunteer or stay at someone’s house Singapore will turn out to be actually pretty cheap.

Over 7 days we spent 821 euro for the both of us. That gives us around 59 euros per person per day. I have to mention that it’s a budget packed with tickets, everyday exploring, not much cooking and a bit of a splurge when it comes to accommodation. Let’s go into details.


Where did we travel?

We mostly stayed in the center of Singapore, we made sure our Airbnb was close enough to walk to most of the interesting spots. Except for that we went a bit outside of the center to visit the Chinese Gardens and the Joo Chiat Peranakan Houses.

How did we travel?

We mostly walked. Thankfully that was possible since our apartment was pretty centrally located. Honestly the highlights in Singapore are not far from each other.

The 32 euros mentioned in transportation include two uber rides to the spots that were further and not so easily accessible. The rest we spent on metro.

Where did we stay?

Accommodation was the biggest part of our budget especially since we decided to splurge a bit. We didn’t want to stay somewhere far away and travel to the center for a long time. We decided that since we were coming only for a week we would treat ourselves. We stayed in a nice room in an Airbnb apartment in a very nice art-deco neighborhood. The room itself was really stylish, cosy and with so needed airco. The apartment less so… It was a world apart: hot, dirty, not really well maintained. It's immediately obvious why we only saw the pictures of the room on Airbnb. Anyway we were satisfied. That luxury cost us 462 euros for 7 nights.

TIP! If you want to stay somewhere nice but reasonably priced the only option is an airbnb or  hotel rooms without windows… I saw plenty of those on booking.com and honestly it took me a while to notice that they didn’t have a window. The pictures almost fooled me…

When looking for an airbnb make sure you check the location as many cheaper spots will be over the border already in Malaysia or really far from the center.

What did we eat?

We mostly ate local food in omnipresent food markets and food courts. Nothing extravagant but pretty good and for a reasonable price. We chose between thai curries, hainese chicken and any other goodies that they had to offer. Few times we even scored really cheap coffee or tea to accompany our meals. On average we spent 13-20 SGD (around 8-13 euro) per time for both of us. In total we paid 94 euros on eating out.

Everything we spent on ingredients for our lunches and breakfasts, which we prepared at our Airbnb, we included in the food section. Whole 97 euros. This one also contains many liters of water that we had to buy during the running around Singapore. I mention it because water was surprisingly expensive especially considering that in such a climate we drunk insane amounts of it. We always tried to look for a food court where water was cheaper than at any convenience store.

How expensive are museums, tours etc?

Good news is that there is plenty to see for free. There is no entrance fee to see the Gardens by the Bay, stunning shophouses’ facades or the Botanical Gardens.

That said there are quite few unmissable spots that cost a lot. National Gallery entrance depends on the exhibition and if you want to see just one or all of them. We paid 60 SGD for us both (around 38 euros). On the bright side you can explore the building itself and its amazing terrace for free which we didn’t know.

For both conservatories in Gardens by the Bay (since we couldn’t buy just one) we painfully said goodbye to 56 SGD (around 35 euros).

All in all we spent 107 euros on entrance fees.

Where did the rest of our money go?

In the 29 euros in miscellaneous and equipment we included printing boarding passes and contact lenses that we bought for JD.

Money- saving tips and tricks

  1. Pay attention where your hotel/ hostel/ Airbnb is. You really don’t want to stay in Malaysia instead of Singapore! Try to stay centrally to limit the transportation costs.
  2. Check out your credit card deals! For paying with Mastercard we got a free ticket to the OCBC Skywalk.
  3. Eat locally! Food at local food courts and food markets is really affordable, not to mention the coffee. It’s a huge difference compared to even a mediocre restaurant.
  4. Take as much water as possible from your accommodation. If you really need to buy more, try local food courts rather than convenience stores.
  5. Try to volunteer! Accommodation is pretty pricey so try to volunteer to limit the costs. Not to mention the benefits of submerging in the local culture.
  6. Enjoy the free attractions. Many spots in Singapore are free of charge. You can see the whole building of the National Gallery including the terrace for free (except for the exhibitions obviously), same with Gardens by the Bay, light show on Supertrees or Marina Bay Sands Mall. Even the Botanical Garden is free. So if you’re staying for a short period of time and you are on a tight budget than maybe think about exploring the free options first.

Exchange rate used: 1 Euro = 1.6 SGD

Some unmissable spots in Singapore

Many told us Singapore can be seen in 2-3 days. Well we stayed for a whole week and I can’t say we saw everything. We were absolutely enchanted with how modern, futuristic and green this little country is. At the same time it’s also very traditional and vibrant with many different cultures put together on such a small area. I’m sure we will go back at some point to discover more secret spots that Singapore has to offer but for now we want to suggest few absolute musts that no one should skip!

  1. Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay are the most futuristic place I have ever seen in my life. The most prominent part are the SuperTrees that are massive man-made trees with their own ecosystem that creates energy used every evening for the most spectacular light show. Those are not the only attractions. There are plenty of other gardens, parks and even lakes to see there. This Avatar-like area deserved a separate post so read it here.

  1. Marina Bay Sands Skypark observation deck

Marina Bay Sands Mall is a pretty impressive spot for all the shoppers. With our tight budget and eyes set up for remarkable experiences rather than things we didn’t spend much time around there. Regretfully we also didn’t spend any time in their hotel in the same building. But we did go to the observation deck which is absolutely unique. It literally looks like a boat on top of a 50-sth store building. How often would we be able to see something like that, right? Unmissable!

The construction itself is mesmerizing but the views top even that. Coming just before sunset we could enjoy the views on the Gardens by the Bay bathing in stunning light. We could even see their light show from above. Priceless.

Above the observation deck there is a huge 150m infinity pool available for people with a bit of a higher budget… hotel guests.

  1. The Little India

Bollywood music cracking from doubtful quality speakers, smell of spices, omnipresent screaming.. yep it’s Little India. Little chaos among the kingdom of perfect order. That’s why we loved it so much. Obviously it’s still Singapore so you won’t spot much dirt but you won’t get Deli belly either. Except for the food and coconut water we loved the crazy colors of the houses, especially the ones of Tan Teng Niah villa.

  1. The Orchard Library

This little, charming library is everything a book-lover could potentially need. It’s beautiful, peaceful, centrally located, it has comfy sitting space, competent workers and lots of books on many different subjects! You can just walk in and sit back with a book, escaping the buzz of the city and heat!! Yep, it has pretty good airco and that’s a big benefit in a city like Sinapore.

  1. National Gallery Singapore

Except for the obvious fact of having great exhibitions the building itself is a gem!! We especially loved the modern atrium connecting the gallery with the former Supreme Court. Going further to the Supreme Court part of the building we found an amazing terrace with spectacular views on Marina Bay Sands.

  1. Shophouses

Singapore has an incredible collection of shophouses. Although Joo Chiat Perankan Houses are the most popular I wouldn’t say they are a must. They are quite far from downtown and in the center there are so many stunning streets with lots and lots of shophouses in different styles and from different periods. Simple, modest houses along Erskine Road are a stunning example of 1840’ Chinese marchants’ houses. For more ornamented ones you should hit Petain Road and for our favorites Emeral Hill Road. Keep your eyes open, they are everywhere!

  1. Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens in Singapore is where local life starts before the heat of the day begins. It’s where people go for running, yoga, tai chi or zumba. The entrance is free except additional attractions like the Orchid Garden, probably the most beautiful part of the park.

  1. Food markets

Singapore can be very expensive so local food courts are little life savers. We especially loved the Indian food that they served but they also had Malaysian, Chinese and even Middle Eastern cuisines. The most famous one is Telok Ayer Market but keep your eyes open for others! They're everywhere!

  1. Apple store

Not a very common thing to put on a list, I know, but the new Apple store has one of the most heavenly staircases I have ever seen! Besides it’s a popular spot to hang out, the upper floor has a very comfy sitting area for the clients… or anyone with an Iphone.

  1. Former Old Hill Street Police station

Definitely one of the most spectacular buildings in the city. It’s impossible to miss those 927 windows with shutters in all colors of the rainbow. I can’t even imagine how marvelous it had to be to live there as a policeman many years ago. Yep there were many living quarters in there. It’s such a shame you can’t really visit the inside since nowadays it’s the Ministry of Communication and Information as well as the Cultural Ministry. I guess the corridors of this marvelous building will remain a sweet secret reserved for the few working in there.

  1. Vertical gardens

Pretty new concept that is already booming in Singapore. Some buildings have multiple outdoor terraces jammed with trees and plants. More and more are joining in placing enormous vines covering whole walls. The most famous ones are: ParkRoyal and Oasia Hotel.

Although we could only enjoy the view from the outside it was such a surreal sight. It literally makes the city center look like a natural jungle rather than a business center.

How to visit the world of Avatar without leaving this planet? Gardens by the Bay

Travelling around the world is a one of a kind experience. That said it doesn’t mean we always see unique sites. Another garden, medieval palace, another Incan ruin. Especially after spending a long time in one country we start to see trends and similarities. But there are rare cases when we see something special. Something absolutely unique. Something we know we won’t see anywhere else, anytime soon. That’s what Gardens by the Bay was for us. A journey to another world, journey to the future. We literally couldn’t help but go back there over and over again. To be honest no words or pictures can quite explain how remarkable the place is… but well we will try 🙂

What are Gardens by the Bay?

Gardens by the Bay are the lungs of this vibrant metropolis. It’s all about nature and humans creating something special around it, not instead of it. The most prominent part of the Gardens are the Supertrees. Those are actually human-made trees serving as vertical gardens, producing energy. It’s a growing concept in Singapore in order to make us live more sustainably and in direct contact with nature. 12 of those giants (25 to 50 m) can be found in the Supertree Grove while the remaining 2 groups of 3 are in the Golden and Silver Gardens.

Except for those there are sculptures, greenhouses, cafes, restaurants and lots of areas to picnic. Although it sounds like a lot, it’s all close together, certainly within walking distance and it’s possible to see the most important sights in a day.

What to see?

Supertree Grove is by far the most breathtaking spot and a must see in Singapore. It’s also an absolute must to come in the evening for the best light show I have ever seen (and I’m a light show freak). It’s free of charge and there are two shows daily at 7.45 and 8.45 pm.

OCBC Skywalk is a 128- meter-long aerial walkway between the Supertrees. It gives a completely different perspective on the trees and Gardens in general. It’s especially spectacular to walk on there during sunset or the light show. It costs 8 SGD (around 5 euro).

Cloud Forest is a greenhouse garden that will take you straight to the Cloud Forests of Peru. The path takes you through the forest and leads you higher and higher to finally end up on a skywalk above the garden. Cloud Forest wouldn’t be complete without a bit of mist and so at certain times of the day (10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, 8 pm) you can see it mysteriously surrounded by it. The only negative is that as a foreigner you have to buy a joined ticket to both greenhouses. It’s 28 SGD (around 18 euro) and considering that except for the spectacular Cloud Forest you are forced to see the mediocre Flower Dome, it’s a bit of a ridiculous price. For me the Flower Dome was like any other greenhouse garden, except bigger.

Dragonfly and Kingfisher lakes are small lakes that are just perfect for a stroll away from the bustling city. Not to mention there are some great spots to just chill out with your market-bought coffee. A bargain considering how expensive cafes are in this city. After a bit of a rest we also appreciated the photographic perspective that the boardwalk along Dragonfly Lake gives.

Bay East Garden is the most calm, chilled out spot, perfect for a picnic with a view.

Except for the spots mentioned above there are few other gardens and sculptures but I wasn’t overly impressed with those so I also won’t recommend them.

How much does it cost?

Gardens by the Bay are free of charge. You can walk around freely in there and also visit the Supertree without paying anything.

OCBC Skywalk is 8 SGD.

Cloud Forest and Flower Dome cost 28 SGD (joined ticket without possibility to buy only one of the two).

Shuttle service costs 3 SGD for a day. In my opinion it’s not necessary.

Best views on the Supertrees and the Gardens

For me the most impressive view on the Gardens stretches from the platform on the bridge coming from Marina Bay Sands’ mall. I got an impression not many people go that way because you really have to know it exists and I never saw it anywhere online. Walking on the bridge I saw the crown of the supertrees emerging above the greenness of the park. It made me feel like if I was seeing a distant land of Avatar that I’m about to visit.

Marina Bay Skypark Observation deck provides stunning views from far above. You can see the Gardens by the Bay in full glory. To get the best out of the 23 SGD (around 14 euro) ticket we went there before sunset to enjoy the beautiful colors of the sun setting above Singapore as well as the light shows both at the Marina Bay Sands’ mall and the Supertree Grove. If you’re not travelling on a shoestring, there is also an infinity pool above the observation deck reserved for guests of the hotel. Judging by the amount of people in robes there, it’s a rather popular spot.

OCBC skywalk gives a unique opportunity to walk in between the crowns of the Supertrees. It’s tough to put a price on an experience like that. One of the best and most original views on the trees and Marina Bay Sands for sure.

Walking around the trees is also a great way to see them in full glory and fully understand how massive they are.