Celebrate Canada150 in 2017!

moraine-lakeMoraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies (Credit: Angsana Seeds Photography)

“Blame Canada, blame Canada!” That’s the chorus of a silly song from the hit animated film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999), which I would sing out loud whenever I hear anyone mentioned “Canada”. In 2017, I might change it to “Go Canada” instead as this is the year that the country with the swoonsome PM celebrates #Canada150 – the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.

Truth be told, there’s nothing much to blame Canada for – not Celine Dion, or Ryan Reynolds, and definitely not Justin Trudeau. Maybe, just maybe the Justin Bieber of some years ago but all is forgiven after his last pretty good album, Purpose.

Anyway, there’s definitely more to Canada than just standout entertainers and hunky politicians. It’s a country long famous for its picturesque gardens, lakes and mountain ranges; exquisite activities such as whale watching and northern lights sightings; and cultural festivals ranging from music and film, to flowers and giant balloons.

A fortnight ago, Musings on the M49 was chuffed to be invited to attend a Canada150 event organised by Trafalgar Asia and the High Commission of Canada. Held at the official residence of the High Commissioner of Canada to Singapore, Ms Lynn McDonald, we learnt from her that there will be all kinds of exciting Canada150 events taking place in almost every key Canadian city and state throughout 2017. So, if there is ever a good time to visit Canada, it is NOW.

Mark the Date – July 1, 2017 is Canada Day!

If you want to be at the height of the C150 celebrations, the date to aim for or plan your travels around is  July 1, the official Canada Day. Below are but a very mini selection of the interesting things you can do in the land of Mounties and Maple Leaves, plus some of the Canada 150 events happening in and around July 2017 in these regions.

ONTARIO (www.ontariotravel.net)
Here’s where you will find the capital city of Ottawa; the country’s largest city Toronto; and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Things you can do here includes shopping/dining in the cosmopolitan cities, seek adventure on hiking trails and waterways, or chill out at lakeside resorts. Canada150 activities include:

July 1: Ottawa – Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill and throughout Downtown
July 2: Ottawa – Interprovincial Picnic on the Bridge
July 26-30: Ottawa – Urban theatre group La Machine featuring larger-than-life mechanical creatures (pictured – Credit: Ottawa2017.ca)
July 28-30: Toronto Festival of Beer
ALBERTA (www.travelalberta.com)
This is where the glorious Canadian Rocky Mountains lie, plus four other World Heritage Sites such as Dinosaur Provincial Park and Wood Buffalo National Park; and also the political/commercial/cultural hubs of Calgary and Edmonton. Most people come here for the Canadian Rockies which offer breathtaking sights in every season. Canada150 events include:

July 1: Calgary – Canada Day at Heritage Park
July 7-17: Calgary Stampede
July 7-17: Edmonton International Street Performers Festival (pictured – Credit: travelalberta.com)
BRITISH COLUMBIA (www.helloBC.com)
In BC, Vancouver is the city most people are familiar with but this is where you will also find spectacular scenery off the beaten track such as Cariboo C0untry and The Okanagan, as well as Whistler, one of the best ski resorts in North America. Canada150 events include:

July 1-2: Bella Coola Rodeo
July 7-9: Whistler Children’s Festival (pictured – Credit: Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane)
July 14-16: Vancouver Folk Music Festival
July 20-23: Victoria Festival of Food and Wine
Whistler Children's Festival
QUEBEC (www.bonjour-quebec.com)
Bonjour! For French culture and style, this is where you will find it in Canada. Quebec City is a World Heritage listed city, highlights of which are its Winter Carnival and Summer Festival, while Montreal has its fair share of classic buildings and modern commercial spaces. Canada150 festivities include:

June 29 – July 8: Festival International de Jazz de Montreal
July 6-16: Festival d’ete de Quebec (pictured – Credit: Quebec City Tourism)
July 14-30: Montreal – Just for Laughs Festival
As mentioned, the above is but a very small selection of events that will be happening throughout the year in Canada. For more information, visit the various websites listed.

For Canada150 events in Singapore, follow the High Commission in Canada (www.singapore.gc.ca) on Facebook (Canadainsingapore) or Twitter (@CanHCSingapore).

For info on Canada tours, visit Trafalgar Asia at http://www.trafalgar.com.
ottawa2017-ca_150                                                                 (Credit: Ottawa2017.ca)

Main Photo of Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies by Ivy Ho of Angsana Seeds Photography.
If interested, you can purchase prints of this gorgeous photo at:

No text or photos from this post are to be reproduced without permission of the blog author.




Cairns: Thrills & Spills (IV)


When in Cairns: When all is said and done, you cannot go to Cairns and not visit the Great Barrier Reef. Just remember that there’re many other things you can do on dry land as well, in and out of the city!

Find Nemo
snorkeling-in-great-barrier-reef_by-reef-magic-cruises-640x425                      Yours truly snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef (Credit: Reef Magic)

One of the world’s seven natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef’s coral reef system is the largest on the planet and a spectacular sight to behold.

There are daily day tours and cruise providers, such as Reef Magic (www.reefmagic.com.au), that offer a host of activities including snorkelling, diving, glass-bottom boat rides, helmet dives (note: Not for those with asthma) and even helicopter rides (www.gbr.com.au) where you can admire the vast expanse of the reef from high above.

If you cannot swim or are a poor swimmer like me, opt for a guided snorkelling tour with a marine biologist who will steer you through the waters with a life buoy, and explain and point out things underwater such as clown fishes (“Nemo!”) hiding in sea anemones. If you can dive or swim well enough, take the plunge into deeper waters, where you will get to see a greater variety of corals and fish species.

Embark on a Food Trail
                   English Devonshire tea at Lake Barrine teahouse (Credit: Marguerita Tan)

If you enjoy food and nature in equal measures, embark on a food trail tour to the Anderton Tablelands (www.foodtrailtours.com.au) located south-west of Cairns, where you will learn how regional foods are produced there, while zipping through the Wet Tropics rainforest, dry plains, rolling hills and mountain ranges.

For this foodie, there was no greater joy than feasting on delicious tea and scones in a historic teahouse by Lake Barrine; sampling fresh cheeses and chocolates in Atherton; learning how macadamias, Australia’s most famous nut, are grown and harvested; and tasting over 20 fruit wines, ports and liqueurs at a Mareeba tropical fruit winery.

For more info on this food trail, check out my blog post on it at this link:

On route to the area are many nature highlights including this massive 500-year-old, 50m-tall and 44m-wide Curtain Fig Tree sited near the town of Yungaburra. Simply ask your tour guide to point them out to you (although he would probably do so anyway without your asking!)

l1140962-480x640                      The 500-year-old Giant Curtain Fig Tree (Credit: Marguerita Tan)

My article on Cairns was originally published in TODAY newspaper
 on December 15, 2016.


Cairns: Thrills & Spills (III)

When in Cairns: Yes, there’s loads to do in this Australian city that is flanked by the Great Barrier Reef. Here are two more options:

Inhabit the Island


Sunset as seen from Fitzroy Island (Credit: Fitzroy Island Resort)

Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns, Fitzroy Island (www.fitzroyisland.com.au) is a 99-room tropical island resort with its own rainforest and beaches, located on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Snorkelling is great here as beautiful corals and fish are located close to its many beaches, such as Shark Bay and the scenic Nudey Beach. If you are lucky, you can even spot giant turtles in the waters.

You can also check out the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which nurses injured and sick turtles back to health. There are various bush-walking trails that lead to sights such as a working lighthouse, crystal-clear springs and panoramic views of the Barrier Reef at the summit.

A rare evening storm ruined our chance of catching a gorgeous sunset, but then again simply chilling on a breezy beach with a cold beer in hand and ending the night with scrumptious Australian cuisine at the island’s only restaurant more than made up for it.

Push your Vertical Limit

                              Soar above a rainforest canopy on the Kuranda Skyrail (Credit: Kuranda Tourism)

Kuranda is a picturesque village set amid the World Heritage Site Barron Gouge National Park, and the best way to explore this ancient rainforest is by taking the Skyrail, a 7.5km cableway that glides just metres above the rainforest canopy. (A Diamond View glass floor gondola offers rarely-seen views of the treetops.)

There are three stops where you can hop off and get onto boardwalks and lookouts to take a closer peek at the diverse fauna and flora, as well as stunning views of the 260m Barron Falls and Gorge. Look out for signs that list the guided tours by Skyrail’s Rangers.

For an alternate return trip, hop onto the Kuranda Scenic Train for different viewpoints of the gorge and its waterfalls as it travels through 15 hand-carved tunnels.

To be continued…

My article on Cairns was originally published in TODAY newspaper on December 15, 2016.


Cairns: Thrills & Spills (II)

When in Cairns: There’s more to do than just diving and snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef. Check out other fun activities like the following:

Claim the hunting ground
learning-to-hunt-on-cooya-beach_by-marguerita-tan-480x640                                  Mangrove walk at Cooya Beach (Credit: Marguerita Tan)

Cairns is filled with lovely beaches. At Cooya Beach, an hour’s drive north of the city, you can embark on the Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour (www.kycht.com.au), an educational walk through the beach, mangroves and mud flats, where you learn more about the land and how to hunt like the natives.

Led by an indigenous guide of aboriginal heritage, we were first taught how to spear, before trekking barefoot gingerly through a muddy mangrove swamp. Upon reaching a sandy coastal reef, we looked high and low for crabs, clams and the occasional snail, while making time to embrace the clear blue skies and fresh air. The tour ended at the guide’s home where our catch of the day became our yummy lunch.

Check into Zootopia

Hartley's Creek Crocodile Farm

Feeding time! (Credit: Tourism of Port Douglas & Daintree)

About 80 per cent of Australia’s plants, mammals, reptiles and frogs are unique to the country, and hence the wildlife attractions in Queensland are really worth visiting both for adults and children.

Located 40 minutes from Cairns, Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures (www.crocodileadventures.com) is the best place on the continent to see crocodiles as it has some 4,500 crocs, complete with a remarkable man-made lagoon. It also has an open-concept zoo where you can handfeed a kangaroo or wallaby.

Cute little girl gets up close and personal with a resting kangaroo
at Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures zoo. (Credit: Marguerita Tan)

If you want to see more animals, go to Kuranda Village (www.kuranda.com.au), located 1,000 feet (305m) above Cairns. Its Rainforest Nature Park has a koala garden, a butterfly sanctuary, a bird park and even a “venom zoo”, offering opportunities to see exotic creatures such as Australian tarantulas and cone snails you would rarely encounter up close.

To be continued…

My article on Cairns was originally published in TODAY newspaper on December 15, 2016.


Cairns: Thrills & Spills (I)

There is more to Queensland, Australia than just sun, sand and sea. I had the privilege of finding this out while on a press junket to Cairns last year, on behalf of a local newspaper.

Mention Cairns and most people think that the only thing you can do there is snorkel or dive at the Great Barrier Reef. This could not be further from the truth. From zip-lining through the trees in a World Heritage Site rainforest, to shooting the rapids in the middle of a national park, or hunting like an aborigine on a coastal reef, there are a great many other activities in Cairns that would bring out the adventure seeker in anyone.

Here is how you can go from cubicle rat in whichever country you are in to thrill-seeker in Cairns.

Brace yourself for the river wild

raging-thunder-640x425                                  White-water rafting in Barron River (Credit: Raging Thunder)

For an adrenaline-charged activity, consider white-water rafting. Located 20 minutes from the city, Barron River features rapids of grade two and three. While that means a fair bit of raft manoeuvring is required, it is still suitable for first-timers. Be prepared for a vigorous yet fun, wet ride, and hold on tight. You will need to dress right (covered shoes, no jewellery or mobile devices, etc) for safety — your own and your belongings.

Our raft was manned by a qualified instructor from Raging Thunder (www.ragingthunder.com.au) who ensured everyone got through the relatively strong rapids safely, with time to enjoy the beautiful rainforest surroundings as well as indulging in friendly water fights with people in other rafts. Even a brief heavy shower could not dampen our spirits.

Crown yourself lord of the jungle
         Jungle surfing in Daintree Rainforest (Credit: Blog author’s own)

At Cape Tribulation, about a three-hour drive north of Cairns, lies the World Heritage Site Daintree Rainforest Reserve, which is the gateway to the thrill-filled adventure that is jungle-surfing.

Led by professional rangers from Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours (www.junglesurfing.com.au), you will be harnessed and taken to the heart of the verdant rainforest, where after a short, steep climb, you will get to zip-line across six tree canopy platforms spanning over 350m amid majestic trees and dense foliage. My favourite bit was when we were dangled above a gushing river for what seemed like forever. It was a heart-stopping moment, but one that allowed me to take in the natural beauty of what is a small part of the largest tropical rainforest in Australia.

To be continued…

My article on Cairns was originally published in TODAY newspaper on December 15, 2016.


‘Tis the Season…

Greetings from Singapore – Merry Christmas to one and all across the globe! Blessing  you with the Season’s Wishes & Dreams of Joy, Peace and Hope! May all your days be merry and bright during this Yuletide period and throughout the New Year!

(The beautiful view above of the Singapore Flyer, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and Marina Bay Sands was taken from Aura, a bar and lounge which lies atop the National Gallery Singapore.)

Photo Credit: Marguerita Tan/Musings on the M49


Penang: Night Street Hawkers @ Chulia Street

20161128_203703-640x479When in Penang: “You should book a hotel along Chulia Street in George Town as there’s where the street hawkers will come out at night,” said a friend, knowing what a foodie I am. So that was what we did – a pal and I checked into the Yeng Keng Hotel, a quaint 19th-century heritage building with a colourful facade, which is located just a stone’s throw away from the stretch of Chulia Street – between Love Lane and Lorong Chulia – where street hawkers will roll out their wares on wheels every night.

Have to confess, we had the impression that the entire street was going to be packed elbow-to-elbow with food stalls of every kind, like your typical pasar malam (Malay for night market). That was not the case as we soon found out. But then again, the dozen or so hawkers that were out do offer every kind of food that Penang is famous for and most of them are very good.
l1150766-640x480The first stall we saw already got me excited. Lok Lok is akin to Chinese steamboat except that the food ingredients are skewed on satay sticks. You cooked them in a boiling pot of broth, before dipping it into satay sauce (or chili sauce if you prefer). In Singapore, I knew it as “Satay Hum” and when young, my family and I used to eat it along Keok Lane at tables with pots of broth embedded in the centre. At this Lok Lok stall, customers cook and eat their food whilst standing. Though I was dying to try it, somehow, standing alongside strangers to cook and eat my food did not seem that enticing.
l1150767-640x480Just a few steps away was this Lor Bak stall which caught our eye thanks to the delicious-looking spread of goodies they have up placed front of the cart, plus the fact that the people running the stall were wearing matching T-shirts!
20161129_203451-480x640You can’t go wrong with Penang Chay Koay Teow (stir-fried flat white noodles) wherever you go. This guy was delivering plate after plate as people wait at tables set up along shophouses that have closed for the day.
20161128_204029-640x480Feeling peckish by the time we reached the end of the “food stretch”, we decided to try this Wan Tan Mee (pork and dumpling noodles) stall ‘cos there were many people queuing to order, even from passing motorcyclists! As we all know, if a food stall has a long queue, it is probably very good.
20161128_204217-480x640This old couple works fast and  in tandem. The chap just focuses on cooking, while the wife takes order – and she can remember who ordered what and where they end up sitting – and delivers the end product.After we made orders of a large wan ton mee (MYR4.80) with two sui kau (big prawn dumplings, MYR0.90 each), we popped behind the stall to share a table with an uncle who was already halfway through his meal. Conveniently, there was a fruit stall next to the wan tan mee and so we could order drinks directly from the fruit guy as he came over to take orders.
20161128_204647-640x627And here’s the dish that was worth waiting for (it was hardly 10 minutes if truth be said). The noodles were soft and easy to chew, and the char siew, pork and prawn dumplings were all tasty and nice, enhanced by sliced green chili. Kinda regretted sharing a plate but we did want to try other goodies along the lane…
20161129_203421-640x480As we walked back to the hotel, other hawkers had appeared like this Muah Chee (glutinous rice balls coated with peanuts and sugar) man. It may be just a simple dessert but the guy meticulously stretch each rice dough before flattening it and coating it evenly with the peanut and sugar, before slicing them up into small pieces. At MYR3 (SGD1) per box, it was simply out of this world. So good that we went back to him the next night and bought another two boxes!!
20161129_203220-640x480We didn’t get to see this Apom stall till much later. If we have not bought the Muah Chee, we would have tried this, especially when the lady looks so happy as she made each one. We had some at our hotel breakfast spread and they were very good!
20161128_210227-640x480Be sure to check every side lane off Jalan Chulia as well as you may never know there will be other hawkers setting up shop. Like this Char Kuih Kar, or  Carrot Cake as we called in Singapore, stall tucked somewhere Jalan Carnarvon. This lady was cooking like a boss and we couldn’t resist buying a pack after enquiring what is the difference between adding a chicken or duck egg. “Duck egg has more flavour,” said the lady, which was good enough for us and we simply stood back and watched her cook up our order in exactly one minute. Wrapped in a cone-shaped packet, the Char Kuih Kar was still warm when we eat it in our hotel room an hour later. And it tasted mighty fine.  (You can see her in action via my instagram video at this link: http://www.pictaram.com/media/1393885213402536497_1005347238).

There are many other night hawkers spread over George Town like Campbell Street, but Chulia Street is often regarded as THE food street in Penang. (There are various well-known food shops that only opened in the day for a few hours along the street as well). Worth checking out if you want to try authentic local Penang cuisine. 🙂

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s authorisation.