[THAILAND] o16. DAYTRIP TO AYUTTHAYA

40 miles north of Bangkok lies Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, capital of Ayutthaya Province, Thailand. Ayutthaya Kingdom was destroyed in 1767 by Burmese army who took down the city. Ayutthaya, like Rome, has since left most of its ruins within sight. Officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is its Historical Park, whose ruins were a peek into the kingdom’s past grandeur.

Dia and Ake drove us on a daytrip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. The journey could have taken way longer (by means of Thailand’s inter-city railway) than our tranquil 1.5 hours drive to the country side which I truly enjoyed. Having lived in a city all my life, the drive was akin to entering a timezone ungoverned by conventional rules of time. I was fascinated by farmers in paddy fields seeming to move in slow-motion, accustomed to a lazy pace of life. The last time I’ve ever immersed in such a slow-moving city was during a layover in Mumbai, India, but even then I was concerned by and paranoid of the city’s hygiene. Here I rolled down my windows to let unfamiliar country smells invade my olfactory senses. The experience was truly rural and underrated.

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A stream leading to Chao Phraya, Thailand
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Enjoying this incredibly scenic view while dining on the country’s finest seafood

With Dia and Ake, our tummies were in for a treat. Along a stream that leads to Chao Phraya River, we located Yang Deaw Restaurant, a local eatery well-known amongst the natives for grilled river shrimps.

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A mouth-wateringly good salad with Thai version of the Chinese salted eggs, tossed with shrimps and chunks of chilli
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Steamboat / various fried fishcakes and pork dishes
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Pork in spicy gravy with salted eggs. Thai dishes are just so big on gravy and sauces it’s impossible to go without.

An old lady, aided by 2 others only a decade younger, took our orders, prepared the seafood, grilled the prawns, chopped the vegetables, served the dishes, iced our tea and washed the dishes in a small pantry; hence service was, like everywhere else in the country, slow. Oddly enough, us city-dwellers never for one second lost our patience. I contemplated going to the kitchen to help mince the pork and skewer some prawns.

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Looks ugly here, but this crispy salted fish blew our minds.
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Highlight of the meal: hugeass river shrimps!

Highlight of the meal: river shrimps! In all its fresh glory. Caught right off coast at neighbouring streams surrounding Ayutthaya. When de-shelled, these shrimps were almost the length of my forearm (note: I have long limbs)

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Did I make you wanna lick the screen?

We left Yang Deaw feeling like our lives was complete, then we drove further north, nursing an intense food coma with tonnes of iced tea. One of our major pit-stops was Wat Panan Choeng temple, on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, part of Ayutthaya Historical Park. Fervent Thai Buddhists usually made it a point to journey to this temple to pray for the best of luck on New Years and special occasions. The Golden Buddha statue is known as Luang Pho Tho, who stands at 19meters tall.

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Our Thai friend Ake going about with his prayers by sticking gold flecks on small Buddha statues

 

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Luang Pho Tho @ 19m tall

We were there for a ceremony on that particular day – Thais were flocking in to pray for good luck for the coming year (2015). Fervent Buddhists purchased golden cloth to ‘clothe the Buddha statue’. We purchased one each and handed the golden sashes to a temple staff, who then proceeded to mumble his blessings, before tossing the golden cloth to 3 pairs of waiting hands standing on Luang Pho Tho who would catch the cloth, tie them to the existing length covering Luang Pho Tho. During the ceremony, Buddhist monks would then chant a long series of words in Thai. We joined the fervent Buddhists in kneeling at the Buddha’s feet with our heads bowed. When the time came, the monks and temple staff began throwing the tied cloth back at us and people in the front started pulling the cloth for us people at the back. The cloth went over our heads as a symbol of protection and having us ‘covered’. After we were all draped in gold cloth, the chant went on in Thai for about 5 to 10 minutes, before we returned the cloth and made our donations to the temple.

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Blessings from Luang Pho Tho
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Passing the golden cloth, over our heads

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A room filled with religious statuettes
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Devotees

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The first of my posts on Ayutthaya had touched on aspects of local food and Wat Phanan Choeng. In the coming posts I’ll be sharing on other places to visit in Ayutthaya, including the famous ‘Buddha head in tree‘ featured in many travel guides on Thailand. Stay tuned for more!

Yang Deaw Restaurant
5/1 Moo 4, Tambon Ban Len, Amphoe Bang Pa-in, Phra Nakhon Sri Ayutthaya

Wat Phanan Choeng

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[MACAU] oo4. THE ISLAND IN 20 PICS

Let me take you on a tour of the nondescript: things you won’t see unless on foot, plowing through the city.

“It all takes time and lessons and places, but I’m learning to listen to my restless heart, telling me to “go, go, go!”
― Charlotte Eriksson, Another Vagabond Lost To Love: Berlin Stories

Macau directions
Quintessentially Macau signboards in green and yellow
macau sightseeing
Back alleys and winding roads. Grilled balconies.
Breathtaking views
Breathtaking views
macau wandering
Narrow meandering lanes
macau beauty
Faded walls
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More beautiful from behind bars
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Schools, cathedrals
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Lush green overhanging trees
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Underpopulated
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Kitty Kindergartens
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Pretty neighbourhoods
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Tinted with Baroque influences
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Tall street lamps
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Intimidating names
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Quaint white architecture
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Royal cathedrals
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As homely as it is holy
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Pops of orange
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Mad bloggers on the loose
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Road signs you don’t know how to react to

There you go friends, Macau for you

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[MACAU] oo2. RUINS OF ST. PAUL’S | MUSEUM OF MACAU

Tourists are so darn easy to sniff out. If you’ve been to Macau, you’d know the Ruins of St Paul’s (大三巴牌坊) but a one-sided wall, completely demolished and naked in the back. So the first-timers (like us) would still clamour for pictures with the famed 16th-century complex, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. 68 steps would lead you to the southern stone façade, behind which lies the remains of the original pillars and a shrine. A wee bit of secret: the locals would tell you it’s customary to throw coins into the top window of the ruins from the stairs, for good luck.

From here, you can spot the stone façade, far left. Pretty deconstructed huh?
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As we got closer, I realised it was just a one-dimensional wall. Didn’t stop me from my touristy shots!
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Way to the ‘top’ – 68 easy-peasy steps! And so crowded on a late February weekday, we had to jostle a few elbows outta our way. Since this wall’s one of ’em things you’ve got to check off your Macau Bucket-lists, we made it to the top and beyond. DSCN6352
Girl In Macau Travel Blog

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THE TOP

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The best entitlement of a tourist is not being taken for a fool at stupid pictures. Here I am receiving a scroll from…some great Chinese scholar! (My bad, I can’t even remember names of half of my university Professors.)
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I CAME IN LIKE A CAAAANON-BAAAALLL (way before wreckingball became a thing)

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Next best tourist entitlement: you don’t get judged for meaningless hand gestures in awkward I-don’-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands shots.

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“Look, it’s a road, in Macau”

Signboards Macao St Pauls

Not far from the Ruins of St Paul’s is the Museum of Macau, filled with relics from the time Macau was part of Portuguese empire, and also most importantly these were sacred and holy relics of art. Read: Museu De Arte Sacra = Museum Of Sacred Art.

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The Museum of Macau is located in the famous Monte Fortress, in the heart of the city where the Portuguese first set foot. Being a fortress from where battles were fought and Macau defended, actual live cannons were left behind.

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My hands! were not awkward at all

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I had a hard time saying goodbye to the cannon I grew so fond off. They made a good war relic, and a decent sunbed.
Herein lies the footpath from midlevel (outdoors) to the top of Museum of Macau. Great weather, amazing scenery and good company makes for a fantastic walk.plague museum de macau DSCN6397 Museum of Macau Winding steps Museum of Macau DSCN6400 DSCN6401 DSCN6402
Right at the top is where you see a grand entrance to the Museum. Conventionally, you’re meant to enter from the ground floor. The top floor consists of a garden, a small still fountain, and the fortress formation in which cannons are still located.DSCN6403 Lake Museum of Macau DSCN6406

So the view from the top stole my heart! I loooove the vantage point, though ought to have been scared shitless standing so close to the edge. All I really wanna do is get close to the heart of the city.

DSCN6408 Girl In Macau Macau Sunset Macau Peak DSCN6421 DSCN6423 DSCN6426 DSCN6427Further snapshots from within the Fortress walls. DSCN6430 DSCN6431 DSCN6432 DSCN6434 DSCN6435 DSCN6436 DSCN6437 DSCN6438 DSCN6439 DSCN6440 DSCN6442

Every city I go, I try to get the bird’s eye view. Much like the Eiffel of Paris or Burj Khalifa of Dubai. It pretty much lays the city out at your feet for a much clearer picture than any map will provide you.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

P.S Don’t miss [MACAU] OO1. OF EGGTARTS, GRAFFITI AND ALL THINGS YUMMY

[MACAU] oo1. OF EGGTARTS, GRAFFITI AND ALL THINGS YUMMY

“I looked to the ceiling and told God, “God, next time I want an adventure, strike me with lightning. You have my permission.”
― Kristen Ashley, The Gamble

We were crazy for adventure and found our answer in Macau. The idea came like a flash of lightning. So with one day to spare we grabbed a pair of ferry tickets and bopped our way to the land of egg-tarts, casinos and tea-houses. I expected a whole new environment much like the gambling sitcoms we occasionally glimpse channel-surfing, but Macau is really an amalgam of new world Hong Kong with traditional Portuguese influences. What really amazed us – casinos were entities made of everything shiny, glazed with glamour and all that glitters that is actually gold.

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Starving, we stuffed our faces with the island’s most traditonal Portuguese egg-tarts (or so every store says)
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best portuguese egg tarts

Then meandered the streets of Macau on foot. The air tingles with hope, because most people there were keeping their dreams alive. Making it big at the gambling den, or simply making it out alive.

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Look what we found! Art in the heart of the city.
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macau graffiti

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awesome graffiti macau

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God knows who created these art but they are pretty darn amazing.
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wall have eyes

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graffiti

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colourful graffiti

In Macau, basically, you can find hand-made pastries and cookies every-damn-where. It’s like stores fight for business. It’s what this place is known for, and all tourists are suckers for. We all want to bring a piece of Macau home. Almond biscuits, pork-floss crisps, handrolls. As traditional as it gets. I love their almond biscuit and egg-rolls which are out-of-this world. I have never gone for another bakery’s eggrolls ever since. Especially since Koi Kei makes the best egg-white egg-rolls, ooh lala.

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food in macau

My favourite is still Koi Kei – never have I gone home empty-handed from Hong Kong and he’s the reason why.
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So since we’re on this topic, more food-talk and less sight-seeing! Sharetea in Macau is actually a cafe. The bustling cafe scene in Macau isn’t hipster at all…this is as hippie as it goes. Traditional teahouses, or cha-chan-teng 茶餐廳, which are known for eclectic dishes from Hong Kong cuisine and Hong Kong Western fusion cuisine, are more prevalent.sharetea macau cafe macau

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Grabbing a selfie moment
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Coffee in a twisted cup
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Fried chicken
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A waffle with smoked salmon, salad and potato wedges

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Food’s always the start of an adventure, as Anthony Bourdain puts it well: “I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure”. Every culture has its food norms. Anyone else finds it interesting MacDonalds’ caters to every country’s needs? Here’s a Red Bean pie from Macau. I still miss it.

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Part One here was all about what we ingested plus wall murals we caught (well if I could inhale and live off devouring art I would but unfortunately graffiti is not food). The next one and thereafter’s all about the view, and what essentially keeps people coming to Macau. The mystery of the casinos maybe… I for one enjoyed walking through the Portuguese cemetery, reading headstones of all who’s walked the land and had the means to buy themselves a place here after death. #morbid

Cheers!

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[TAIPEI] oo5. DAZZLING CAFE

Dragging our 20kg luggage through subway stations and streetwalks of Taipei seemed like the best way to work up an appetite. So that day, a native Taiwanese friend, Wesley, met us at the legendary Dazzling Cafe, touted by many food bloggers for their famous ice-cream toasts. And we feasted on this ginormous 3-tiered toast splendidly flavoured with matcha ice-cream and whipped cream! The place was really rather pretty! It’s no wonder their main store and 2 other franchises are really popular hangouts for Sunday brunch and weekday tea-breaks. You actually had to take queue numbers to get seats at the place. Or if you would rather not wait, making reservations in advance would be a good idea.

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This is me sulking when Elizabeth was taking too long snapping food shots, and I was starving. Have I mentioned that they serve really amazing lattes?Dazzing Cafe HongKong 10 Dazzing Cafe HongKong 11 Dazzing Cafe Matcha
Okay now you get to witness how the toast went down: the crispy bread is actually buttered and pre-cut into bite-sized cubes for easy sharing. How thoughtful of Dazzling! And frankly, I loved the toast. It’s so good, we were tempted to order another one.Dazzing Cafe HongKong Matcha Toast Dazzing Cafe HongKong 11 Dazzing Cafe HongKong Food Dazzing Cafe HongKong Hopping Dazzing Cafe HongKong 5

This place was really one of those we-have-to-get-there! places, and in order to check this off our bucket list, we rushed out early in the morning the day we were scheduled to leave Taipei. Wesley very kindly took us there after finishing his duties at work. We were glad we went against the risk of missing our flight home. As usual, no regrets!

“The last laugh, the last cup of coffee, the last sunset, the last time you jump through a sprinkler, or eat an ice-cream cone, or stick your tongue out to catch a snowflake. You just don’t know.”
― Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[TAIPEI] oo4. FAST & FURIOUS

Sometime at the end of last year, I took a fast, furious and fulfilling trip to Taipei with Elizabeth, one of 2 people I’m so thankful to have met at Singapore Airlines, both of whom are no longer there but are always ‘there’ with me. Taipei is all about the night markets, shopping and foodie-hunts whilst making friends with new exciting people with so much to share! Hence Taipei always comes with an “OMG I NEED TO DIET” aftermath (which is never followed through).

It’s no secret – Taiwanese are very welcoming people. Step into any boutique, pharmacy or restaurant and you’re likely to be greeted loudly with choruses of “歡迎光臨!” (lit. Welcome) in bright chirpy tones. Even if you’re the last customer of the day, stepping into Watsons one minute before they’re scheduled to close for the day, you won’t be left to roam the aisles alone with nobody to guide you along. This is why I love Taiwan.

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We did so much on this trip, it’s not even funny. Today I’m just gonna tell you about food. There is this glorious buffet style steamboat place at Ximending – Tian Wai Tian Mala Hotpot – with a selection is sooooo vast and good I could feel my waistline expanding just thinking about it. Desserts are an endless selection of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream, completely all-you-can-eat.

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JUST LOOK AT THE SELECTION! You can take anything, as much as you want, buffet-style.Hotpot selection P1060637 Taiwanese Mala Hotpot Hotpot Ingredients  Taipei Icecream

And of course the ice-cream is for spamming.Ximending Taiwan Ximending Hotpot Taipei Haagen Dazs Taiwanese Hotpot Tian Wai Tian Hotpot Ximending Mala Hotpot Taipei Mala Hotpot Taipei Steamboat

The dizzying selection of soup bases will make you wanna try every single one of them. We tried the non-spicy ones which tasted not too bad.
I think the company was better than the food.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[SANTORINI] oo8. SNAPSHOTS & FLASHBACKS

I have been amassing a copious amount of photographs in these two years, it’s no surprise I’ve had to spend hours filtering through terabytes of memories. My favourites are heavily biased toward those taken in Europe, especially Greece and Santorini, and oh, Belgium and Paris too. I think I take too much pride in good photos I forgot to love the bad ones. Santorini will always hold a special place in my never-ending mental scroll of picturesque sceneries.

SANTORINI GIRL OIA GREECE Breakfast at Santorini Landscape Santorini Sea P1050891

Pictures speak more than a thousand words but there are emotions that words and pictures cannot contain. At this point in time I’m just really glad for all these memories I get to keep long after this phase of my life is gone.

Though I’m gonna miss living out of a suitcase (and a blue handbag, my Longchamp tote and my cabin carry-on), I’ll not miss a lot of things tagged to the cabin crew life.
So, cheers to an exciting new path ahead!

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

10 SECRETS TO GOOD SKIN

Shh… I’m letting you guys in on what I do to keep my skin minimally flawed and young-looking.

I’m not without vices – my lifestyle certainly does a great deal of harm to my skin. Constant travelling, difficult climates, dry-air in airplane cabins, late nights, sleepless days, junk food and irregular meals, social drinking and partying – all these adds to the daunting task of damage-control, and to maintain my current skin conditions.As I get older I’ve come to realize the importance of a good skincare regime. Party season has come and gone. January and February is the time for healing and pampering the skin you’ve subjected to abuse. Over the years I’ve tried many products, methods, and these are the ones I’m gonna keep:

 

1. CLARISONIC for cleansing the skin.
If like me your work requires a high volume of makeup, the highly raved-about sonic skin-care cleansing brushes works wonders unplugging clogged pores. I got hooked onto using my Clarisonic MIA ever since I got mine from L.A. and now it’s a necessity in my day-to-day regime. I get my replacement brushes (you’ve got to change them once every 3-4 months) each time I hit the States, since it’s way cheaper in SEPHORA USA. I don’t use fancy cleansing foams: a respectable store-bought brand like Innisfree, The Face Shop or Laneige would suffice for me. The rotating motion of Clarisonic brushes gives me all the reassurance that my skin is being taken care of.

 

2. SHEET-TYPE FACE-MASKS
At least 3 times a week I engage the usual suspects who take really good care of my skin: 我的心機 (My Scheming Beauty), 我的美麗日記 (My Beauty Diary), Innisfree, Etude House, Laneige, ODBO, Acwell. In under 25 minutes I can get a variety of results depending on whether my skin feels especially dry and tight, or oily and clogged.

I get them from COSMED Taiwan, Watsons Hong Kong, and from the big brands themself in Seoul. Try not to purchase them from online stores as there’re tonnes of scams out there peddling the fakes. Yes! Even face-masks are fake these days.
On days when I do apply my face-masks, I see visible differences.

 

3. SERUM LAYERING
Like lots of people I face the dilemma of deciding which type of serum to use. Well, it never hurts to layer them. I use a good combination of 2 – 3 serums (without toners, because honestly I fail to see the use of toners) from a customised variety. I love Vichy’s Idéalia Life Serum, Laneige’s White Plus Renew Essence, Clinique Smart Custom-Repair Serum and Turnaround Concentrate, Innisfree’s Green Tea Seed Serum, DHC Japan’s PQQ Up-Gel and Vitamin-C Serum, Bio-Essence Radiant Youth Essence etc. Just remember to leave a good 10-second gap between each application.

 

4. OVERNIGHTERS
I never let my skin go dry in the night. After the serum shots I plump up my skin with heavy creams, especially at night. I trust Vichy’s Idéalia Night Cream, Kiehl’s 24-hour Moisturiser, Bio-Essence V Face-Lifting Cream, and Laneige’s White Plus Renew Night Cream. In the day, I rely on just a thin layer of sun-block after the serum.

Confession: I have lazy days whereby I skip all the serum and face masks steps and go straight to sleeping masks. In those instances, Laneige’s Sleeping Mask and Vichy’s Night Detox masks come in really handy.

 

5. COLLAGEN BOOSTS
I’m a big fan of Meiji’s Amino Collagen, but I find it troublesome having to dissolve it for ingestion, and for travellers who don’t always have the luxury of luggage space, powdered collagen is a hassle. Kinohimitsu’s pack-of-6 BB Beauty Drink (Blended Bird’s Nest with Acerola Cherry) is a shot of collagen I take every few months. In between these courses, I try to take SATO’s Hakubi White C pills which are way easier to take around the world with me. Honestly, this seller at Qoo10 sells Kinohimitsu at a way cheaper price than I’ve actually seen in Japanese pharmacies.
A colleague once told me that collagen takes effect from the day you start taking them, so your skin is preserved from the time you begin to ingest collagen. Do yourself a favour and start early! You don’t have to take them everyday but once in a while, the stuff does wonders.

Confession: I dissolve my Meiji Collagen in coffee to replace my milk and creamers.

 

6. TEAS TEAS AND MORE TEAS
My favourite BB Detox Tea from Kusmi Tea is my go-to morning drink (in place of my regular cappucino) after every late-night party accompanied by drinking. Also on my list are Pukka’s Detox Tea from the UK, and Arifoğlu 9-in-1 (Arifoğlu Dokuzu Bir Yerde 9 in 1 Karışık Bitkisel Çay) from Turkey. It’s no secret: green tea, yerba mate, rosemary and thyme are great for your skin in the long run. They also give you plenty of hydration, minerals and anti-oxidants.

 

7. OMEGA-3 FISH OIL SUPPLEMENTS
No way you can do without this. Unless you live in Norway and eat fish for breakfast lunch and dinner, all day everyday. I’ve only recently started to take them on a daily basis and discovered good small changes to how my T-Zones no longer secrete sebum so unwontedly and frequently.

Confession: I love smoked salmon, cooked salmon, fresh sashimi, raw salmon, steamed salmon and salmon with buttered, battered crusts. Basically anything salmon, but I suspect that has little to contribute to good skin in the long run if you’re always eating them pan-fried or oven-baked.
8. MULTIVITAMINS
This is another no-brainer. Without the essential vitamins your body simply cannot function. When the basic functions go into hibernation mode, your skin condition is compromised. So help yourself: take your daily multivitamins. I go for ALIVE! Women’s Multivitamins or Centrum.

 

I’m sure way more females have extensive skincare regimes and secrets. Do share and I hope these are little tips to pick up along the way. Your skin doesn’t get any younger. I don’t have the most perfect skin, but I try.

Viktoria Jean Li

 

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[DIARY] LOVE YOUR IMPERFECTIONS

31 days into 2015 and it has been surreal. I’ve been thankful each day for the people I’ve met, especially to those I’ve learnt to count on for simply being there.

The obstacles in my current career are finally levelling out. I’m beginning to understand why some of my colleagues would fall in love with this jet-setting lifestyle. Don’t be fooled – good money and free travel comes at a price. When I tell my friends about the hardships we face on a daily basis, everyone rethinks the facade of a glamorous lifestyle we lead. A certain kind of sadism cannot be denied (of me) since I’ve stayed beyond my 2-year bond not for the money but the sheer intensity of hard work involved. I love challenges and when they come my way, they become means of making me a better person, because the process of clearing major hurdles forces one into endless introspection.

I like to think that what I’ve really done in this past 2 years was to experience the world, gather my thoughts on living, get to know a lot more people. And then I really want to write them down. Whilst I will leave my job, the journey is not over. For those who can live vicariously through my words someday I hope you know that life is about giving and receiving experiences, not the things you buy or get to keep. I also know that life is not about making sure something or somebody stays in your life as long as possible when you know they are not yours to keep.

2015, I don’t expect you to be awesome. I foresee bad days, heartaches, disappointment and yet another emotional roller coaster ride. But I trust myself to know that when 2015 comes to an end I’ll emerge triumphant with battle scars that makes me both imperfect and wiser. This is what we have to do.

Accumulate experiences like it is the air you have to breathe, for in time to come we’ll have our own stories to tell. Tell yourself to keep going, run the extra mile, and don’t be afraid to fight losing battles, or to lose. Never lose sight of who you were. Never forget who was there for you when you needed them the most. Most importantly, never fall out of love with yourself. Love who you are, and appreciate who you’re not. Embrace and acknowledge all your imperfections. Because the most imperfect people have been through the worst.

“I am not a graceful person. I am not a Sunday morning or a Friday sunset. I am a Tuesday 2 a.m., gunshots muffled by a few city blocks, I am a broken window during February. My bones crack on a nightly basis. I fall from elegance with a dull thud, and I apologize for my awkward sadness. I sometimes believe that I don’t belong around people, that I belong to all the leap days that didn’t happen. The way light and darkness mix under my skin has become a storm. You don’t see the lightning, but you hear the echoes.”
Anna Peters

I want to hear some good stories when December 31st comes round.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

viktoriajean

[DIARY] ONE LESS STRANGER

A sleepless night was spent following tweets on AirBnB’s #OneLessStranger campaign. Tired and insomniac as I was, I couldn’t help applauding the global movement to connect people across cultures, to eliminate the distance we keep with people we don’t intend to know. To be on the receiving end of a thoughtful deed from a stranger – it is a simple, solitary gesture with wide-reaching resonance.

I gave the campaign some thought. What’s the point in reaching out to a stranger. Sometimes we don’t even know the person we share our last name with. How much value-add can one less stranger be? So yes it’s impossible to tag a price on gaining unlikely acquaintances. But at its core if we each know the value of having one less stranger, we would not hear of hotel sieges, terror bombings or impending nuclear wars.

I love quoting my favourite author – Haruki Murakami tells us things about ourselves we do not even know, sans big words and complexity. I would love to debate long and hard on this line:”But what seems like a reasonable distance to one person might feel too far to somebody else.” How far should you be from a stranger? How much distance should you keep from a friend, a lover? Could you draw a boundary with a firm hand and keep it? 2 people, side by side, can be worlds apart. Distances are at once tangibly physical and entirely, subjectively emotional.

January is time to begin with a new frame of mind. If I didn’t know better, 2014 was a turbulent year for many, as was the last and the year before, but that should not be grounds for excuses we tell ourselves from discarding poisonous, harmful thoughts.

We’re all on this earth for a limited time, so let’s not be strangers.

And with that said, January is already ending. I hope 2015 had been as eventful for you as it had been so far for me. Let’s keep this party rolling.

SNOW 2015

 

P.S Caught my first snowfall of 2015 in Frankfurt! I love Winter.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

 

[SANTORINI] oo3. LIVING ON THE EDGE

Sitting on the edge of Santorini’s peak, the dormant volcanoes that we can see are silent with power. The calm blue sea emanates with trillions of years of being. This sense of awe in the face of earth’s grandeur captures what each of us essentially are in the grand scheme of our universe – mere specks of inconsequential dust in space and time.

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Whilst we’re living on the edge of a fast-paced world, it’s a refreshing change to stop and admire beauty in the tranquil. I think I’ve learnt to appreciate life a whole lot more.

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xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

[SANTORINI] oo2. ALEXANDER’S BOUTIQUE HOTEL

For 3 days, home was Alexander’s Boutique Hotel, a resort-villa mid-waisted on the slopes along Oia’s breezy coastline. At night, Santorini’s otherwise pitch-black darkness is incandescently lit. A romantic glow permeates the scenic seaside village.

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At Alexander’s we experienced how it must feel like to reside in a cave! We were checked into 2 rooms: a family suite, as well as a windmill house at the very peak of Oia. The family suite was shaped like a cave on the outside, with a cavernous hole in the ceiling that makes the living room resemble the bottom of a well. I wouldn’t use ‘spacious’ in its description. With 5 people sleeping in its premises, it was comfortable, amidst its quaint, simple furnishing. Our walls were hand carved volcanic stone mixed with marble, like most of the other resorts on the island, hence everything felt cool to the touch.

Residents of Oia are known as Apanomerites (from when Oia was still Apano Meria). From 3 days of living alongside locals, I was thrilled to discover that none of these island inhabitants were fond of locking up their doors! They really sleep with their doors wide open to the Aegean sea breeze. Tourists like us are further made conspicuous with our bolted gates and tightly sealed windows.

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Hole in the ceiling
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Even with all the lights on the interior is still very dark
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My favourite space in the cave: the living room.

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From a high vantage point, Oia is a pretty village speckled with white and blue domed cottages, carved into the steep slope of the caldera – cauldron-like volcanic features formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. In the day, her slopes and walls are pristinely white, and one can almost never find a single spot of dirt anywhere, not even an architectural flaw. Or a stained window. Bathed in an sea of calm that is the South Aegean sea, she’s insanely picturesque. No wonder she’s is a popular spot for wedding and anniversary photography! Please, future hubby, take me here too.

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Looking for a place to stay on the slopes of Oia? Check out MYSTIQUE, Zoe Houses, Helianthus Suites, Oia Mare Villas, or Aethrio. Villas on the island don’t come cheap, but you pay for what you get and trust me, it’s gonna be worth it.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean

See also:
[SANTORINI] THE ELUSIVE SUNSET

[SANTORINI] oo1. THE ELUSIVE SUNSET

I began my journey to Athens in Greece.

Everyone who’s ever read a summer issue of Condé Nast Traveller dreams of the perfect Santorini sunset. Elusive is the word: sunset at Santorini isn’t about the picture-perfect moment. It is the breathtaking instance when you first catch sight, with your very own eyes, the illuminated sphere of bright fiery orange, radiating pink at its periphery.

After a gruelling Singapore to Athens flight, we further endured 3 hours on a crowded SeaJets ferry alongside hordes of locals and tourists alike. SeaJets stops by all major Greek islands – Mykonos,Paros, Ios, Sifnos, Folegandros – you name it and SeaJets is cruising right by. It is the go-to transport of choice for island-hoppers looking to crash local beach parties. And trust me, Greek island parties are the bomb diggity. But partying aside, our tired bodies weren’t ready to rock and roll as yet. Thankfully the ride was relatively bump-free from the port of Rafina in Athens to Thira at Santorini. We managed to snooze for a bit.

Things to note when tackling the long island-to-island boat ride:

1. Always dress comfortably – slip-on sandals, loose tanks or tees.

2. Have a full meal before coming onboard. The snacks bar is overpriced and does not carry anything remotely nutritious.

3. Bring eyeshades/sunglasses, earplugs and possibly an electric fan.

4. Always purchase confirmed seat tickets. Whilst cheaper tickets without a seat may sound tempting in booze-induced states of high, you’ll be subjected to constant seat changing or else endure the entire 3 hours on your feet. How these tickets works: you get to sit if there are vacant ones available. At the next island-stop, someone else may hop on and that person has purchased confirmed rights to your seat. So, ciao comfy chair.

5. Bring some form of entertainment – a book or magazines. Only the bees in the hive behind the main TV could hear what’s going on onscreen.

At last we arrived at the island. Everything is forgiven when we saw

Snapped when we were forced to stop at a bistro/villa - our car refused to go upslope.
Quintessentially overexposed snapshot from the back-patio of a grand bistro/villa.

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I admit these weren’t the most professionally taken photos in the history of Santorini sunsets. But I’m dead proud to say I took them with my baby Panasonic Lumix GF6. The best places to view sunsets are along Oia (northern tip) and Fira (short promenade along the cliff edge near the Cathedral), or you could also check out GoGreece for how to get the best sunset experiences. I took these along the Promenade of Fira, and caught sunrise at Oia the morning after whilst enjoying breakfast in the comfort of our resort-villa. Utter. Bliss.

A latin phrase sums up my experience perfectly: ad astra per aspera, meaning a rough road leads to the stars. Incidentally this was also on Launch Complex 34’s memorial plaque for the astronauts of Apollo 1. The thing is, travelling is never comfortable or easy unless you’ve hired a private jet. Be prepared to jostle in the queue for SeaJets, semi-suffocate in the crammed ferry seats, endure long walks in search of your villa with your duffle bags, but all’s good when you see the dazzling light at the edge of the horizon.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures in Santorini.

xoxo,
Viktoria Jean