Morocco Trip: 7 Reasons That Made Me Fall in Love

Visiting Morocco had always been in my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I have forever dreamt about the beautiful architectures and experiencing the mix of African-Arabian culture. When I finally had the chance to travel the country, I was in complete disbelief and it easily became my most dreamy, memorable and surreal trip so far. I fell in love with Morocco the moment I hopped off the plane at Casablanca and by the end of my 2 weeks venture, this country left me in awe with heaps of experiences I am forever grateful for. Out of all the magical memories, here are the quintessential  and enchanting Moroccan bits that stole my heart!

1. Beautiful Architectures
I just had to begin with this. Zellige, what they call the mozaic-geometric tiles adorn the traditional Moroccan brick-red buildings and turns the whole architectures a whole lot prettier! Not just for flooring, Zelliges are also used in fountains, baths and tombs. Moroccan architectures are just so distinct and full of characters. Gazing at all those zellige tiles was very satisfying to my eyes. I was amazed at how precise and perfectly done those tiles were. I wonder how patient,steady and delicate those hand-crafters were. Yes, most of those tile-works are still done by hands even today!

Architectures in Morocco

2. Stunning Landscapes
When you hear about Morocco, what first pops in your mind? If not the wonderful architecture, it must be the magnificent Sahara desert, is it not? You don’t hear much about the mountains, the scenic drives, palm trees plantation, the amazing view of the Straits of Gibraltar nor the beaches on the outskirts of metropolitan cities. It also never crossed my mind to witness one of the most beautiful sunset at a Moroccan beach. I must say that the landscape I saw during my camel ride across the desert was truly something special. BUT! There were so much more to this, and having discovered the nature of Morocco exceeded every bit of my expectations – I will leave you to your own judgments from pictures below.

Moroccan Beach and Sea

3. Refreshing Thé à la Menthe or Mint Tea
As a lover of tea, I was very pleased with the amount of tea I got to indulge throughout the trip. Since the country’s predominant religion is Islam, instead of pubs or bars, you will find tea salons in Morocco. How cute is this? There wasn’t a day passed without locals having offered me delicious and refreshing mint tea. Whether it was from shopkeepers or simply from an exchange of eye contact with a local. Moroccans love sharing their tea with others as it signifies hospitality and friendship in their tradition. They love their tea extremely sweet and I learnt that 15 sugar cubes per tiny pot is normal! I get diabetes just thinking about this hah!

During my overnight stay at the Sahara camp (away from all civilization) there were literally no drinkable water available. All we could drink was the mint-tea served by our hosts. It was very puzzling! For all I know, you need to boil water to make any sort of tea.. Perhaps all the drinkable water available was entirely used up to boil tea. I remember the first thing we did at the camp was having a super long tea time with a Berber man, who truly loved pouring tea for all the 17 of us. He seemed genuinely excited whenever someone would ask for another cup. He said “Bismillah”, the Arabic for “In the name of God”, each time he poured tea whilst putting on the biggest smile ever.

Moroccan Berber and Mint Tea

4. Warm Hospitality
If all the tea invitations and pouring traditions above haven’t given you a clear picture of how hospitable Moroccans are, then please take me to wherever you think have more accommodating and hospitable people! :p Seriously though, I felt that the locals are very generous, especially when sharing food and making sure you are comfortable where you are. Spot the kind stranger in the picture below who offered me watermelons for free in the middle of a very humid and hot day, Ahmed who drove me around for the whole 14 days tirelessly and the Berber man who voluntarily posed for the best sunset-desert photo I took from a camel!

Moroccan Landscapes

Although Morocco has become a popular holiday destination, I am sure you still read or heard some bits here and there regarding Morocco’s safety concerns. I was well aware of all this pre-departure and I am not going to completely ignore the fact that throughout my two-weeks journey, I witnessed robbery twice at the market and a car accident just 10 steps away from me. Fortunately both did not do me any harm. Weirdly, I feel that those criminals don’t target tourists unlike other touristy cities. I took these as self-reminder to remain vigilant. I mean, things like these could happen in any other part of the world too, right?

5. Awesome Shopping at Souks or Cultural Bazaar
Morocco is a shopping paradise. There was always some very special vibes the Moroccan markets gave me. Since I traveled with a bunch of shopaholics, souk shopping was always in the itinerary for each town we visited. Each markets had their own unique artisan offerings and very diverse handmade products, unlike most other countries where they typically sell the same generic (mass-produced) souvenirs at all their touristy markets. It was exciting to see all the colorful carpets, pottery, slippers, smelling the scents of spices and watching the locals shuffling about. Spare some time to hunt for the best items which are typically found way deep in the market alleys and be prepared to get lost inside the maze of thousands of vendors!

Moroccan Market Souk Vibes

6. Rich Culture & History
The blend of Morocco’s years of foreign influence and ruling have created a rich melting pot of cultures in the country. The Romans, Carthaginians, Amazigh, Portuguese, Turks, Moors, Arabs, Spanish and French have all had a presence in Morocco, as well as a host of other races having followed the trade routes through Morocco from one continent to the other. While some parts of the countries have been modernized, I love how they still preserve the old towns like Fes and Marrakesh, where you can still find camels or donkeys still being used as the mode of transportation in the farmlands and dessert landscapes. Morocco is also home to the world’s oldest university, University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez and there is a huge ancient Roman Empire ruins site called Volubilis, in the city of Meknes which is worth a visit!

Vollubilis, Meknes

7. Delicious Tagine
#1 Moroccan signature dish. The word Tagine refers to both the braised dish as well as the glazed clay pot used to prepare the dish. What’s special about tagine is the slow-cooking process involved, 2 hours for poultry and up to 4 hours for beef and lamb. And what makes this meal super tasty is the vibrant spices used (typically cumin, saffron, turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne paper). Oh my, thinking about how rich the flavors from all the spices perfectly soaked up in the tender meat makes my mouth waters as I write this.

Tagine

Hope you enjoy this entry, you lovely readers! More Moroccan-related posts coming your way. Let me know your thoughts and feel free to reach out and shoot me your Qs! 🙂

 

Visual Diary: Summer in Japan

My first time travelling to Japan was during a very hot summer in July. I spent 10 days starting in Tokyo – Hokkaido (Sapporo) – Osaka and ended in Kyoto. There were endless things to see and spending only 10 days there was far from enough. One does not simply go to Japan and not have a strong desire to go back, I bet there must be some gigantic magnet placed somewhere in the country. The only reason I am making this as a photo-series and not a blog entry is because I honestly only went to the main touristy places and since we wanted to see as many things as we could, the trip was quite rushed. So much to do & eat, but so little time! Here’s to hoping that one day I get to experience living in this land of amazing food. Someday, somehow 🙂

— Photos below are posted in non-chronological order. All taken by me, unless I am in it, then it would be taken by my fabulous Dad.

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Japanese school girls on a field trip to Farm Tomita, Nakafurano (2,5 hours bus ride from Sapporo).
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Lavender Ice Cream! When asked by a friend what it tasted like, I responded “It tastes like Lavender!”. To which they responded “I knew you were gonna say that”. Hehehe.
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Farm Tomita, Nakafurano, Hokkaido. What a shame the weather was so cloudy!
Lavender hill at Nakafurano-Choei flower field. Costs 400 yen to ride up the hill with a single-chair lift.
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Street artist painting two Native American street performers at Odori Park, Sapporo.
Strolling around Arashiyama to see the bamboo grove, Kyoto.
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A beautifully costumed-tourist dressed as a Geisha at the bamboo grove.
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Entrance of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto.
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Wishing tags. Foxes were believed to be the messenger of Inaris.
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Making my way through thousands of Torii gates. Hahah jokes, I didn’t make it to the top.
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Osaka Castle, Osaka.
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Somewhere in Osaka. Honestly can’t recall which neighborhood this was at.
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Cosplay girls at Harajuku, Tokyo.
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Afternoon hangs
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Cutest shop signs at Dotonbori Shopping Arcade.
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The cats of Ginza perfecture.
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Cute cafe in Harajuku, Tokyo.
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Dotonburi Shopping Arcade.
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An unusual fruit/nut spotted at the Nishiki Market, Kyoto.
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Yummy Mochi Matcha, Nishiki Market.
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Tsukiji Fish Market is an absolute heaven-on-earth for sashimi & sushi lovers.
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Me getting caught in act at Dotonbori River.
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Some cute crab decor in front of a restaurant.
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Shinsaibashi, Osaka.

Thank you for scrolling through these photos! Hope you enjoy them xx

Indira

5 Days in Penang: Solo Trip Highlights

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Rickshaws in the street of Georgetown

Hi there! Here goes my first travel post. I decided to write about my latest solo-trip as the memories are still quite fresh and simply because Penang was everything I wished for and more! Last March, I was still working remotely for a Hospitality/Tech Start-up and had the privilege to work and travel at the same time. Since my friends and family weren’t flexible with their vacation timing, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to travel alone. Why Penang? Well, I was looking to go somewhere cheap, historical and I was long-craving for authentic Peranakan and Indian cuisines. After reading numerous travel guides,  I was set on my decision, booked my flights, accommodations, and made sure to note down all the co-working spaces and recommended culinary spots across the island.

Day 1: Trying out local cuisines

Upon arriving, I rushed to check into my accommodation at The Frame Guesthouse in Georgetown and luckily got to the hostel just in time for my virtual meeting. It was too early for me to check-in, but they were kind enough to let me connect to their Wi-Fi. I was overall pleased with the Hostel;  decent daily breakfast served with fresh fruits, friendly staff, filtered tap to refill your water bottle (I was so grateful for this as Georgetown was super hot and humid), clean bathroom and a spacious lounge area, where I met so many other solo travelers, some that surprisingly left a mark in my heart. Right after I shut down my laptop, a girl across my table initiated a conversation and was excited to find out I was also on my own. So we exchanged contacts, made plans for dinner and ended up having the next three dinners together. Her name is Anne-Sophie.

My first eventful and memorable moment in Penang happened during lunch. I randomly stumbled upon a street food-court, eager to try my first Fried Oyster Omelette. Only after my food arrived that I realized my wallet was still in the hostel locker. Silly me! Luckily the guy spoke English. I apologized, explained my embarrassing situation and told him my hostel was just a block away (which was a lie, it was at least 4 blocks). I left my water bottle as an assurance that I would be back and in what felt like 40 degrees heat, I sprinted all the way to the hostel. I was so tempted to just leave my Omelette and go to a nearby restaurant instead, but did not have the heart to haha! Although I was greeted by friendly stares and laughter when I returned to the foodcourt, I was touched they still kept my table and food, even when I took so long and the place was packed! Here is the picture of my 4 Malaysian Ringgit Omelette – a bit too burnt I think?

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Still crispy even after 15 minutes left out. Ha!

On top of my list was also to try the famous Chendul. The most popular, Teo Chow Chendul at Penang Rd. is known to have long queues starting at 9am. Isn’t it wonderful how we Asians can eat anything for breakfast? Even sweet icy dessert! Haha. I was lucky they were still serving past noon. The verdict? I gave it 3/5. I personally have had much better Chenduls back in Indonesia (we Indos call it Cendol) but it definitely was a bliss during a burning hot day!

Day 2: China House & Love Lane

My second day was pretty chill. I spent most of the day at the coolest co-working space in Georgetown called MSogo. Located inside Prangin Shopping Mall, I was not expecting a grand 4-storeys of working space with showers, nap area, gaming room that has a pool table and arcade machines! Day-passes were quite pricey at most co-working spaces in Penang, but having done my research, I managed to save up heaps by booking free trial day passes from coworker site. For all you broke digital nomads out there, this site is a savior. Yeah, you’re welcome 🙂

After sun-down, me and Anne went to check out China House, a venue comprising of 14 different spaces including a bakery, open-air cafe, restaurants, a cocktail bar, a live-music space, indoor cafe, gallery and shops all in one entrance. All spaces are connected and in-between each other so to get to the open air cafe, which was at the end of the venue, we had to pass through the other 13 spaces. What I love most about this place is that each spaces have their own themes and are so well-decorated. Their bakery served at least 20 different cakes assortments that I had to return the next night to try more flavors.

Sadly, it was Anne’s last night in Penang before continuing her journey to KL. We both initially agreed to avoid the ‘party’ area of Georgetown for good reasons, but since we enjoyed each others’ company that much and did not want the night to end, we gave in and went to the Love Lane. We randomly picked one of the bars where we met other travelers from Germany and United States and were invited to go upstairs where a live performance was on.

Day 3: Clan Jetty, Pinang Peranakan Mansion & Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

The day I was waiting for. It was finally the weekend and I did not have to worry about work. I started my day early and went for a stroll around the beautiful Street of Harmony (where a Mosque, Church, Hindu and Taoist temple are located in a single street) and headed towards the Clan Jetties area.  I was surprised that the area was more touristy than any other areas in Georgetown. To get here, I had to  pass a small alley and bridge surrounded by souvenir shops. For lunch, I headed to Sri Weld Foodcourt, just 10 minutes walk from the Jetty area and  tried another Penang specialty, Char Kway Teow (stir fried rice noodles). As this is one of the most popular foodcourt in town, you would most likely have to share tables with strangers during peak hours. Shouldn’t be a problem though, might even be an opportunity to chat with the locals!

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Clan Jetties of Penang.

Next destination was the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. For just 20 MYR, I was in for a 45-minutes tour around the fanciest mansion in town by the best guide I’ve ever encounter. He was a passionate narrator. I was amused how he managed to bring to life an ancient house from the 19th century and made its history so incredibly fascinating – I mean, it’s really just a house with thousands of antiques, but the way he led the tour was entertaining and educational all at once.

Another main attraction in Penang is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, or more commonly known as The Blue Mansion.The difference between Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and Pinang Peranakan Mansion tour was that for the same 45-minutes and 3 MYR cheaper, you can’t really explore the whole mansion and must stick with the tour group. This is because the building is still in use as a Hotel and they restrict most areas for in-house guest privacy. So in most of the duration, we just sat down and listened to the history of the mansion.

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Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion.

Day 4: Kek Lok Si Temple & Giant Kuan Yin Statue

This was the day I met Liene, my very first Latvian friend 🙂 She told me how it was her first time traveling to Asia, had not really plan for her Penang-part of the trip and asked if she could tag along with my itinerary. And since I was finally going out of Georgetown to see Kek Lok Si Temple, I was glad I had someone to explore with for the day. Me and Liene are 20 years apart, she was a dental hygienist and we had nothing in common apart from having cats at home. Yay! Despite our differences and the fact we just met, we felt comfortable sharing our beliefs and struggles to our deepest secrets during our hour long bus ride. I felt this was also because we were both complete strangers so there was no harm opening up. I learnt so much about life, love, marriage, challenges and happiness of raising kids and friendship from her experiences – things that I never really conversed deeply with my parents. This was certainly one of the most meaningful encounter for me.

Kek Lok Si is an hour bus-ride from Georgetown (catch bus 201,203 or 204) and costs 1.40 MYR for a one-way trip. I was told that this is the largest & oldest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia and was surprised by the vibrant architecture that welcomed us, definitely the most colorful and stunning temple I’ve seen. You could easily get lost here as the main temple complex is surrounded by shrines, gardens, turtle pond and scenic view (as it’s situated on the hill). Also make sure not to miss out on the 30m statue of Kuan Yin that they claimed only accessible using the funicular (which isn’t true! I found a way to walk back down and easily saved 3MYR).

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Before heading back to the hostel, Liene took me to Ros Mutiara, a restaurant where she previously indulged a very refreshing mango juice that also turned out to be an Indian and Malay restaurant serving affordable & delicious dishes 24/7.

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Day 5: Street Art of Georgetown & Hin Bus Depot Art Centre

Another thing Penang is famous for is its street art in Georgetown. Interestingly, all the murals are tagged in Google Maps as they are scattered all over town. Some tourists actually go on a ‘hunt’ to find all the arts, while I personally did not go on this mission, chose to roam around, captured which ever mural I came across and happily ended up in an art market at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre. What used to be an old bus depot, it has now become a space for the local artists and creative community to gather and exhibit their work.

My (not so) solo-trip this time led me to meet two special kind-hearted ladies and coming back home with a belly that was in a state of great satisfaction 🙂 That’s it for now. Thank you for reading and embarking on my Penang journey! Feel free to comment or shoot any questions my way!

Indearly, Indira