5 regional personalities recommend must-go places in their home countries

Insider tips for where to go, eat and do.

Serene Chua, Simpirwati Simarno, Ingrid Chua, Kullawit Laosuksri and Elizabeth Lee-Yong on how to spend your time in these Asean capitals


Ingrid Chua
Fashion writer and influencer, television presenter + founder of TheBagHagDiaries.com

How: Spend a weekend afternoon discovering Intramuros, our old walled city in Manila, which has retained many its Spanish-era buildings. Cool off midway or at the end of the day with a tall glass of halo-halo, a Filipino speciality dessert of shaved ice, white bean, nata de coco, leche flan and purple yam finish with an ice cream on top. I’d also recommend making a day trip to Tagaytay to see the Taal Volcano and have a meal at Balay Dako or Antonio’s. Reservations are a must for both.


Balay Dako serves native Filipino food (Photo: Balay Dako)

Many people love visiting Tagaytay on weekends but I prefer the weekedays, just to escape city madness. Also, bring home some delicious buko (coconut) pie from either Rowena’s or Colette’s. And if you like art, don’t miss the National Museum of the Philippines. It houses some of the most famous works by our national artists. Another place worth visiting is the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, where native and contemporary works of art are showcased within several mission-style galleries, surrounded by lush greenery.



Simpirwati Simarno
General manager,  Louis Vuitton Indonesia + Malaysia

How: Exploring new places for lovely, long lunches is a must in Jakarta. And it is fun to dress according to a theme too. For example, we recently celebrated our Independence Day in August, so you could see a lot of groups adhering to a dress code of red-and-white, batik or traditional wear. It’s all very fun and celebratory. On places to go, I love the Four Seasons’ Alto Restaurant and, of course,
Hakkasan at the Alila SCDB. I love all of Hakkasan’s dim sum and, situated at Level 25 of the hotel, it offers the most beautiful views. Another place I’d recommend is Osteria Gia. Although it’s in a mall in Pacific Place, the food and ambience is really nice.


Dim Sum Weekends at Hakkasan is centered on traditional Cantonese dim sum (Photo: Hakkasan)

The arts scene in Jakarta is also very happening right now. Art Jakarta just concluded and I like how it’s not just for the collectors but also the youth. In fact, my son made it a point to attend the opening night. For galleries, you should check out Edwin’s Gallery and, of course, the Museum Macan is coming up very strongly. Buying batik is highly recommended and my personal favourite label is Bin House, by Josephine Komara, or Obin, who is a simply wonderful lady. If you want to get a broader taste of local design, then go to Ara Jakarta, a cool multi-brand store with lots of nice things by local designers.



Serene Chua
Private banker and co-founder of Wolf Burgers and Carvers & Co

How: Start your morning with a relaxing stroll through the beautiful and lush Singapore Botanic Gardens, which has a 160-year-old history and is also a Unesco World Heritage Site; definitely testament to Singapore’s reputation as a garden city. For lunch, stop by Corner House, a Michelin-starred restaurant that offers wonderful contemporary gastro-botanica cuisine. Choose the Whispering Corner for the ultimate romantic lunch date in this colonial house that dates back to 1910 and is located right in the heart of the gardens. In the afternoon, head to Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for a spot of shopping to work off the calories. Your inner fashionista will be thrilled to see international luxury brands as well as mid-tier lables — from jewellery to clothes and shoes.


Opt for the 150-minute Royal Banyan signature treatment, which includes a herbal pouch massage and therapeutic herbal bath (Photo: Banyan Tree Singapore)

Spend some time also at the ArtScience Museum or the Banyan Tree Spa before ending the day with sundowners at Spago or Lavo, right on top of MBS. Get a Rough Love cocktail if you end up at Spago and slowly sip away as you drink in the amazingly panoramic views. For a chill dinner, head to the latest mall in town — Funan Mall — for Wolf Burgers. Try the delicious dry-aged beef burger, wagyu burger or salted egg chicken burger. Complement that with the addictive Fortune fries and Oreo milkshake. If you have boundless energy, stroll down to Clarke Quay to hang out at the bars and enjoy the live music. Or if you have even more energy to spare, go to Zouk to party with guest DJs.



Elizabeth Lee-Yong
Co-founder, Bowerhaus

How: Selamat datang to sunny Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the locals call it. Get your heart rate up over a reformer stretch class at Bangsar’s The Flow Studio, which will leave you sweaty but refreshed and ready to eat around the corner. Pop over to Sri Nirwana Maju for a banana leaf brunch or, if you prefer to keep things cool, head to Bistro Benji’s at Bangsar Village for Asian-infused western dishes. Have a giggle at the Museum of Illusions and take some funny and crazy photos while you are at it. If you are travelling with young children, the KL Tower Mini Zoo is good for petting and feeding animals without having to walk too much.

Shopping at Suria KLCC’s 350 stores, all at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers, is a good way to work up an appetite that can be satiated with afternoon tea at the colonial Majestic Hotel. Be sure to book a table at the Orchid Conservatory so you can enjoy tea and scones surrounded by hundreds of beautiful orchid plants before finishing up with a massage at the hotel’s equally-lovely spa. If you don’t mind going the distance, the best cendol (the perfect way to cool down in the hot and sticky afternoons) is at Kwong Wah Ice Kacang in Section 16, Petaling Jaya.


De.Wan 1958, helmed by celebrity chef Wan, serves authentic Malaysian food (Photo: De.Wan)

Stylish dinners may be had at De.Wan at The Linc, where dishes have authentic local ingredients and are enhanced by lots of flavour and spices. If you want a hearty meal, then Beast, a Japanese fusion steak house, will dazzle your tastebuds. I’m a huge fan of its cold cappelini and wagyu katsu-sando. And if you adore gazing at the Twin Towers, the best view is from W Hotel’s Wet Deck. Go for a pre-dinner cocktail to enjoy a cityscape sunset. Supper is also a must while in Malaysia and the only place to go is Wong Ah Wah in Jalan Alor for a heaping platter of their famous charcoal-grilled chicken wings.



Kullawit Laosuksri
Editor-in-Chief, Vogue Thailand

How: I much prefer to spend my weekends in the Old City district (Rattanakosin) of Bangkok, where you will find a glittering array of temples and revered historical attractions. Here’s a guide on how best to spend your day.

8am: On Lok Yun, a family-run restaurant that resembles the Malaysian kopitiam, serves traditional breakfasts.

10am: The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles is situated on the grounds of the Grand Palace and houses HM Queen Sirikit’s most spectacular Balmain couture collections from the late 1950s.

11am: Wat Pho (The Temple of The Reclining Buddha) is often considered the leading school of massage. So why not try spend an hour or two getting a traditional Thai massage here?

1pm: Tonkin Annam is a cozy restaurant in a two-storey Rattanakosin-era shophouse that serves the most traditional Vietnamese cuisine. Don’t miss Nem Nuong pork sausage and vegetables wrapped in chewy rice paper and Cha Tom (minced prawn on sugarcane skewers). Reservations are a must.

3pm: World At The Corner is an English-language travel bookshop in a colourful, century-old wooden house just a five-minute walk from the old City Hall. It only opens for business from Friday to Sunday, from 10am to 7pm, and features a sitting room and reading area.


Enjoy Bangkok’s sunset on the Chao Phraya River accompanied by drinks and snacks (Photo: Supanniga Cruise)

5pm: Supanniga Evening Cocktail Cruise is a one-hour “Evening Cocktail Cruise” along the Chao Phraya River, where you can enjoy views of Bangkok’s most famous temples, palaces and ancient architecture in style and comfort.

7pm: Baan Nual is run by an ex-Vogue graphic designer and his sister in an old wooden house that they have converted into a three-table eatery that serves homecooked meals almost reminiscent of your grandmother’s traditional recipes. Do not expect any frills and fanfare because the setting and cuisine are quite simple but most delicious. Reservations, again, are a must.


This article first appeared on Sept 16, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia. ​


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