Grace's background is in speech therapy, and she recently started a venture that will bring products and technology to speech therapy patients in Southeast Asia.
She is an adventurous traveller who loves the great outdoors and she shares with us some of her most memorable trips around the world.
You love the outdoors. What are some trekking trips you have done?
The 2 most recent treks I have done were the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Lijiang and the South Downs National Park in East Sussex.
Pictured above: South Downs National Park.
You are also drawn to mountains - which ones have you been to?
Oh wow, there're too many to remember but 2 of the more recent ones are the Yulong Snow mountain in Lijiang and Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgarten, South of Germany.
Pictured above: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
What is the craziest thing you've experienced on a mountain holiday?
I visited Nepal in 2010 and it was a risky trip because the adventure travel company that I signed up with informed me that my dates clashed with the Maoist strikes. They gave me the option of either postponing my trip, or flying a day before the start of the strike and hopefully by the time I was done, the strike would have ended. Being desperately in need of a holiday, I chose the latter option.
But as luck would have it, the strikes did not end "on time". Thus, there were no means of motor transportation from the village that I was at, to the nearest city where I was supposed to catch my flight back to Singapore. I got really worried because I had to get back to work in Singapore so I told my local guide that we absolutely had to get to the city by hook or by crook. He then gave me 3 options:
- Purchase a horse off the black market and ride it back to the city.
- Scale the mountain in front of us and hike for 4 days back to the city.
- Get an illegal taxi which would take us mid-way, then walk for 9 hours to the city.
Since I had no experience with horses and I was completely exhausted from having hiked 100km the past few days, I chose the 3rd option. So at midnight, we trekked for about an hour in the dark to the top of a hill, where we would catch our "illegal taxi" parked outside a tiny house with a zinc roof. Throughout the trek, I had envisioned an illegal taxi to be a regular taxi that was merely operating illegally because of the strike. But when the driver unveiled the vehicle (it was deliberately hidden underneath a huge piece of cloth), I got a shock of my life.
The "taxi" that I was about to ride in was the most banged-up piece of machinery that I'd ever seen in my life. It was so old and dented that it looked like it'd been picked up from a scrap yard. The doors had multiple holes in them and they couldn't even be opened from the inside. In fact, we had to push-start the car in order to get it going. To make matters worse, the driver was terrified of getting caught and risking jail time so he sped through the narrow mountain roads, hoping to reach our destination ASAP. I had to close my eyes eventually because on many occasions, we were this close to falling off the cliffs and I simply couldn't bear to look. I swear I'd never prayed so hard in my life and I promised God that I would aspire to greater things if I survived.
Thank goodness, we made it to our destination safe and sound, with memories to last us a lifetime.
Do you usually go trekking with a guide? Have you ever done treks without a guide?
I've done both, but more often without a guide. If it's not a difficult trek and if the trail is well marked-out, I generally DIY.
For city-dwellers, even starting to plan a trip to rural areas can be daunting. How do you start the planning of such trips?
I rely mostly on Tripadvisor but I also search for blogs and websites related to my destination. As I tend to be drawn to scenic places, I also do an image search to narrow down the specific places of interest. But I sometimes decide only after arrival and speaking to the locals. I also used to hitch-hike a lot so the places that I visited were often un-planned.
For example, I once rode with an ex-chef-turned-carcass collector who gave me a mini tour around the villages of Netherlands. Another time, I tried asking for directions in the South of France and the motorcyclist whom I was conversing with got so frustrated from the language barrier (he didn't speak English and I didn't speak French) that he asked me to hop on his bike instead and took me on a tour.
What are some unforgettable memories you have gathered over time in your time spent in the great outdoors?
My most memorable experiences come from meeting with fellow travellers or the local people.
For instance, I once did a trek in Yangshuo, South of China without a map. This was pre-GPS days so I relied purely on the help of the local villagers. During my trek I came across more than 10 villages. Whenever I walked past a village, the villagers would ask where I was heading towards and they would relay my destination to the next village by shouting from one person to the next.
Eventually, I arrived at a stream and was contemplating my next step. There was a little hut located on the opposite side of the stream and a family was sitting outside the hut having their lunch. They spotted me from afar and signalled to me, presumably offering me a ride on their bamboo raft. I declined, feeling bad about disrupting their meal. So I took the indirect route of walking to the end of the stream, went over to the other side and towards the hut. The family then invited me into their home and offered me lunch!
On the way back, I took a motorcycle taxi instead walking, because I'd veered too far off from my original itinerary. Since my sense of direction was awful, I alighted at the wrong village and was 3 km away from my guesthouse. It was running late and I started to get worried because there were no street lamps in the villages. It was then that I saw a young mother riding on a bicycle with a baby on her back and I stopped her to ask for directions. But instead of merely giving me directions, she offered to be my guide and escort me back to my doorstep because it was getting dark. She then rode really slowly while I jogged behind her, all the way back to my guesthouse.
The sheer kindness and generosity of these strangers have left such an impression on me that I've since made it a point to pay it forward in Singapore and go the extra mile whenever I meet a tourist.
You went to China recently. Can you tell us which parts you visited, and what you did there?
I visited Lijiang with my husband in December and we did a bit of cycling and trekking. We also went up the Yulong Mountain, which was quite an experience because we used oxygen canisters for the first time in our lives.
Pictured above: Lijiang
Were there any discoveries you made on this journey?
We didn't do anything crazy so there aren't many exciting stories to tell, but the scenery was breathtaking!
What are your 5 travel essentials?
- A local SIM card (if possible)
- My kindle
- Comfy footwear
- Travel phrasebook
What are your must-dos on every trip?
A visit to the local supermarket and pharmacy. I come from a family of healthcare workers so I've always been fascinated by pharmacies.
Holiday accommodations in Kathmandu and Yangshuo
This cosy holiday apartment in Kathmandu is the perfect respite from the busy city life.
This vacation apartment, which is housed in ancient architecture, is located in the local Yulong village, right next to the Yulong River.