Scent has always been a massive thing for me and when it comes to travel and memories, it definitely plays a big part. You know, like how a plate of food takes you in flight to an exotic place you’ve traveled to last Summer, or how a passerby’s perfume triggers a flash of moments with a certain someone in your past.
There are certain scents that never fail to take me to places, which definitely give more evocative memories than others.
Citronella will always remind me of Pangulasian Island in the Philippines.
It’s an eco-luxury resort in El Nido, Palawan and is absolutely gorgeous. Known as the “island of the sun” for its breathtaking views of sunrise and sunset, it’s set against a backdrop of tropical forest. Staff spray a heapload citronella oil all over which is also apparent in the toiletries we have in the villas to shoo off bugs and mosquitoes galore.
Another scent that reminds me of the Philippines is corn. Growing up, whenever we’d go on road trips as a family during the school holidays, my mom would always make a pit stop whenever she sees the sign “Fresh Corn Here”. We’d get them by the dozen and have it to snack on during the long drives. I think this is why my father bought a farm of corn stretching towards the sea, because my mother adores the crop so much.
Speaking of corn, the scent of popcorn (even those cinema ones) will always remind me of my childhood which involved festivals, fun fairs and theme parks.
A particular trip that comes to mind was a few years ago when the whole family (sans my uber busy father) went to Disneyland Hong Kong to treat the kids for a post-Christmas break. It was such a good trip, as it was the first family trip I’ve been to since moving to London. I finally didn’t feel so sad being left out when they travelled.
The kids OD-ed on all the popcorn flavours you can imagine – toffee, salty, cheese, strawberry, tutti fruity, etc. Seeing them excited and happy reminded me of the times when I was their age and my parents took me travelling to see theme parks and toy stores.
I do like a good theme park. The last one I’ve visited was Universal Studios in Singapore.
I, however, will always associate Singapore with durian. Such a pungent smell, that fruit, and it’s almost everywhere, from the street stalls to the food courts and hawker centres, to fine dining restaurants.
But I will also associate Singapore with the smell of pepper. Pepper reminds me of culinary delights and it’s safe to say I’ve always had fantastic food when I visited the city.
Speaking of spice though, of course nothing compares to the spice market in Marrakech. However, there’s a stronger scent I associate with Marrakech: the scent of raw leather.
A particular area of the souks that will always haunt me is the leather auction area. I went on a Friday, a holy day, so most shops were closed. But the smell of fresh leather from the tanneries lingered. There was something about the smell that made me appreciate the market trade and more importantly, craftsmanship.
Admittedly, it’s not for the faint-hearted and I found myself having to rub some pak fah yeow or white flower oil on my temples after the souks.
But speaking of flowers, a particular floral scent that I’ve started to like (because it’s actually helped me relax and sleep more) is lavender.
And lavender will always remind me of the South of France, particularly Provence and Côte d’Azur. I’ve written about my affection for St-Tropez here, if you care to look.
It’s kinda really hard to describe a scent, particularly because it’s quite intangible and often personal… but thank God for photos, words, a globe to circumnavigate and best of all, memories we create.