Saturday, May 31, 2008

Danau Toba

Lake Toba used to be a really popular holiday destination. I remembered I had my first overseas trip during my school days, and that was to Lake Toba. But in recent years, very little is heard of it, and I wonder how much have changed over the years.

Lake Toba is a lake formed in a crater of a volcano. It is the largest volcanic lake in the world. Its eruption was estimated to be the biggest in known history, and its magnitude was quite mind-boggling. From Wikipedia, it said that the ash that was spewed forth covered the entire Indian subcontinent, and in one site, the ash was as thick as 6m!! A Discovery channel program mentioned that some ash was found as far as Finland! No doubt that when the eruption occurred, the face of the earth was altered forever.

Today, it is an idyllic place to relax, and it still draws a fair number of travellers. Pulau Samosir, an island in the middle of the lake, offers great views and a peaceful retreat to nature. The island, the size of Singapore, is serviced by regular ferries from Parapat, the town on the eastern edge of the lake, and the gateway to Lake Toba for travellers coming from Medan. There are public buses between Parapat and Medan, although they tend to be super crowded and easily takes 5+hrs. So, those travelling from Medan may want to consider chartering or booking mini-van or taxi for the journey.

The locals of Samosir are mainly Batak people, whose origins may have come from mountain ethnic tribes in northern Thailand or Myanmar. One of the key distinguishing features of the Batak culture is their architecture. Everywhere you go in Samosir, you can see the unique shape of their houses' roofs. For me, however, I enjoyed taking photos of the children, who seemed to enjoy having their photos taken as much. They seemed really carefree, and befitting of this idyllic place.

While I see a couple of tourist groups staying in some of the more modern resorts, there remains a large number of guesthouses and resorts that seemed empty for long periods of time. Whatever the reasons that saw the decline of tourism here, I felt that Toba certainly deserves its second chance. With Jetstar flying between Singapore and Medan in an hour, I think it makes for a fantastic affordable getaway!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Faces from Sichuan

There have been far too many faces of grief, sadness and destruction shown in the internet as well as the local media. Perhaps, some positive images and faces from the unfortunate province can keep the spirits afloat and provide a light ahead for recovery.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Another Shangrila? There have been much hype and talk about the Last Shangrila, esp with a sudden popularity of a novel by James Hilton called Lost Horizon. In the novel, he talks about a paradise place somewhere in the Tibetan region, and somehow, it got associated with a place in west Sichuan known as Daocheng. Incidentally, as news and popularity of the place increases, the Chinese government renamed a town called Zhongdian in Yunnan province to Shangrila!

Daocheng is a county in Sichuan province, and traditionally, it's part of a region/province of Tibet known as Kham. In Daocheng, there is a Yading National Reserve that has been an increasingly popular tourist destination. Indeed, with beautiful landscapes, some good walk/trekking opportunities, breathtaking mountains and lakes, it may turn out to be a tourist shangrila...

Yading also host 3 sacred holy mountains to the Tibetans. Many would come to Yading for their kora round Mt Chenresig (6032m). The other two mountains are Mt Jambeyang (5958m) and Mt Chanadorje (5958m). These snow-capped mountains are really beautiful to behold, and I'll share them below in their respective written order.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A piece of history

After 31 Mar 2006, a landmark in Singapore was closed for reurbanisation. I had rarely visited that place, although I had passed by its surrounding area plenty of times. Often times, we will only start to appreciate something when we know it's going to be gone soon...

Clifford Pier, along Collyer Quay, was a well known landmark. It was officially opened in 1933, and in those olden days, it was a busy landing and departing point - commuting people between ships at sea or the outshore islands and Singapore. Many locals refer to it as 红灯码头 , (loosely translated as Red Lantern Pier) and its origins, it seems, comes from the fact that in those times, a red lamp/lantern was hung at the pier to warn ships coming into the harbour. It became a beacon of sorts. Ask any of the older folks where ang teng (Hokkien) or lampu merah (Malay) is, and they'll point you here.

Strangely, there was a time where prostitution was rampart here, although whether it's because of its name or not, I've no clue (Red Light District refers to an area where there's prostitution).

Clifford Pier afforded splendid views of the Marina Bayfront. And as part of a redevelopment effort to make Marina a new modern upmarket area (like all parts of Singapore), it was thus slated to be torn down and rebuilt.

As I took a last look (and some last pictures) on the evening of 31 Mar 2006, the skies showed some spectacular display as a tribute to the pier's 73 years of service.