Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best of 2009

It's coming to the end of 2009, and I only managed one long trip (2 weeks) to Morocco, and several short trips round the region (Fraser Hill, Hongkong/Macau, Bali). Nevertheless, there are images that have left lasting impression in me, and I would like to share some of these favourite travel images of 2009.
Happy travels in 2010!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Otaru (小樽) is a small port city northwest of Sapporo in Hokkaido Japan. It is only about half an hour by train from Sapporo, and thus it is a popular day trip for many. In winter, there are also ski-slopes at Mt Tengu and special winter festivals to further entice you here.

But what left a deep impression in me when in Otaru is the music boxes that they have here. Besides the Otaru Music Box Museum, there are also pockets of little shops around that also specialises in music boxes. When you step into these shops, you enter a world of crisp clear melodies that seems to twinkle your worries away. Coupled with Japanese quality craftsmanship, intricate, exquisite and/or kawaii designs, it was an absolute delight browsing through the museum and shops.
Your music box is also "customised". You can browse through a huge selection of tunes available and choose one that you would like to have in your music box. Then you can choose your favourite music box. In a couple of minutes, the staff will have your customised music box handed to you. Sweet. And if you just love the music box melodies, you can purchase their music CDs too!

While the famous Otaru canal is Otaru's most famous landmark and attraction, it's the music boxes and its melodies that left the most impact to me, not just on my ears but in my heart!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ubud, Bali

In the middle of the island of Bali lies a town that has resisted somewhat to changes that fame had brought to the island. Ubud has remained largely laid-back, and while many resorts and villas have upgraded in terms of facilities, the services are still friendly and cosy.

Surrounded by pretty rice paddy fields, central Ubud makes an excellent base for Bali exploration. Whether it's the mountains to the north or the beaches to the south, transport arrangements can be easily made. Backpacker friendly outlets are also abundant, and the town itself is also well known for its arts and culture. Also, right at the edge of town, there is a simple walk/hike that brings you right into the heart of the rice paddy fields. An activity I would consider a must-do in Ubud! And of course, loads of spa and massage shops to choose from, to complete your day!

My first visit to Bali, and I must say, Ubud impresses!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mount Batur, Bali

It was again, one of those unplanned things. While I could be lazing at one of the beaches in Bali before my flight home, I decided, instead, to do something more active. And so, I decided to summit a volcano.

Mount Batur is an active volcano in Bali, and is one of the easiest ones to climb. It's last eruption was in 1804, and while active, you won't be seeing any red flowing lava :). We were picked up at our villa in Ubud at 3am, and the journey to the start of the trek takes about 1 hour. When we arrive, there were already several groups preparing to set off. The air is cool and slightly chilly, which is really great for the trek. The initial part was a really nice walk, until the actual ascent. While the slope is gradual, the ground is covered with many small rocks which makes it easy to slide and slip. However, slow and steady, we eventually reach the summit.

At 6am, the sky has already brightened but it was really misty. While waiting for the sun is rise above Mount Agung, there is a concrete shelter built up there where food and drinks can be bought. Once the sun burst out of the mountain range, our guide brought us around to show us some steaming fissures and caverns, although I had a hard time trying to understand his English. The descent started at 7-ish through the same ascent route, and before 9am, we were back to our transport, ready to go back to Ubud. Afterwhich, a bath, some sleep, before catching my afternoon flight back to Singapore......

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Medieval Maramureş

I've always enjoyed the stories set in medieval times, and wondered about the life in those times. When I read about this land in northern Romania that had still retain much of its medieval past, I decided to make the trip there to see for myself.

Set between Ukraine to the north and mountain ranges separating Transylvania to the south, Maramureş have remained largely untouched by rapid modernisation. Here, horse-drawn carts outnumber cars, and the houses in the villages are still fronted by traditional wooden gates as they did hundreds of years ago. The fields are still worked on, as are the plum and apple trees in every household, distilling their own ţuică (fruit brandy) for the family (and guests of course). Indeed, Romanians themselves equate Maramureş to rural Romania.

While the rolling hills and pretty pasture lands do draw visitors, it is the heart-felt hospitality of the people in Maramureş that will surely leave the deepest memory for travellers. The highlight of my visit is indeed the home stays I had in the villages, savouring the home-made meals and enjoying their traditional music. There are not many places in the world where I could say that the dishes before me are completely home grown and produced, from the cabbages to the cheeses, and from the hams, right down to their intoxicating ţuică.

Not only have I seen medieval Romania, I have experienced it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Star Trails

It was relatively late in my travel photography journey when I realised that there is much more photography to be made in the sky than sunsets and sunrises. One fateful night, deep in the Mongolian steppes, I looked up into the night sky to see it littered with millions of twinkling diamonds. My fellow travel mates consists of a knowledgeable photographer who initiated a photography session, and thus I took my first star trail shot. It was love at first night.

Due to light pollution, stars in the sky are barely visible in the cities, and so, we hardly see any in Singapore. Thus in my travels, I have made it a point that whenever I have the opportunity to get to the countryside, I would attempt to take some star trails. Of course, alot depends on the weather, but whenever I do get a shot, the results never fail to thrill me.

An excellent article on star trail photography can be found here. Technicalities aside, my advise is always on the photographer himself/herself. Proper clothings, torchlight, mosquito repellent etc are equally important to a successful star trail shot. So when you next find yourself in a beautiful location on a dark cloudless night, consider some star trail photography!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tonle Sap and Kompong Phluk

While Cambodia's star attraction is the fascinating temples of Angkor, visitors should consider looking at another wonderful attraction - Tonle Sap.

Tonle Sap is a lake and river system that's unique and special to Cambodia. The river flow changes direction twice a year! During the dry season, it flows out into the Mekong River, while during the wet season, the Mekong overflows, and the river backs up to form the huge Tonle Sap lake. There are a couple of villages on and along Tonle Sap that is certainly worth visiting. Most tours and guides would bring tourists to Chong Khneas, a floating village. However, I visited Kompong Phluk instead, a village that will appear different depending on which season you go!

In the dry season (when I went), Kompong Phluk appears as a village of wooden houses on stilts. Life is more grounded, and they even have ball games below their houses. However, when the water level rises, the stilts disappear from view, and you would just see wooden houses "floating" on water! In fact, during this wet season, Kompong Phluk can only be visited by boat.
There are also other smaller villages along the causeways of the river. These villages usually consists of small thatched huts which are easily dismantled and moved. The families in these villages move home several times a year!!

A visit to Kompong Phluk really provides a good way to look at the the lifestyle of these people who are so dependent on the lake and river. If you visit during the dry season like me, getting there is also challenging. Taxis and tuk-tuks can only bring you to the village of Roluos, where you will then transfer to a motorbike. This motorbike will bestow upon you your most bumpy ride ever, on a ground that will not be visible during the wet season. Subsequently, you will still need to transfer to a boat to take you to Kompong Phluk itself!

Do check out the villages of Tonle Sap if you have enough time in Cambodia. For more info, you can check out Tales of Asia website, or your favourite guidebooks and online travel resources.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Central Park, New York

There are many attractions in New York, and the city itself is really quite something. But while the city life there never quite seem to slow down, perhaps you should. After days of shopping or hopping from place to place, spare yourself an hour or two (or better still, half a day or more), and relax yourself in Central Park.

Central Park is a big urban park right in the city of Manhattan. Made famous by many movies and TV shows, it is visited by locals and tourists alike. You could take a stroll through the many walking tracks, have a picnic around some of the green open spaces, roller-blade/cycle with your friends, or just plant yourself in a nice shady spot and finish reading your overdue book. There is even a lake in the park, where you can enjoy some boat-rowing! (And I think in winter, you could ice-skate there!)

But what surprised me when I was walking through the park, is the amount of wildlife, esp birds in the park. I met a retired couple there, who were avid bird-watchers. Apparently, Central Park is quite a popular hangout for bird-watching New-Yorkers. There are as many of 200 species of birds seen in the park, and I have the pleasure of being able to catch a glimpse of number of them!

When you next stop by Manhattan New York, check out Central Park!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

350 : 24Oct International Day of Climate Action

24 Oct 2009. Make a stand. Take an action - using the number 350!

Why 350? In a brief, 350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in "Parts Per Million" in our atmosphere. We have actually already exceeded that number. Climate change affects everybody, and so, everybody has a responsibility to help lower that number. Check out the video below :

Of course, there's alot more to this issue of climate change. To find out more, check out
Below is an "Action Map" of the world, where there are actions organised by concerned people in their respective countries.

View Actions at

For those in Singapore, after zooming in, you'll find 7 entries. Check out the mass activities at Padang and SMU (The Wacky Walk and the Human Tidal Wave)! Join in if you have the time!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change - Glaciers

Glaciers are wondrous sights. Formed when fallen snow compresses into large bodies of ice, what is so special about them is that they move! Think of them as rivers of ice, although the flow is relatively slower. They shrink and expand as well, depending on climate changes. But with the world population growing and greenhouse gases increasing, the world is heating up. And this can only mean the glaciers are shrinking.

Will the future generations see the sights I see? Nobody knows.
As part of the Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change goal,

here's sharing some pictures of glaciers I've seen and taken on my travels. I hope I can still see more, and that everyone would have a chance as well. Take care Mother Earth!

Passu and Batura Glacier, Pakistan

Ultar Glacier, Pakistan and MingYong Glacier, Yunnan China

Athabasca Glacier, Canada and Fox Glacier, New Zealand