Saturday, March 28, 2009

Wynyard Tulip Festival

Most people would associate Tulip Festival with the Dutch kind, but there are other similar festivals elsewhere in the world. One such place is Wynyard, a town in north-west Tasmania.

Held in October (that'll be spring in the southern hemisphere), Wynyard hosts the annual festivities with plenty of celebrations and fun. There will be parades, games, food - the town literally becomes a carnival. There'll be plenty of children all around, either joining the parading floats, or lining the streets watching the fun. There is even a game competition, called the Tulip Tossing competition! The person who throws a stalk of tulip furthest wins the competition! Who'd have thought of that?

In the surrounding countryside of Wynyard, there're a number of tulip farms. However, the year I went, spring was late, so we didn't get to see the full bloom. Nevertheless, it was still quite a pretty sight, and definitely worth a road trip! Especially if you love flowers in bloom!

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Koya-san, or Mount Koya, lies at the south of Osaka, and is Japan's centre or headquarters for Shingon Buddhism. Many temples fill the mountains (easily over 100), and Koyan-san is also designated a UNESCO World Hertiage Site.

One of the interesting things at Koya-san is that you can stay in a shukubo, or temple lodging! The monks open up their temples for visiting tourists to experience a little of their lifestyle. Usually, a stay comes complete with dinner and breakfast in the temple itself. You will be served shojin ryori, a vegetarian cuisine that the monks take. And I have to say that it's one of the best vegetarian meals I have in my life! Typically, you will be asked to gather at a communal room at a specified time, and the meals would be served (together with the rest of the temple's guests).

Staying at a shukubo, you will also be asked to join their morning prayers, which typically starts at 6am. 10 or 15 minutes prior to that, a gong would sound (a morning call?), and you would have to make your way to the prayer room. Your involvement would usually be a silent contemplation of whats going on and trying to stay awake, and the prayer session usually last 30-45 minutes. Then everyone will adjoin to the communcal room for breakfast....

In Koya-san also lies Japan's biggest graveyard, where Okunoin is. Okunoin is the temple where Kobo Daishi (Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, is buried. As he is extremely revered in Japan, many prominent and famous people would want to be buried in Koya-san together with him! The whole place feels very serene, which makes it excellent for quiet walks. There is also a Koya town, which seems to be more catered to tourists than anything, so you are able to get access to convenience stalls and such.

To get to Koya-san, take the Nankai Koya line in Osaka to Gokurakubashi station. From Gokurakubashi, there is a cablecar which will take you up to Koya-san, where you will then need to take their 10-minute shuttle bus to Koya town. A little tiring in terms of transport logistics, but that's where the quiet and serene ambience of Koya-san is so welcoming!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Laid-back Luang Prabang

Idyllic, charming, relaxed, laidback - these are some of the terms used to describe Luang Prabang. It is all that, and more; and more importantly, it had to be felt in person.

The former royal capital of Laos, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and while tourism have not reached the levels seen in Thailand or Vietnam, there is a nagging feeling that it eventually would. For now though, there is an air of resistance to ...hectic-ness if you will, and if you stay in Luang Prabang for a day or two, your pace of life would inevitably slow down to match the feel of the city.

The city-centre, esp Xiang Thong road is pretty much lined with tourist shops and facilities. However, a couple of minutes of walk away, and the atmosphere changes quickly. My favourite part of Luang Prabang would be the riverside of Nam Khan, one of the tributaries of the mighty Mekong. One can easily pass by an afternoon sitting in one of the cafes by the river, observing local life and drinking their local beer. Beer Lao, at US$1 for a 640ml bottle, has become a daily beverage for my stay in Laos!
There are a number of tourist attractions around, including the multitudes of wats in the city. Slow boats let you cruise the river, a walk up Phou Si hill lets you have a beautiful view of the city and river, and many side trips bring you to the outskirts of the city, touring caves and waterfalls. But one of the more interesting "attraction" would be watching the alms-giving procession for the monks that occur every morning before 6am. I used the word "attraction" because bus-loads of tourists actually come to witness this!

But the real attraction for me, is that a stay in Luang Prabang gives you what a real holiday entails - an idyllic, charming, relaxed and laidback time to soothe your soul.