Saturday, April 24, 2010

Singapore Urbanscape

Singapore, the small island city, is decorated with buildings and structures of all manner of shape and sizes. Visitors to Singapore, besides taking back memories of eating and shopping, should take back pictures of the Singapore "urbanscape".

Here's sharing a mini gallery of the Singapore Urbanscape.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Muang Sing, Laos

Lounging in the northwestern corner of Laos, Muang Sing is a sleepy little town that seems to be prodded awake due to its proximity to the infamous Golden Triangle. But with the exposure given in the guidebooks and the warning of rapid development, the town greeted me with a somewhat sluggish demeonor, and hopefully, the authenticity of the town have remained intact!

For travellers on a northern Laos trip, Muang Sing is a convenient stop along the way to Xiang Kok, the port of call for a boat trip down the Mekong to Houayxai and downward to northern Thailand. When it became known for its easy access to opium, the town came into prominence. Perhaps it was low season, or perhaps I looked the decent sort (:p), but I was not harassed, and was generally left alone most of the time. (I hear that the Lao government had a clamp down on the opium thingy)

Like its bigger brother Luang Namtha on the east, Muang Sing makes an excellent base for trekking trips to see some of the ethnic tribes of northern Laos. These include the Hmong, Ankha, Tai Lue and Tai Dam. In fact, Muang Sing is known for its morning market where the various tribal communities gather on the edge of the town for commerce, wearing their colourful attire. This was my main aim for coming to town. However, the morning that I went to see the market, the turnout seems alittle disappointing. Perhaps it was the dismal rainy morning but nevertheless, the visit to Muang Sing was still a good one. The lush green rice fields of the Laos countryside is really pretty, and I enjoyed walking around town. There is also a Tribal Museum in town, which shows the history of the various hill tribes, including the different types of tribal costumes! You should also take the opportunity for a relaxing traditional Laos massage or herbal sauna in a wooden hut!

The transport options to Muang Sing were really basic (sawngthaew), but I'm sure the massage will help you forget it. From here, there are transport to Boten if you do want to exit to China. Otherwise, it will be sawngthaew to Xiang Kok and beyond.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Harbin, Northeast China

Mention Harbin, and the Ice Lantern Festival comes to mind. In fact, it is Harbin's number one tourist attraction, and so, significant efforts are also put in to capitalize on this.

Beautiful lighted ice sculptures
There are now like three locations where you can admire and see the snow and ice sculptures - Zhaolin Park, Sun Island, and the Snow & Ice World. All require entrance tickets in excess of 100RMB each. The biggest is probably Snow & Ice World, but all will be crowded. And they are best admired at night where the multi-coloured lights bring the sculptures alive.

However, I actually enjoyed some of the other attractions aside from this number one attraction!
  • The main tourist street of Zhongyang Dajie (中央大街 ), a cobbled pedestrian street, makes for nice browsing with Russian influenced architecture, some dating back 1900s. And it's really nice to just chill in a warm cafe after a wintry walk! (And the cafes have nice decor too!)
  • The Church of St Sophia, the most photographed picture in Harbin, is well worth its shutter time especially early morning or late evening when it is bathed in the winter sunlight. 
  • I also enjoyed the walk across the Songhua river, where you know as you stand in the middle of the river that this view is only possible in winter. There are also all manner of activities on the frozen river, from horse-carriage rides to sledding. But I prefer to walk - how often can you walk on a river?! ;)
  • And the amazing winter swim that the locals partake, though having to pay an entrance fee to see it caught me off-guard for a moment (and then I remembered I am in China... :p). It's interesting to note that for the "warm-up" before they plunge into the icy-cold waters, the participants actually roll themselves on the snow/ice-covered ground! I guess it's to minimize the shock the body gets when they jump in.

I've always enjoyed winter, though in Dongbei (Northeast China), you have to be properly equipped for it. A number of friends are particularly concerned about visiting Harbin since many are worried about the extreme cold here. But once you're properly well attired (a good down jacket is an absolute must!), Harbin is really quite enjoyable!

Winter swimming
Zhongyang Dajie at night