Sunday, January 19, 2014

Chinatown & Chinese New Year, Singapore

Like many countries in the world that has a 'Chinatown', Singapore's Chinatown is a location and an attraction in itself. However, foreign visitors who are visiting Singapore now, will be in for an additional treat when you drop by the area.

Year of the Horse!

One of my earliest memories as a kid during the Chinese New Year, would be our annual pilgrimage to Chinatown. My mother would bring me to shop for new clothes, taste/buy Chinese New Year goodies, and enjoy the festivities. 2 weeks leading to the Year, part of the roads and lanes within Chinatown would be lined with makeshift stalls selling all manner of Chinese New Year merchandise (notably Temple St, Pagoda St areas). While times have changed, and products have evolved (I saw stalls selling fibre broadband this year!), the festive air remained unchanged.

The stalls and festive atmosphere comes to life towards evening and when the night falls, that's when the traffic and crowds thicken. Most of the decor and designs would be related to the zodiac animal of the New Year. This year, you'll see lots of horse related decor and merchandise. During weekends (perhaps weekdays too), there will be performances such as lion dances and/or dragon dances. Red and gold colors dominate the visuals, and sounds of voices hawking their wares fill the air. For tourists, I would imagine this to be a great travel experience, and complete with a sampling of our Chinese New Year snacks! And for those who's keen to purchase something, and stays nearby, here's a tip - on Chinese New Year's eve, just few hours before the clock strikes 12, almost all the products would be sold at bargain prices!

'Red packets' - an essential item during our Chinese New Year! ;)

I have noticed too that in recent years, there's increasingly more hostels in Chinatown. For those who like to be in the thick of the action may consider staying within the area. Of course, be prepared for the noise! In any case, whoever's in Singapore now, check it out!

The crowds in Chinatown at night!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ayder & The Kaçkars

Situated in northeastern Turkey, the Kaçkar Mountains is a mountain range that separates the Black Sea coast from the Anatolia region. One of the easiest visit to these mountains is the summer resort town of Ayder.

Ayder in the Kaçkar mountains
Misty day in Ayder

Ayder may be considered 'touristy' as many local tourists come over for weekend holidays, and for good reason. Surrounded by lush green forests, and cool mountain air, it is such a pleasant place for an outdoor break from the city. I visited just off-season, and there was virtually no crowd. However, it was very drizzly and very very misty, though it does give the place an idyllic charm.

There are plenty of hiking trails, streams and waterfalls in the region that cater to various levels of participation - from hiking daytrips to multi-day treks to Mt Kaçkar at almost 4000m. I had contemplated about a trekking trip to another village Yaylalar, reputed to be even prettier, but the weather was just not cooperative. I had to settle for simple hikes, which was really quite enjoyable as well. With the cool mountain air, I could also just relax in the many comfortable resort guesthouses and pansiyons (pensions).

Ayder can be reached by dolmush (minivan) from the town of Pazar. To Pazar, there are buses from the major towns like Trabzon and Rize, and even from Batumi Georgia, which was what I did! I had too much humid heat in the city, and Ayder provided much relief for me. For those who are traveling to eastern Turkey, and love mountain greenery, check out Ayder (and probably Yaylalar as well)!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Last Continent - Antarctica

Antarctica is the subject of wonder, awe and mystery for many travelers and explorers. Even more so for the common folk. Indeed, it was just a place on the map that I had just gazed at, fantasizing about a visit one day.

It was actually quite late in life that I realized that it is quite possible to do so. While I knew scientific expeditions to the southernmost continent were common, I never knew that tourist visits were possible on cruise ships. And there are quite a number of establishments that arrange that as well!

Being the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, the only window of time possible for tourist visits are the "summer" months from mid Nov to early Mar. While different months may yield slightly different experiences, every visit will blow your mind away with it's spectacular untamed landscapes and amazing untouched wildlife. In early season eg Dec, you may see pristine white winterscapes and adult penguins convorting in the snow. In Feb however, you may see penguin chicks shedding fur among poo-covered icy ground. But the common denominator of it all is that you would come away with a trip of a lifetime!

With the advancement of world connectedness through internet, one can easily find tour operators with Antarctic cruises. However, if you have abit more time, you may well visit Ushuaia Argentina, commonly known as the southernmost city on the world. Most cruise ships depart from here to Antarctica, and you may get better deals from here.

Needless to say, the Antarctic is one of the most beautiful places I've been and one of my most memorable trips I've had. Here's to more travels in 2014 ahead!

Amazing icebergs on display
Adele penguins upclose
Penguins & Ice-cliffs are common sights
So are seals
Plenty of other birds
Visits to research stations
Sailing in an icy world...