Monday, December 22, 2008

Yogyakarta Day 3 - Mt Merapi & Prambanan Temple

I covered quite a few memorable sights today. First off, it's off to Kaliadem which is apparently the closest and best place to view Mt Merapi.

Unfortunately, it was a pretty cloudy day so Mt Merapi chose to hide from me. You just have to imagine the volcano hidden in the clouds in the pic below.

The first scene was of buildings drowned in the dried lava. The level of the lava was more than half the height of the houses. Apparently, in the last eruption, there were no fatalities except for two people who were supposedly volunteers, not villagers.

This was a breathtaking view for me. I was standing on the river bed of a former river which was dried up by the lava flow.

Further down the river was this drop. I can just imagine the beautiful waterfall which was here before 2006. It's pretty amazing to be able to actually see the river bed without any water.

The area around the volcano is extremely fertile and there are rice fields everywhere. I caught this view of farmers threshing the rice.

I continued on to Plaosan temple - A buddhist temple with hindu influences. Although much smaller than Borobudur, I thought it was no less grand.
It was also eyeopening to see a restoration project taking place. There are hundreds of these little temples around the main temple and almost all of them were destroyed by earthquakes. On the right is a temple which they are rebuilding by trying to match the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Next up was Prambanan Temple. While Borobudur is a buddhist temple, Prambanan is a Hindu temple. It was a real pity that all the main temples were damaged by the last major earthquake in 2006. All except one was closed to visitors. This is the view from the back. If I got it right, the one in the middle is the temple dedicated to Shiva. The one on the left is dedicated to Vishnu while the right is dedicated to Brahma. In front of each temple (in the case of the pic below, it should be directly behind each temple) there was another animal temple which housed the 'transport' for the gods. Vishnu's was the garuda, Shiva's was the bull and Brahma's was the swan.

Here are part of the carvings on Vishnu's temple. They show the dance steps of the Ramayana.
The final temple I visited was a last minute inclusion. I heard about the Sambisari temple from the local guide and decided to visit it. As you can see from the pic, it's actually located within a pit. The temple was originally hidden as it was covered by layers of volcanic ash. It was discovered by a farmer in 1966 and then excavated and restored.
All in, it's been a pretty busy day but very enjoyable. Tomorrow, I'll probably just spend a lazy day in the hotel while I wait for my flight back to Singapore.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yogyakarta Day 2 - Borobudur

Got up early at 6am today and left the hotel at 7am to make our way to Borobudur which is about an hour away. The plan was to try and beat the crowds. Well, we failed.

Here's my first sight of the temple as we walked towards it. The trees are in a park which was specially added to make space for the visitors to the temple. Apparently, in the past, cars could drive right up to the foot of of the temple.

The carvings on the temple walls are really amazing. There are hundreds of illustration and here is small sample of the carvings which tell the story of Buddha's life from birth to enlightenment.

Here's a pic of Borobudur's main stupa - the big one in the middle. The smaller ones surrounding it have a statue of buddha in them. Apparently, if you reached in and touched the statues (on the fingers for men and on the feet for women), your wish will come true (provided it's not about material gain!).

Here's a pic of the buddha statue inside the smaller stupas.

Our final view of Borobudur from afar as we made our way back to the coach.

Borobudur is constructed in a straight line with two other temples. Here's the one in the middle, the Pawon temple. Similar architecture but much much smaller.

And the other temple in a straight line is the Mendut Temple. The stupa on the top of this temple was destroyed.

It was an interesting visit but I must admit it was spoilt by the crowds. There were hundreds if not thousands of visitors and many were having picnics around the main stupa of Borobudur. On one hand, I think it's nice that Borobudur is so much a part of the people (from the way they were picnic-ing and having fun around the structure). But on the other hand, I wished it was accorded more respect as an important monument from the past.
Tomorrow, I'll be visiting Mt Merapi, Indonesia's most active volcano as well as a few other famous temples. Hope the weather will be nice.

Yogyakarta Day 1

I’m in Yogyakarata (or as the locals prefer, Jogja) and it’s been a nice start to my visit so far. I checked in for my 2-hour flight on Garuda and at the boarding gate, I was pleasantly told that I was bumped up to Executive Class (ie. Equivalent to Business/First Class) for the flight! This is the 2nd time I have had such a privilege, the first was almost 8yrs ago when I won a Business class ticket to Bangkok.

Executive Class is certainly a nice luxury. You get nice big seats and you get everything served to you in glassware. No plastic cups! Service on Garuda Airlines is nothing to shout about but it was decent. Since I was given a window seat, I took the chance to try taking cloud pics with my Canon DSLR. Here are two pics which I thought were the nicer ones. Don’t ask me what that mountain is. I have no idea. Any Indonesians know which mountain it is?

Jogja airport is a typical simple airport. Nothing flashy. You walk off the plane towards the immigration and then just a few steps after immigration, you get your bags off the ONLY luggage conveyor belt and less then 10 steps away is the customs/exit.

My first impressions: It’s already dark so I couldn’t see much. Jogja reminds me pretty much of countries like Bangkok and Vietnam. However, one difference is that there weren’t any jams even though it’s a Saturday night and the roads were quite packed. I can’t see much so I would probably be able to say more tomorrow when I go for the city tour. One interesting trivia I found out was that Jogja has about 600,000 people, of which 400,000 are students who come here to study! So the entire Jogja is pretty much like a small university town. Most of the businesses here cater to students (like bookshops/sports shops/mobile phone shops, etc).

I’m staying at the 5-star Hyatt Regency Hotel. The hotel is laid out like a resort and the pool is pretty awesome . Will try to post some pics once I get some daylight shots. Here's a pic of a cultural show which was going on in the hotel.

Tomorrow is a relatively early start. Gotta wake up at 6am so that we can reach Borobudur by 9am. I’m looking forward to the visit.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Off to Yogyakarta

At the airport now, waiting for my flight to Yogyakarta (that's in Indonesia for those of you who are not too geographically inclined). Quite exciting actually. I've never been to Yogyakarata and I'm quite excited to see the famous Borobudur. This is partially fueled by the fact that I've got my new Canon 1000D DSLR and I can't wait to try my hand and taking more pics with it.

Come to think of it, this is the first trip that I've taken in the past two years on my own. Sure, I've been travelling due to the tours that I've been leading, but I've not been on my own trip. It's only a short 4 days trip but I think I've been strangely bit by the Asian travel bug. I've never been one to be excited about travelling in South East Asian and I usually end up in either Japan or USA. Now, I'm looking forward to this Indonesia Trip and am acutally planning to go back to Vietnam and maybe visit the coastal areas of Thailand and I'm also hoping to visit Angkor Wat soon.

The busy Nov/Dec travel season is over and I must say it's been an interesting 6 weeks. Plenty of ups and a couple of downs but on the whole, I think it's been not bad.

Look out for my pics of Borobudur in a few days.

Monday, December 08, 2008

In Vietnam - Actually.. on the way out..

I've been in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam the last week on my last group tour for the year. I've always had a soft spot for Vietnam and I've always found it more inviting than Bangkok. Although many people come to Vietnam for the shopping, I find that it's the people and the sights which are most stirring.

This time we did the usual visits to Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. But we also had some technical visits which were a first time for me too. One was a visit to the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park. It's quite impressive to see how a little country like Singapore can leave such big footprints everywhere. We can complain all we want about our PAP government, but we cannot deny the good they have accomplished in our short history.

The next thing which stood out for me is the visit to the orphanage for children affected by Agent Orange during the American-Vietnam war. It's not my first time at such an orphanage but it doesn't make it any easier to see these children. It's heartwrenching to see that after all these years, the effect of the chemical is still affecting innocent babies and it's even more sad to see these children living in such simple conditions. I can't help but compare this with the victims of the Minamata disease in Japan. Of course, they also faced many difficulties and discrimination, but I am glad their living conditions are so much better and some even consider the victims as 'treasures from heaven' sent to teach the world a lesson. In stark contrast, I see these children affected by Agent Orange tucked away in a corner with very little healthcare and not even a clinic in the premises. As much as it pains me, what is more disturbing I guess, is that I (and probably most of the people on the tour) will soon forget about this and carry on with our daily lives.

After the group departed, I stayed on to do some exploration of the areas around Ho Chi Minh City. I was really surprised to find this gem of a place -Mui Ne. It's a beautiful beach area and close by, there are white and red sand dunes that look just like a desert! I'm definitely gonna consider including this place in future group itineraries. It's only about 4 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City and I think it's well worth a visit.

Well, my flight to Singapore departs in about 90mins.. then I'll be home at last. about a busy travelling season!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

In Kyushu Part 6 - Album Update for BVSS

Phew. Talk about a whirlwind tour. I've just finished a pretty intense 5 day tour with BVSS and it was certainly packed coz our usual tour to Kyushu is 6 days long. To BVSS-ians, thanks for being pretty attentive and enthusiastic. I hope you have enjoyed the tour and especially the snow! Yep... you are the one and only group this season that has not only experienced snow but experienced snowing as well! I was really surprised and quite ecstatic for you guys when I saw the snow begin falling that day.

I've started uploading your photos. I will try to get it done by tomorrow night, but I might not be able to before I have to leave for Vietnam on Monday. To be honest, I'm pretty tired from the month-long stay in Kyushu, but I'm hoping I'll be rested in time for Monday's group.

Here's the link for BVSS photos.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Kyushu Part 5 - Skies over Kyushu

For some reason, I found that the skies over Kyushu were particularly beauiful the past week. I couldn't help but take a few pictures. Here are some of them.

Sky over Nagasaki. Not very well taken but it was breathtaking to see the rays of sunlight shining through the clouds. Taken at about 9am.
Picture taken when we were at Kyushu Ceramics Museum in Saga at about 12 noon.

This one was obviously taken at Kumamoto Castle. I loved the way the skies framed the castle. Taken at about 10am.
Another scene taken at the castle ground facing away from the castle (around 10am still).

Skies over Toen Junior High School at about 3.30pm.

We then made our way to Mt Aso and when we stopped at the Shirakawa Fountainhead, another awesome ray-through-cloud scene greeted us! This was around 3pm and it was drizzling slightly.

We went to Dazaifu and I caught this sky over the main gate of Dazaifu. (Taken around 3pm)

And finally, here's a pic of the sky as the sun was setting. Taken and San-do, the shopping street leading to Dazaifu at about 5pm.

In Kyushu Part 4 - Album Update for DSS

Another week, another group. So far, this is the group that has stayed the longest in Kyusu, 6 nights, as compared to the usual 5 nights. DSS has been the group with a couple of 'first's:

1st time I've led an all-girls group
1st time I've led a 6-night itinerary
1st time we have had a kimono-dress-up at a castle
1st time a school group has done so much shopping
1st time I almost went crazy trying to manage a group.... (joking, joking...)

To be frank, I was a little apprehensive about leading an all-girl group, but in the end, I must admit I did have a pretty good time. To DSS girls dropping by, hope you had as much fun as I did. I still wished you walked faster (you were really the slowest of all the groups I've led!!!) but we still managed to get where we needed to go. :)

Here's the link to the online album: LINK

As I always say... take care & stay in touch!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Kyushu Part 3 - Pics of new places I've visited

Since I have about 2 days in between groups, I decided to explore other parts of Fukuoka to see if there were new places I could add into the itinerary for future groups. Here are some pics of my exporation:

Took a train to the south of Hakata. Actually, it was a Shinkansen! Only cost me 290yen. But I was more surprised that the station at the end was actually a depot and there was a whole row of Shinkansen trains lined up. First time I've seen such a scene.

Was walking towards Dazaifu when I noticed a few small stalls. First was this really yummy sotong stall! I tried the second sotong stick from the right.. yummy!

I've been hungering for some good yakitori and what better way to satisfy that with some yakitori from a road side stall! Look at the gorgeous sticks of sinful meat.... I confess, I had two of the prok yakitoris... SHIOK.

Finally made my way to Dazaifu. It was really busy coz of the Sichi-go-san festival. Quite a pretty temple dedicated to the god of learning.

As it was Sichi-go-san festival, there were many children aged 7, 5 and 3 who were dressed in their traditional japanese outfits. Managed to sneak a pic of this little boy posing for a pic. I didn't dare to take more coz i didn't want to be seen to be walking around taking pics of small kids... just felt wrong somehow... :)

A few minutes' walk from Dazaifu Shrine is the Komyozenji Temple. It's a really serene and beautiful temple. Look at the trees with the zen patterns drawn in the sand surrounding it.

In the temple was a garden which can take your breath away. Look at the beautiful autumn colours!

Finally, I went hunting for the Kanzeonji Temple, a buddhist temple completed in 746AD. It wasn't easy to find and in start contrast to Dazaifu Shrine, there was no one visiting the temple. It was eeriely silent...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

In Kyushu Part 2 - Album Update for NTSS

Another week has passed. Must admit that I'm feeling a little drained after two groups. But it's been fun so far and I hope it carries on being fun.

To New Towners visiting this blog to download your pics, here's the LINK.

NTSS group was kinda strange. But strange in a fun kinda way. I think I took a little longer to warm up to the group but towards the end, I think it worked out fine. One thing which I am really amazed with is how NTSS brought the good weather together with them! Seriously... before you guys (& gals) came, it was kinda rainy and not-coldish. While you were here, it was sunny and cool (most of the time anyway...). And today, after you guys left, would you believe it started to get overcast?!! By about 2pm (Japan time), it started drizzling! I can't believe the good luck you had with the weather. I won't forget the beautiful scenary of the cloud cover over Ichinomiya City (where our hotel was).

OK... Two down... Two to go!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

In Kyushu - Album Update for WSSS

Yep, I'm back in Kyushu, this time for almost a month! Just finished the first group with WSSS and thankfully, I have 2 days before the arrival of the next group. This is a luxury compared to my June groups when I had no breaks between the three groups. Then, it was send one group off at 3rd floor, then go downstairs to pick up the next group. Phew. Still dunno how I survived that.

Anyway, to the WSSS-ians who have dropped by to take a look, I had a pretty fun time with your group. There were some pretty unforgettable characters and I hope you had a meaningful time in Kyushu (even though I know you wanted more shopping time....) I am slowly updating my album... realized there are over 700MB of pictures. I hope to get them up by tomorrow before I start on the next group on Monday.

Here's a direct link to the album: LINK

Please leave a comment in my cbox to let me know u dropped by and let's try to keep in touch. :)

Thursday, October 23, 2008


It's been two weeks since I've been discharged and well, I have to say I think I'm recovering quite well. Have already gone back to work since last Friday cause there's quite a lot of things to do before I leave for Japan on 2 Nov.

The wound is still not closed up but it seems to be improving. Have to change the gauze everyday but there's still some bloodstains. Wonder how much longer it will take. I'm hoping it will seal up nicely by next week, before I travel.

November is going to be one of my busiest months. I will actually be away in Kyushu for pretty much the whole month, leading about 4 tours! It's scary. I'm gonna be living out of my luggage and changing hotels about 4 times in a week... While I'm looking forward to having fun with each group, I'm also very very apprehensive about travelling for a month in Japan. Hope I don't fall sick.

I've managed to catch a few movies since I've been discharged and the two which I have enjoyed quite a bit are 20th Century Boys and Tropic Thunder. Here;s a little bit about 20th Century Boys...

Although the reviews have not been glowing, I found 20th Century Boys very enjoyable. I thought the characters were interesting (especially Kenji and Donkey) and I liked how the story was developed. Yes, it is very similar to movies like IT by Stephen King but I think the Japanese backdrop and the typical manga-type story makes it really engaging for me. This movie is suppoed to be the first of three. I can't wait for the sequel which is supposed to be coming in Jan 09!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

To hospital to hospital.. again!

After last year's MRSA attack, I've been reasonably well. However, there were still some stones (rather large ones, according to my doctor) in my kidney which I had to get removed. So guess where I am again? Yep.. in hospital.

I underwent the operation yesterday. Apparently, they cut a small slit on my back and went straight to the kidney to break up the stone and remove the debris. Yeah, all this happened yesterday and to be frank, I feel quite well today other than for a tube connected to my kidney to drain the blood as it heals. According to my doctor, I was to be able to return home tomorrow to rest at home. However, they did a scan today and discovered that there was still a reasonably large piece of stone in the kidney... so apparently they are gonna operate on me AGAIN on Friday! Arrgghhh...

But I thnk more than frustration, I guess I'm just feeling a sense of resignation. What can I do rite? The stone has to come out. If i don't do it now, i'll still have to do it soon. Not as if there's any miracle medicine that can meeeelllltttt the stone away. (If there was, it would probably melt my kidneys too. :P)

As you might have realized by now, I'm actually blogging from my hospital bed. Brought my laptop to keep me occupied with surfing/videos/games. I'm definitely more prepared this time!

Here's wishing Friday's cut is a successful one...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer offered travel agents a free ride on the Singapore Flyer. The offer ends on Tuesday so I decided to take the day off and be-a-tourist-for-a-day.

I am generally quite interested in Observation Wheels. I usually give them a try (if they are not too expensive!) when I am travelling. One of my favourites is the one in Tokyo near the Tokyo Sea Life Park. Anyway, I've been putting off trying our own Singapore Flyer coz I guess I couldn't bring myself to spend $30 for a 30min ride.

Below are some of the pics from my ride. You can see more if you click my Flickr album on the sidebar.

The F1 track was closed to cars/buses so I had to take a long scenic walk from Suntec to the Flyer. Quite a nice view walking up to the Flyer. Feels big & kinda grand.

Just before entering the Flyer Complex, I was quite taken by the moorings which were holding the wheel in place. Reminds me of some phaser canons on a galactic cruiser in scifi shows.

And here, we have lift off! Being a weekday afternoon, there weren't many people around. I had the entire carriage to myself. Shiok.

First main sight as the wheel rotated was the F1 complex & Grandstand. You've gotta be impressed how fast Singapore can build stuff! Just imagine, all these structures weren't around a year ago!

Here's a view from somewhere near the top of the wheel's rotation cycle. I think the area behind is the Kallang area where the National Stadium (which never seems to get demolished) is.

Coming down the other side (ie. after the wheel has rotated about 200 degrees or so), I had a nice view of the CBD area as well as the up and coming Integrated Resort (*cough* CASINO *cough*). As the carriage returned to the starting point, there was a nice model of the whole resort. You can see it in the Flickr Album.

And here's the view as the carriage is returning to the boarding point. Whole journey did take about 30mins.

The nice thing about the F1 road closures is that the Flyer actually provided a FREE water taxi from Flyer to Clarke Quay. It was like getting a free river cruise! I think after the F1 period, it will cost $5 to take it. Not too expensive and might be worth a ride to complete the whole experience.

I have only one complain. I was kinda disappointed that they didn't have any onboard commentary in the carriage. It would have been nice to hear some commentary on what I was actually looking at. At least they did try to provide a map-like handout to show us what the main sights were. Better than nothing I guess. I was however quite irritated at the CONSTANT F1 car-revving sounds that was being piped through the speakers. They had an F1 promotional video looping on the LCD screen and the noise did take away a little from the whole experience.

OK, so generally, I did enjoy the Flyer. To be frank, I wouldn't mind getting some membership if they allowed me to take unlimited rides on the Flyer. I think it would be interesting to take it at different times in a day, especially at night. Hmm.. since the travel agent free ride ends on Tuesday, maybe I should try to take another ride on Monday evening.... :)