Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Singapore: Chinese Garden & Discovery Centre

Plans for Friday were to go to Chinese Garden and Discovery Centre. Again I left the house later than planned but it wasn’t because I woke up late. It was coz the bathroom was in use and I did not calculate the time I needed for breakfast. Stupid huh? I was supposed to reach Chinese Garden at 9.45AM but at that time I was only leaving the house.

Because I was late the Chinese Garden visit had to be cut short. The Chinese part of the garden was nice but the Japanese part was, well, a little boring. Maybe that’s why many places only referred to it as Chinese Garden although it is supposed to be Chinese and Japanese Garden.

Cheng Ho

Climbing up the pagoda.

It felt like I was climbing Rapunzel’s tower and I lost count of how many levels I’ve climbed. When I reached the top I did find Singapore’s own Rapunzel and her prince sitting there blocking part of the path, flirting like it’s nobody’s business. Ok so maybe it’s not our business.

View from the top:

Bonsai Garden
The website said you have to pay for it but when I went there nobody was there to collect money. I didn't see any counters there too.

I missed the twin pagoda but I hope I’ll be going back there again.

By the time I was walking around the Japanese part of the garden, it was almost noon, freaking hot, and I would be late for Discovery Centre if I don’t move soon. Unfortunately for me, the path in Japanese Garden was long, winding, boring, and “shadeless”. So maybe the fact that it’s noon is why I can’t find shade. It was a torturous walk back to the entrance. I’m pretty sure I’m one shade darker now.

Luckily I was able to reach Discovery Centre in time for the SAFTI Bus tour which takes you around well, the SAFTI Military Institute. After the 20 minute ride I was back in Discovery centre to catch 2 shows, one 3D Sharks and one 2D Everest at the iWERKS theatre. You’ll have to plan your trip so that you have enough time for the movies, bus tour and the Discovery Centre. However, if you can do the Night Safari (which I will talk about in the next post), you can easily do this.

Robot that sings Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

After that I walked across to the Army Museum, still in the same grounds but on another side of the lake. The Army Museum is free and they have 2 short shows inside which is about 7-8 minutes each. One of the show is really cool. I’m not gonna spoil it for those who are planning to go there but if you really wanna know, you can

(click to show/hide)

I went into the show feeling like I was entering a haunted house because I earlier eavesdropped on another visitor who had seen the show before, saying it’s pretty scary. The girl at the reception asked if I was brave enough to watch the show as well. Psychology in effect!

How the cadet does his uniform. Almost like cooking.

It was not a bad visit. If you are planning on going you better go before lunch coz the shows take time and the place closes at 6PM.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Singapore: Chinatown "revisited"

It rained again yesterday and for fear of having to stay in the house again, I decided to start my journey earlier. At 8.30AM the alarm clock rang and I without a care in the world, turned it off. I woke up late but it was still earlier than the other days. Before my suspected curse of waking up at 11 and having the sky turn grey by 12 becomes confirmed, I hurriedly left the house just a little after 11.

By 12, I was in Chinatown and the sky is anything but grey. Actually it was burning hot. After walking through Pagoda St. and Terengganu St., I reached the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum.

I sought refuge from the menacing sun in the 6-level temple (basement and rooftop included). It was the first temple equipped with air-con and lifts that I’ve ever visited.

Lanterns are hung around the temple in celebration of Wesak Day.

More lanterns! Wesak Day will be celebrated here until 1st June.

100 Dragons Hall. A hundred Buddhas are enshrined on both sides of the hall wall.

More pictures of the temple at the bottom.

After a walk around thePagoda-Terengganu-Sago St. market, I proceeded to Chinatown’s Oasis of Cool. I’ve been wanting to walk up Ann Siang Hill Park and I tell you, what a great disappointment it was.

Basically, this “hill park” is nothing but a short 3-minute path. Oh well, I’ll treat that as a cool path to go to other streets it connects.

Walking down the park, I turned into Telok Ayer St. and visited another temple, the Thian Hock Keng temple.
There’s a mosque on that road too, but you can forget about it coz it looks like nothing but a shophouse. Just like the mosque and Hindu temple on South Bridge Road, it’s not worth a visit. There’s nothing! Ok fine, I admit I didn’t go into Masjid Jamae on South Bridge Road coz it looks uninviting. Don’t shoot me if I’m wrong about it being boring. I did go in the Hindu temple and you need to pay for your camera though I don’t see why you even need to take pictures. ‘Nuff said.

I had soft bun on Boon Tat St. (it’s supposed to be famous for satay but I don’t see any. Maybe just at night?). It’s a bun with kaya and butter in it (and I think that’s all). After that my friend came to meet me. Well, actually, he came and I had to go to the MRT station to pick him up. Not long after that it started to rain. Hmm…who brought the rain?

Because it started to rain I thought it’d be good to seek refuge in the Tooth Relic Temple again…and got my friend to take pictures for me hehe.

The Ten Thousand Buddhas Pavilion on the roof. In the pavillion is a gigantic cloisonne Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel (fui~that was long. Got it from the brochure :P)

Every turn of the cylindrical wheel represents a single recital of the scripture and mantra of the Dharma sutras that are placed inside the wheel.

Wheel of sutras! Oh my big face.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Singapore: Chinatown escapade (right...)

Today’s my first time traveling as a tourist alone. I’ve always wondered how those lone backpackers feel when they walk in a foreign land. And…unfortunately, I still don’t quite know. That’s coz it was raining the whole day! I took a bus to the nearest shopping mall (for some reason my cousin kept telling me to go there, so I went) and after getting a sim card I immediately went to the bus stop. And I thought the buses are systematic. There’s a board that shows you the time the next bus will arrive but surprisingly the time can change. Sometimes it’s just stuck there. Oh well. At least you know it’s coming soon and not hours away.

While waiting, the rain started to pour. It started with a drizzle but soon, water was flowing in onto the bus stop grounds. I took the bus to Chinatown and when I got there something like an hour later, it was still drizzling. Great. There goes my afternoon walk around Chinatown and up Ann Siang Hill Park. For the rest of my 2 hours as a lone tourist, I was in McD eating its expensive fries (S$ 2.15 for a medium fries) and making plans for the rest of my days here. I now have tour packages set out haha. So much for my trip.

My cousin came to find me after that and we went for dinner at Central and took a walk along Clarke Quay.

I like the creativeness of that place. Oh I like it. I simply love the creativity of the restaurants and bars there. That’s like what I wanna do if I own a shop. I love it.

Check this one out. It’s called Clinic and the settings are made to look like a hospital. How cool is that?

The pictures are incredibly blurred. I refused to use flash because the picture would lose its night feel but a blur image doesn’t give much feel either huh? I’m itching to go back there. Maybe I’ll go during the day and get a better picture. I didn’t check the menu but if it’s not too expensive, I’m definitely gonna register there as a patient :)

This is one cool store selling puppets (If I’m not wrong)

Later we walked to Boat Quay and at its end we reached the business district (well, which part of Singapore isn’t? Ok, ok, I’m just exaggerating) I saw this statue.

My cousin told me to be careful coz it will pee on you if you get too close and I totally believed her. I even considered walking closer. Then she said, “Go over there to take the picture of the bird. But be careful not to go too near. It will poop.”

That’s when I realized she was pulling my leg. Damn. She even asked if it pooped. But hey, the peeing statue, it’d be cool right?

Constipated bird.

Finally, a little treat. My cousin let me try this little cookie in what looks like a pantyliner pack :P

It sure doesn’t taste like a pantyliner (god knows how a pantyliner tastes like, I don’t even wanna know), instead it tasted like heaven (Ok fine, so I like to exaggerate. Sue me). I think she bought it in Japan and one box containing only 12 pieces costs S$10. Swallow that.

P.S.: I didn't even finish the Vietnam post yet and here I am talking about Singapore. The Vietnam photos are in my laptop; when I can go online with it, I'll blog. Too lazy to ask for my cuz's password. And maybe I need to install things too. Nevermind. In the meantime I'm using my cuz's com. Her com is in the room I'm sleeping in. Thank god!!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Day 3-4 Sapa Part 2

We met up with our tour guide Mu at the hotel and began our trek to Lao Chai village. Just as our journey started, someone grabbed my hand. It was a black hmong woman we met earlier. She seemed to have misunderstood that I promised to go to her village (wherever that is) and was pulling me away from our group. God that was freaky. Luckily I managed to escape.

In no time more and more black hmongs started to follow us. Many of them are from Lao Chai village including Mu.

What they really do is they would ‘mark’ (as my friend puts it) each of you and when you reach Lao Chai for lunch they would start asking you to buy their overpriced products. I was the last to enter the hut for lunch and that made me their first ‘victim’. I bought a small pencil case-like bag for 20000VD (~RM 4) after cutting it down from 50000VD.

Some posing before we cross the bridge to the hut.

And that’s Liu and Lang, the 2 tiny girls that followed us. They’re all tiny for their ages if you noticed (like Mai and Xu).

At the stop along the trek, these helpless foreigners were surrounded by more salesgirls :P

After lunch we continued our journey to Ta Van village.

Finally after a total of about 11km trek we reached Ta Van village where we would stay the night.

This is our homestay.

All our meals were taken under the night sky. Mu is a great cook. I dare say we had ‘nem’ or springroll everyday since we reached Vietnam and hers was the best. In fact the whole meal was the best. What have we been paying in other places?!

Oh and did I say they love to serve fries? Fries are like the second food we had he most to nem. Mu’s fries were different. She fried them with garlic. I don't think I've had fries this way before.

The next morning we continued our trek to Giang Ta Chai or the Red Zao village.

This trek was the worst, sometimes having to go down slippery steeps, sometimes having to walk on an edge where we had to balance ourselves against the strong wind, and sometimes endless climbs. Regardless we arrived in one piece and relaxed at the waterfall while Mu went to prepare our lunch.

Strange thing is we saw no Red Zao around. Maybe their houses are scattered far away from the hut where we had lunch or all of them have went to Sapa.

After lunch we trekked what seemed like an endless journey, probably because we were tired from all that climbing already, to the road where a van picked us up. The van took us back to the hotel in Sapa. After a couple of hours of shopping around and later dinner, a bus took us back to Lao Cai train station.

A couple sat in front of my seat and from the moment I entered the bus, they have been kissing and hugging non stop. My eyes! My eyes! The sky soon turned dark – you know those evening skies, hate them, they make you strain your eyes yet you see nothing – and I felt like vomiting. The couple wasn’t making things any better. After trying to ignore them for like an hour I accidentally saw that they have switched places! Do you call that skill, or what!?

Take a look at the train station toilet. Maybe this is why they say Vietnam is the next China :P

We stayed another night on train and the next morning, it’s Halong Bay for us!

This is our tour guide Mu (holding the umbrella). If you intend on making a trip to Sapa you can directly contact her and not go through a tour agency because that would make it cheaper. You can send her an email ( for further arrangements. Oh and keep in mind that M.U. is not Manchester United it Vietnam. It means “honey”.

If she insists on knowing how you got her contact you could casually mention me…that might probably earn me some discount points the next time I go there…

…I’m joking.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day 3: Sapa Part 1

Sapa was an experience like no other so I’m gonna be talking quite a bit about it.

In the wee hours of day 3 our train reached Lao Cai but we had to wait for a couple of hours before our van which would drive us to Sapa arrived. I was pretty sure it was our hotel’s fault for the confusion.

Upon reaching Sapa, the first thing I did was to take a bath (I didn’t take one for more than a sweaty day) and ‘Miss Malaysia no. 2’ subsequently followed. The itinerary was rather confusing and the two Switzerland girls we met while waiting for our van agreed. So for those of you who might be taking the Sapa tour, let me clarify it for you.

If you see your itinerary saying that you check into the hotel on the 1st day and sleep in the homestay on the 2nd night then check out of the hotel on the 3rd day, don’t get confused. This is really what you do. You check into the hotel only to leave your luggage there. Soon after, you’ll be trekking to another village where you will spend the night.

After taking the breakfast provided by the hotel, we went for a walk with Mai and Xu as our guides. Mai is a 14 while Xu is a 16 ethnic girls and they both can speak English like they were from England.

Mai and myself.

It was really a different experience for me; with them ethnic black hmong girls bringing us around. People there are really friendly; they’d just walk up to you and start a conversation. Of course we soon realized that most of them follow you around with the hope that you would buy something from them.

A Red Zao woman selling handicrafts.

The Red Zao-s shave their eyebrows and the front half of their heads bald and wear a red headdress as you can see on the picture. Our tour guide explained why they shave their heads but I guess I wasn’t storing it in my long term memory so…I don’t know why!

Mai and Xu took us by the lake where they made flower crowns/bands/whatever-you-call-it for us.

I’ve never picked public flowers, especially not by the lake, especially not with so many friends, and especially not with ethnic people. See why I say this was an experience like no other?

Xu devotedly ‘weaving’ the flowers. I asked her to teach me how to make one myself because just two pair of hands (hers and Mai) can’t make so many flowerbands for all of us.

Everyone’s almost done!

We attracted a lot of attention while we were by the lake; Vietnamese tourists, foreigners, and even the black hmongs themselves!

She did not pose this way intentionally. We swear! Maybe that’s how she sits all the time. Maybe she’s contemplating marriage, or the problems of the world, I don’t know.

Who’s cuter?

The answer’s pretty obvious right? Someone might kill me if he sees this.

After we took more group pictures with our flowerbands over our heads, we rushed back to the hotel to meet our tour guide Mu. On the way, Xu say a love song which I must say, I fell in love with. I asked her what the title was and she said ‘Tiger’. I hope she knew what I meant by ‘title’. According to her, a Tiger sang this song to his lover.

And thus, at 10 AM, we leave Mai and Xu in Sapa and began our trek to Lao Chai village. Note: Lao Chai is a village whereas Lao Cai, the place our train arrived at, is a province.