Tag Archives: Asia

Singapore… The ‘City In A Garden’

As I glided into the city on the MRT, Singapore’s main transport system, I felt a great sense of ease.  I was able to fully appreciate the efficiency and thoughtful planning that had gone into the layout and infrastructure of this tropical city-state.

Despite being in an air-conditioned carriage on a high speed monorail there was no denying I had arrived in the tropics.  A combination of effort on the part of the government to develop and enhance Singapore’s greenery, and a warm climate with abundant rainfall throughout the year, have resulted in a city where foliage can flourish.  Lush vegetation springs up from the earth in between the clean lines of the modern city buildings, reminding me that, despite being surrounded by modern space-age style buildings, I was still very much on a living planet.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Singapore wasn’t my wildest adventure, but that was part of the appeal for me.  I stayed for a couple of weeks visiting a friend so I had time to really settle in.  Not that it took long; I instantly felt at home there.  In the preceding months I’d been travelling alone around Turkey, Georgia and Armenia.  It had been amazing, but it was a relief to be somewhere I could blend in with the locals (there are expats from all over the world living in Singapore) and communicate easily.

It was familiar enough to be comfortable, but different enough to be interesting.  I only had to venture across the road to the nearest shopping mall to experience a wide variety of excellent reasonably priced food from all over Asia and the rest of the world, catering to the tastes of the diverse mix of people who lived there.

I was a stones throw away from Sentosa island which on a quiet week day is quite a relaxing place to explore.  It’s known as ‘The State of Fun’ and certainly has its fair share of entertaining attractions, but I preferred to find quieter spots to stroll around, or take a quick dip in the sea.

 

Palawan beach on Sentosa island, Singapore, with suspension bridge across to the southernmost point in continental Asia.

Palawan beach on Sentosa island, Singapore, with suspension bridge across to the southernmost point in continental Asia.

One of my favourite memories of Singapore was walking around the forest on Sentosa and then hopping on the free bus that takes visitors around the island.  It’s probably a different story at busier times but I really appreciated the peace and tranquility of that moment combined with the convenience of being in a city resort.  It definitely isn’t the place to go for a relaxing beach holiday, but it’s one of many havens in a large modern city.

Singapore zoo

Singapore zoo.  I loved this poncho which sheltered me and my bag from the torrential rain… I think the tortoise liked it too!

Singapore zoo was another such haven for me.  As zoos go it’s a pretty good one, with lots of space for the animals and an emphasis on conservation.  There is a lot to see, and a separate “Night Safari” too which is well worth a visit.

Singapore also has some stunning and fascinating botanical gardens which are absolutely huge.  My favourite parts were travelling through time in a garden that told the natural history of the Earth, and strolling barefoot on the ‘reflexology’ paths that give your feet a massage as you go.

The Gardens by the Bay were the last gardens I visited in this ‘Garden City’, with the Supertree Grove being the perfect example of the city’s green aspirations.  Each ‘Supertree’ is a beautiful fusion of modern technology and nature.  The trees capture solar energy to help run the park, collect rainwater and channel it to where it is needed, and cool the large domed conservatories.  They are a magnificent sight to behold, with plants climbing all the way up the huge steel frames that reach up to the sky, and views of the park and beyond from the suspended walkway between them.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

 

These crazy futuristic gardens are a perfect symbol for Singapore which is doing its best to live up to its slogan of ‘City in a Garden’.

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Hampi- An Enchanting Indian Wonderland

When I think back to my time in Hampi, in southern India, I get a warm fuzzy feeling inside.  It has so much heart.  Not the kind that knocks you over with its power when you arrive, but more of a gentle glowing that washes over you without you really noticing, until you’re feeling better than you have done for a long time and don’t know why.

Hampi was a world away from the chaotic towns and cities that we’d spent much of our time exploring.  A land of giant boulders and stunning temple ruins, with the most beautiful intricate carvings that tell enchanting stories.  The pace of life was leisurely, the air was hot and dry, and the landscape was barren yet alluring.

 

We were drawn to Hampi by the prospect of climbing the huge granite boulders, although once we were there the combination of the heat and relaxed way of life meant that I did more sitting on boulders, gazing at magnificent sunsets, than climbing on them.  But that didn’t matter in the slightest because my time there was perfect.

 

We had to wait until sunset to climb to avoid the blazing heat of the day.  I made it to the top of a few boulders and then sat, perfectly content, soaking up the warmth radiating from the rock.  The landscape looked less arid in the gentle evening sun.  The rocks took on a pinkish tone and the sparse patches of vegetation stood out against them, a deep rich shade of green.

The rest of the time we sheltered from the intensity of the sun in laid back restaurants with low tables and cushions on the floor, or wandered around the majestic temples.  Indian tourists outnumbered the foreigners, although there were plenty of both visiting the temples that had been built hundreds of years ago from the rock that surrounded us.  It was easy to find quiet spots to admire the architecture amongst the sprawling temple complex though.

 

We rented mopeds to navigate the local area and found ourselves at a nearby lake.  It was just us, the lake and the boulders.  The water was cool and refreshing, and it was amazing and slightly eerie to have the whole area to ourselves.  Other days we explored the ruins in the surrounding area on foot, walking far enough away from the town that our only companions were the goats that grazed on the land.

 

Hampi was the perfect mix of leisure and activity.  By the time we left I felt completely rejuvenated and ready to rejoin the mayhem of travelling through extraordinary India.

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Annapurna Base Camp Trek, Nepal

There’s something about doing a long trek in the mountains, away from modern civilization, doing nothing but walking, eating and sleeping for days on end that relaxes you in a way that nothing else can.  A ‘shower’, consisting of a bucket of hot water in an outdoor cubicle, as the evening draws in and the air rapidly cools feels like a wonderful treat after a day of hard physical exercise.  The mornings so tranquil, the views so consistently spectacular.

The Himalaya are both formidable and beautiful.  To climb to the height we did and then gaze up at the mountains that reached high into the heavens was staggering.  We walked for days and days up steep rocky paths, through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, and through the loveliest mountain villages, full of some of the most beautiful people in the world.  When we finally reached the outermost point of our trek and looked up at the mighty Himalayan peaks, it was a truly humbling experience.

 

We decided on the Annapurna base camp trek because it was long enough to get us right up amongst some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in Nepal, but not as long as the entire Annapurna circuit which takes around 3 weeks to complete.

 

We observed the contrast between the lush green valleys and forests with idyllic streams and rickety bridges, and the huge rugged snow capped mountains above us, as we undulated and wound our way through the varied landscape.  We sometimes sang Nepalese songs with our guide to amuse ourselves as we walked, other times we were quiet and alone with our thoughts.

 

A natural rhythm brought peace and harmony to our days.  We woke early to watch the sunrise, then set off for several hours of steady climbing to our first stop for a welcome rest.  We would usually arrive at around sunset at our accommodation for the night, which were lodges with very basic facilities.  We exchanged travel tales with our companions, ate mainly rice and dal, played cards and got very early nights in preparation for the early morning starts.

For me the best part was forgetting where I was.  Wrapped up in many layers and a winter sleeping bag for the chilly nights, it would be difficult to drag myself out of bed when it was barely light outside.  I had this feeling every morning, and without fail, every morning, I would be overcome with happiness when I stepped out of the door.  To be greeted by the fresh mountain air and the sun rising from behind the magnificent peaks was the perfect way to start the day.  Not a trace of sleepiness remained.

 

The October skies were clear, so the cool mornings became blazingly hot days, the sun beating down on us as we walked.  We cooled ourselves down by dipping our feet and hands in the icy streams that flowed down from the mountains.

 

By the time we started our descent back towards civilization we were ready to continue with our journey.  After 10 long days of non stop trekking our feet needed rest, our stomachs craved the variety of the delights available in the restaurants in Pokhara, and we longed for contact with the rest of the world again.  We would recharge with some much appreciated home comforts, before setting off for more Nepali adventures.

There was no end to the active outdoor delights available in this beautiful country, and next on our agenda we would be taking advantage of the modern high adrenaline side of the adventure scene… in the form of a 160 metre bungee jump!  Sublime in a completely different way from the tranquil stillness of our immersion in this magical mountainscape.

 

 

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

I went to Halong Bay in northern Vietnam back in 2006, before I became the more cynical seasoned traveller that I am today.  My experience was one of pure adventure and amazement, and my fresh young eyes perceived the majesty of the world we live in.

It was hot there. Really really hot.  My best friend and I were on an overnight cruise in the bay and we’d dropped anchor amongst the tall limestone karsts that jutted out of the water all around us.  Sleeping in our cabin seemed ludicrous given the temperature, so we stayed out on deck. I’m so glad we did, because it was the most memorable experience of the whole trip.  We were under the stars, sitting on sun loungers, gazing out across the water to one of the islands.  Only the outline was visible, but this made it all the more impressive.  Seeing the giant rocky structure rise from nowhere out of the sea was so mysterious by night. We felt like we were in a film set.  It was too beautiful to be real.

By day we kayaked around the islands.  We came across a tiny little sea cave so we went in to have a look.  We soon retreated when we realised there was someone living in there!  I think he was as surprised to see us as we were to see him!

I was fortunate in my awestruck state of wonder to be blissfully oblivious to the pollution and tourist overcrowding in Halong Bay, although reportedly these problems are much more obvious now.  I’m very grateful that I was able to experience the true timeless magnificence of this place of ancient legend and mystery.  These glimpses of natural paradises are still available to us amidst the mayhem of popular tourist spots if we’re open to the experience.

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