Saturday, 28 September 2013

2013 travels: day 162, Kuching

Leaving Singapore after almost 4 weeks was a real shock to the system; made harder by the fact we had felt at home there staying with my aunt and uncle. I know their house will seem a little quieter without us coming and going, and we miss being there a lot.

I'm currently crafting the many things we saw and did, whilst in Singapore, into a number of posts. The first, Singapore's misfits, features some of the places that I found were rarely visited by the average tourist, but which really should be. There's more recommendations to come so check back soon.


Johor Bharu across the border was a complete contrast with it's grimey streets and smelly drains. My first instinct was to get on a bus back over the Causeway, but of course we would get used to being on the road again, and back in Malaysia, soon.

Now we are in the city of Kuching, over on the island of Borneo, which is much more modern than I expected it to be.  There is enough to see within the city itself to occupy a couple of days, in between excursions out to the many national parks in the area.

We have already trekked through Gunung Gading national park to see a Rafflesia flower and enjoyed a morning at Semmengoh National Park with wild orangutans.

Phill was happy to find so many museums in such a small area, within the city, and even I was pretty impressed by some of the exhibits.

Once again we are taking our time somewhat and enjoying experiencing more than just ticking off the sights.

As we head into the beginning of a new month, and what appears to be the monsoon season, we may start to experience something more.

I have yet to read the guidebook fully and time for research is limited, so as always all recommendations are appreciated as we head West into more of Sarawak and up towards Sabah. I've been monitoring the ongoing 'war' in parts of Sabah as best I can, but the press blackout isn't making it easy. I'm sure more information will come to light as we get nearer, so don't worry... I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Singapore's misfits

Singapore is renowned for its shopping, but after almost 4 weeks there I can assure you there is a lot more to see and do there than perhaps people realise.

I'm working on a few posts for Singapore, which will feature some of what I got up to whilst I was there, and of course, I will be recommending some of my favourites.

So, I thought I'd start with some places that rarely come up on a tourists itinerary.

The city is extremely built up and the ongoing development continues everywhere you go. There are however some interesting places that some how go against the urbanisation, and don't quite fit. Hopefully they will remain that way. Check out the links below...

Pulau Ubin

I received recommendations from a couple of people who had been here, suggesting that if I felt the need to escape or wanted to experience a little bit of Singapore as it once was, then, I should add Pulau Ubin to my itinerary.

Despite planning a visit here in conjunction with venturing to Changi, in hindsight it warrants a full day, if time permits. Just 10 minutes from the jetty in Changi village, on a wooden bumboat for S$2.50 each way, this little island is guaranteed to take you back in time.

Changi village

Changi village itself is worth a visit, or why not stay there for a couple of days as it's ideally located for the airport. Another area that allows you to escape the city and which is also the home of the Changi prison museum and chapel where you can find out about the treatment endured by the prisoners of war during the Japanese occupation of Singapore. Read about my detailed recommendations here.

Geyland/Little India

If the variety on the East part of the island is enough to interest you or you are still left wanting a taste of 'the real' SE Asia, then take a walk round the areas that have a personality all of their own. In fact they leave you wandering if you are still in Singapore at all. Try:

- Little India - spice up a Sunday .

Those familiar with Singapore may have other suggestions for the misfits category, I'd love to hear about them. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Free eBook, 5th and 6th October

You may remember a recent post of mine, "Getting around", regarding an eBook that I have been published in?

The Kindle book is entitled “Hidden Gems Travel Tales – An Anthology of Travel Writing Entries” and all income generated from the £0.77 cost will be donated to the British Red Cross. 

"There are 49 lovingly crafted travel stories, many with beautiful photos too, that shine a light on a lesser-known place or pastime, whilst regaling the reader through anecdotes featuring colourful characters encountered along the way.  The contents are split into area categories e.g. Europe and Asia to allow the reader to find tales set in the region that they are interested in, or it is a great act of escapism to merely browse through and be transported away from the here and now to the exotic, adventurous and uncharted."

The great news is that to celebrate the release of the anthology the publishers have just announced they will be offering the book for free download, onto Kindle in the UK, via Amazon on the weekend of the 5th and 6th October.

And... if you weren't aware, the kindle reader is available to download for free to a PC or other device. Just visit Amazon here to find out more.

Don't forget to put the date in your diary, and if you are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter I will ensure you are reminded so you don't miss out ;).

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Raffles hotel: unexplained changes resulting in history lost

Sitting in the famous Raffles hotel Long Bar, sipping enthusiastically on the sweet pink cocktail that was made famous by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in the 1910's, I have now officially ticked off one more of the "1000 places to see before you die". Also a Singapore national monument.

Drinking a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar has to be one of the most cliché, touristy things I have ever experienced, and I cringe at the thought. But, despite them being a pricey $27 each, plus 10% service charge and then a 7% tax on top, it was totally worth it!

I've sat here before, although I can only vaguely recall it, over 20 years ago, and drinking instead, a coke! I was here with my parents in 1990 and I'm pretty sure this bar was situated downstairs? Update: renovations to the hotel, resulting in the reopening in 1991, included the Long Bar being relocated to the upstairs area of the adjoining shopping arcade. Why did they change it, and how many visitors wanting to experience a little piece of history would be disappointed to know this?  Further research concludes that the location of the original Long Bar is a bit of a mystery, as it had in fact been relocated numerous times before that.

The walls in the Long Bar now, consist of dark wood panels, making the space feel cool, but almost dingy. I remember a distinctly different atmosphere, which seems to have dissipated, and been replaced by tables full of thirsty tourists, indulging in their pre-mixed cocktails. It's not the sophisticated place I remember as a kid, I'm sure.

The palm leaf ceiling fans swish softly back and forth above the marble floor which is littered with peanut shells. Quite a sight, and some what liberating to wade through crushing them beneath your feet.

Each table has a wooden box piled full with peanuts, the shells of which you are positively encouraged to discard onto the floor. It feels odd, and you will no doubt want to make a pile on the table beside you instead. The bar staff however, will throw these on the floor when they clear your table, so you should just go with it.

A few things, other than the Long Bar, have changed here at Raffles hotel over the years. Fortunately, one is the removal of the required dress code, perhaps connected with the change of location of the Long Bar, and to encourage the tourist crowds to come here. The other is disappointingly the removal of the on site museum and well known resident historian.

The signs are still there? Numerous websites, including the wiki pages promise displays of the rich history of the hotel, along with memorabilia and rare editions of works of famous writers who stayed there. But the reality is sadly ... nothing more than a few pieces that have been selected for display on the shelves around the gift shop, which, if you are not vertically challenged, you may be able to see.

I enquired at the gift shop and was informed that the museum closure is as recent as the beginning of the year. I hope there is a reasonable explanation for putting an end to sharing the history of a national monument. If only I had come here earlier. It's such a shame.

Raffles facade in 2013

Raffles has a lengthy history and many a celebrity have stayed here and no doubt will continue to do so, but what of the history, will it be slowly hidden further until it is permanently lost?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

2013 travels: day 152, Singapore

Most people I know only pass through Singapore, on a stop over, business trip or en-route to another destination.  I was planning to stay here a couple of weeks, see family, catch up with friends and see a few sights.

I'm about to clock week 3 here and was planning to move on to Borneo already... what happened? Well, if you have been following along, you will see from my last post that, I'm liking it here. So much, I decided to stay a little longer, plus the ongoing knee injury is meaning I have to take things slower than I'd like.

There are still things I want to do here, and this weekend brings with it the Singapore Grand Prix, so why not!

Being rather late in getting tickets we have only managed to gain limited access for the Saturday, but the Killers are playing after the qualifying sessions and just being a part of the atmosphere of the Formula 1 night race is enough for me... I can't wait!

In other news, don't forget to check my Kiss from the World articles, or go to my profile page and become a fan to receive my updates:

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Getting around

I perhaps recently had my fill of archaeological and religious opulence and needed a change of scenery.

Escaping to Singapore was certainly a good way to overcome that. We've been here 2 weeks now and haven't eased up on the sightseeing. I have found that the architecture and temples here are some what more grand, and the levels of cleanliness almost superior. Singapore certainly shows Asia in a different light, and one that I could get used to.

It also lives up to it's name 'the lion city' as it is roaring with things to do. My cousin, who lives here, seemed surprised we thought that, but I guess living somewhere is not the same as visiting, and I used to say the same about my own country.

Maybe to fully appreciate it all, I would have to live here for a time, but for now I'm getting around and working my way through the sights; whilst hoping for better weather (it's been quite rainy the last few days) and maybe a chance to catch up with friends if time.

In other news, and on the subject of getting around...

I have recently been accepted to blog for an online magazine, so there is now another place to find me sharing my travel experiences. Hopefully this will increase the interest in my ramblings and maybe even generate some other writing opportunities. Fingers crossed.

If you are interested, my weekly contributions can be found over on the Kiss from the World site. I will of course endeavour to continue to update my site here with 'where I am' as opposed to 'where I have been' with periodic interjections about travel in general. As always, I would greatly appreciate any suggestions and recommendations that you have along the way.

The latest on my Travelpod blog now includes Melaka (in Malaysia), and as the title suggests, I saved the best for last.

Finally, my other news: I have had a piece published in an anthology (eBook). Totally unexpected, particularly as it was the result of a competition entry over a year ago.

Consisting of a slimmed down version of an adventure that originally exceeded much more than 500 words (the entry limit), I'm still proud to see my work in print. You can purchase the anthology from Amazon UK (£0.70), US ($0.99) and get your hands on a stack of other short travel stories at the same time. If that doesn't sway you, perhaps the fact that all income will go to charity might help.