Singapore – Joo Chiat Road, Singapore’s Neighbourhood of Charm

Johor Bahru, Malaysia May 2018: Anyone looking at Googles satellite imagery of Singapore will undoubtedly notice areas of grey, green and rustic red. Generally one can consider to grey to represent hi-rise residential and industrial areas, green to represent areas not yet bulldozed and rustic red to represent areas of townhouse estates. Its these red areas that potentially could be of some interest. A little research might reveal some of Singapore’s hidden gems that are really off the beaten tourist path. One such area to look at is Joo Chiat, 3 1/2 miles east of downtown and according to Google the area retains Some of Singapore’s originality, some of that old style charm that existed across the Island before the proliferation of mass hi-rise housing. So, Joo Chiat is today’s destination as another escapade into Singapore from Johor Bahru begins.

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Grey, Green and Red, a colour code to Singapore

The Johor checkpoint is as always a trouble free process, but the Singaporeans at Woodlands are getting a little jumpy! This will be my third border run in as many days and they want to know what I’m upto! A brief explanation that Singapore is too expensive and that’s why I’m commuting from Johor seems to satisfy, for now at least. so, its Woodlands to Bishan and finally Dakota on the MTR then bus 16 or 33 to Joo Chiat Road, a journey of about 1 1/4 hours according to Google.

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North to South

Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on the Joo Chiat neighbourhood, including a detailed rundown on its long and interesting history – for urban stompers like me, worth a read (here). Briefly, life here began as a spice and coconut plantation early 1900’s and when the market for spices diminished the surrounding lands became prime development areas for those looking to escape the overcrowded downtown. Today as one wanders around their is plenty of evidence remaining of how the area developed, a time line evident in its architecture. From 1930’s shop houses to the characteristic art-deco era of the 1950’s and of course a little more upto date with some swanky villas along the Oman Road. So, what started out as a cart track between spice plantations is now the Joo Chiat Road, lined either side with a colourful and vibrant array of period architecture along with plenty of traffic, just to give the place a modern touch!

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On the left, looks like a former 1940’s cinema building, Dunman Road

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1970’s bungalows on Onan Road looking north

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On Onan Road looking south, lovely townhouse character

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Now its time for lunch!

As one thinks about lunch, another food court appears just around the corner, quite a common occurrence on Singapore Island!. Looks as though this building might have served as an indoor market once upon a time, but today its just teaming with an array of food, on two floors. Modest cuisine at modest prices, £2 to around £5 per meal price range here, with fish being the most expensive items. And so with lunch out of the way one is free to stroll around the neighbourhood taking in the charm and character of Joo Chiat, named after the original land owner Mr. Chew Joo Chiat, back in the early 1900’s. Ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles complete with the colourful architecture give this neighbourhood a vibe and vibrancy I haven’t experienced anywhere else in Asia, pretty unique and well worth a visit.

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Joo Chiat Road

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Back to 1928 on Joo Chiat Road

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Chinese Paranakan residential houses

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Pre WW2 Chinese Shop houses still in use

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Hong Kong – A Look At Tsuen Wan Town, New Territories

Hong Kong, April 2018:  Until now, Tsuen Wan (Google Map) has just been a place to pass through, a jumping on and off point for the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) and  place to grab some food. With a few hours to spare before I have to move on from the Bay Bridge Hotel, time for a deeper look into this local town. Situated on the Northern fringes of Kowloon, some considerable distance from the tourist enclave on Kowloon Peninsular, its a place where one can observe daily lives of residential Hong Kong as residents go about their business.

Established as a new town around 35 years ago Tsuen Wan is typically characterised today with a plethora of high rise towers surrounding the town centre – some swanky, some not so. With Chinese hillside squatter camps pulled down and surrounding villages bulldozed, I’m here on the edge of a mass urban sprawl housing those people, stretching far  South and East giving us the Hong Kong of 2018.

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While getting around town is pretty easy with elevated walkways, finding ones way down to street level is another matter. This invariably involves transiting through a shopping mall or just good old fashioned trial and error will eventually lead to a somewhat innocuous looking stair case.

The food culture here in Tsuan Wan is nothing short of marvellous. Tasty, vibrant and plentiful – local food here is about as cheap as Hong Kong gets when one arrives from places like Kuala Lumpur or Kathmandu but its reflective of the cost of living and at least its not as bad as it could be, citing Seoul South Korea as an example of enormous food costs.

Local food, simple food is the way to go, for me anyway. Rice, noodles, dumplings, shredded pork and of course soup with cabbage – its all good and low in calories! Tsui Wah is the cheapest cafe around here, especially when it comes to local fayre like shredded squid for breakfast!

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In Asian cultures one is never far from a temple or religious structure of some description. Hong Kong is no exception and here in Tsuen Wan, the town planners have given way to preserving the local temple by constructing green space around the vicinity. Urban temples are often original and historic at best, a modern reconstruction at worst. This one here seems pretty genuine if one looks deeply enough. The surrounding land may have been recently landscaped but a few of the trees look old enough to be originals! so, here’s a quick look at Tak Wah Park.

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The core of downtown, consisting of first and second generation public housing all seemingly crammed together in true Hong Kong style. Along with a host of covered markets, shopping malls integrating public transport and a few shop houses for good measure, its definitely a place with the feel of a town as opposed to being part of the suburban metropolis. Its worth a visit if only to observe locals going about their daily lives unhindered by thousands of Chinese and European tourists.

Next…Kowloon Park and the Peninsular

 

Hong Kong – First insight, Tsuen Wan Town, New Territories

Hong Kong, April 2018:

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Bus A31P drops pretty much at the gates of tonight’s crash pad – the Bay Bridge Hotel. I chose here because the price was a reasonable £25 per night. For the next 2 nights then I shall be residing on the Castle Peak road, New Territories between the town of Tsuen Wan and the village of Ting Kau. Its dark right now so there’s not much exploring to be done until tomorrow. What I need is food, and since the only option is this expensive hotel restaurant, a ride to downtown is necessary where hopefully I will stumble across some cheap and cheerful chow! A shuttle bus is provided to Tsuen Wan MTR station, a 10 minute ride and best of all its free!

One is confronted with a skyline reminiscent of Manhattan as the shuttle bus speeds away. to my right, Macdonalds, KFC and all that good gunk liked by Westerners. To my left, Supermarkets and Malls linked to a plethora of elevated walkways. After some 20 minutes of getting lost and confused, yes, even Google Maps was confused for a while, I’ve stumbled on a cosy looking local cafe. Bright, clean, full of locals and reasonably priced too – Taiwan Kitchen.

Here at the Taiwan Kitchen there’s very little English, but after some pointing to pictures and gesturing I’ve ended up with a bowl of rice! On that rice is a thimble of shredded pork surrounded with egg, tofu and cabbage – tasty enough and thankfully plenty of it for the £5 set back, oh it came with a glass of tea too!

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That then is my first insight into modern day living, Hong Kong after dark. Tsuen Wan is a residential town, far from the tourist districts further south. The place is bustling but not hopelessly overcrowded, but then it is nearly 9PM. Hong Kong by day I’m sure will be quite a different story.

Before one hits the pillow’s here’s the view looking over in the direction of North Kowloon.

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Hong Kong – Introducing Hong Kong, Chep Lak Kok

Hong Kong, April 2018: The last time I came to Hong Kong was way back in 1987. Then, I didn’t take much notice of life here, being more interested in other things and eager to get to Australia. Now though this visit will be a comprehensive one. Visiting and experiencing aspects of Hong Kong life, one hopes to leave with an impression, good or bad, of modern day life in this world famous metropolis.

So, as I’m about to land at Chep Lak Kok airport, here’s the window views as the plane takes its final approach after the 4 1/2 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur.

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Below is a view of the old Kai Tak airport – before 1998, world famous for its challenging approach as aircraft needed to fly low over the city with a last minute turn to line up and land!

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Flying along the Northern edge of Kowloon and the southern part of New Territories on the final approach to land in Hong Kong, and you have to admit these views are pretty awesome!

Welcome to Hong Kong…

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It takes a 10 minute train ride from one end of the airport to the other towards the  immigration and baggage halls. Plenty of queues as thousands of arriving passengers line up hoping to get through the passport counters without too much trouble from the stern faced officials. Good news is the lines are moving quickly suggesting interrogations are short and not to challenging. My turn, a quick glance over his glasses and that’s it – I’m in Hong Kong. Now to find a bus, a bus to Bay Bridge, A31P I believe.

 

Nepal – Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia.

Penang, Malaysia, April 2018: Its been an intense month of travelling through April. Since leaving Nepal at the end of March. A transit stop in Kuala Lumpur before jetting off to Hong Kong where I spent a few days. Then it was off to Japan for more oriental experiences before heading back to Hong Kong for a better, more comprehensive visit. Once I got Hong Kong out of my system it was back to Malaysia where I shall reside for the next 5 weeks catching up on blogging and sorting the good photos form the not so good. So, if you want to see how crazy Hong Kong is or take a look around the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum then then please stay tuned for an exciting account of travels with Backpacking Paul.

Nepal – Best 5 Mountain Views from Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: As this years Wintering in Nepal comes to an end I’m struggling to come up with a blog subject not already covered on previous visits. So my attention once again turns to mountains. After all, that is what most of us are here for, right – those awesome, magical Himalayan snow capped rocks stretching East, West, North and up!

Its fair to say I’ve taken hundreds of photos of the Annapurna Mountain range. Whittling my collection down to the top 5 was a pretty hard job but with perseverance I have arrived at what I feel are 3 of the best mountain views on the planet!

First the short list…..

Now the final 5…

Number 5:  From the road up to Sarangkot capturing elements of Himalayan life.

 

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Number 4: Taken from the airport runway as a sightseeing plane adds depth and dimension

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Number 3: From the airport, a shot of the Eastern part of the Annapurna range.

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Number 2: The inevitable sunset scene, again taken from the airport.

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Number 1: A picture postcard scene of the central Annapurna range, taken from the road up to Sarangkot.

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And there you have it. Would number 1 have been your top photo too?

Next week I shall be on the move to Kuala Lumpur on route to Hong Kong. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures across Asia!

England – Back on Home Ground

London, England, June 2017: Its been a long flight, leaving Kathmandu nearly 24 hours ago with a change of aircraft at Abu Dhabi. Etihad flight 11 is a red eye, leaving at 2.30 in the morning! I try to avoid these flights but a I needed to change my ticket and this was all that was left! Etihad operates a standard economy cabin with the same amount of leg room and seat size as all the other operators – not very much of either. Unfortunately for me I didn’t eat much much in the ultra expensive Abu Dhabi airport in the hope of some decent food on the flight. So it was pretty disappointing to be served with 1 small plastic sandwich shortly after take off. Yes, the inside was pretty grim being furnished with processed everything. Zero points for Etihad on the EY11 bound for London!

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Over London at last!Yes, in about 20 minutes we’ll be on British soil for the first time in 6 months. Here are some views of the city as this Airbus 380 meanders towards the final approach the London’s Heathrow airport.

Turning around London’s East End here are some pretty good views of the City Airport.

So how many London landmarks can you spot from these photos?

And that dear readers ends this travel season for 2017. I need to recharge my bank account and plan for travel season 2018 – perhaps you can inspire me with some interesting destination suggestions. Once again thanks for tuning into my random jottings and I hope the casual nature of the dialogue wasn’t too boring 🙂

Thailand – Mysterious Sunrise and Magical Sunset, Phuket

Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand, May 2017: Online research will often reveal references to Phuket’s magical sunsets but very little about the sunrise. So lets put that right – right now. Being non-alcoholic it must follow then that I don’t have hangovers and thus can arise at silly hours of the morning. Like today for example, up at 4.30 am for an hours drive North to catch the Sunrise at 6.  No i haven’t hired a car, or scooter but thanks to the generosity of the guesthouse owner, 2 of us are being driven to a view point somewhere on the Northeastern coastline just across the islands bridge with the mainland (Google Map) .

Sunrise: Once across the bridge ,a route meanders through rustic villages situated between jungle clad hills – its almost a step back in time. Narrow concreted roads, deserted this time of the morning as twilight breaks in the distance. Eventually a sign indicating the way up. Up into the hillsides to a viewpoint, and just in time to witness the mysterious, magical sunrise – quiet, not a breath of air, not even the birds have woken yet!

What do you make of this? Worth the effort? Comment with your descriptions, thanks.

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Sunset: Sunsets on Phuket are a whole lot easier to catch once those hangovers are done with, or not as the case maybe. Just stumble over to a west facing beach and wait.

Wait for the magical sunsets like this one captured at Nai Yang.

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South Korea – Gamcheon Culture Village And Gamcheon Park, Busan Pt.1

Haeundae, Busan, South Korea, May 2017: Situated on the edge of downtown Busan, quite some distance from Haeundae Beach. It means a ride on the Busan metro, about an hour i’d say with a change of line about 1/2 way. Gamcheon Culture Village has a consistent place in the top ten of things to see in Busan and Googles photos look pretty unique – so let’s go, check it out and see if the place really does live up to expectations.

Getting to Gamcheon by metro is pretty easy since the whole system has only 4 lines. The alighting station is Toseong on the orange line. Leave at exit 6 and take the next right. A few meters along there is a bus stop where bus 2 or 2-1 or even 2-2 heads up to Gamcheon village. The bus is pretty crowded, infact no room at all – time for an executive decision, walk! Its an easy stomp, just keep heading uphill, turn left at the sign for Gamcheon. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, lost a few grams in weight and saved a few pence on the bus fare. At the crest of the hill is a school on the left and on the right is the official Gamcheon Culture Village entrance. Left in front of the school leads to hiking trails in an upward direction and its that direction I’m going in right now.

 

Views from the hiking trails – breathtaking. Looking down below is simply stunning. I’d estimate the height here to be about 2,000 feet with great views of downtown Busan and beyond. Quiet, peaceful and cool, id recommend this as the number 1 spot in the top ten list of attractions in Busan. Google doesn’t have an English name for this spot, lets just call it Gamcheon Park next to Gamcheon Village,

So, lets let the photos speak for themselves….

Next In Pt.2 More hiking this time back towards the Gamcheon Culture village.

 

South Korea – SongJeong Beach

Haeundae, Busan, May 2017: Having hiked for about 50 minutes along an old railway line heading for Songjeong (Google Map) I’ve  come across a little fishing hamlet with a cute little harbour – an ideal place to take a rest for 1/2 an hour. Now though, time to make a move otherwise I might never get to Songjeong! Back uphill to the old rail track then and hopefully its just a shortish hike to the next beach.

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About 20 minutes of stumbling on those wooden sleepers and Songjeong comes into view and it looks pretty good from here. A nice crescent beach with just a few mini skyscrapers on the skyline. A sudden surge of energy and I’m closer to that beach than I thought!

Not as developed as Haeundae but considerably busier with folk milling around enjoying the afternoon sunshine! Development in progress though as there are a few cranes littering the skyline, nonetheless a very pleasant place to be – Songjeong Beach, South Korea is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. The place has a more traditional seaside feel, something I can’t say about neighbouring Haeundae.  As one comes to expect in Korea, food is everywhere along with a plethora of coffee shops including Starbucks. Predominantly seafood here along the beach front although there are a few vans hawking “Tea and Toast” rather expensively. So, with a concoction of spicy pasta in one hand a coffee in the other, time to pick a spot on the sew wall and scoff while watching a handful of surfers attempting to ride the wavelets rolling in.

Songjeong old station, worth a look while exploring the back streets. Unimposing and hard to imagine how thousands of holiday makers wold be able to cram into this small place. The last train rolled through here 2014 presumably then giving way to big development plans as some of the track has been removed. Plenty of originality still exists though with the station house being part museum and part craft centre.

Well, better get back to base at Haeundae. Bus or Hike? Bus, quite an easy decision since there’s only so much hiking and stomping one can do in a day! I have a feeling i’ll be back before I leave Busan. So while I wait for bus 181 here’s a few more scenes from Songjeong beach.