Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Getting scammed in paradise

Phuket is no longer the paradise island that it once was.
Ever since the backpackers let it be known back in the 1980s that this was the place to be, everyone wanted a piece of the action.

With over 5m tourist arrivals a year, the flip side is that the same numbers also attract the low life out for a quick buck. These are the scammers, cheats and mafia types who does nothing more than ruin your vacation.

Scams are run all over the world especially in tourist areas. I don't profess to know a lot about them but I've been to Thailand enough times to at least give you a bit of advice in case you are thinking of heading out there.

Taxi and Tuk-tuk scams

Know that the taxis and tuk-tuks in Phuket are all part of some kind of mafia group. They form cartels and one can't simply ply where they like. Areas like Karon, Kata and Patong are 'controlled' by these mafias to the exclusion of others. For example, you can never flag down a taxi on the roadside in Patong. They simply won't (or won't dare) stop for you. You have no choice but to take a tuk-tuk. Unless, of course, you called for one to pick you from your hotel.

The taxi scammers start right from the airport. Woe be you if you arrive without a confirmed hotel booking. Firstly these airport taxi touts charge you a higher rate to take you to your destination or hotel. Once you get into their taxi, they would very nicely inquire if you have a hotel, if not they happened to know of some 'good' hotels. Along the way you would be told that he needs to sign off at his 'office' - 2 mins only, he'll tell you. So happens that his 'office' would be a travel agency where you can get tours or hotel rooms! How fortunate for you!
These guys not only get a commission for bringing you in, but they'll also demand a cut from the hotel where they'll place you. No guessing who will end up paying the extras.

Solution? Do not hire a taxi from the airport touts. Instead, when you arrive at Phuket Airport, head to the right of the Arrival Hall. There is a taxi stand where government licensed taxis called 'Taxi Meter' are waiting. The cost of a Taxi Meter, with their published rates to Patong for example, is 450 THB as compared to at least 600 THB demanded by the touts. Unfortunately, many tourists do not know of the existence of this taxi stand.
get the Taxi-Meter driver's name card so you can always call him for the return trip to the airport.

When you get to your dream resort, you are now faced with another hurdle. The Tuk-tuks.
In the tourist areas of Karon and esp Patong, the tuk-tuks rule the roost. There is simply no other mode of transport unless you rent a car or motorbike on your own. The government taxis have been muscled out of their turf (some say with official collusion).

The Tuk-tuks not only charge an exorbitant price but many a times you'll end up at places not intended by you. The most common ruse is "Oh, that place is closed today, but I can take you to another temple, restaurant, shop, etc". These guys then take you to places where they get their cut and you the hapless tourist end up paying more for stuff you may not want.

Solution? Insist firmly that you wish to go only where you want, or you'll take another tuk-tuk. Do negotiate the price beforehand and ensure that the price is for the trip and not per person.

Although, I may have made it sound like the entire place is full of scammers, just remember that tourists do get fleeced more easily that others. It might be a bit difficult for you as the place may be unfamiliar. So a bit of read up before the trip is always advised.
Generally, the Thais are friendly and warm but as a visitor, take everything with a pinch of salt.

Other scams I'll try and blog later will include:-
Short changed when using large notes.
Jet-ski scam
Timeshare scams
Hotel - 'only suites are available' scam.
Jewelry shop scams.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Weird and bizarre

Recently, Discovery Channel featured an Indonesian man who was afflicted by warts that grew out of control and made his limbs appear to be like tree bark and roots. It was really bizarre as he did look half man half tree.

That got me thinking more about strange and bizarre stuff that I had seen over the years on my travels. I started to list some of the weird and perhaps bizarre things i had seen that I might want to blog about. The list went like this...

Mystery Road at Jeju Island, where vehicles roll uphill.
Japanese love hotels.
The ultimate in kitsch!
Phallic festivals in Japan.

Thaipusam at Batu Caves (not weird but bizarre penitents)

Top left - Japanese Love Hotel
Top - Phallus Matusri in Kanagawa Japan

Left - Thiapusam at Batu Caves.

Then it struck me that one of the weirdest and extremely bizarre places can actually be found right here in Singapore! It called the Tiger Balm Gardens a.k.a Haw Par Villa.

Haw Par Villa was built sometime in the 1930s by a philanthropist Aw Boon Haw. On a hillside by the sea (now reclaimed), he built a mansion with a sprawling garden and decorated the garden with dioramas depicting Chinese virtues, tales from folklore and Chinese mythologies.
Thrown open free for public viewing, the Tiger Balm Gardens must have been one of the earliest theme parks here. I still remember being there as a child with my parents in the 1960s. As a child it was already a scary place for me.

What is really weird and bizarre about the place are the statues depicting life, or rather what life would be without religion or virtues. It is a place highlighting human failures and faults. Macabre scenes of hell and punishment dominate the dioramas.

Unfortunately, the Haw Par Villa appears to suffer from an identity crisis. You are not sure what the theme park is all about. It's as though someone with a deranged mind designed the place. You have scenes from Chinese folklore like the Monkey King to the Statue of Liberty, from Japanese Sumo wrestlers to graceful Thai dancers. Scenes of human virtuosity to horrific scenes of gruesome torture. Really weird.

The most infamous of all the dioramas there is the depiction of the Ten Courts of Hell according to Chinese beliefs. Hell seems to be all gore, torture and mutilation. Hey, aren't they dead already? Apparently the dead do still feel pain and the officials in Hell just love to give them more pain. Well, it's hell, right?
Here are some pictures of the weird dioramas.

Sadly today, Haw Par Villa, or sometimes called the Tiger Balm Gardens, is an anachronism.
The statues, themes and gaudy colors just won't cut it with today's generation.
Compared to other theme parks today, with exhibits housed in air-conditioned environment, with multimedia presentations, looking at statues at Haw Par Villa is downright passive and boring.

Previous attempts to update and modernize Haw Par Villa have failed miserably and today it is best served only as a fading memorial to the legacy of the Aw Brothers' philanthropy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Phuket, Thailand - Video blog

I am trying now to document all my travels with video. So instead of a descriptive blog, you'll be seeing more video blogs (vlogs). Enuff said..... enjoy the video.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Burasari Patong Resort, Thailand

I stayed at the Burasari Resort Hotel at Patong in Phuket Island during my last visit to Thailand earlier this month.
This boutique hotel main claim to fame is the Floyd's Brasserie, owned by celebrity chef Keith Floyd. Keith Floyd died in September 2009. I won't be doing a review of the hotel here in my blog as I have already done a review at Tripadvisor. You can read that review here. (Click here).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Simon Cabaret, Phuket Thailand

The Simon Cabaret is a lavish Broadway style stage show. With elaborate costumes and sets and dance pieces set to music. The great attraction about the Simon Cabaret is that all the performers are transvestites or transgendered. In Thailand, they are called Katoeys, neither male or female but socially accepted as a 3rd gender. The show is similar to the Tiffany Show at Bangkok and Pattaya.

Here is a short snippet. The restriction on cameras and video recording devices during the performances made it a bit difficult to get good pictures. Sorry for that.

Friday, October 09, 2009

No more free stays at Laguna Phuket!

Exactly a year ago, I posted an article detailing how you can get a free 3D2N stay at the famous Laguna Resort in Phuket. (for that article, click here)

Earlier this week, I was back in Phuket and was passing through the JungCeylon Mall at Patong Beach. There I noticed the Laguna Holiday Club sales booth was still functioning as usual. I was on the verge of actually thinking about getting their free holiday. Paused at the booth, but then I noticed that their freebies for attending their sales pitch had changed.

The 3D2N stay at the resort is no longer available!
They had blocked out this option from their list of freebies. Watch the accompanying video and you can see a white piece of paper blocking out what was once their premier bait to get you to listen to their pitch.

The other freebies were still available though; Laguna tour certificates, 2 rounds of golf at Laguna Golf Club, dining or shopping vouchers, a 90 min spa treatment at Angsana Spa or 2 tickets to the Phuket Fantasea Show and Theme Park. Quite substantial rewards in itself actually.


But no, I didn't stay for their sales pitch on the Laguna Holiday Club timeshare scheme..... well, maybe one day if they re-introduce the 3D2N free stay.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bukit Batok Nature Park Prequel

Sep 25, 2009

Having mentioned in my last post about visiting the Bukit Batok Nature Park prior to it becoming a park, I remembered and dug out the few old photos I had stashed away somewhere.
I know my siblings are going to have a field day laughing at the pictures below. These were taken 30 years ago when I was just out from the army and was working as a quality inspector for Mercedes Benz. They show me 30 years younger and maybe also 20 kilos lighter.

My job as a final line quality inspector required that I took the newly assembled cars for a test run, road test we called it. Along the test route, we drove to the abandoned Poh Kim Granite Quarry, where the rough track road served as an excellent place to check for rattles from the various car assemblies. Then it was up the slope to Bukit Batok summit where we tested steering alignment by simply rolling down the slope in free gear.

The photos shows Bukit Batok Nature Park and Bukit Batok hill prior to the re-planting frenzy that NParks Singapore did after they took over. Bukit Batok for years was quite bare and the tower and summit could be seen from afar. Today, it's much better, looking like a forest reserve with all its greenery.

Click on the photo for a larger image

At the abandoned Poh Kim quarry, long before the revamp.

The pond had already started to fill with rainwater and natural runoff.
I reckoned the pond to be about 20-30ft deep.

In the background - Bukit Timah shopping malls and view towards the obscured city.
Forestation was then what we called bulukar secondary forest.

At the bare summit of Bukit Batok with Bukit Timah Hill in the background.
The cliff face in the background was the then active  Singapore Granite Quarry.
Upper Bukit Timah Road in the valley divides Bukit Batok from Bukit Timah.

In front of the WWII Japanese Army-built steps. The then RTS (Radio and Television Singapore, now Mediacorp) Tower was the original. This was replaced with a newer tower in the 90s.
To know more about the history of these steps, please watch the video from the previous blog entry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bukit Batok Nature Park, Singapore

Tues, Sep 22, 2009

For someone who considers taking a shower exercise, going to the nature park two days in a row must surely be a record of sorts. Walked about 5km in my sandals on Sunday along the Dairy Farm Trail (click here for that blog) and yesterday trekked the Bukit Batok Nature Park in my flip-flop slippers.

Had purposely worn my sandals and slippers, because in these footgear you are forced to walk slowly. In turn, this will give you more time to really appreciate the surroundings. Even made it all the way up to the top of Bukit Batok. Ha ha, had wanted to say 'summit' but it being only 120 metres high, summit sounds so exaggerated.

Bukit Batok Nature Park is just a stone's throw from my home, and yet it would have been the 2nd or 3rd time only that I've been there. The last time I went, my son Jason was about 3 or 4 years old. He's now in his early twenties. Talk about time flying by!

The park was reclaimed and revamped from a dis-used granite quarry by NParks Singapore around 1988 onwards. They've done a magnificent job!

It might interest you to know that I had actually been to the quarry just after it had ceased operations sometime in the early 1980s. I had a job testing new Mercedes cars and one of the test routes took us to the abandoned quarry to test the car for rattle.

Of course, we made plenty of stops at the quarry pond for breaks. The bare granite cliff face was already an awesome sight at that time. Today, vegetation is starting to cover the magnificent cliff.

This is a video I made on my walk yesterday of the Bukit Batok Nature Park. Hope you like it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jim Lim, my friend in Cambodia

Holiday season is here again.
Actually I need to clear my annual leave or it gets forfeited, lol.

So I started planning for my next trip two weeks ago.
T'was supposed to be a short break somewhere nearby.
Penang and Langkawi were on top of the list.
That was, until reports of the continuing regional haze and the H1N1 epidemic relegated Penang and Langkawai to the back burner.

Then it came to the alternatives - Bali, Angkor Wat, or Phuket.
Angkor Wat was in the lead. I'd never been there. But is it safe? landmines?
Fear of the unknown God once forsaken place made me think ...maybe Phuket be better??

But then, been to Phuket too many times already, not so exciting anymore....
But then Phuket has wonderful spas and beaches....
But so has Bali.....
but then Bali is more expensive, further away, and worst of all, all flights in seem to be in the evenings meaning you loose a day.....???
Eeenie, meenie, minnee, moe? scissor, paper, stone?

This morning I made up my mind. The beaches and the spas, and the cheap Thai food, won.
Booked myself a room at the Burasari Resort with a Silkair package thrown in for less than $400. So I was all set.

This evening, my ex boss, ex co-worker and still good friend, Jimmy Lim, posted a note on Facebook. "Finally, I have a Guest House Pub & Restaurant."
Guess where? Siem Reap, Cambodia, just outside of Angkor Wat !!!

Arrrggghhhh!!! Jim, you should've posted your piece yesterday, I shot back at him!
That would have been all the push I needed to determine my holiday destination.
But as Jim said, "No worrries man, next time."

So if any of you are considering a trip to Cambodia, especially to Angkor Wat, please look for Jim at Siem Reap. His address is in one of the photos below, or I can help you get in touch with him.

These are some pictures of Jim's Place in Cambodia taken from his Facebook.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Travel Movies - Tokyo Bay

Odaiba, Tokyo Bay

Odaiba is an unusual place to visit in Tokyo. Located in Tokyo Bay itself on reclaimed land, Odaiba was touted once as the city of the future. This was until the Japanese economy burst its bubble in the mid 1980s and has never really recovered from that episode. Development in Odaiba had been sputtering all along until recently when it now boasts some pretty sophisticated and futuristic buildings.

I can think of only 2 reasons why anyone would visit Odaiba. First is the Rainbow Bridge, the new icon of Tokyo, and secondly, especially if you are a follower of J-dramas, the Fuji TV Center built by Tange Kenzo. A trip on the driverless train, the Yurikomome, makes the scenic view of Tokyo Bay along the way worth the while.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Baggage claims

I have been fortunate that in all my travels in the past, I have had only 2 major incidents with my luggage.

The 1st was when my bag was mis-directed and sent to Hawaii while I was coming back from LAX (Los Angeles) on United Airlines. From this incident and from the level of service provided by the airlines, I swore never again by UA!

The 2nd, and more heartbreaking, was a case of folly on my part. Returning from work in Tokyo, I was too lazy to lug my laptop along. In those days, a notebook weighed like it was made from bricks. And I stupidly thought that if I padded it enough and placed it in the middle amongst my clothes, it should be okay. My $2000 NEC never made it back home alive. sob sob.

These are the unglamorous side of flying. The lost luggage and the anxiety waiting at the belt must count amongst others, like tension at the custom check and immigration counters. Luckily I have not had any occasion to make claims against any airlines yet.

One of the great thing of the internet now is the speed at which grievances against bad service is quickly made known. Here is a incident which happened in the USA which sent United Airlines reeling.

Dave Carroll, a musician, was refused boarding unless he checked in his Taylor guitar. Something he had never done with other airlines as the guitar was his bread and butter. United told him simply he can't board if he won't check in the guitar. And guess what happened?
From his window seat, he actually witnessed the baggage handlers throwing his band's instruments on the tarmac, including his guitar!

He spent nearly a futile year trying to get the airline to compensate him for the damage. In exasperation, he decided to make a grievance video and post it on the internet. I must say it is one of the best complaint letters I have ever seen. Here it is from Youtube.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

If you can't beat them, befuddle them!

My son returned from his studies in England this week.
Having to carry all his books and research papers back, his baggage was severely overweight. The limit from BA was 20 kg but his bag was at least 30. He was prepared to pay excess at Heathrow.

At the check-in at Terminal 5, the counter lady had such a strong British accent that he really had difficulty hearing what she was saying. He knew that she was saying the bags were overweight, just that her pronunciations were almost unintelligible.
So he decided to play along by speaking Chinese,

"excuse??" "wat??" "don understand" and even "li kong si mi?" were the only 'english' phrases he used.

And guess what, he didn't have to pay excess and got checked through to his Qantas A380 flight without a hitch!.

Well, at least I know his overseas education is starting to pay off.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cosplay at Harajuku

Harajuku district in Tokyo has always been the epitome of youthful exuberance. Off beat, irreverent and often rebellious in nature, Harajuku has a life of its own.

Takeshita dori (street) just opposite the Harajuku train station is the place where this youthful subculture flourishes. Ever-changing and always trend setting, this is where the happenings are.

Cosplay, or costume roleplay, is the activity where the Japanese youth dress up as their anime or manga comic characters. Harajuku is where cosplay events dominates the weekend. The area just south of Harajuku Station is the grand mecca for all things relating to cosplay. This culture has even spread to areas outside Japan, including Singapore which has a large cosplay fraternity.

I shot this video around 2005.

Sorry for the low-resolution as some of you had mentioned the slow downloads.
If you want to see a high res version, click here

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How to light up a gas water heater.

Light up a gas water heater? Why is this in a travel blog, you may wonder?
Just bear with me and all will be evident as you read on.
This little bit of advice may become a life saver for you some day.

Gas water heaters use natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas, as its name implies, to heat water for bathing or other uses.
Unlike a gas stove where you use a lighter or a static spark to ignite the gas, a gas water heater uses a constantly lit tiny little flame to ignite the gas.
This tiny flame, called a pilot light, heats a sensor that detects if the pilot is lit. If it detects that the pilot is lit, the sensor releases gas which ignites and heats the water. If the pilot light is not lit, then the sensor detects that there is no flame and does not release gas to be burned.

Simply, this means that the pilot light must be lit for the heater to work. Therefore, to heat water in a gas heater, you must first light up the pilot lamp. On all heaters there is a button or switch marked Pilot that must be turned on while you put a flame (match or lighter) to the pilot tube. As easy as that.

In Singapore, 99.99% of all water heaters use electricity to heat the water. To work the heater, simply throw the switch on. This probably also means 99.99% of all of us have never turned on a gas water heater before.

Many years ago, I traveled to Germany for a trade convention in a small town. Flying from Changi to Frankfurt, then on a domestic transfer to Saxony took almost 16 hours. This was in late winter and the temperature averaged -10 degrees C outside during the day. Brrrrr.

In that small city, the few hotels available were fully booked up for the convention and so we had to rely on home-stay accommodations. This is very common in Europe where families rent out their spare rooms, or entire apartments, to conventioneers. My colleague and I managed to secure an apartment all to ourselves.

After that long tiring flight, all I wanted was to get cleaned up and off to bed for the night. Got ready for a shower and then, wham! how do you turn on the gas heater???? My colleague and I were stumped by something as simple as not knowing how to turn on a gas heater! Nothing in our lives had prepared us for this situation.

In the dead of winter, there is no greater torture than not having a hot bath. So imagine us desperately needing a shower and the water was near freezing.

If you have never used ice cold water to bathe before, let me tell you that you will never ever want to experience it a second time. Frankly, I can still remember the cold shock, the shudders, the screams and speed which I had to soap and rinse, towel off, get dressed and dive into my blankets to get warm again.

So, if ever you are in a small town in Europe in the dead of winter and the gas heater does not work, light the pilot lamp first!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Travel Movies - Arabian Coast

Most people know of Disneyland, be it in Anaheim, Paris, Hong Kong or Tokyo, or even their American cousins, Walt Disney World and Epcot Centre. Yet strangely, quite a lot will scratch their heads when you mention Disneysea. Disneysea??? really?

Disneysea is Disney's only water-theme park and is located next to Tokyo Disneyland. The park centers around seven Ports of Call, namely Mediterranean Harbor, American Waterfront, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta and Port Discovery.
Rides are based on Indiana Jones's adventures, Jules Verne's 10,000 leagues under the sea, and the little mermaid Ariel, amongst others.

Here's a clip on the Arabian Coast.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Travel Movies - Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Japan

Within the heart of busy, bustling and fast paced Tokyo lies one of the most serene and peaceful green havens to be found.

This is the Meiji Shrine, located next to Harajuku, built in 1920 to commemorate Emperor Meiji. He was the first emperor of modern Japan, having regained power back from the Shoguns in 1868. It was he who pushed Japan from a feudal country into the modern westernized country that it is today. He was the emperor in "The Last Samurai" who finally defeated all the traditionalist warlords with modern weapons. He died in 1912.
Video was shot in 2004 at the Meiji Shrine featuring a traditional Shinto wedding procession.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Travel Movies - Shinjuku

Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku is where the metropolitan government of Tokyo is located.
Also the busiest train station in Japan and a major shopping district.
It has the most vibrant entertainment area in Tokyo.

I'll be posting snippet of various places in Japan, starting with this one of Shinjuku, Tokyo.
My Sydney videos attracted comments that they preferred to see the location instead of my friends, so I am cutting out the personal stuff and just showing you the places.
Travel videos can be quite boring for viewers, especially if you can't relate to the people in it, I guess. Anyway, enjoy the coming series. Drop me a comment if you wish.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Taking the mickey out of your guided tour

I have never been on a guided tour.

More precisely, I have never been on a packaged group tour before.
With all the negatives you hear over the years about group packages, I still wonder why people would want to join those.

I guess it could be the worry of being in an unfamiliar place, of not knowing what to do or where to proceed that makes a lot of people join these tours. Then of course, there are those who prefer everything to be arranged for them without the hassle of doing it themselves. Convenience, I guess, is the word. That's the trade off for losing a lot on your tour.

All of my travels have been as a Free and Independent Traveller (FIT), or as we say here, Free & Easy. (Just for your info, the term F&E may not be understood by people outside Singapore)

Being free to plan my own itinerary gives me the freedom to do what I want, when I want it and for how long. As opposed to being with a group tour, where you are constantly herded and sent to places where they want to take you and where they get the best commissions from the retailers.

Let's face it, the tour guides are all part of the same circle in the tour trade. I scratch your back, you scratch my back. Of course, they will take you to those itinerised places as promised, but notice how the focus is a lot on taking you places to make purchases? bargain shopping? You are really left with minimal time to sightsee those places on the itinerary.

For example, a lot of my friends who have been to Disneyland have not stayed there beyond sundown. That's usually because of their tight program, they are rushed to another place, or to check into another hotel for the night, or for dinner, et cetra, etc. Sad to say, places like Disneyland do offer a lot of spectacular events at night, like laser light shows, fireworks and floats, which a lot of group tours may not get to see. You have to follow their schedule, alas.

For those of you who may have had the experience of the above, here's a short clip on Disneyland's night parade called Disney Electrical Parade Dreamlights. If you missed that at Disneyland, I am sure you would have also missed a lot on your guided packaged tour too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras

I have many Australian friends and all the time they revel in telling me that Australia is the Lucky Country, with its laid back attitude and their belief that nobody should work on weekends. Weekends are for family, friends and the BBQ.

The 1st time I travelled to Sydney was about 15 years ago. And so, with that in mind, I really had such a shock when I first arrived early one Sunday morning.
On the taxi ride to my hotel at Darling Harbour, I saw people drunk and literally lying all over the roadside and in the public spaces. Groups of young people, older folks, guys and girls decked out in costumes and loitering all over the city. My first thought was "Oh my god! the sydneysiders do really take their Saturday nights seriously!" They were everywhere, smashed and plastered, with tons of Fosters and XXXX beer cans littered everywhere!

When I told my business partners later that morning, they had a huge laugh and said that I had just missed the greatest party that Sydney celebrates every year. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras started off in the late 70's as a gay pride protest movement which has since developed into the biggest gay & lesbian event in the world. Held each year in Feb or March, the event gives a significant boost to the economy of Sydney each year. People from all over the world, straight or otherwise, travel there to be part of the event. I'm told Sydneysiders make a beeline in the opposite direction during Mardi Gras weekend!

It is a time for the gay community to show off. Closet gays and lesbians come out in droves and are all socially accepted. The aim seems to be "let yourself go, be who you really are and enjoy life"

Thus, it was that, when my friends wanted to visit Sydney, I made sure that we travelled during the time when the Mardi Gras was on. It is a party not to be missed. In fact, you can describe it as the Mother of all Parties. Google it and see what you have been missing.

With all that said, I now present the 4th part of my Sydney Trilogy. See! I so clever, know how to squeeze 4 episodes into a trilogy, ha ha. (By the way, I managed to do it in 4 parts not 5, so I'll spare you some pain from watching my boring home movies.)

In this last part, we took a cruise around beautiful Sydney Harbour, watched a cultural show and, of course, became part of the Mardi Gras event. Enjoy

Travel Movies - Sydney Part 3

Part 3 takes us to the Bay areas. Rose Bay, Double Bay & Watson's Bay are the more well known shores in Sydney Harbour. Sydney does possess one of the most beautiful harbour anywhere and it was formed eons ago when the Pacific Ocean broke through what is know today as The Gap. You may remember The Gap from Mission Impossible III which was filmed there.

From The Gap, we proceed to Bondi Beach. Famous for being the beach 5 minutes from the city. You can go for a swim during your lunch hour! Bondi is filled with sun-worshippers daily. Movie clip has fleeting scenes of nudity and if you are a minor, please skip the movie.

Here is Part 3.

The clip ends at The Rocks, the area first settled by the English settlers. This is now a conservation area and the best place to buy Australian native products, especially opals.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can you really afford to eat here ???

I work at the frontline serving customers. There are times when it is a pleasure to serve them but a lot of times they can be very trying. And there are times when we do make mistakes, sometimes unknowingly.

So you'd think when others make mistakes you would be more forgiving? Hmmm, I wonder..? A funny service gaffe occurred last night while I was at the mall.

I had just come from withdrawing some money from the ATM. Felt a bit peckish but didn't want to have a full meal. So I decided on a burger.

"I'd like a mushroom swiss double burger, please". "Just the burger?" asked the auntie at the counter. "Yes, please."

"The burger is $5.25!" she said with a slightly cynical look.
I looked at her for about 2 exquisite seconds. I knew what she meant.
She was trying to put across that if I were to pay another $1.05, I would get a drink and fries as well. But that mean mischievous streak in me started to rear its head.

Dramatically, I started to look myself all over, pretending to see if my shirt was dirty, smelly or full of holes. Then in a purposefully manner, took out my wallet and pretended to count the stack of 50s that I had just withdrawn, making sure the auntie saw it!

"Ahh, yes,,,, I think I can afford a burger tonight, thank you."

The auntie, with what you'd called a priceless look on her face, then realised what she said was a big blunder. Served her right for embarrassing me at the queue.

"Will that be dine-in or to go?"

" Take-away please"

I was sure she was thinking Go, go, get away as quick as possible.

I was mean. mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Just having some fun with the service staff ha ha.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Creepy walkabout

Fort Siloso, Sentosa

Fort Siloso gives me the creeps. It may appeal to war history buffs, gun buffs or military types but for people like me who just happened to stray inside out of curiosity, the place is really creepy, more so 'cos I was alone.

It's a war museum relating to the capitulation of the British in Singapore and the occupancy by the Japanese during WWII. Built around the former British Army gun fort at the western end of Sentosa, Fort Siloso is the only restored fort left in Singapore. Albeit, the restoration was quite nicely done but it looks more like a park than a fort now. Too much vegetation.

Remembering that the place used to be called Blakang Mati (death behind you), and knowing that soldiers fought and died there, and with lots of old pictures showing you macabre scenes of the war, the whole atmosphere is really morbid.

It gets worst when you descend into the tunnel complexes! Boy, then it gets really really creepy. Dark, dank, smelly and full of twists and turns, your mind wanders and the hair at the back of your neck begins to stand . You worry that you will get lost and won't be able to find your way out, or worst meet the ghosts of the former POWS in there! That's the feeling you get wandering underground in the tunnels.

I'm not too sure of this place or what's it supposed to be, a gun museum or a replica of the old fort? In the end it appears to be a bit of both, sigh.

Here are some pictures I took of the guns there. Click for a larger image if you really want to, haha.

At least there's a myth I learned that was broken... We all know of the infamous " ...guns that pointed South when the Japanese invaded from the North..."
The guns at the fort were in fact rotated and pointed north to pummel the Japanese army during the Battle of Singapore in 1942. Token action a little too late.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

31 flavors at Baskin Robbins is passe!

The temperature today was a sweltering 33 degrees indoors!
I am a sucker for real ice cream and there nothing better on a hot day than digging into a tub of cold sweet delicious ice cream. Was doing just this when it struck me that I never did tell you all of the weirdest ice cream place you can imagine.

At the Sunshine City Complex in Tokyo, where I usually stay at the adjacent Prince Hotel, there is a theme park right within the shopping mall itself.
Namjatown, which was set up by the japanese video game manufacturer, is not the usual outdoor roller coaster type amusement park. It has several distinct attractions like Gyoza Stadium, serving all kinds of gyoza from all over Japan, video game world with the latest Namco video games, a haunted town area, and best of all... Ice Cream City!

There are about a dozen or so shops each selling various types of ice-cream, each unique in its own way. The Japanese call them Gelato instead of ice cream.

There are endless shelves and freezers full of freshly made creameries with all kinds of flavors imaginable.

Ok, the place is not weird but some of the flavors available can really freak you out.
The variety of flavors run the entire gamut available. If you are just a vanilla, chocolate or strawberry fan, then you will be sorely disappointed with what they can offer you.

Garlic, wasabi, pumpkin, really black and gooey sesame, tuna, octopus, squid, sea urchin and believe or not cow tongue flavor! And that's just for your appetizer.

Then there's miso, ramen, sakura flower, lavender, seaweed, curry, soya sauce and horrors, basashi - horse meat! I kid you not!
If you can get over your initial revulsion (and maybe prejudices), then Ice Cream City is more than just an 'amusing ' place to be.
By the way, I had my favorite pistachio, wrapped in nori seaweed and crepe, Japanese style.
Yes, they do sell the usual flavors too.

Sea Urchin ice cream, anyone?

Flavor of the month... COW TONGUE ICE CREAM!

Just another of the quirky stuff you find in Tokyo.
And people wonder why I always go back there. hahahaha.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tokyo Feb 09.

This was meant as a draft but I guess I'll just put everything here till I get some time to organize and write a bit more about it. These are some of the events (using the term that my pictures were organized automatically by my iMac's iPhoto program.) that I went to on my trip to Tokyo last month.

Jizo statues. Originally, Jizo was venerated as the guardian saint of aborted, still born or miscarried babies. These statues are sometimes accompanied by little piles of stones, or wearing bibs or baby clothings left by grieving parents.

Tokyo Tower, 333m tall and icon of modern Tokyo. Elevator crush to get visitors to the mid-250m level. 3 elevators only moving thousands up and down everyday. Sigh.