Changi prison, Singapore shoppers heaven (or hell) and off to Borneo !

Last night was another night in and early to bed, some noisy neighbours in the night and the aircon was making a noise like a freight train but somehow I managed some sleep. I think I am making progress in resolving my must have dark and quiet to sleep issue.

Even though I did the same amount of walking on day two as I did on day one I didn’t feel nearly so wrecked after a day in trail running shoes, I am wondering if I will get used to walking in sandals soon as it will be a tough holiday otherwise.

It is my last day in Singapore and I need to be at the airport for 4:15 this afternoon,  so a short day and the first sunny day of my time in Singapore. Up at 6.00 and a sunrise ! (shot through my window)

Breakfast today was baked potatoes and baked beans, they have not quite got baked beans to the normal hotel standard, nice an congealed – just how I like them, so it was a bit disappointing 🙂

Leaving my bags behind, I checked out of the hotel before leaving for the day and got the train out to Tenah Mirah for a visit to the Changi Prison Museum. The train was above ground for a good portion of the  trip so I got to see a lot more of suburban Singapore,  lots and lots of low rise towers, but it all seemed clean and tidy. Even out in the burbs they have full length bariers at the train station.

At Tenah Mirah, I,  along with some English tourists, failed to read the directions to the bus properly and had a wee moment of confusion before being helped out by one of the women waiting at the bus stop, I guess we were not the first tourists to miss-read the sign !

I was a bit disappointed at the museum, unfairly I guess, it was small and interesting, but no photos were allowed and it was only near the original site, so everything was a re-creation. Changi is/was Singapores main prison, during WWII thousands of allied troops and Singaporean civilians were housed there by the Japanese. The museum commemorates this and a number of atrocities carried out during the war. The prison itself has been expanded and built on many times since the war but the original gates are still standing, however you only see them via sideways look through the main prison entrance with the front view hidden behind a massive green fence. I was disappointed to say the least.  At Changi I made photographers blunder number two and left the camera on manual focus and didn’t notice till later in the day.

Changi museum and a replica of one of the war time chapels.

I wandered up to a local Caltex and bought a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, my first bread for 3 days – YUM, then caught the bus back to Tenah Mirah and the train to Orchard Rd. Orchard Rd is the premium shopping street in Singapore and as you would expect was packed with tourists ! it is not my place at all.

Emerald Hill Rd, is a side street of Orchard Rd and  less than a hundred metres up the hill are some wonderful old cottages, some have been converted into cafe/bars but most still appear to be residences. I could have spent some serious time here, but was pushing the time I had available to get to the airport. I was surprised (or not), that given the number of people on Orchard Rd, it was deserted up here.

I caught the tube from here back to the hotel and learnt a lesson in travelling outside of (relatively) polite NZ, I let other people squeeze onto the train first and then could not get on myself as it was jammed. For the next train I was first in and stuff everybody else ! All for one and all for one !

I was then off to Changi  airport, leaving behind Singapore and its air-conditioned shopping mall sanctuaries on every second street corner and head for the new hot and humid world of Borneo.

Changi is a biiiiiiig airport…

The Air Asia flight from Singapore to Kuching is about an hour and a half, jammed into a full  A330 I could barely move my legs. We left Singapore slightly late, with a cloudless sky and with a setting sun behind us.

We arrived in the dark at Kuching with a thunderstorm lightening up the sky, just how I love to fly ! Kuching is the main city of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo and is in the same time zone as Singapore. Alex picked me up from the airport and we went back to his apartment in the Petra Jaya area of Kuching.  Shower and sleep.

I liked Singapore, certainly felt like a place I could live, but I only saw the glossy tourist side of the place I guess.

Travellers mistake for day 3, I left my power plug adapter thingy in the hotel wall, and I “borrowed” that from my shipping company employer as well ! Next time I leave somewhere I will double check the room.

Singapore – Day 2

Day two started a bit later than day one, I slept well and was still dozing at 6.30 which was great. Breakfast consisted of a baked egg and ham pasta and baked beans… Yum !

I was just getting ready to get out the door for the day when the fire alarm went off. I threw a few things in my bag and made a slow exit down the stairs, no obvious signs of fire so I was in no panic and the people in front of me seemed less so. We all made it down to reception by the time the alarm stopped, and people were already heading back up the lift, so I did likewise…

I started off the day with a walk through Little India, checking out the Tikka Centre first, though it was probably a bit too early for real action, but the food court was interesting with a good mix of butchers, fish mongers and green grocers selling their wares. The smell of spice was pretty awesome 🙂

The first floor of Tikka was pretty much dedicated to tailoring and the selling of saris, and no, I do not want a suit or a shirt made, though I had plenty of offers.

I mooched around the Little India for a couple of hours, stopping for a beer, a rest and a wee at the Inn Crowd backers. The place was pretty full but everyone seemed to be doing their own thing and the guy who’s table I invaded seem none too thrilled at the intrusion, I am assuming he didn’t speak any English as I apologised for the inconvenience and he didn’t even bother to grunt. We were obviously not going to be travel buddies!

The Sri Veeramakaliamman temple was my next port of call and I spent an interesting half an hour wandering around its interior.

From Little India I moved down to the Kampong Glam area, an old Malay Muslim part of the city with some cool old buildings and the Sultan Mosque. I had a chicken kebab and apple tea lunch just outside the mosque, so got my daily protein in.

The area also had Hadji Lane, the “alternative” street in Singapore, which had a cool selection of shops and the only graffiti I have seen in Singapore. There were two quite funky bike shops.

and the Blog Shop…..

A fashion store.

I missed the Singapore Flyer due to the rain (and lack of camera) yesterday so walked back down there today, I was not planning on taking the ride but once I arrived I decided to spend the thirty bucks and go for a spin. The views from the ride were amazing ! I will take back any comments I made yesterday about the lack of high rises in Singapore, they are just well hidden.  The photos are all taken through thick ‘blued’ glass, so apologies for the colour cast, and I cannot be bothered trying to correct it.

Don’t tell anyone, but this shirt was worn on Christmas day and has not been washed, I am running out clothes, but will wash in Kuching. I am practising for the feral life of a backpacker 🙂

When I came in from the airport two days ago we drove along the coastal highway and I was amazed at the number of large ships that were queued up waiting to get in to port. I used to work for a shipping company, if you were wondering why this was interesting !

On the walk back towards the city I got to test out the umbrella mum bought me for my birthday, it worked fine, which was good as it hammered down. I made it into a mall, through a convention centre to another mall where I stopped for a coffee at Starbucks. Best coffee of the trip so far, a sad indictment on the standard of coffee in my hostel as I am not a fan of Starbucks coffee. When I popped out of the mall the rain had stopped and by good fortune rather than good skill I ended exactly where I wanted to be, which was completely the wrong place ! The building I thought might have been Raffles (it was old and majestic) turned out to be the Park View hotel

A bit more map reading and I found Raffles, which looks nothing like the Park View !

I made my way up to the Long Room bar where I laid my thirty dollars on the counter and bought myself an original Singapore Sling cocktail (a Singapore must do !)  It was nice, I could have sunk a few if I wanted to spend all my money and end my travels today. One of the key features of the long room is the free peanuts, it is customary to shell the peanuts and throw the skins on the floor.  What miffed me about the Raffles experience was the guide books (and interweb) said there was no admittance to the bar in shorts or sandals, so I sweated in long pants all day only to discover most of the patrons had shorts on. Oh well, it was Raffles Hotel!

After my cocktail, I headed back towards the hostel, past the Singapore Art museum. The sun made a brief appearance as I walked back and it got seriously warm for a while.

Past the Photographic Society of Singapore.

I picked up a couple of cans of Tiger from the local seven eleven and went back to the hotel for some serious relaxing and another early night.

Observations from day two;

  • Singapore is very “English”, all the signs are in English and they drive on the right side of the road – being the left hand side 🙂 You can also buy single cans of beer which you cannot do in NZ.
  • Tourists don’t necessarily want to socialise with other tourists.
  • There is almost no graffiti, I saw some in Hadji Lane today, but I suspect that was part of its “alternative” character. I saw a couple of gig posters for old gigs that I would maybe have gone to, but nothing new, and have been unable to find a decent gig guide for Singapore. I really hope I will get to see some bands while I am away, Indonesian death metal maybe ?
  • For a city with a lot of rain, there are a lot of tiled footpaths….

Tomorrow I will experiment with another format and load photos to Flickr and link them. This post took close to two hours to create, and the text was pasted from Word. Maybe there is a better way to do it. I did at least find out how to do line spacing !

Singapore – Day One

Wow – first official day of travelling and a different life!

I was awake around one am with my body clock telling me it is six o’clock and it’s almost ready for the day to start, thank God for wi-fi  as I could not go back to sleep. Breakfast in the hotel was free and interesting, I am not entirely sure what it was I ate, it looked like a baked omelette but it was sweet and had raisins in it, at least it tasted OK. Coffee was awful, I think I am going to have to get used to that 😦

The weather is solidly overcast with occasional showers and of course warm (30) and humid and my start was delayed due to rain. I had a bit of a loose plan, but my tourist ‘map’ only had main roads and had no scale markings at all so I had no idea of distances between the things I wanted to see so I would just have to see where it all went.  As you would expect I took a few pictures and have included some of them.

First stop was Fort Canning Park, at 60 metres, the highest point in central Singapore and a key part of the history of the city. I loved the trees and the sculptures in the park  !

From Fort Canning Park I wondered down through Clarke Quay on the Singapore River. The area is a bit like the viaduct in Auckland, bars and restaurants, but far uglier and in my opinion a wasted opportunity to do something visually appealing with some lovely little terraced houses there. I tried to get a photo, but there was too much junk to capture what I wanted, on to China Town.

First stop in China Town was for a strawberry and peach shake – Heavenly ! I would have taken a photo of the drink, but the battery died in my camera, right after I took a photo of the shop – DOH ! and I call myself a photographer…

Next stop was to find a shop that sold batteries and get ripped off with tourist prices. The battery was not fully charged but at least I could take some photos, though it did not last the day. The frustrating thing was I had a spare battery in the hostel, my first lesson learnt.

Meat seller –  the shot of the ducks didnt work !

I paid a visit to the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple, which is a must for all visitors to Singapore, it is places like this that I would love to have the candid photo skills of my buddies Jocelen and Brian. Something I aim to develop as I go, but i did muster up some courage and point the camera at some of the people there.

Buddha Tooth Relic temple.

After a light lunch of spring rolls and water I took a long slow walk down and around downtown Singapore, slowly speeding up when I needed to pee and could not find any public toilets, quick nip  into a Starbucks, no loo so no coffee, and the pace quickened. I finally found a small mall below a tower block and paid 20c for the blessed relief.  Second and third lessons learned, toilets are not easy to find and keep coins handy.

The downtown area of Singapore is only a few small blocks but there are some very tall buildings ! Feeling slightly more relaxed I wandered down past Marina Bay and the massive new Standard Chartered Bank towers made from blue glass over to Marina Sands.

I am not sure what to think about Marina Sands,  the architecture is ambitious and stunning, but the cost must have been grotesque. The complex is comprised of a MASSIVE mall, a casino, three hotel towers and the skypark and I am sure there are parts I missed.  There was probably only half a dozen shops in the mall I could afford to shop at, all the big exclusive brands were on display with sections of the mall dedicated to individual products The watch and jewellery sections had security guards and were conveniently located outside the casino.  The best part of the mall (apart from the aircon) was the indoor canal and gondola rides !  I wandered up through the hotel to try to get to the skypark, hoping to be able to buy a beer up there and snap some shots, but only the outdoor viewing area is open to non-hotel guests and as it was raining heavily at this stage I was advised it was not worth spending twenty bucks, so I left.

Marina Sands Hotel and Skypark, the mall is the long low building at the front.

After a cheap feed of Singapore noodles in the mall foodcourt while waiting for the rain to stop I started walking further around the marina and then the second battery in my camera died. I had pretty much done everything I planned on at the start of the day so I headed to the newest train station and caught a train back to my hotel.

At the station the tracks were completely barriered off from the waiting passengers and there was a bit of a squash even in mid afternoon. The train was crowded, but not terribly so, I would hate to imagine what rush hour would be like,  but being taller than most of the passengers at least I got some semi-fresh air.

As I walked up the hill to the hostel it started to drizzle again, I had been on my feet for most of five hours so I was ready to call the day quits mid afternoon. After the rain I had a quiet can of Kingfisher strong lager on the rooftop of the hotel. I was going to go back down to Little India for a snack and a drink after dark, but it was absolutely pissing down in the evening and the hostel is a good five minute walk to the nearest shelter so I flagged it and went to bed early, after charging camera batteries.

The Hangout hostel. I am on the top floor at the back, under the airconditioners…

Hostel rooftop garden, 2 self portraits in one day !

Day one thoughts ?

It was a good first day out, I really like Singapore, it is clean and reasonably friendly. There is plenty of green, some lovely old buildings mixed in with the new.

I didn’t meet any new people or do anything outrageous like ask to join people at their table. I have hardly seen people in the hostel, the public spaces are largely deserted.

I learnt at least 2 lessons, and will pack my day bag differently tomorrow.

I need to eat some protein and drink more water.

WordPress still sucks ! I cannot work out how to do line spacing properly, grrrrr

Singapore – Day 0

I arrived in Singapore in rush hour and decided to take a cab to the hostel rather than the MRT (train) as I had read mention of a long walk from the station up a hill to the hotel and I did not want to be humping my pack around lost in the heat on my first day. I can hear people calling chicken already !

I am staying in the Hangout on Mt Emily and the climb was no worse than the walk to the end of my street at home ! The hostel is OK, I have my own room as I want to ease into this travel thing, as warned in a number of blogs the room A) smells a bit damp and B) has freezing aircon – I am writing this wearing my polyprop ! The room is small, has no TV, no fridge or chairs or the other things I was used to from staying in three and four star hotels on my work trips.  It does have a reasonably comfortable, though small, single bed, a shower, a proper loo and a desk. Most importantly it has a wicked view from my window and the roof, has free wi-fi and is five minutes walk to Little India, which ere the reasons I chose it.

Singapore is five hours behind NZ so by the time I had checked in, showered and changed and walked down to Little India it was well after midnight by my body clock. I walked around for thirty minutes and then had a vege curry, which was very nice but I could not finish due to exhaustion and staggered back to my room, for some sleep.

Naturally I was awake about one AM, I dozed for a bit, caught up with some emails and bookfacing and waited for the sun to rise around 6.4 Things start late in Singapore, seems people are starting to surface now (8.30)  so I am off for breakie, though my stomach says LUNCH!

Impressions so far ?  crowded, warm, humid, but a friendly vibe, little india felt good, even the back alleys. Didnt see too many tourists last night, but it was probably too early.

Let Day One commence.

Crazy ? yes, Dumb ? no !

Over the past month I have started this post about a hundred times, deleted most of them, left and restarted some, deleted those and ended up with a list.

The foundation of this plan of mine started close to ten years ago, back when I was mountain biking frequently and the internet was exposing us to multi-day scenic riding events in some very cool places. My friend and riding buddy, Miles was very attracted to the idea of the Trans-Africa ride, north to south over a few weeks, but for myself I liked the idea of the multi-day Trans-Alps race in Europe. After months of reading and pondering I decided that this would be my 50th birthday present to myself,  and the idea of having my 50th in Europe was conceived.  Over the past few years my riding has languished and the training involved was too hard (I need some concrete pills), but as the idea of having my 50th in Europe never really left I elected to leave my job in June/July 2012, take a couple of months break and see the bits I missed when I was there in the eighties.

As happens all too frequently circumstances changed at work, I was extremely stressed, over worked and in the end so unhappy I gave three months notice and resigned in October. This left me with the prospect of going to Europe over winter or finding an alternative – so the visit to SE Asia was planned.

Numerous people who know me well, have asked why SE Asia ?,  and why so long ?  The why is easy, I have always wanted to visit Angor Wat and I want to see orang-utans !  That is it!  I could easily do those in a couple of weeks, so why so long ? Buggered if I know !

SE Asia is so severely outside my comfort zone, everything about going there and being there is a challenge.  From getting off the first flight in to the heat and humidity of Singapore to the complete lack of a plan of how, where and when it should end is just not how I roll or have rolled for the past 49 years.  I believe that if I can survive a few weeks, months even better, travelling in SE Asia, then I can survive anything !

I see this as a challenge to myself, an opportunity for me to change the way I see Phil Platt, and hopefully make him a better person at the end of it. If I don’t do the time  and leave for Europe or back to New Zealand in a couple of weeks I will not see this as a failure, but I will be glad that I at least  tried !

Below is the list of why I think this idea is a bit ridiculous.

Like many people I have irrational fears of many things;  Spiders, snakes, sharks, heights, unexplained noises at night, other peoples driving on tight, windy roads with cliff edges, being mugged (experienced it, not nice !), being scammed/pick pocketed etc.

I also have a completely rational fear of zombies and sometimes they DO keep me awake at night, this is completely true and I will get up in the night and close a window if I am feeling it !

I dislike; heat and humidity, crowds, drunks, loud people (especially loud drunk people !), smokers and worst of all  – other peoples bad taste in music.

I am uncomfortable with; standing out – hence I don’t do street photography, confrontation – even with people i know, being alone – I can easily go into hibernate mode if I don’t watch out, approaching strangers for companionship or to travel, seeing the poverty, beggars, the crippled and the other sites and smells of the third world.

I suffer from insomnia and really like dark, quite, cool places to sleep, or I will go days without sleeping.

In a way I am quite naive, I have no idea if my plan, or lack of plan is a good thing, if cruising SE Asia on my own at 49 and 25 years away from any other travel experience is a smart thing to do

So all in all is this trip “Crazy ? yes, Dumb ? no !  I guess I will find out.

Fare thee well New Zealand

After starting to think about this trip five months ago, D-Day has finally arrived and my plan is no further ahead than it was then, in fact the options have gotten far more complicated as time has gone and i really have no idea what the future holds  beyond my flight to Kuching (Sarawak, Borneo) in 3 days time !

I was planning on a final New Zealand post from the airport before I left, however with no free wi-fi at Auckland airport I had a glass of wine and browsed Facebook on my phone instead. So I am writing this as we bump our way over Indonesia at 40,000 feet.  Jetstar business class is comfortable, the food and drink is OK but the movie selection is dire. I have watched Contagion and Cowboys and Aliens, both were average movies and filled four hours of the ten hour flight, leaving two more hours to go now.

I have had a good last week in Auckland, stayed with a number of people and have really appreciated those nights. Last night I stayed at mums, which was very nice and she took me to the airport this morning where my sister met us for coffee and final farewells. I am not good at the whole farewell thing so just having mum and Sarah was perfect. I said good bye to Aiden yesterday and to Meliesha on Christmas day when I took her to the airport for her return to England, so there was no tearfull leaving 2 of my babies behind.

Thanks to all of you who let me do the goodbyes my way, it made it all so much easier. Thanks also to those who have fed and watered me and let me stay in your house over my three homeless weeks, you all mean a lot to me.

So, it is farewell to New Zealand, to Aiden and mum, the Hunters and  to all my buddies – I will miss you and wish you well until I see you again, whether it is back home or in some foreign location.

I also meant to get mum to take a photo of me at the airport, all loaded up with my backpack, but totally forgot so no photo this post.

At least I have free wi-fi in my hotel ! Singapore post tomorrow !

A Christmas Eve jog – final Waitakeres run

On  the morning of Christmas Eve I went for my last trail run in the Waitakeres for who knows how long. Vicki’s favourite trail is Omanawainui , which I am going to say is not one of mine. Last time I ran Omana, we ran up it in a howling wind and horizontal rain, as the trail is largely exposed it was not a huge bundle of laughs ! However, Christmas Eve was virtually cloudless and still, so I suggested we run down Omana and back up Kura, giving us a run under two hours, which was all I was capable of after an average ride yesterday.

With a wee bit of trepidation we took off , jogged up the start of Omana. After the mudfest  that was Home track last week I was a bit concerned about the conditions on the trail, Omana is steep in parts and I really wanted to avoid twisting an ankle with only three days to go before I leave ! Concerns were completely unwarranted, it was like we were running in a different season to last week, the track was very dry and verging on dusty in parts.  My one complaint !! the amount of gorse and cutty grass was appalling, almost made the track unusable in parts.

Omana has some stunning views over the Manukau harbour and Whatipu Beach. I have never seen  (I say this regularly)  the harbour so still, stunning !

Looking back up the harbour towards Cornwallis

I am looking vaguely atheletic 🙂Looking over Whatipu BeachWhatipu ! I have never seen it so still, it looked like you could have snorkelled there !

After Omana we ran up Kura track back to the car. While Omana is either steeply up or steeply down, Kura completely lulls you into a false sense of security by being flat for the first couple of KM’s, running through some nice second generation native forest with  four little stream crossings. It then ends with a brutal climb to the Puriri Ridge track and a wee flat jog back to the start.

It was a great last run (stagger up the hills), great weather, stunning views and good company !

Come on Auckland Council, this gorse and cutty grass is ridiculous !

Last mountain bike ride at Woodhill (for a while)

I have been riding mountain bikes for thirteen years now and for most of that time I have ridden at Woodhill forest, just north of Auckland. When we first started riding there the tracks were managed by the Auckland MTB Club and there was a limited number of trails. Many  years ago the park changed to a commercial enterprise and has expanded immensely with many many kilometres of managed single track riding.

As the park is now commercial you have to pay a fee to ride,  this was/is still a source of contention amongst the longer term mountain bikers, but hey the tracks are good and they do sell coffee at the park !

A few years back I spent a couple of weeks building tracks (and got to ride for free for a few years) I worked with a group on a number of tracks but built the “No Brakes” track myself over a couple of work holidays. I have a soft spot for Woodhill !

Miles and I went up there on Friday afternoon, the hottest day of the summer so far, for a last ride for a while. For some reason I was dead flat and had limited power, so we didn’t have the longest or fastest ride, however it was, as always, a good ride, and we did ride out the back and do No Brakes…

Miles heard a rumour that the Spaghetti trail block of forest is going to cut down soon 😦 Spag must have opened in 2000 and was one of my favourite trails, I have ridden it hundreds of times as it is a good link out to the back trails. I hope it doesnt get the chop, but if it does at least I rode it before I left.

Hopefully I will get some riding in in SE Asia, but will definitely do some in Europe and if I settle there for a while I will buy myself a new bike, one with gears and lots of suspension !