Thoughts of a geek

10 May 2011

Malaysia, New Zealand and Sydney

Filed under: Photos, Travel — Tags: , , , , , , — qwandor @ 8:47 am

Hello everyone! I have not posted here much lately, so figured I really should get onto that. So, what have I been doing since February? Well, I went to New Zealand for 3 weeks, as planned, and had 5 days in Malaysia on the way. I also had most of a day in Singapore on the way out and in Sydney on the way back, due to the timing of flights. I also more recently had a 9 day holiday in Italy, which was interesting.

Kota Kinabalu — General and flight home: A beautiful sunset by the beach in KK

Starting at the beginning, I had a 5 night holiday in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia on the way back to NZ. I spent 4 nights in KK itself, and one up near Kinabalu Park. During this time I went out to two of the islands (Manukan and Mamutik) and went swimming, explored the city a bit, went hiking in Kinabalu Park, went to a museum and a heritage village with lots of different styles of longhouse from all the different tribes on display, ate various different food (and Soursop juice, which is delicious!), and caught up with my good friend Shirley who lives in Sabah. It was an excellent holiday, and the first time I had been swimming in ages. The only bad part was that I got quite badly sunburnt on my first day, while out on the islands and swimming, despite having applied some sunscreen. I also had a day in Singapore in-between London and KK, as there was a gap between my flights. It was not that much time, but I went into the city and wandered around some parts I had not seen before, which was good. You can discover more by looking through my photo albums linked above, and reading the descriptions and captions.

From Kinabalu Park

Back in New Zealand, I was working from home most of the 3 weeks I was there (all but 3 weekdays) while I was waiting for my visa application to be processed, and spending most of my evenings and weekends catching up with lots of people. I had a picnic at Oriental Bay, had various people over for dinner and lunch, caught up with lots of people for ‘coffee’ one day, went to a barbecue with Memphis people, had lunch with some postgrad students and lecturers up at Vic, visited various people’s houses, visited my old company (Innaworks) twice, celebrated my mother’s birthday, visited family up in Palmerston North, went up to Auckland for a weekend to catch up with various friends for picnic lunches, dinner, a flatwarming and swing dancing, taught a few friends some moves, had some delicious meals cooked for me (thanks for the chicken curry, Thi, and the roast, Talitha! And Richard, and Emma, thanks too!) and generally tried to make the most of what time I had. Thanks to everyone for the company, conversation, card games, geocaching, dancing, food, and everything else! Unfortunately I did not get to celebrate International Pillow Fight Day, but I guess it is alright, I did many other things. (-:

Weekend in Auckland: An interesting sign

On the way back from Wellington to London I had a stopover of about 8 or 9 hours in Sydney, due to the timing of Qantas’s flights. I went into the city, wandered around some of the parks and the botanic garden (which is well worth a visit, I wish I had had longer there), and met up with my friend Arya who is currently over there doing an internship with Google. We had a bit more of a wander around the city, especially the waterfront, and I took a few photos. We even walked past the Google office, but unfortunately Arya had left his badge at home and they require a special building access card rather than just the standard one so we could not look inside.

Sydney stopover: The Sydney harbour bridge and me

I got back to London, and back to work here, on Monday 11th April. I then headed off again on Saturday 23rd April with a couple of friends for a holiday in Italy, which I think I will split off into another post. In the meantime, check out the photos I have posted so far!

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13 May 2010

Exploring Singapore

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , — qwandor @ 5:48 pm

Like the previous post, I wrote this while on the bus up to Melaka, on Wednesday.

After arriving in Singapore on Monday night, I just checked into my backpackers’ hostel, tried to call a friend of a friend who lives in Singapore, then had a bit of a look around Little India (where my hostel was). Even at 10:00 pm there were lots of people around, and lots of shops still open. There were stalls spilling out into the street selling all sorts of fruit and vegetables, crowded department stores selling electronics, whiteware, clothes and more, stores selling Indian music and movies, with a few others thrown in at random, clothes and jewellery stores, computer repair shops, places selling cellphones, and of course lots of food vendors, bars and clubs. By 11:00 some of the stores had closed, leaving the food and drink vendors and some others.

After not much sleep on Monday night (the mattress was not very comfortable, people were coming and going from the dorm at all sorts of times, and I was missing a sheet so was — ironically — too cold), I decided to head out to Singapore Zoo. I wandered around a bit first, through another nearby street market, then took the MRT out towards the zoo. I had planned to catch a bus from the MRT station to the Zoo, but someone convinced me to take a ‘free’ minibus instead. The deal with this was that you had to buy your zoo tickets from the people operating the minibus, and you had to buy the $23 ticket including both zoo entrance and tram rides around the zoo, rather than just the $18 standard ticket. I think I would have been better catching the bus, as I had to wait on the minibus for 15 minutes or so while they found other people to go along for the trip, and I did not ride the tram at the zoo much. The bus would have cost less than $1, I think.

Anyway, once I finally made it out to the zoo it was quite nice, though really hot wandering around in the sun. I went to a show at the zoo called “The Rainforest Fights Back”, which was alright. It was about half an hour long, not great for plot or acting, but with quite a few animals trained to take various parts which was cool. There was also an opportunity to the end to have one’s photo taken with a snake, which I did not go for as the queue was quite long and I was tired and hot.

Heading back from the zoo, at the bus stop and on the bus I talked to a friendly Vietnamese lady, from Ho Chi Minh City, who was in Singapore visiting her niece. I had found Singapore’s roads a little bit crazy, but apparently compared to Ho Chi Minh City it is very orderly. Her English was not that great, but we managed to communicate well enough. I was amused that she asked whether I spoke French; apparently her French was better than her English.

After the zoo I took the MRT to Chinatown to have a look around and buy some food. It was about 4:00 pm by this stage, and I had not really had lunch, so after a bit of a wander round I just bought 6 beef satay sticks for $4.80, which were nice. The price of water varies quite a lot. At one place in Little India I had earlier got a 500 mL (I think) bottle for $0.50; here it was $1.30. I also bought some chopsticks and a t-shirt in Chinatown, as souvineers.

Heading back to my hostel, I had just enough time to sort myself out before going on a free scooter tour organised by the hostel, which I had signed up for that morning. The 12 of us plus our guide left the hostel at 6:00 pm on our scooters, and imitated the bikes I mentioned earlier in going the wrong way up one-way streets, on the wrong side of the road, and ringing our bells lots. We also went on footpaths and other paths in areas where they were available. We started off going through the Thieves Market near our hostel, then shortly visited the Arab area where our guide had us introduce ourselves to each other (name, where we were from, where we were going next after Singapore, whether we were single), took photos of a mosque, and visited a shop selling antique toys, where we were encouraged by the owner to take lots of photos.

After a few hours touring around, we stopped at the museum. Apparently during the day it costs to get in, but in the evenings four of the exhibits (food, photography, fashion and movies) are open for free. We had a quick look around these and took some photos, then toured around on our scooters a bit more, and took some group photos down by the river with the Merlion. Eventually we headed to an enormous food court for dinner, which we were quite ready for at around 9:00 pm. From memory it was divided into about 10 streets with over 100 stalls in total, and a live band playing in the middle on top of a circle of shops selling drinks and desserts.

Have a look at photos of the trip to Singapore, miscellany around Singapore, Singapore Zoo and the scooter tour.

9 May 2010

Singapore — First impressions

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 3:12 am

I wrote this blog post while on the bus from Singapore (well, actually Johor Bahru in Malaysia) to Melaka on Wednesday, but was unable to get my laptop online in Melaka so am posting it now.

The MRT system in Singapore is very well run. I had to get a standard ticket for the trip from the airport to my hostel, but after that I got a stored-value card for $15 ($5 for the card + $10 initial credit) which lasted the rest of my time there, quite a few trips. Trains come every 5 minutes or so during the day; some of them are very full but the terminals let masses of people get through very quickly so there is hardly any waiting. There are many parallel gates to get into and out of the terminal, and it only takes a couple of seconds per person to scan your card. You just scan it once at the beginning of your journey, then again when leaving the final station; there is no need to do anything when getting onto or off the train or transferring. The same stored-value card works on all the buses in Singapore, too. The cards can be topped up, and standard tickets purchased, from machines at every station. There are screens and automated announcements on the train saying what the next stop is, maps of the MRT system and surrounding city at each station, and screens at each platform saying when the next train will arrive.

After the air-conditioned airport terminal and MRT, stepping out into the open air was a shock, even at 8:00 pm or so. It is just so hot and humid, sauna-like, even in the shade or at night. Despite knowing to expect this I still found it rather overwhelming at first. Getting from the MRT station to the hostel with all my bags was rather tiring, even though it was only a 5-10 minute walk. The footpaths did not help. On many roads, especially around Little India, the footpaths are narrow, often blocked by various things from shops, or sometimes non-existent. Without a big suitcase to carry it is fine, you just keep your eyes open and walk on the road as necessary. Cars (and motorbikes, bicycles and other forms of transport) do sometimes drive quite fast down the narrow streets, but they seem to be fairly observant.

Another thing that I noticed about the streets is that there are a lot of one-way streets, but this does not seem to apply to bikes. Bikes often would ride up streets the wrong way on either side (even on four lane roads!), or on the wrong side of two-way streets. This was important to beware of when trying to cross the road.

At pedestrian crossings in Singapore, when the time to cross the road is almost up, the green man flashes (rather than the red man as in New Zealand). This confused me the first couple of times. I guess either way makes just as much sense, but I was not expecting it. At some crossings there is also a countdown of how many seconds are left to cross, which can be helpful.

Speaking of walking on the street, people walking or on public transport in Singapore do not smile! In New Zealand, if you smile at somebody as you walk past them, or sitting on a bus or somewhere, there is a good chance that they will smile back. In Singapore it seems that the only time people will smile at a stranger is if they are also a tourist visiting from somewhere else, or if they are trying to sell you something. The street vendors are often very pushy, if you walk past or look in their direction they will say “Hello sir! Where are you from? Come, we tailor suit for you.”, or hand you a menu and tell you to sit down “Sit, sit, sit here. You like noodles? Rice?”.

14 March 2010

More travel plans

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , — qwandor @ 4:24 pm

I just bought my tickets. They would have been about $100 cheaper if I had bought them a few days earlier. Oops.

I suppose I should back up a bit. To start with, I went in to STA travel and asked what fares they had one-way to London. The lady there was going to email me through some options, but never did. When I emailed them somebody else replied to me, giving only one option (some flights via Korea, with an unspecified carrier). Looking online on STA Travel’s website the cheapest flight was with Singapore Airlines, via Singapore. House of Travel had similar prices, with Singapore Airlines also the cheapest. Trying Singapore Airlines’ website directly, I found it easier to use than the travel agents’ sites, and the fares were about $200 cheaper. I also noticed that I could stop over in Singapore for no extra charge, so I figured I might as well stay for 3 or 4 days and see the place. Great!

I asked a friend for advice on what to do in Singapore and how long to stay, and he suggested that I should visit Malaysia while I was in the area, and pointed out that there were cheap flights or a bus available. Well, this opened up even more possibilities, resulting in me delaying even further in booking flights while I tried to decide how long to stay in Singapore and Malaysia. I am still not sure what I will be doing or quite where I will go, but I have finally bought my flights (the major ones, not yet any flights from Singapore to Malaysia). I will leave Wellington on 2010-05-03 at 9:30 am NZST, fly to Auckland and then Singapore to arrive at 7:00 pm SST. I leave Singapore on 2010-05-15 at 12:45 pm SST, and arrive in London at 7:00 pm, ready to have fun navigating the public transport system with all my luggage.

My current (rough) plan is to stay at a backpacker’s hostel for 2 or 3 nights in Singapore, then either fly to Kuala Lumpar or take the bus across the border and up to Melaka and perhaps on to KL from there. Or perhaps I might take the bus up and then fly back. I am not looked much yet into what there is do see and do.

So, if you have suggestions of what I should do, or know anyone in Singapore or Malaysia whom I should meet or even stay with, let me know!

(Oh, and thanks to everybody who has already given me advice! It is much appreciated.)

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