Posts Tagged With: underground systems

Shanghai: Land of lights in tunnels and dogs in zoos.

We were expecting things to get a lot more difficult by the time we got to Shanghai. We were prepared for much less English writing, and a lot more Chinese. But no! Still plenty of bi-lingual signs to help us navigate our way around. Excellent! When we arrived at the hostel, the men were wrapped up warm in their coats, sat in the dark.

“Ni hao. We have a reservation, under Williams?”

“Ahh yes. Budget private double? I’m afraid we have no power, we have a power cut. So we need your passports and we can give you the room card and your passports back at 6pm, the power should be back then.”

We offered a copy of our passports but I think they needed the visa bit. So we left our passports with 2 men in a dark room, headed up to our room and back down and out to explore. Our journey to the hostel had transferred us through People’s Square Metro station, which was quite busy and seemed a good, central starting point. We were greeted with a mass of neon lights, mega malls and offers of hashish. Things I would expect in Vegas, New York and Amsterdam respectively. It wasn’t what we expected. It was huge and relatively modern, yes, this we were expecting. However, it also felt quite spacious and if you look down the backstreets, the mega malls soon vanish.

At risk of spending 5 weeks in shopping malls, we made our way down one of these back streets, to find what can, perhaps patronisingly, be called “real China”. What you’d really expect, where the majority of the population probably shop, eat and socialise. It didn’t take long to find a baked sweet potato stand, and it didn’t take long to get confused by Chinese finger numbers once we’d ordered. Instead of using all ten fingers in order, they somehow (in a way we haven’t figured out yet) do it all on one hand.

By dark, we headed to the Pudong area on the other side of the river. Now this was what we’d expected. Uber-modern buildings, skyscrapers galore, an amazing pedestrian high walkway around the roundabout and a beautiful array of lights on the buildings. We found somewhere to eat, which was surprisingly cheap for the calibre of the shops and the size of the mall we were in – I think it’s fair to say, food in China is cheaper than Hong Kong. About half the price. Yay!

On our second day, we started at Shanghai museum, which was free and not bad considering. We then went to the Bund with the potential aim of doing the “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” to cross the river and walk around the Pudong area in daylight. Well. The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel costs £5 one way or £6 return. I’m telling you now, don’t worry about the return. Ashley made a video of the…experience…. I’ll let you know when it’s online. I think it says more than I could with words.

Ashley and me have something that seems to have become a “thing”, you know, a “thing”. Could be called a tradition, could be called …well, a “thing” really. We go to zoos. That’s our thing. We went to Budapest zoo, we went to London zoo, we went to Hong Kong zoo and now, we’ve been to Shanghai zoo. What can you say about Shanghai zoo? Hmm. It’s an interesting one. It starts well, with a small aquarium and a reptile house – aka, lots of sea turtles and tortoises so I’m a happy bunny. Then there’s the goldfish section. Genuinely. Then you find the main attraction – the pandas! They’re really funny to watch, they sit around like slobs, legs apart, belly out,  chomping on bamboo! The type you’d imagine on Jeremy Kyle. Most of the enclosures aren’t actually too bad, including the panda enclosures. However, “Pet World” is a little bizarre. If you see a sign at a zoo saying Pet World, you would enter expecting…little fluffy bunnies? Guinea pigs and hamsters? Maybe even some more goldfish (borrowed from the goldfish section)? Well you’re all wrong. Unless you guessed dogs in glass suburban houses that is. Yep, different breeds of dog all in their own little concrete and glass “houses”. It was a very depressing place. The mating porcupines didn’t seem to care though. I know, I don’t know anyone with a porcupine as a pet either.

All in all, Shanghai is alright. It’s not as modern and shiny as it’s often billed but it gives you an idea of what China seems to be about – spitting, shoving and staring. Not necessarily in that order.

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Do Do Mulu!

Preparing to leave for Mulu, I’d prepped myself that I would be away from civilization and communication. I knew there were some caves and that that was the main reason people went there but I didn’t realize how inspiring caves can be! I realize that sentence sounds incredibly geeky, but after my time here in Mulu, I feel inspired to take on more adventurous caves, treks and the like.  I would recommend a visit here to anyone visiting Borneo/Malaysia/South East Asia. However, it is expensive in comparison with what I’ve been spending on my trip so far. It’s become like a mini holiday in Centre Parcs purely due to the sudden increase in my spending. I found pre-travel info a little weak, so here’s what I now know in case you’re up for being inspired….

Arrival by plane is the only feasible way to get to Mulu, which had helped in me thinking it would be totally isolated. Therefore, I was expecting a tiny plane with propellers and 20 seats, similar to a domestic plane I’d taken in Costa Rica a few years ago. However, this plane was much bigger! Yes, it had propellers but there were much more seats. And we got a complimentary Milo!

When you arrive at Mulu, you’re greeted by numerous signboards offering a ride to the park headquarters. It’s only about 1 km away, but for 5RM (1GBP) it’s no hassle taking one of these sign bearing folk up on their offer.

Also worth noting at this point is that before departure, from what I’d read in the Lonely Planet and online, I was led to believe that you had to book accommodation in advance, and that the options at the park were the only options. The cheapest option being 40RM per night for a dorm bed in the park hostel (as opposed to 20RM average I’ve been paying elsewhere in Malaysia). However, when you take one of these rides to the park, you will see a few “homestay” places dotted along the road to the park. Jesper, a Swedish man I met on my tours, was staying in one for 15RM a night – quite a saving on my bed in the park hostel! Info that these existed prior to arrival would have saved me a small fortune. However, you get what you pay for, and from what Jesper told me, the shower sounds rather piddley and his mosquito net a necessity.

The first things you have to do on arrival are register and pay your 10RM park entrance fee. Now is also a good time to plan your time here as trips can fill up fast, so the quicker you book the better. There’re plenty of clear leaflets and a map to help you decide what’s best for you if you have no idea. I would recommend checking the website beforehand to give you an idea of what’s on offer.  Be warned: at this point, you will spend more than you initially planned!!

If, like me, you’ve never been caving before, I would recommend the following (apart from Lagang Cave), which is also the itinerary I did;

Day 1: Deer Cave and Lang Cave at 2pm, including the “bat exodus” as they flock out between 4.30 and 6pm, just in time for you finishing the caves. Lang Cave is full or limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites, whereas Deer Cave is full of bat poo. I was slightly worried about just how bad the smell was going to be when I saw our guide rubbing Vicks under his nostrils before entering, but in all honesty, rather unexpectedly, it smelt like Veet!!

Day 2: Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave at 8.45am, including a longboat trip down a very shallow river, a stop at a local village selling crafts (which you will feel pressured to buy…) and a longboat trip back. Expect to return around 12.30 – just in time for lunch before…

Canopy Walk at 2pm. After an hour or so, you reach the longest canopy walkway in the world, which is quite scary at times! The bridges wobble and shake, are attached to the trees with rope and only two people are allowed on at a time. It is good fun though!

Day 3: Moonmilk Cave is the only cave that can be explored without a guide, you just need to let the Security Office know your plans. I did this with Jesper. It was a good workout, with over 800 steps in total. However, we ended up at Cave of the Winds, and had to turn back, adding another few hundred steps to the challenge!

Lagang Cave. This is billed as a “tourist” and “adventure” cave. I was well up for that! A nice little introduction into adventure caving for me, breaking me in gently. But no. To link tourist to the word adventure they don’t get rid of the boardwalk, they just turn off the lights. To make my first experience of “adventure” caving even more adventurous, I was asked after 10 minutes in the cave by my guide what religion I was.

I shook my head, “I have no religion.” Those words I should have learnt not to utter after meeting my crazy LOGOS HOPE! friend at the bus stop in Penang.

His eyes lit up.

“Who made the earth and the universe? Who put all these things here? Do they ever stop?”

“Well, it’s just nature isn’t it? It’s infinite. Nature did it, Mother Nature.” I considered adding a “Mother Nature is my God” but my better judgment helped me bite my lip.

The rest of the journey I was lumbered with stories of how he found God, how God saved him and his granddad can perform miracles, how he went to Singapore for two months to train to be a Pastor, and how one day, I too, will find God. Yeah that’s not gonna be today. Or tomorrow. Or even the day after that, or the day after…you get the picture.

He then proceeded to tell me how he was dating a beautiful Hindu girl (she must have been a stunner – he was always emphasizing the “beautiful”), but then his cousin introduced him to his (now) wife and he had to make a choice. He had to think of his future. So he send a letter to his now wife and signed it with his blood, saying “I’m deadly serious, if you are too, write back with your blood.” All this and he’s still dating the poor Hindu.

“Then one day, I receive the letter. I can feel my heart pumping in my chest…I open the letter….and there it is, her blood. I then had to break off with the Hindu and we soon married.” No mercy when it comes to bloody love.

I took this opportunity to ask about other religions if God was the one who made everything.

“Well, we do not offend other religions.”

“But if they believe in Allah, or Buddha, or Vishnu and not God…one of you must be wrong?”

“Well, we do not speak badly of other religions but, when I pray, I pray in my heart, and God comes to me. It is personal. When the Muslims pray, they use the megaphone. The “Barrr barrrr mmmm bahhhh”. How can this be personal? How can you talk to God?”

“Yeah, but I think that’s just the call to prayer. That tells them it’s time to pray. Then they go in and pray individually in silence, right?”

“Yes they do, yes.”

He’d seen miracles apparently, performed by God, but he wasn’t aware of the miracles of other people, of their beliefs and their rituals. That’s what’s really amazing in life – diversity, and I don’t have to believe in God or Allah or whoever you wish to pray to to be able to see that.

Be prepared to open up your wallet in Mulu. The food costs between 10RM and 16RM, and at least 3RM for a drink. If I was in the city or by a beach I would stretch out my snacks and go for one meal a day but when you’re out walking and sweating like crazy all day, you need to bite the bullet and pay for two meals a day (breakfast comes in the form of a token included in the accommodation price). There are a few restaurants along the road to the airport, but unless you walk quite a way, I think the prices are pretty much the same. As for water, I was not prepared to pay the price of a meal for a bottle of water. Luckily in the hostel, there were a couple of kettles, so I just boiled tap water up and left it to cool whenever I wanted to refill. This works fine until some [insert expletive here] Germans come along and reboil and steal all your precious water. [Insert further expletive for emphasis].

Altogether, my bill at Mulu was 270RM for accommodation and activities. Food must have come to at least 70-80RM and the return flight was 306RM…which comes to a grand total of….around 650RM (120GBP). So far the most pricey venture of my trip.

Was it worth it? Yes and no. Yes the experience was definitely worth it. I had an excellent time and as a novice to this kind of thing, I loved the “tame” adventure quality that Mulu has. No because the food and accommodation was way too expensive. I wish I’d known about the homestay options, although I would probably have eaten in the park still, because the food is very good and the price variation minimal. All things considered, do Mulu!

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Categories: Malaysia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Seven! Twice!

Singapore is a small fortune in the money making machine that is Apple. Everywhere you look an iPhone is in sight. I counted 7 iPhones in view on 2 seperate MRT trips. And they were full MRT trips, as in, no room to look very far. Seven! Twice!

Speaking of the MRT it really does put the London Underground to shame. It is quite possibly the best metro system I’ve used so far in my life. Bear in mind, I’ve not used one outside of Europe yet, but I have seen a fair few European attempts. It whoops London’s ass for the following reasons;

  • It is clean. Impeccably so. I think the fact that a S$500 fine is attached to eating or drinking on a train or in the station has a small part to play in this.
  • It is calm. Yes, I know, I know, you must think I’m crazy, “Calm + Underground?! Those two words don’t match!!” Well Singapore has proved they do.
  • It is one long carriage. To be fair to LDN, I did recently ride one that was a long carriage there….or it could have been Paris….probably Paris.
  • It is cheaper. If you get yourself an EZ link card then you just swipe away. Ok, London has the Oyster card, 1 point for London.
  • But really, it’s just better.

I can’t really take pictures of the metro, if I get a late MRT one day I’ll try but when there’s people it feels a bit awkward to grab the camera.

Day One. Singapore.

On my first day in Singapore, I took the MRT from my hostel to City Hall and walked a pretty big circuit of the CBD (Central Business District) and Chinatown, followed by stumbling across Clarke Quay and Fort Canning Park.This was interspersed with an uncountable amount of mall walk arounds (mainly because it rained!) and a brilliant meal in my first hawker centre.

It was Lau Pa Sat Festival market, and it was not far out of the CBD so it was full of people dressed very smartly on their lunch breaks, all queuing and eating in this very different environment to where I imagine they had spent their mornings. It was nice to see that even the Big Wigs love this part of Singapore culture. I didn’t see a restaurant that day that was as full as the hawker market.

The only problem you may encounter in one if you visit yourself is deciding what to eat and where from. There is so much choice and a small bit of variation in price so it was definitely worth me taking a little wander round before deciding where to eat. In the end I settled for a S$3.50 (1.75GBP) veg and tofu dish with rice. It was huge for what I paid! You couldn’t even get a Boots Meal Deal for that in England!

I found myself on the edge of Chinatown when I left, which unless I didn’t hit it in the right spot wasn’t overly exciting. The antlers horns in the Chinese medicine shop windows put me off slightly. So I didn’t stay long.

After that, I headed for Clarke Quay which is a quirky looking area of Balamory coloured style buildings. They’ve all been converted into restaurants, bars and nightclubs now, and seeing as I was wandering throuhg at around 5.30pm, not a lot was going on! One place diod catch my eye though – Clinic. They had real wheelchairs spraypainted gold, a dentist’s chair and converted hospital beds for chairs. The menu included such delights as a ‘blood transfusion’, ‘Oral Me’ mouthwash (in 3 different flavours!) amoungst others. All priced at….S$50 each. 25GBP!

I meandered out of Clarke Quay and crossed the road into Fort Canning Park. A rather nice unexpected discovery. From what I could gather from the info on the signs, basically, this is where that Raffles chap set up base. It was then used by loads of different folk including the Japanese army and…I forget who else! I was paying a little more attention to the fact that I’d just left a busy, bright, brash clubbing hotspot and entered a silent National Park! There was lots of lovely art sculptures including some mooing cows and ladders crawling up the trees! I sat myself down on a bench to check the map and there was an old man stood by a pillar reading the newspaper out loud in Chinese….fair enough. Nice place to do it if you’re gonna do it at all. Then he calmly placed the newspaper down on the bench, and started to do some Tai Chi. As you do. I wish we could do that in England and not get looked at. How cool would that be!?

I ended day one with a waltz through Funan Digitalife Mall. A mall literally dedicated to IT, computers, camera, mobile phones, TV’s and all things techno. Except for raves. And glowsticks. By now I was starting to discover that 99% of the gazillion malls in Singapore have a food hall/market in the basement, so I headed down and had my bargain meal of the day #2. This time  I was feeling a little more adventurous and so I opted for “Yong Tau Fo” (I think). I stood and watched a few people before me picking 7 fresh ingredients, then passing the bowl to the lady who puts it all into a deep mesh pan in boiling water and adds noodles. I ended up with a massive soupy mix which was delicious and very filling. This time I only spend 2GBP!

Day Two. Singapore.

I felt like I’d had my fill of the city on day one, so I planned to spend day two at a wetland reserve way up in the north of the island. I’d found the leaflet at Fort Canning Park, and it wasn’t in the Lonely Planet so I figured it would either be a hidden gem or a waste of time. I was intrigued by the journey so I took the risk. It paid off as soon as I arrived at the entrance to find a HUGE lizard sat on the walkway! Luckily a German couple had got the same bus so I was able to ask for a photo with it. (See Flickr!) I took an hours walk through the reserve. I was feeling up for opting for the 4-5 hour jaunt but then I saw this sign:












In particular, this bit of the sign:







I walked 300 yards and saw this sign:











So I took the short way round.

I spent the afternoon browsing the expensive delights of Orchard Road and the evening in the Asian Civilisation Museum which is well worth checking out. Full of artifacts and explanations on Asian history, religion etc. So all in a all a good start!

And unfortunately, due to my phone deciding it can’t be charged via USB, I’ve spent most of this morning browsing the less expensive delights of Orchard Road (the basements!) and found numerous phone shops that will hopefully be able to help me out tomorrow when I actually have it with me! Fingers crossed…

Categories: Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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