October 5, 2014

Ipoh Bukit Kledang and Gunung Irau


One of our walkers suggested a trip to Ipoh to taste the food there as well as trekking the nearby Bukit Kledang about 10 km from the railway station. He offered to be our host as he grew up there. Over the course of several months the itinerary evolved to include a climb of Gunung Irau in Cameron Highlands. Little did we know what we got ourselves into.

Ipoh Tree in front of the Railway Station
At midnight the Starmart bus departed from Golden Mile Tower. It was difficult to sleep on the bus and we had to stop several times for toilet breaks and for the driver to rest.

At 7am we arrived at the Starmart Ipoh office. We had arranged for 2 taxis to pick us up but none was there. A call to the hotel soon fixed this and when we arrived at the Downtown Hotel our host and his wife were waiting for us. 

Gardens at Kek Look Tong Cave
After dropping our bags we walked to Jalan Bandar Timah for breakfast of Hakka beef noodle, beef tendon, mixed beef stuff, yong tau hu, beef ball, etc. Energy replenished we proceeded to the Administrative District to view the the Clock Tower, Ipoh Tree, railway station and to meet our guide and transport.

Kek Look Tong Cave
Our first place of interest was the Kek Look Tong Cave. Here there were numerous Buddhist altars in various parts of the limestone caves. There were a number of award-winning landscaped gardens with jogging tracks circling the lakes at the back of the caves. 

Gunung Lang
We took a boat that would bring us across the lake to a park where we walked around for about 30min. This park is more suitable for locals for a picnic or group activities. 

View from Bukit Kledang
Bukit Kledang
Originally our guide planned for us to trek in the late afternoon when it would be cooler. We did not want to waste time waiting and requested to climb it immediately after Gunung Lang.

We only trekked Trail 4.3. The initial stretch was exposed and the locals call it "kong tow san" or "bald-headed" hill. It was easy going at first then suddenly the guide took a left turn and began climbing up the steep slope. We followed suit and stopped bantering as we had to pay all our attention to climbing the slope at times using our hands to ensure our balance. The guide called this stretch "law meng san" or "life threatening" hill - an indeed fitting description. We took a short break to catch our breathe and then continued on with our climb.

This trail ended by the roadside a few steps from the summit. While resting by the road and waiting for the last person to emerge from the energy sapping climb, groups of local residents passed us on the way down. When we told them we came by Trail 4.3 they were surprised. Some walked all the way up by road or the longer but easier Trail 4.9.

Although we had achieved a difficult feat, on reflection we should have taken Trail 4.9 first. Our guide had no problem doing Trail 4.3 wondering what the fuss was about. She climbed the same hill several times a week. On the way down she had difficulty nursing a knee injury caused by a fall at home. Some tough lady!

Back at the hotel we had a refreshing shower before leaving for our dinner. Our host took us nearby to try the famous bean sprout (taugeh) chicken together with kwe tiao soup and pork balls.

Mossy forest on the way to Gunung Irau
Tuesday - Gunung Irau
The plan was to drive to Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands then climb from there to Gunung Irau and back. We had to leave early in order that we could complete the climb before dusk set in.

We had an early 6am timsum breakfast in time for our pickup at 6.40am. On the way we met up with our climbing guide and more climbers from Kuala Lumpur and other towns. We arrived at the start of the trail at about 9am.

The guide briefed us before we began the climb. He would lead and leave a trail of paper chaff for us to follow and if we wish to turn back just to follow the trail back to the start.

He told us to leave our walking stick in the cars as we would need all our arms and legs for the climb and also armed us with rehydration salts to prevent cramps.

When we set off in the morning it was chilly and we had to put on our windbreaker but before long this would be removed when we warmed up. The initial few hundred metres were smooth sailing on a boardwalk and lulled us into climbing down the trunks and roots of the trees along the route. The route follows the boundary between Perak and Pahang and is on the ridge of the mountain. We would spend the whole day on all fours climbing to Mini Irau and then to Gunung Irau. Some of us (me included) stopped at Mini Irau (6,666ft). The change in elevation was about 100m down and up. The trail was also commonly known as the mossy trail due to the prevalence of moss along the route.

Gua Tempurong
A big mistake we made was not bringing enough water. The rehydration tablet also made us thirsty. And our lunch was only a few bars of chocolate. By the time the last of us returned to the start it was already 6pm. We were absolutely ravenous. We reached the Downtown Hotel back in Ipoh at 8pm and all we could think of was food!

Wednesday - Gua Tempurung
We had a breakfast of curry mee two streets away from the hotel at a hawker centre. Then at 9am we left for Gua Tempurung. This is a series of caves about 25km south of Ipoh.

There were four tour packages of different duration and difficulty. We took Tour 2 that lasted 1 hour 45 min with a ranger leading us. Tour 3 (2-1/2hr) and Tour 4 (3-1/2hr) include an underground river which was the reason we did not select them. Our track was on boardwalk and staircases leading up to "Top of the World (platform 5)".

While waiting for our bus to fetch us we were attracted to a pair of gibbons high above the entrance screaming away. They would sometimes swing from branch to branch while screaming.

We returned to Ipoh for lunch at a coffee-shop offering a wide variety of food such as noodles, chee cheong fun, chicken rice, etc. The rest of the afternoon was free because we did not want to go for the foot spa where little fishes nibble at our feet. So we ended up at the nearby shopping centre.

At 7pm we went to Mun Chong for a grand dinner to celebrate our last night in Ipoh together. We had suckling pig, garoupa, hakka yong tau foo, sea cucumber with mushroom, lo hon chai, spare rib and three bottles of wine - all for 100 ringgit per person.

After breakfast, we left for the bus terminal to begin our journey back to Singapore.

August 24, 2014

Singapore River - Esplanade to Queenstown

Anderson Bridge in front of Fullerton Hotel
The Singapore River is steeped in history. We have walked this route a number of times in both directions from the mouth of the river to Queenstown where the source of the river is a covered monsoon drain. On one occasion I dropped my bus pass here at the beginning of the walk. By the time I reached Marina Bay, I got a call that my bus pass was found (I did not even know I dropped it) and to contact the finder. Thank you Mr. Oon.

Starting from the mouth of the river one could see the Civic District on the right and the financial district on the left bank. Some of these are the old and new Parliament House, Supreme Court, City Hall and the newly renovated Victoria Theatre.

Asian Civilisations Museum
Headquarters of local and foreign banks paint the sky with their logos and they get free publicity during National Day and Formula One Races as these are televised on such occasions.

Empress Place
In front of the Fullerton Hotel (formerly the General Post Office) is the Cavenagh Bridge. What is interesting about this pedestrian bridge is a sign forbidding crossing by cattle and horses - a hint of the past mode of transportation.

The first building we passed was the Asian Civilisations Museum ACM (free entry for locals). It used to house the Immigration Department in the '70s. The statue of Sir Stamford Raffles used to be between here and the Victoria Theatre. On this walk we noted the statue was at a different location near the former Parliament House with his back to the river. It was supposed to mark the location where Raffles landed in 1819.

Cavenagh Bridge
There used to be a hawker centre in front of the ACM (formerly called Empress Place Building) where office workers would have their breakfast and lunch. I used to stop by here for my beef noodles before going to work.

On the left bank (relative to our walking direction) are the eateries of Boat Quay. Soon we passed the new Parliament House and then through the underpasses below North Bridge Road and Eu Tong Sen Street.

Site of first landing of Sir Stamford Raffles
Clark Quay
We soon arrived at Clarke Quay. It was relatively quiet at this time and would come to life late in the  afternoon and evening. There were a sprinkling of tourists wandering around who dare to brave the hot and humid atmosphere. Lots of F&B outlets here such as Brewerkz, Jumbo, Ba Ba Blacksheep, Zouk, etc.

Alexandra Canal
We followed the river upstream until the Zion Riverside Food Centre where we stopped for lunch. After that, our walk was more or less in a westerly direction along the river past Valley Point, Tanglin View and Tanglin Regency. At the Tanglin Regency the river was covered over with landscaped gardens. After crossing Tanglin Road, the canal is covered over the rest of the way.

Clark Quay
The canal is exposed just before Commonwealth Ave and here we turned right toward Margaret Drive. We walked along it past the Queenstown Public Library. We turned right at a road opposite Queensway Secondary School toward a footpath that led us to Ridout Road. Here we turned left and walked past a house with a guard post. We surmised that a VIP lived here. This road is lined with big bungalows sitting on huge ground. Ridout Road led us to Peirce Road and to Holland Road. Here we walked along Tyersall Road to Botanic Gardens and our final destination at the NUSSU Clubhouse.

July 11, 2014

Hoi An, Hue, and Danang

Hoi An Riverside
Last year while we were in Sapa our tour operator suggested that we should visit Hoi An next. Hoi An Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has many well-preserved old buildings for us to appreciate the past. There are numerous activities for visitors to enjoy such as learning about the history and culture of the city, shopping, relaxing in cafes, cycling the countryside or to the beach, etc.

To get to Hoi An, we have to fly to Danang about half an hour away and Hue is about 3 hours to the north by bus. So we arranged for a package to include Hue as well. Hue was formerly an Imperial City where the Emperor resided. We could visit the Citadel, the Imperial Palace and the mausoleums. 

Day 1 - Saturday
We flew from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a connecting flight  to Danang. When we landed at Danang our guide was there to meet the ten of us. He came with a bus that would be our transport for the next 5 days.

View from Hoi An Riverside Resort & Spa
We were immediately taken to a restaurant in Danang for dinner. After that it was a 3-hour journey to Hue. Since we would be travelling at night, we took the Hai Van Tunnel through the mountain. We would make the return journey via the scenic Hai Van Pass. As we were passing through the streets of Danang, we noticed many roadside stalls. Their customers sat on low plastic stools and while away the evening imbibing the local beverages.

By the time we arrived at Hue, it was late at night. So we quickly checked into the Hue Friendly Hotel and turned in for the night.

Day 2 - Sunday
After a quick breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, loaded our luggage on the bus and proceeded to walk to the Perfume River nearby. Here we boarded a boat (decorated with a dragon at the bow) that would take us to the Thien Mu Pagoda. We climbed the steps and walked through the compound. We saw the car used by the first monk to burn himself to protest against the Ngo Dinh Diem regime.

Hoi An Vegetable Garden
The bus then took us to the Citadel. We had to debus to walk across the moat to gain access to the Citadel. This is surrounded by a wall 2km by 2km long. Inside the Citadel is the Imperial City. We only walked a small section of the city with numerous palaces, pavilions, temples, gates, etc

After lunch we drove to the Khai Dinh Mausoleum about 10km from Hue. This place is not wheelchair-friendly as we have to climb numerous steps to reach the Khai Thanh Palace. It has many rooms that are completely covered with glass and porcelain designs.

We were supposed to visit another mausoleum but decided to skip it in order to begin earlier our journey to Danang and Hoi An. It turned out to be a good decision as we would arrive at our hotel rather late. The road wound through the Hai Van Pass giving us a spectacular view of the coastline bordering the South China Sea. We stopped at Lang Co for a short break. From this place we could see the oyster farms in the Vung An Cu Lake. Finally we drove into Danang. After a short stop, we proceeded on along the coast to Hoi An. On the way we saw a number of resorts in the early stages of development. Some appear to be halted.

Hai Van Pass
We stopped at the Tam River Restaurant for dinner before checking in to the Hoi An Riverside Resort & Spa nearby. This resort is situated beside a river in a farming area. From our rooms we could see the local farmers tending to their fields across the river.

Day 3 - Monday
The next morning at 8.30am five of us took possession of the bicycles and proceeded to follow our guide through the rice fields and village gardens just outside of Hoi An. At the end of our ride, we arrived at the Shuttle Bus Station in old Hoi An. This would be our meeting point, for hotels normally provide a free shuttle to this place and pick up their guests from here. Our wives had preceded us and were busy getting measured for their Vietnamese dresses.

Oyster Farms at Lang Co
When they were done with their orders, we all proceeded to explore the old town. Our guide showed us a few highlights such as the Japanese Bridge and a preserved house with all the old furniture and household items. On one wall were several lines marking the levels reached during floods in the past. The highest was nearly reaching the ceiling in September 2009.

At the river bank we boarded a boat that would take us along the river. We saw a local method of fishing by lowering and raising a huge net. At the end of the ride, we alighted at the Tien River Restaurant for lunch. It was free and easy after this. We walked along the whole stretch of the old town. The ladies decided to have high tea at the Cargo Cafe while we guys wandered around and settled for the special offer VND5,000 (S$0.30) microbrew. When the day’s quota ran out, we switched to Tiger at $1.50 a bottle!

Bridge leading to Hai Van Tunnel
For dinner we were taken back to the old town. After that we walked around the area again, but now the whole place was lighted up giving an entertaining view of the streets and riverside.  It was crowded with locals and tourists. We again looked for any special offer and settled on one in a side street. As we enjoyed our refreshment, we engaged in chatting and people watching.

Day 4 - Tuesday
After breakfast, we proceeded to My Son Hindu Temple Complex built by the Cham. We had to walk about 500m from the bus park. There were many groups of tourists spread out among the 70 temples. These temples were built between the 4th and 14th century AD. Many temples were heavily damaged by American bombing during the Vietnam war.

The Citadel at Hue
The bus then dropped us by the river bank for us to board a boat. We sat back and relaxed as we cruised along the river. We disembarked at Hoi An where we were the previous day. The bus had gone ahead after we boarded the boat and picked us up from here to take us for lunch.

After lunch we walked back to the shop Do Ri to continue with our shopping followed by happy hour refreshments. At the Do Ri, we bought backpacks, sling bags, windbreakers and shorts. We paid S$9 for a good quality Aircomfort backpack.

When I returned to my room after dinner I found the aircon malfunctioning. The technician got it fixed in an hour by swapping the pcb. The reception called to make sure we were satisfied. We were very impressed with the service and customer care at this resort. Buffet breakfast at our resort was satisfying as well.

If ever we want to go to a place to relax Hoi An would be the place. It is easy to get to. Just get a  flight to Danang and you are 30min by taxi to a Hoi An hotel. Lots to do here. 

Day 5 - Wednesday
We flew from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City in the morning and checked into the Sofitel. With our hotel loyalty card, we paid only about S$125 for a room. As our room was not ready we left our luggage and proceeded to the Ben Thanh market by taxi. Our destination was the nearby Thanh Binh Restaurant for lunch. They have a wide range of local food. After lunch we walked across the road to Ben Thanh market to do some shopping.

In the evening, we went to the newly opened Pullman Hotel for their buffet spread with free flow of wine at a cost of VND1,000,000 for 2 pax using our Accor Card. With our party of ten we had an enjoyable and boisterous evening.

Day 6 - Thursday
We returned to Ben Thanh for some last minute shopping. By now we were familiar with the layout in the market and quickly located the stalls we were interested in. Some of the stuff we bought included passion fruits (our checkin luggage allowed was 30kg per pax!), civet cat coffee, salt-roasted cashew nuts, tees, etc.

For lunch we went to Pho 2000 for their pho. Hunger satiated we returned to the hotel for our luggage and headed to the airport for our flight home to Singapore.

May 7, 2014


This route will take us from Yishun to the hot spring at Gambas Avenue to Sembawang Park.

Sembawang (or Seletar) Hot Spring
Before the walk we had an early lunch  at Northpoint Shopping Centre. The Kopitiam Food Court at the basement was packded with the May Day crowd. We then walked along Yishun Ave 5 and Sembawang Road to the Gambas Avenue road junction. About 200m from the junction along Gambas Avenue is a track leading to the hot spring. The hot spring lies within a military camp but has been fenced off to allow public access.

Sembawang Hot Spring
There were 2 tap-off points for people to collect the scalding-hot water. There were a few guys towelling themselves with the hot water after a bit of cooling. Some of them believe that the water is beneficial for skin ailments.

The water had at one time been bottled as Vichy water for sale to the public according to the information board.

We backtracked along Gambas Avenue to Yishun Avenue 7. 1Canberra and another condominium were being constructed along this road. Across the junction of Avenue 2 and 7 is the Yishun Neighbourhood Park which we had traversed before.

Simpang Kiri Park Connector
For this walk we were heading toward the Simpang Kiri Park Connector along the Simpang Kiri Canal that would lead to the Johor Strait. This Park Connector is 3km long. The vacant land on the left of the track was being prepared for development. Near the midpoint we heard 3 gunshots fired at some birds. We could not identify the type as they were too far away. The land from which the shots were fired was on a higher elevation so we assumed we were safe.

Sembawang Park
 At the end of the connector where it meets the shore several groups of holiday makers were seen mostly engaged in fishing or having a picnic. One of them had caught a whole pail of "flower crabs" since 11am. He commented that the best time to catch is 2 hours before high tide. At that moment the tide was receding and he was packing up to return home with his catch.

The Bottle Tree Village was no more and the space taken over by Water-Venture a water sports company.

Sembawang Park

We walked along Jalan Mempurong and Andrews Avenue to Sembawang Park along Sembawang Road. The park and the beach front was again crowded with people enjoying their May Day holiday. The park was recently renovated with a newly-constructed children play area and spruced-up facilities. Beaulieu House was open with a range of local dishes and drinks. Usually on prior visits there were hardly any people except a few hardy fishermen and the restaurant was closed in the afternoon then.

Sembawang Park lies adjacent to Sembawang Shipyard where we could see from the jetty at the park ships being repaired or converted.

GPS track

View 299Sembawang in a larger map

February 23, 2014

Venus Drive TreeTop Walk to Bukit Panjang

Suspension bridge on the TreeTop Walk
The route consisted of part of the TreeTop Walk, Rifle Range Road and the Bukit Timah Pipeline Trail to Bukit Panjang. Along the way we would take a side-trip to the Peirce Reservoir and walk past the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

TreeTop Walk
We started the walk from Thomson Plaza along Upper Thomson Road to Venus Drive. At the Venus Drive carpark we started on the TreeTop Walk. The first 100m was across an open patch but for the remainder of the trail it was under cover of the forest canopy. Initially the trail followed a stream then through the remains of an abandoned kampong. Just before the SICC Clubhouse the trail would run parallel to the Island Club Road. Near the SICC Clubhouse is a trail that would lead us back to the MacRitchie Reservoir Trail. we skipped  this one and followed the knee-high signages pointing to the TreeTop Walk. 

After about 45 mins from the carpark we arrived at the Ranger Station, took a break before beginning the ascent to the bridge which is a highlight of the walk. There is a toilet and a filtered chilled water dispenser where we could top up our water bottles. Along the way we noticed that there were more visitors than normal. Usually we would pass one or two groups of hikers but on this occasion, we encountered several times more. It appeared that more people were taking refuge from the dry spell of the current month.

After a short rest we ascended the hill to the bridge. The bridge is closed on Monday for maintenance. It is one-way so once we enter the gate we have to proceed all the way along the rest of the trail. For those afraid of heights or dislike the swinging suspension bridge stay close to your friends. There is a ranger on duty at the entrance. On this occasion there were 2 macaques guarding the entrance as well!

After crossing the bridge the balance of the trail is a boardwalk with lots of steps up and down. Positioned along the trail were huts providing rest stops.and refuge from rain. Signages are posted along the trail explaining the various flora and fauna of the forest.

Halfway along the boardwalk, we came across an earth trail along pipeline laid underground. We turned right to follow the trail the rest of way instead of completing the TreeTop Walk. This trail runs in a straight line to Rifle Range Road. Soon we arrived at a spillway used to transfer water from Peirce Reservoir to MacRitchie Reservoir. We were lucky on this occasion when the spillway was transferring water creating a cascade of water down the steps. We followed the spillway to the source at the Peirce Reservoir.

Spillway between Peirce and MacRitchie Reservoir
Bukit Timah Pipeline Trail
At the end of this trail is a complex operated by ST Kinetics. We walked along Rifle Range Road keeping a lookout for traffic because this is a narrow two-way road. At the Murnane Reservoir, we stepped over the road divider on the right and moved on to the main Bukit Timah Pipeline Trail in a northerly direction. This trail runs all the way to Woodlands about 9km away.

While on the trail one could choose to walk on the open grass trail or follow the bike trail on the right side. On the day of the walk it was hot so we chose to take the bike trail that runs through the trees. At some stage the bike trail will divide into two but join up at a later stage.

For the first 1.5km the trail will skirt Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and form part of the Bukit Timah Bike Trail and is called the Belukar Trail. After crossing under the Dairy Farm Road it becomes part of Zhenghua Park. This park is equipped with a cycling/running track, shelters and exercise station and a playground. It is parallel to the Bukit Timah Expressway but is oblivious to people travelling on the highway as it is hidden by greenery. Near Chestnut Avenue is a new condominium under construction. At Bukit Panjang Road we left the trail and ended our walk.