Tuesday, October 30, 2007


For those who live in Singapore, the options for traveling around in the region is immense and inexpensive. If ones wants a change of scene from the organized, clean, orderly environment that Singapore is, one can escape to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia (of course) or perhaps a ferry ride across to one of the nearby Indonesian Islands. Yours truly did just that a couple of weeks back and this time it was for a holiday, a quick break at that.

Harborfront ferry embarkation area

Batam Waterfront ferry Arrival complex

From Singapore's Harbor Front terminal, there are ferries to the Indonesian Islands of Batam and Bintan. I chose Batam and after an easy 50 minute airconditioned ferry boat ride, we put into the Batam gateway at Sekupang. Most of those on board, especially day trippers from Singapore got off here because Sekupang entry point is connected to the biggest shopping Mall on Batam and also happens to be the "city Center". A few of us stayed on board to continue for a few minutes more and alighted at the "Waterfront City" gateway to Batam. Now, don't be fooled, there is no real city here but vast countryside, plenty of greenery and the waterfront area of course. Indians and others at the present, can clear Indonesian immigration at the visa-on-arrival counter at the arrival area by paying US$10 and please be wise to bring exact amount or you may get short-changed! They'll paste the entire page of your passport with a nice visa that's only good for one visit!

Main Mosque at the city center

I'd booked a spa package consisting of a Javanese aromatherapy massages at the Holiday Inn resort, minutes away from the waterfront City arrival complex and that's where we headed. After a seamless check in and putting the bags away, we used the hotel's free shuttle service that only runs on some days of the week, to go on a countryside trip and ending at the big mall that is the center of the city, mentioned earlier. Wandering around the city was fun and rather brief. Walking around the mall, like most mall rats and running into more Singaporeans than back home, we decided to get a meal. Veggies have no fear, options are here! We of course chickened out and ate at the cheapest Pizza Hut (the original franchise) that I have ever been to. It is a bit shocking when one first arrives here and looks at the cost of everything and one has to mentally calculate everything into Singapore Dollars to make sense of how cheap things are. If no calculations are made, prices appear in thousands of Rupiahs, the Indon currency. A meal and a couple of drinks can set us back by more than 60,000 Rupiahs. Basically around ten bucks in Singy money!

Spa complex at the hotel

Heading back to the hotel and the spa area of the complex, we were accorded a warm welcome, people who did not know us personally acted like they did and escorted us to a lovely Javanese hut. Spent the evening exploring the waterfront area, where dutch style buildings (the dutch ruled the spice islands for a long time and left their impressions everywhere)are occupied by locals who live there.

Buildings at the waterfront

The road next to the waterfront complex leads to the water front (where else!) and that is lined by plenty of outdoor style eateries, pubs, bars and such. Everything cheap on the menu and while seafood forms a bulk of it, not too hard to look for some limited veggie options such as local style fried rice, mixed veggies and such. This part of town is popular with the Batamese as well as foreigners. Ran into many North Americans who are doing projects in Indonesia and from some of the deep Texas drawls one could make out that they were basically drillers, oil men who have proliferated around the World looking for black gold.

The area around the waterfront

The next day, more exploration on foot and literally walked into a sign post by the road side that proclaimed that there was a flying club nearby! That takes the cake I thought and excitedly looked around for any aviation activity. Seeing none, except an abandoned hangar that also proclaims itself as the flying club, I was disappointed with the fact that there was just one microlight Aircraft, in a pretty bad shape, hanging around the hangar and weeds grew everywhere.

The "flying club" grounded!

I walked into the neighboring wake boarding complex to ask about the flying club and a local told me, in broken English, that it was in disuse (although this was starkly apparent) and they had stopped flying because there was no pilot (peeloth as he said it). The wake boarding school is a man made lake that goes around, laid out like a race course. It has these pylons that have motorized winches that's attached to a line. A wake boarder can catch one of those lines and wake board around the course.

Wake boarding

Coming back to Singapore later in the evening, on another seamless ferry ride and taking the MRT home was a tad depressing (The northeast line of the MRT starts and ends here). We had just gotten used to complete silence, no traffic and virtually no people or few people especially in the waterfront city area. The good thing is that places like this are so close to Singapore that, if one has time, or even just the weekend off, one can head out to unlimited options.

View from Batam departure area

Maybe it is Bintan or any other thousands of islands that make the Indon chain next time but that's going to have to wait, I'm off to India for Deepavali, Indian festival of lights and my favourite and then off to the Dubai Air Show. Cheers.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I write this as the first Airbus A380 Super Jumbo is being delivered to Singapore Airlines. The CEO of SIA has just made a speech and standing behind him are a bevy of Flight Attendants, symbolising the famous "Singapore Girl". SIA is the launch customer for this airplane. The CEO of SIA just announced live that while there was a long delay (about 18 months)that this airplane was worth the wait. Once he made the speech, they towed in the Aircraft and the CEO of Airbus and SIA boarded the plane along with the TV camera crew. They are showing the interior just now as I write. History has been made for aviation as well as SIA. As for Singapore, this small country has again stood out in the World and portrays itself as a modern, forward thinking and progressive country. The Super Jumbo epitomizes everything that Singapore stands for.

The Airbus A380 inaugural commercial flight is to take place on the 25th of this month from Singapore. There was a bidding war for seats on the first commercial flight and that has raised a lot of money, intended to go to charity entirely. A noble gesture for sure. SIA has just unveiled the various seating classes in the airplane and while there is additional space in economy class, the business class is the biggest in terms of space in the World. What takes the cake, however, is the Singapore Airlines suite class. For the first time in modern aviation, there is actually a suite, a private enclosure that is more like a small room. The suite class is a step beyond First Class, as they say.

I am impressed, by the show, by the design of it all, by the vision that went behind creating this behemoth of an airplane. I'm also impressed with what it is capable of doing, the efficiency of it's design and the Rolls Royce engines that virtually guarantees the lowest carbon emission per passenger by any airplane flying in the skies to day. I'm of course impressed that this tiny country, Singapore, is the proud first operator of this type of Airplane in the World. So I say, three cheers to all concerned.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hong Kong - Smog or no smog

Just back from a couple of trips. This one was about a quick trip to Hong Kong. That too during the period said to be the worst time of the year because of air pollution and the pollution index was hovering around the danger mark. The weather was also too warm for this time of the year. Locals told me that this was the time of the year for some pleasant early fall weather. The recent typhoon to hit eastern China, it is said, had something to do with the smog staying around, in a high pressure area. That said, HK is really an easy place to get to. For Indians and many others, it is a seamless 'visa on arrival' and takes no time in getting past the immigration desks unlike in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia where the waiting time for a visa can be excruciating. The new airport is swanky, spacious and easy to get in and out of.

(The smoggy skyline of HK from the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront)

A high speed train takes one right from the Airport terminal to the heart of downtown HK in about half an hour. That's pretty good speed and a comfy ride. HK is famous in Asia for many things, Disney Land seems to attract a fair bit of Asian crowds who have not been to Disney's theme parks in the States. I was there on business and on this occasion had half a day to spend. Not much one can do, right? Actually, there's plenty to do in a short time and HK has a similar underground train system to the one we have in Singapore that I have written about previously. Except that they call it an MTR in HK. HK also has good busses and a tram system. No comparison to the dilapidated and rickety trams they have in Kolkata.

The MTR connects vast portions of HK territory and some say connects better than the Singapore MRT. It is cheap, fast,efficient and gets you everywhere you want to go. I hopped on one to Kowloon, on the other side of the bay and walked around in the afternoon sun, taking in the sights. Partly due to the weather and partly due to my interest in museums and art, I ventured into the Hong Kong Art Museum in Kowloon, they were exhibiting among many other things, selections from the collections of Asian artifacts housed in the British Museum. Spending most of the day in the air conditioned museum, I was fascinated by HK Museums own collections of Chinese art, Calligraphy and ancient pottery.

(Above and below - HK Art Museum)

Now that was something new to me, having glimpsed Chinese pottery on Nat Geo in the past. The outside area around the Museum is a walkway called as Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and one gets a good glimpse of the HK skyline and the business district. Nearby is the "Avenue of the stars" and is a tribute to HK's movie scene. The beginning of the avenue has a tall statue of a woman and this is supposed to be the statue awarded to winners at the Hong Kong Film Awards functions. In front of the museum, and just as one exits from the underground road crossing, one comes across a domed structure. This is the Hong Kong Space Museum and the domed structure is an Omnimax theatre. I didn't have time to go in.

(The Movie Maiden)

(The Space Museum)
I'd like to mention a few things about the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok. Firstly, it is well laid out and can handle the crowds without looking like a mess. Then the ease at which one can get in and out of the Airport. The options for eating is vast. What caught my eye, obviously, is aviation. This Airport has a large dedicated section for aviation, the technology that goes behind aviation, the history of aviation in Hong Kong and so on. They even have a large scale model of a glass cockpit Airliner that one can walk into. The entrance looks like a runway and the interior looks like an Aviation museum, indeed that's what it is. Working models that can be handled by visitors makes it interactive and gives loads of information. To spend time at the Airport, at this place within the Airport terminal building, is a cinch. Full marks to their efforts in promoting aviation this way. Through all my travels, I have not come across an aviation museum of sorts within an Airport terminal building that can rival this.

I have posted photos above and as always, please click on them to enlarge. I'm going to find time later next week to put in more posts. I have not done HK any justice in this blog. The next time I go there, I'll find more to see and write about. And hopefully the air quality would have improved and it won't be so hot!

Foot note: No, I didn't run into Jackie Chan, a lot of my friends asked me just that when I got back.