Friday, December 04, 2009

BANGKOK IN BRIEF

I'd like to take some time off, maybe I'll do that during the Holidays, to write about Thailand and Bangkok in particular. I know many things comes to one's mind when one hears the word Bangkok. For some it is a place for fabulous and cheap (if you know where to go) shopping, for some it conjures up images of hundreds of Buddha temples and there are those who use Bangkok as a short stop, a transit point to go further to their favorite resorts of Thailand.

(Bangkok skyline along Chao Phraya)

There's a lot more to Bangkok than just the many number of notable temples, great shopping and night life. That surely deserves another blog where I can flog lots of photos that I have taken. There are trips that I have made as an extension to Bangkok, going by road to Ayutthaya in the North, the erstwhile capital of the Kingdom of Thailand to visit the archaeological sites there and then coming back to Bangkok on a long leisurely lunch cruise, in a large river boat, observing life along the river. I am of course talking of the famous Chao Phraya river. Chao Phraya river deserves a blog by itself, being the lifeline of Bangkok and forming an important transportation link as well. I'll do justice to this later.

(Hotels on the Chao Phraya river)


(Chao Phraya River taken from top of Hilton)

This blog shows a bit of this river, as seen from the top of Hilton Millennium Hotel, where I went for a meeting a few days back. The pictures show parts of Bangkok, a small part of it actually, because Bangkok is quite a large city and sprawled out. While I wait to blog about the details of Bangkok, I do suggest travelers to Thailand to take a couple of days off to visit this vibrant city and enjoy the myriad delights it has on offer. These photos are from my phone and not the greatest, hope you like them.


As always, click on the pictures and you will get an expanded view of the same.


(restaurant on top from where I took the pictures of Chao Phraya and Bangkok skyline)

An important update about Visa On Arrival facilities in Thailand. Indians and citizens of various countries that are eligible for Visa on arrival facility can now apply for visa on arrival for free. There was a Thai Baht 1,000 fee earlier and one needed to carry this amount in Thai Baht. That fee has been waived for all till March 2010 with the aim of encouraging tourism in Thailand. Other conditions of the visa on arrival still remain. One must fill up a simple form on arrival, have a valid/paid for return ticket, stick a pp size photograph and also demonstrate (in cash) that you have at least 10,000 Baht for your stay or 20,000 baht if you are traveling as family. equivalent amount in other convertible currencies is fine. Producing your Credit/Debit card will not help. Do check the complete requirements on this Government website However, please note that this website has not been updated about Visa fee waiver yet. However, it is a fact, and this info can be found on any other travel website. I took 1,000 Baht with me this time without knowing that there was a waiver and they have put up bold signs at the visa on arrival counter that clearly mentions this fact.

To add: This info is for visa on arrival nationalities only. If you are from the USA, EU and other Visa waiver countries, you do not need to go through this process.

Once you come out of the Aircraft, you will find signs that say "Visa on Arrival" as you proceed towards immigration. First go to these counters and get the visa on arrival stamp on your passport (as mentioned above) and then go to immigration counters with this stamp on your passport along with the arrival/departure card (that the Airline gives you on board before arrival in Bangkok). After you clear immigration and get an entry stamp, you may proceed to baggage claim at the same level to get your baggage. Note that Visa on arrival takes time, especially if there are many applicants waiting. If there are any questions related to this, please ask me on this blog and I will try and address those based on what I know and experienced.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

XMAS TIME IN SINGAPORE

Its early Christmas for Singapore. They do all festive events on a grand scale here. Christmas season starts a month before the actual dates, bringing in an air of cheer all around. I have spent many Christmas's in different parts of the World but I must say Singapore goes overboard in decorations like no place else. All over this Country, during this entire month, one can find Christmas trees inside every mall, outside every mall, in other public areas and roads such as Orchard Road and coupled with fabulous lighting everywhere.

(Orchard Road above and below)

They call it Christmas in the tropics. It never gets cold enough here to feel a seasonal change into winter. It just gets rainier. That's not as depressing as, say raining and snow right through the long winter months in Europe and North America. Been there, done that.

(An Elf hanging around-should he not be helping Santa?)

This is my 3rd X Mas in Singapore and every year I have observed changes. Nothing is repeated in Singapore, there is always something new, some innovation, some new idea to bring people out on the streets and enjoy the sights. X Mas brings in hoards of tourists as well because the atmosphere is so cheerful, colorful and bright. If you are looking for retail therapy, you got to be in Singapore during this time!

(X Mas tree outside Paragon Singapore)

I grew up in Mysore and had a few Christian friends around. I won't go too much into the various denominations of the religion, but suffice to say I had good experiences with all of them. My childhood memories, what little I have left in my head, reminds me of the X mas day mass I used to go in that little neighborhood church, the choir singing in Kannada and English and the subsequent lunch. Of course one cannot forget the rum and raisin cakes (yup we got to eat that as kids!). My family was quite liberal in terms of everything, including participating in various religious activities of other religions as well. I am grateful for that upbringing.

(Outside Ion Orchard, Singapore)

I remember attending X Mas midnight mass in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, with friends of mine and the atmosphere that was so cheerful and charged. I could not sing the songs, they were mostly in Malayalam. Unlike Mysore, it never got cold or even cool in Trivandrum (Now Thiruvananthapuram). I remember my first white X Mas. I was attending X mas day prayers with friends in New Jersey 20 years ago and we had early snow, large amounts of it. That lent a completely different atmosphere to the whole event. It felt like real X Mas for the first time in my life, the cold, the white blanket on the ground and on tree branches, of snow on top of cars, it was truly magical. Maybe my mind always had this image of X Mas and snow, from reading articles and from comics. I always wished, as a child, to see a "real" X Mas. In New Jersey two decades ago, I finally saw that during X Mas. I had seen snow before but not on X Mas eve or X Mas day.

(X Mas tree inside a Mall on Orchard)

I had a few more X Mas in the tropics, couple of times in Florida where it was still shorts and T Shirt weather and once in the Bahamas. The Bahamas visit was a coincidence but it was X Mas time and everything else being shut down, I wandered around till I found this nice church. It did not have many people for mass but it had a nice air about it. The preacher noticed me and at the end of the service, he chatted up with me asking about where I was from and so on. He had that sing-song Caribbean accent. It was all so pleasant.

A few other places where we had a good time during Christmas was in the Maldives, although not permitted there publicly, I had enough friends who could organize a mean party. What was missing was Church services. Where I had a lot of fun during Christmas, without missing Church services and enjoying the atmosphere of Christmas was in Goa, a few years ago. I am so looking forward to doing that again once I start living there.

(From "Inside" an X Mas tree-they had hung crystal balls inside the skeleton)

Back to Singapore now. I took these pictures from my fogged up phone and they are not the greatest but hopefully they will show some aspects of how Singapore is all decked up for X Mas. I know many people lament that Christmas time has become very commercialized and all that. That won't stop me from enjoying the season. That's the World today, lets just make the best of it, I do, the season makes me feel good as I am sure it does others. I will be blogging before the end of the year, so I'll hold off on wishing everyone right now. Have a great December all!
More pictures of Orchard Road, evening time:


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

25 YEARS OF INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

This is my 100th post on Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy. Not counting my other Blogs on Blogger. I was in India last two weeks and it hit me that this year is an Anniversary of sorts for me.

In 1984, I was the Air Wing Best Cadet from Karnataka & Goa Contingent at the Republic Day Parade Camp and also had the privilege to march down Rajpath in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) Air Wing parade contingent. During the camp, I was selected for the International Air Cadet's Exchange in Singapore. In June 1984, I, the de facto team leader of a four member NCC team, Cadet Under Office Anup Murthy, set off on an Air India flight that went from New Delhi to Bombay to Madras and on to Singapore on a hopping flight. We were hosted by the NCC of Singapore at that time and I remember many of the events that we participated in. The first place we stayed was the RELC Singapore on Orange Grove Road which is still there. Then we were shifted to an Army camp and later on to a local NCC cadet's house as part of the "cultural exchange". My first trip overseas was a free trip!

I remember what Singapore looked like back then, a small but very neat and clean place 25 years ago. It's spread out now but still neat. Orchard Road was the place to hang out and a quarter century later (for me) it remarkably still is The place to hang out, Orchard Road has changed tremendously and now is the glitzier than ever, a haven for shopping and eating and a place to see and be seen. This was the place where I bought my first Sony Walkman tape player. I also bought a swim suit for my sister who used to participate in University Swimming competitions back then. I remember buying a sari for Mom from a shop in Little India. Little India looks like any place in India now and on weekends, the crowds can outmatch any Indian town Bazaar.

What a coincidence that 25 years later and having lived in different countries and traveled to dozens of others, I now live in this Lion City Singapore! I had not given that a thought until I saw a TV program in India recently marking Mrs. Gandhi's death and they mentioned 25 years. I had seen Mrs. Gandhi at the NCC Republic Day Parade Camp and we gave a Guard of Honor for the visiting PM. I also remember meeting President of India Gyani Zail Singh, at the Rose Garden in Rashtrapathi Bhavan for tea as we the Best Cadet winners were introduced to him. So many memories, all tucked out in the corner of my brain and would have never come out if blogging wasn't around. So, my 100th post brought out so many memories of where all my International Travel started, that I had to re-write and re-edit a few times. As tiresome it may be for some of my readers to go through a long post, I had to do it this time.

I need to dig out the Shield presented by the Singapore NCC that year and paper cuttings of a local newspaper in Singapore that featured our team. I also made it on the Star of Mysore, a young upstart English evening daily paper in Mysore that featured an article on me that year. I now travel Internationally more than I ever did before. Even now, every time I go somewhere, something always opens my eyes wide and I learn something new. That's what I love about it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2012 APOCALYPTIC BUNK

All of a sudden mankind has realized that the year 2012 is going to be the end of this planet. Why? Because of a Mayan "Long count" Calendar that supposedly ends in the year 2012 and is misrepresented now as being the end of the cycle of birth and end of the World. The poor Mayans could not predict that a white European race, with their lust for Gold would come and pounce on them one day, literally exterminating their civilization. The Mayans don't seem to have attached any importance to this, though!

And then we have this bunch of apocalyptic believing religious orders, who wants everyone to think that Armageddon is just around the corner and we should all flock to their houses of worship (with lots of money to give away) in order to save themselves from this planet wide disaster. These guys suddenly put the Mayans on the map, a people whom they had discredited when decimating them in order to uphold their own “superior” religion and free the Mayans from their “primitive barbaric pagan” rituals. So, these "barbarians" had an accurate calendar which is now the focus of attention.

Add another element of these Internet doomsday prophets that make claims about a planet called Nibiru, that unbeknownst to us, will sneak by our planet, jump across and enslave us and use us to mine our planet dry before exterminating us. We have done that already I think, the Nibirans will find an already over mined polluted planet and fly away in disgust. Another claim is that the apocalypse will be due to geomagnetic reversal caused by a massive solar flare. That's a sure fire way of closing up business on this planet, right?

Now, enter Hollywood, with their marketing skills and special effects. Their latest offering is called 2012 from Sony Pictures. Their marketing effort for this film has been so effective that many people have been fearing for their lives literally. They have used all sources of pseudo-science and plain fiction, to reinforce the thought of the World coming to and end. They want all of us to go and watch this movie. I'll watch for sure, it's got some great special effects and some fine acting of people generally screaming and running around. All you have to do is tell the Americans that their gallon of gas is going to be $10 bucks and they'll be screaming louder than they would if it was about the end of the World. They'd scream from now till 2012!

The Internet is often an idiotic source of absurd news, bogus claims of scientific advancements and full of predatory doomsday prophets waiting to take advantage of the millions of gullible browsers. That explains the success of these Nigerian e-mail scams, promise of miraculous cures for diseases and of course the existence of our unfriendly aliens called Nibirans from planet Nibiru. Youtube is filled with Videos of “professorial” looking presenters who, so seriously and with a straight face, talk about this mysterious planet that NASA is hiding from all of us. All of a sudden we have people getting depressed, contemplating suicides and generally apprehensive of what’s going to happen to us in December 2012 when the Mayan long count calendar runs out. I can't believe that NASA is being inundated with people inquiring about this doomsday planet with this doomsday race on it.

So, NASA and Discovery Channel had to come out with statements to make people believe that this movie and the millions of website proclaiming this so-called end of the World in 2012 is just complete hogwash. Read about that in this link.

As for me, I will have a bucket of beer in the cooler on December 21st, 2012, so that when the Nibirans come, we can invite them to the party! Hope they bring the entertainment or they will have to listen to my oft repeated stale jokes. Lets get drunk and happy before we are put to work in the mines for them!

Friday, October 09, 2009

MOON MANIA

Firstly, thanks to GVK and MBP community, now we Bloggers can post directly on Mysore Blog Park using our own google account. What an idea Sirjee!

The Moon is going to be "Bombed" in the next two hours I believe, so this post is really fresh, "Breaking News Ishtyle". It's got a lot of people in a tizzy. Not here in Singapore, the only thing we are interested here are the moon cakes that are really popular. No one is really talking much about it here or anywhere else. The minute the news of NASA scientists "Bombing" the moon came on TV, Twitter went crazy. The trending topic on Twitter all day has been 'Bombing" of the moon.

I wish NASA had used a better term, all they are doing is shooting a projectile to hit the surface of the moon inside a crater and hopefully that is going to throw up a plume of dust with water (hopefully) contained in it. Chandrayaan 1 already proved water exists but NASA's probe will confirm larger presence (maybe) of water in craters and other colder parts of the moon that perhaps receive lesser Sunshine. The poles are also their target sometime. OK, that's enough to make some heads spin around in the good old USA where many Tweeters have got their knickers all tied up in knots.

One of the tweets said that if stupidity was a crime, 90% of the twitter userbase should be arrested! He was so exasperated (as I have been) about the continuous profanity against NASA for "bombing" the moon. One rare guy suggested that the education system in the States be improved so that idiotic tweets did not look so idiotic.

They've now got people asking if the moon is going to break up and maybe chunks of it will hit the Earth. One tweeted asking if this was going to result in high tides and trigger Global Armageddon like in the movie "Day After Tomorrow". Then we have a female tweeting in despair and wondering if it is going to mess up her periods! One guy now says it's not cool, dude, to bomb the Moon. Back off NASA. One girl asks if we voted for this kind of sh*t? One guy asked a profound question. He asks "did we consult other countries before we decided to bomb the Moon? It's their Moon too you know". Wow, I am deeply humbled by this guy's magnanimity.

The latest tweets is a guy asking President Obama to stop this Moon "bombing" because Osama was not on the Moon. Oh boy! This all ties into the fact that President Obama was announced as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner! That got the Moon Bombing tweeters into a crazy frenzy, letting loose comments like "Why did Obama get the Peace Price when he's about to bomb the moon?" One girl tweets about The Nobel Prize announcement saying "verrrrrry funny...now can we have the real announcement please?" I digress, maybe it's the moon effect!

Watch this space for boring scientific updates on the impact. Or for interesting funny comments from tweeters who can't get enough of this Moon topic! Or maybe no updates at all since we'd all be destroyed in this brouhaha!

UPDATE: Impact has occurred, probe has "bombed" the moon, scientific evaluation follows. There was no "plume" visible like expected. They showed a simulated fountain coming out of the crater but that was not visible in reality. Now for the fun part: I am packing my beach wear, sun umbrella and hop on Virgin Galactic (Thanks Richard Branson!) for a nice Lunar vacation! LATEST Tweet that caught my eye (from those expecting a huge plume of dust and ice particles): "Dear NASA, we are not impressed, we want our money back!" hehehe...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX


(Ferrari F1 mock up during road show in down town)

Formula 1 GP Singapore just ended and I am feeling tired, my body and mind is winding down from all that adrenaline that was coursing through my veins all evening. The action was fantastic, those who have only seen the race on TV like I have for a long time, really need to get to a race and watch it live. The sound, the speed, the atmosphere, the fun, nothing comes close to being there. This time I found myself at the Pit Grand Stand, opposite the pit lane and garages, meters away from the starting grid!


(Brazilian Samba dancers at F1)

The race was won by Lewis Hamilton followed by Timo Glock and Alonso and that’s common knowledge by now. I won’t dwell into the results part of it but will only say that there was plenty of drama. 14 out of 20 cars finished and there were some racing incidents including one where Force India driver hit Nick Heidfeld and both went out of the race, also a bit of excitement when Mark Webber’s brakes locked up and he went out of the track backwards and back crashed into a crash barrier, ending his race.


(F1 cars at the starting grid above and below)


Other than the thrills and spills, it was beautiful to watch Lewis Hamilton drive with clinical precision. He finished first, went past us punching his fists in the air, jumped out of the car at the end of his victory lap to take a kiss on his helmet, given lovingly by his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger (lead singer of the Pussy Cat Dolls)! What drama and what a finish.


(Travis rocking the audience, one more Travis video at end of this article)

Formula 1 GP Singapore is the only night race venue in the World. The event is not just the race itself but many other side attractions that are a week long, culminating in the race itself. The entire week is packed with F1 themed events and it is called "F1 Rocks" and involves live performances from World famous artists at various venues in Singapore. Some of the familiar performers were Beyonce, Gwen Stefani and No Doubt, Black Eyed Peas, Backstreet Boys, Travis, ZZ Top and Chaka Khan (oldies would know these last two for sure) and even Brazilian Samba dancers who lent a Brazilian Carnival festive mood to the event as the video above shows! Race day saw Travis, the band from Scotland, perform an hour before the race and I have a video of this in this blog below. They had all of us singing and dancing, belting out well known numbers.


(me on practice day at F1)

I have to blog a few things about the organization of this whole thing. Singapore is famous for efficiency and that was in full show during this entire event. There were free shuttle buses that connected some MRT stations and the entire exercise was seamless. No stress, no worries about getting to the race venue or out of it at the end of the race. There were huge crowds but very well managed, no one was pushed or shoved or crammed into buses like they do in cattle class. It was all so seamless. For that, and that reason alone, one should make a trip out here. There was easy wheel chair/disabled access areas, food and drink concessionaires, first aid stations, first class security and so on.


(Singapore Flyer-World's biggest Observation Wheel-bigger than London Eye, seen from Race seating)

When you enter the venue, on a donation of S$2 (Two Singapore Dollars) to a charitable organization, one was given a "survival kit" consisting of ear plugs and a plastic rain coat in case it rained. Without ear plugs, you'd be deaf by the end of the race. Singapore Grand Prix night race is run on a regular street circuit. Even with traffic diversions and restrictions there was no chaos and no stress. I just cannot compare this to most places in Asia or elsewhere. So, for this, I must say “Singapore Rocks!”


(Start of the Singapore Grand Prix Race notice the speed and sound-people without ear plus trying their best to plug with their fingers!)

The race itself is the crème de la crème of course. That’s what we all really look forward to in the end. There are three days of exposure to the Formula 1 cars, one practice day, one day for race qualifying. For those who are not clued into the race, qualifying is the day when drivers put their cars through the best timing possible and the car/driver with the fastest lap times during qualifying, heads up as “Pole position” on the starting line up (Starting grid). And the third day is the Race day. I went for the practice sessions, skipped qualifying to party with friends from India who had flown in to watch the race and made it to the actual race today, 27th September 2009. For those who missed this year in Singapore, I’d suggest a trip out next year if possible. It's simply worth a trip, to see Singapore, enjoy the events and the race, a hard to beat combination.


(Lewis Hamilton on the Podium excuse my poor video)

Bonus Travis Video at the pre race event:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SOUTH GOA – MOBOR - BETUL BEACH

I’m fond of South Goa beaches. These include Colva (my new home to be) and heading south from there to Benaulim, Varca, Mobor (Cavelossim) and ending up at Betul beach where the River Sal meets the Arabian Sea. I wrote a bit about River Sal in my previous Goa blog here.

I am not against North Goa beaches that are well known to all like Baga, Calangute, Anjuna and so on but that’s not my game, its too white (population of Brits, European and Russian I mean), too commercialized, too crowded, too many things going on and very happening. For me, I’d like the quieter parts that South Goa offers. I won’t include other famous South Goa beaches like Palolem for now but let me give some glimpses Mobor and Betul here.

Mobor-Cavelossim (as it is known) has some fine hotels in the vicinity of its famous beach. The hotels are mostly for the well heeled and in a way keeps out riff raff. Some of these hotels have beachfront like property that looks like the Hotels own stretches of this beach but that is not true, the beaches are indeed public. Elite Hotels like the Leela Palace are on top of the list in this stretch and moving on down the list to The Holiday Inn and further to budget hotels nearby that are quite good frankly, although without immediate beach access. There’s something good to suit all budgets.


(Fishing boat at the mouth of the Sal and Arabian Sea)

My favorite time at Mobor is in the evenings. I like this a lot, warm waters gently lapping at your feet while you walk on the edge of the water and the soft sand of the beach. The sunset in the horizon, changing hues of orange to somewhat deep red before plunging below. The soft sounds of the waves and the gentle breeze. I like stopping by and watching little birds run behind small crustaceans on the exposed wet sand when the tide goes out and then they come running back when the waves return towards the beach. For me that’s what a piece of heaven would feel like.


(Sunset at Betul)

One can relax by the seaside into the evening and night, there are a few good “shacks” where one can order up cocktails, mocktails and whatever else one fancies. I like the starts showing up as the sky darkens, the breeze still soft and less humid. It is seafood paradise, Goa is, and I’d encourage everyone to try some of the local dishes. Vegetarians don’t despair, there are options available, although it may not be extensive. South Goa beaches are a series of villages by the sea, all very clean and some villages still offering some very fine examples of old Portuguese architectures in their Casas.


(Islets formed by the Sal and the Sea)

I like that short stretch of walk between Mobor and Betul beach, reaching a point where the River Sal meets with the Arabian Sea. The Leela is located at this spot. Its really picturesque. There’s Betul Beach, soft sand bordering the river Sal’s mouth and on the other side is a line of Hills. The beach itself has various small channels that bring in water from the river to the sea and vice versa. One can stand on sand banks in low tide and watch water all around the little “island” that you are on. Some of the pictures accompanying this post would help imagine this.


(Sunset over the sand bar)

I normally just take the village road that runs parallel to the sea, from The Madgao-Colva road past villages and rice fields, going South. In high season this narrow road can have lots of traffic going at high speed, so if you are renting a two-wheeler, wear a helmet and be careful! If you are coming from Madgao side, on the road going to Colva, you’ll see a lot of signboards showing either Leela Palace. Take a left and drive till you see Mobor beach or till you drive into the River Sal eventually because the road ends there! The turn off to the left, facing Colva beach side is at a cross road just before the famous Colva Church of Our Lady of Mercy. If you go past the Church (Church on your right side), you have missed the turn. Never mind, take the next left and that road joins up with the road that you missed!

Betul is famous for this "river meets sea" location. I have also seen tour operators who take people out in boats to watch for Dolphins in the area and also motor up the river to a fishing village and take a look at the fresh catch of the day. I’d just go there to un-clutter my otherwise cluttered brain and let the feeling of peace and tranquility wash over me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DUDHSAGAR FALLS

Dudh Sagar (Konkani words, also spelt doodh sagar in Hindi) literally means sea of milk. This is the name given to a waterfalls in the tiny state of Goa, in India. Since the water rushes down the hills and sort of looks white and foamy during the monsoon, it has earned the name as such. Of course there is a legend/myth around this name as well, like many places in India. In short, the story goes as follows. There was a princess who used to bathe in the falls a long time ago. She used to drink a jug of milk right after her bath everyday it seems (don't ask me why!). one day she was startled to see a handsome prince (what did you expect) who had stumbled on to the falls and since she was in the buff, she grew red in the face and poured the jug of milk in front of her into the waterfall. This milky white water shielded her for a brief moment that it took the attendants to drape a cloth over her and protect her modesty. Anyway, I am sure it was better told in a long and romantic version than my twitter style abridged version.


(Top of falls from a distance - click on all the pictures for an expanded view)

The falls has a total fall height of 1017 feet, the ecosystem around the hills and the falls is almost pristine, the mining activity has been at a fair distance away and thank heavens for that. The falls is located in the hills of Goa off a bumpy highway NH-4A, about 45 Kms from Madgao. The destruction of the road and red mud colors of the tarmac is a result of Iron Ore mining in the area and spill over from mining trucks that speed along this highway. I went on an earlier trip during the dry season and drove all around Goa. I can safely say that these mining trucks are best avoided, they drive at breakneck speed, are rash with their turns and sometimes you can get stuck behind a convoy of them belching thick black smoke.


(Not spectacular in dry season as one can see above)

Once you get off the Highway, it’s OK though. At Collem, one needs to get into an SUV and there are several of them operated by local companies there. “Normal” cars are best left parked. The terrain is muddy, rocky and no road exists in many sections. The only way is by these SUV’s that one can hire with driver either exclusively or by sharing with other visitors. This is all easily done. The SUV will take you to the falls and after an hour and a half, bring you back to where you had parked our car (or bus if you came by bus or any other transportation from Madgao. I believe there is a train service between Madgao and Collem. I am not sure of the frequency or costs as I have not experienced it.

Bhagwan Mahavir Forest surrounds the falls and the Forest Department collects money as Entrance Fee. I think it wasn’t more than Rs. 20 (less than 50 cents US). There are additional charges for cameras like they do in many places in India and these charges are based on the type of camera one has, an ordinary still camera is cheaper than video ones. Of course I find it funny. These days a lot of people just carry their cell phones that have great cameras and video capability too. That’s not charged. So, go figure.


(View from front seat of an SUV crossing the stream)

Riding in the SUV is great fun. The vehicle goes in and out of large depressions in the ground, over rocks and also crossing shallow streams. The drivers are good and what looks like a hairy piece of road is easy for them. I guess this is the exciting part of visiting the falls because once you get there, if the crowds are low, it is mostly quiet. You’d run into lots of monkeys in the wild but not much else (because of all the human activity) unless you got great vision or staring up at trees on the hill side. Maybe you’d spot something more exotic. All I saw were monkeys and spiders, both easily seen in my home town of Mysore. We grew up with monkeys as neighbors. I mean real monkeys, I’m not calling any of my human neighbors as monkeys, they were nice people.


(British built bridge)

The falls had enough water in it, although it wasn’t the season. However, crowds were absent (lucky me) and this tranquil place is best enjoyed with a cool dip in the pool at the foot of the falls. Looking up at the top of the falls, one can see an old Railway Bridge. That was built during the British occupation of India and the trains chugs down the hills, past the falls mid way, on it’s way to Goa or Karnataka on the other end of the line. The bridge and train are still in use as regular service, some people stop coming from Karnataka get off at the Castle Rock station and trek down to the falls.


(At the foot of the falls, a large pool is formed and ideal place to chill)

In the monsoon, when the falls is at its full glory, everything is wet and slippery so be careful and wear the right type of clothing. Watch out for leaches when you trek. Enjoy the bountiful nature around, there’s nothing there that will jump out of the scrubs and eat you so go ahead and be adventurous. Leaving the falls, I came across a resort on the side of the Highway, surrounded by greenery and thickly wooded and well maintained. There was a good restaurant on site with some nice food options. I believe that there were rooms for staying also but I did not stay back and continued on my journey. For those who have been there, I'm sure you had a good time. Others, I'd say you should make a part of your trip to Goa to do things away from the Beaches. There's lots more to Goa and hopefully I'll blog more about my adopted State.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cross posting

I have been blogging on my other blog: anupmurthy@blogspot.com. Here are the link addresses. Blogger in Singapore acts crazy and does not let me insert links and once again does not allow me and many other bloggers to insert pictures and videos. Something to do with my ISP Singtel (sounds of me banging my head on the wall).

Latest one about Mysore Airport:

http://anupmurthy.blogspot.com/2009/09/saga-continues.html

This one is about the YSR Chopper crash:

http://anupmurthy.blogspot.com/2009/09/sad-questions.html

This one is about the swine flu masks and the humor side of it:

http://anupmurthy.blogspot.com/2009/08/masks-everywhere.html

This one is about the Mysore Airport July update:

http://anupmurthy.blogspot.com/2009/07/mysore-airport-latest-as-on-jul-2009.html

News since then about Mysore Airport is that no operator has agreed to start any flights yet. The Airport is still on course for an opening ceremony on 15th September. State Government does not have any refueling facility at this Airport for now but in future when they actually get the storage tanks built and fuel available, they will supply at a reduced sales tax of 4% in order to encourage operators to fly into Mysore. I hope to do more updates on this soon.

For those following my blog, I apologize, you have already read all my blogs and did not need these links. I had resisted the idea of tweeting for a while, don't know why, finally I am on twitter with the handle: airplanetalk
Happy tweeting all.

Friday, July 31, 2009

MONSOON MAGIC - 2

This continues from Monsoon Magic Part 1, click here to read.

Winding down the narrow roads of the Western Ghats with enough twists and turns to churn whatever is in the stomach, one finally emerges in the coastal area of Karnataka near Honnavar Town where the mountain road meets the so-called National Highway NH-17. The “highway” is quite narrow by International standards and was badly worn out and exposed in stretches. Swollen rivers and lakes were all around us as we drove North towards Goa, reaching a wet and windy Colva Beach (Colva is near Madgao for those familiar with the larger cities of Goa).


(Swollen river)

Monsoon is a lean season in Goa and one does not generally need reservations anywhere in any class of accommodation. We just walked into a hotel that’s a stone’s throw away from Colva Beach. Although Goa tries to promote “monsoon tourism”, I know why most prefer the dry season. In this wet season, the sea is very rough and has a muddy tinge, there are no beach shacks to have a drink and eat some fresh local seafood. The sand on the beach is wet and somewhat dirty with left over plastic covers stuck in the sand, remnants from the tail end of the high season. Asking around, I came to know that they (whoever they are) don’t clean the beaches during monsoon simply because no one really comes beach side. But this is also the best time to go to Goa since there are no crowds, restaurants are all open and seating easily available unlike during the high season and generally the entire place wears a deserted look, which suits me fine. If better promoted and if the Government cleans up the place a bit, this would be an ideal monsoon lover’s paradise.


The morning turns out dark and gloomy, looking out towards the sea from the hotel window it appears like menacing clouds are about to make landfall and attack with fury and that’s precisely what happens, just as I step out the door of the lobby for a short walk across the street to a South Indian Udupi style breakfast joint called Sagar Kinara (what else!). The strong gusty wind catches me unawares and breaks my umbrella. Holding the tattered remains of the same and getting drenched, I made it to the restaurant for hot Idli and coffee. It’s raining very hard by now. It’s as if a dam in the sky has burst open and water is literally pouring down. For those who want to experience real rain and get away from the rest of the parched country, this would be the place. For lovebirds, the sounds of rain falling outside the window, the ever-rustling sounds of the coconut palm, the dark gray clouds heavily laden with rain provides ideal conditions to stay indoors and snuggle. For those who love getting wet in the rain or don’t mind a bit of a soak, like me, nothing will stop us characters from venturing out at the slightest pretext. Just watch out for objects flying around in the wind and falling tree branches!

We ventured up to Panjim, the capital city of Goa. I think a separate blog is in order, to fully describe this little town that makes up the capital of this small state. I’ll do that when I go back for housewarming in November. There are too many things to describe about Panjim that can’t be done here. I love the Old Portuguese buildings that are all over, well restored and in active use centuries later. The waterfront areas, in particular the river Mandovi’s banks, have some fine examples of such architecture. One can walk along the river on well paved walkways and lined with gardens and have a first class view of the boats that ply the river leading out to sea on one side and on the other side you’d be seeing these architecturally aesthetic buildings and you’d continue walking all the way to Campal and the Goa Kala Academy. All this is for another blog. Back in South Goa 45 minutes of driving later, we stopped for lunch at the famous Martin’s Corner and I kept my eyes peeled out for celebrities but no such luck. Photographs of Indian glitterati are hung on the wall showing how popular this place is. I found the ambiance to be delightfully Goan with murals of Mario Miranda’s cartoons on the walls. I ordered Goan food, the staple fish curry and rice combination and that was simply great. I’d say the service was fantastic too.


Next day was the big day for us. The apartment was all done and delivered. The swimming pool is near ready as is the community center and gymnasium. The keys handed over and the paperwork done, it was time for a celebratory lunch. There’s a restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf near Mobor beach that’s right on the river Sal. One can see the line of fishing boats berthed silently, waiting for the monsoon to end before the fishing season starts. The ambience and food were both good. Sal River had turned muddy like all others.

(River Sal from Fisherman's Wharf)

Now, Mobor Beach needs a special blog too, as it’s my favorite. You’ve got white powdery sand, nice seafront, classy hotels nearby and at one end the River Sal empties itself into the sea. It all sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? It is worth a visit to anyone who has not been there. After lunch we drove up to Ponda and after visiting the Laxmi Narasimha temple in nearby Veiling, which I go to every time I am in Goa, we headed back out towards Karwar, the coastal port town in Karnataka. Not finding a decent place to stay in Karwar, we continued on into the night, something I swear I’d never do again.

The same road, NH-17, had completely become a lunar landscape during the brief two days that I was away in Goa. There had been extensive flooding of the road, heavy rainfall, stormy winds, downed trees and power lines, you name it. The same road we had traveled earlier was unrecognizable. Driver and I had to keep looking for signs that said we were still on NH-17 as neither of us could remember the road being that bad just a few days before. Night driving is insane. Add copious rain, poor general visibility, stray cattle (even at night!) and humans running across poorly lit or sometimes even completely dark NH-17 and it adds up to be a dangerous recipe. What with blinding lights coming in the opposite direction from drivers who never dip their lights, ill defined sign boards and directions, and you know you are close to an impending disaster. Luckily we escaped some very close calls that night.

We snuck into Kumta, another coastal town not far away from Karwar and hunkered down for the night at a decent place. There’s a rest stop in between Karwar and Kumta and I’d recommend a stop here at the Kamat Yatrinivas restaurant at any time. I liked their breakfast and generally everything else on the menu. They’ve got a sugarcane juice machine and will make fresh delicious cane juice for you while you wait, for a low price of Rs. 12 a glass (US 25 cents!).


(Flying fox - hanging from a tree on the banks of the Payaswini - click on the picture for an expanded view)

The next morning looked promising, with the sun partially out, visibility reasonably good and it was only then that we could see the real damage the excessive rainfall in this area had done. Heading out South towards northern Kerala, we saw people marooned, away from the road, their houses and huts were like little islands in a sea of muddy water. There was flooding all the way South and the roads did not show any signs of improvement for the entire length of the Karnataka coast that NH-17 follows.


(Hanging bridge - still pic - over Payaswini River)

Five bumpy hours later we arrived in Kerala. Interior roads in Kerala were still good and we made good progress. Staying back in Kanhangad town and visiting the somewhat disappointing beach there and our social visit completed, we drove next to Kuntar village for more socializing. Kuntar is on the banks of the river Payaswini that had also turned red and was flowing strong. They’ve made a new suspension bridge that now connects the other bank of the river. It was fun walking across the bridge and fun to see the greenery all around. Bats hung in trees in hundreds near the water, noisy as ever. These were flying foxes and I’ve never seen them from that close up.

(Payaswini River)

Returning to Mysore via the hill town of Madikeri was interesting. Getting out of the nice Kerala roads, one encounters the Sulya-Madikeri road winding uphill, to be an extremely bad road. What makes up for this bone jarring experience is the vista. The hills all around, coffee plantations, the cool atmosphere and light intermittent rain followed us all the way to Mysore. The weather suddenly cleared up as we were just outside Mysore and the road, State Highway SH-88, was a real pleasure to drive on. The trip was therefore an overall success, bad roads adding to the adventure. I hope those who read this are prompted to visit Jog and possibly Goa; I heard the monsoon is getting weaker over the area now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Magic has to wait a bit

My Monsoon Magic Part 2 is ready but like many other people, I am having a tough time with Blogger and unable to post pictures and videos. Without being able to do this, I don't want to post the article. So, let's wait and see. In the meantime, I have an anecdote that I remember from my time spent with friends from Thiruvananthapuram. They were a hilarious bunch of people who would, especially after a couple of drinks, let loose jokes from Kerala, mainly targeting their politicians. We used to stay in Male', the capital of Maldives then and our drinking sessions were always fun, argumentative, loud sometimes and there were lot's of stories going around.

At one of these gatherings at a friends place, drinks in hand and snacks on the table all set, the guys started their stories, real anecdotes I was told. I believe the topic was about the Monsoon and how the moisture was trapped by the thick forests of the Western Ghats producing copious amounts of rain like it did this time as well. Apparently this came up as a discussion in the State Assembly when on a debate about deforestation, an MLA made a speech about the ill effects of deforestation and how that was preventing moisture from being trapped, resulting in drought like conditions and so on. A ruling part MLA stood up and rubbished these claims saying that there was really no evidence that cutting down trees reduced rainfall. He said that trees had no role to play regarding rainfall. He continued that he'd seen it rain many times over the open seas and that he had not seen any trees there in the middle of the sea. He sat down triumphantly, having scored a point that could not have been rebutted with a short answer from an MLA who probably could not explain further. Although I don't remember the names of the characters in the story, this just proves how this is the quality of people we chose each time in an election to run our States and Country.

While we always expect nature to live up to expectations and while it did for some this year and did not for a majority of the growing areas of India, there's not much that we do to help heal the planet. I do believe that trees are very important for rainfall to occur. I do believe trees are the greatest gift to the planet, they support entire mini ecosystems within their branches, give life, shade, shelter, homes, food and countless other supports to living creatures. This includes humans of course. They are pleasing to the eye and never fails to me rather calm and collected when I see trees. Monsoon provides the magic and turns all of India green, in a good year. This has a been a mixed year so far. I hope my monsoon magic part 2 can be uploaded soon, before the real monsoon completely runs out of steam!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MONSOON MAGIC PART-1

It’s been bad news about the deficit rainfall in the Northern parts of India so far this year. What started as a slow and perceived deficient rainfall even in Southern India, especially coastal Karnataka and Goa, ended up being surplus by mid July. Although late, copious rains have filled the State’s reservoirs. I witnessed heavy rainfall in coastal Karnataka, Goa and generally the Western Ghats area during this monsoon season during my travels there. I encountered swollen lakes and rivers, broken embankments and general flooding all over the coastal areas between the Western Ghat mountains and the Arabian Sea.


(Muddy swollen rivers all along the roads in coastal Karnataka)

I took a short, well deserved break, in between hectic hospital visits with my dad and the timing coincided with the delivery of my new apartment in Goa, so I decided to head over there by road from Mysore. My plan, although hastily arranged, was to leave Mysore early morning and head up to Jog Falls by lunchtime and after a couple of hours there, we’d leave for Goa and reach the same evening. Jog falls is best seen when the monsoon fury is tapering and the Linganamakki dam over the Sharavathi River is full. Jog Falls is also the highest plunge waterfall in India, falling from a height of about 829 feet. My trip was in the middle of the monsoon and hence what I saw was quite a spectacle but perhaps wasn’t at maximum flow/volume of water.


(Jog Falls July 2009)

Setting out early in the morning from Mysore on an overcast day, the day promised to be a comfortable ride till we started to hit the roads going to Shimoga and believe me, astronauts may have had a better ride on the lunar rover on the lunar surface. Portions of the Highways were badly pitted. My driver also managed to nick a bus, damaging the rear door a bit, while negotiating through the crazy labyrinth of streets that make up Shimoga. It was just after noon when we reached Sagar and Jog Falls, which was perfect, schedule-wise.

I was told by friendly local touts who hang around offering to take photos of people with the falls in the background, that one can view the falls from at least 5 different places. I managed two locations on this trip, the idea being not to spend more than two hours in Jog, after all I had to head down the mountains to coastal Karnataka and Goa the same evening.


(Here's a short video I took of Jog Falls)

The main view of the Falls is from a viewing area directly in front of it. The tourism guys have built platforms and steps to accommodate a large number of people who come to view the falls. The main area also has some accommodation facilities and restaurants. Another popular viewpoint is the one from across the main viewing area, in a place called the British Bungalow. I guess the Brits built it during their heyday in India, the small Bungalow now eclipsed by a large new edifice that will serve as an inn or hotel in the near future. If time permits, I recommend an arduous climb down the steps to the foot of the falls when the weather is right. Don’t forget the even more arduous climb back, up to the car park/bus stop area! I had done this trek long back and it was more arduous then, I don’t remember the steps being as good as it is now.


(Another short video of the falls from the main viewing area)

What was mesmerizing was all the mist created by the water falling from such a great height. Clouds of heavy mist would drift in and out, occasionally blanking out the view of the falls and the surrounding hills completely and then vanishing mysteriously. There was intermittent drizzle from the rain, nothing that drenched us but enough to create a magical atmosphere overall. It's no wonder male and female leads in Indian movies break out into song and dance routine in such locales, the environment makes one want to sing and dance! I wouldn't try it, having been born with mediocre voice and two left feet..


(View of the steps leading down to the foot of the falls and the falls viewed from British Bungalow side)

The weather, the journey so far and the views - all combined to give me a good appetite as we headed for one of the two restaurants that were available at site. While the food wasn’t great and ambiance lacking, a hungry stomach can pack in anything. But this is where we as a country, lose the plot. Karnataka tourism can do so much more to improve facilities in such a popular tourist destination but one wonders why nothing is done.

The best thing was the timing of this trip, although unintentional, it is during this time that few people visit the falls. Crowds of visitors had stayed away, maybe because there weren’t any holidays around the corner and perhaps most people visit during the end of the monsoon period. It was quite peaceful for us and that made the visit quite memorable. I had not seen Jog Falls in twenty-five years and had quite forgotten how spectacular it really is. I hope the pictures and video does some justice. The trip down the Ghats to Goa and back will be posted next. That was one rough ride I'd never forget!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Random Memories

There's been too much going on recently, that's good, in a way. So when I got some leisure time, a single malt with Ice in my hand and a surprising urge to write, I had no topic to focus on! So, here are some of my random memories of my travel days gone by.

A decade back when I did a lot of exciting trips, there was no blogging and I never kept a real diary of events and anecdotes that I should have written down somewhere, even on a piece of paper. In some cases I did record things in writing and in some cases I simply forgot to write. One such event was my adventurous trip into the jungles of Honduras, in a retired American school bus turned public transport, sharing seats with entirely Spanish speaking rural Hondurans and their chickens on bumpy mountain roads. I was on my way to see the Mayan ruins of Copan Ruinas, a fine example of the Mayan civilization with one of the best recorded historical evidence of how the Mayans lived. This is now just a slowly fading memory. I knew a smattering of Spanish then, having listened to tape recorded manuals for learning Spanish, available freely at the Miami Central Library in Miami, Florida (where else?). That was enough to equip myself to travel to a country that spoke no English and to wander around the little villages so equipped! That's another story to write, I know.

Maybe I should re-look at those photographs and try and remember little things to put down in a blog. The archaeologist hidden in me says, go and dig - Unearth those pictures and tell your story, my mind urges. After I take another sip of this fine single malt whiskey, I tell myself but never manage to go on this "dig".

There was this time, eight years ago that I went into the mountains in Central Cyprus to visit the famous lace making town of Lefkara. I still have some lace items from there hanging around. No blogging then either but I do have a few things written down for me to remember. That's a visit that I had enjoyed as well, the archaeologist hidden in me had the most fun. Lefkara was actually a diversion. My main goal was to visit one of the best preserved Neolithic settlement in Eastern Mediterranean, a site more than 8,000 years old (no, there is no mistake in the zeroes following 8). This place is unique in the sense that other than the fact that Neolithic people lived as a well organized society, there is also direct evidence, perhaps for the first time, of humans and cats living together. Human and cat remains have been found in graves, side by side, indicated a "master and pet" relationship. I am not surprised though, human - animal domestic relationship in my opinion, perhaps stretches far back in time than that. but here was direct evidence. Earlier schools of thought put the cat as being domesticated and living with humans, as recorded in Egyptian history. That actually came much later that's much later than this settlement in Cyprus. The bones of the cat are intact and there is no evidence of the cat having been hunted and killed. People used to be buried with their "wealth" and items that they held close. Anyway, that's another story for another blog. I've shot loads of pictures, need to dig them out too.

Let's see. Where were we? Oh yeah, I'm still in the "archaeology mood" and I just remembered another trip done around the same period. That was an inadvertent trip, afforded to me due to a technical glitch in the Airplane that I was flying (as pilot). I got stranded in Ahmedabad, a city in the Western State of India for a couple of days. This was a ferry flight and no one was really inconvenienced, matter of fact this trip ranks among my most favorite ones and became a part of my cherished memory.

I had been somewhat familiar with the so-called Indus Valley civilization (which now is a misnomer since the Saraswathi river had hundreds more civilized settlement 4,500 years ago than the Indus Valley). So, some drive away from Ahmedabad I stumbled into, what I would call, a spectacular site of ruins of the ancient city of Lothal. It took some doing to get there since most taxi operators in Ahmedabad, sadly, were not even aware of this place. Lothal was a rich "inland" port, a unique place of commerce and civilization around 2400 B.C.E. I know this "Inland port" statement of mine may have evoked some curiosity, that's got to wait till I write about it or one can find out about that on the net of course. I shot loads of pictures here too and I promise that's going to be a part of another blog.

Maybe I should write about the time that I fell into the river accidentally and broke my finger in Udawalawe National Park in Sri Lanka while ogling at Elephant herds, grounding me and the plane for some time. I remember the 6 hour ride back to Colombo for medical attention, multiple fractures that too. That incident gave me the opportunity of going uphill to Kandy to see the Buddha's relic (Temple of the Tooth) and to wander around some parts of Sri Lanka, a country I have visited many times.

Or maybe I should write about the trip to Guatemala with the threat of banditos lurking around in the hills or maybe about that beautiful walk I took, around a crater lake (caused by a Meteor, eons ago) in Central Grenada surrounded by total silence and nutmeg trees, not necessarily in that order! The silence is only broken by sounds of birds in the trees and the crunching of nutmeg shells strewn on the ground crackling under my foot. That's another experience I can never forget. You'll find the tiny Island of Grenada in the West Indies, just north of Trinidad and Tobago - cricket fans would know this place.

I promise to write about all of the above. How about the fabulous years I spent in the Maldives flying around the beautiful Islands until the Tsunami hit us?....and the time we saw hundreds of Dolphins and I mean hundreds. So many Dolphins that actually caused a flotilla of sea taxis to halt in their position mid sea. These sea taxis are called Dhonies in Maldives and thay ply between the Airport Island to the capital city-Island of Male'. The taxi on both sides of the channel actually stopped and waited for the entire herd to pass, taking more than ten minutes. I can never forget that sight, of hundreds of Dolphins going by, some doing spectacular flips and leaps out of the water. I could actually have died of contentment and joy that filled me then, nothing more needed to live for, having seen what I considered quite divine. And I had seen them from so close that I could have reached out and touched one, standing near the sea wall in Male'. What else is there to see on this otherwise strange planet, when one has seen divinity? When I think of that scene, I still get goose bumps.

I didn't die, of course, still sitting here in my tenth floor apartment in Singapore, typing in between taking sips from my depleting glass. Strange things it does, to the mind, this fine single malt going smoothly down my throat. I can go on and on but that would be pointless. Maybe I should not promise to write these stories and maybe you should not take me too seriously and wait for me to write them! Who knows when that will happen? Cheers! Hic...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

KOH SAMUI - THAI ISLAND

It was a first trip for me, to Koh samui, an island situated in the Gulf of Thailand. I am sure many have heard of Phuket (Thai Andaman Sea), Krabi, Phi Phi and so on. Seasoned travelers would have heard of Koh Samui as well but many I know have heard about it but never been there. Here's a taste of Koh Samui.

First of all, you'd arrive on Bangkok Airways (or in my case, private jet) to this island. The airport has been developed, owned and operated by Bangkok airways. One can fly into Koh Samui from Bangkok or Singapore too (or in the case of private jets, one can fly in from anywhere). What is unique about this airport is the outdoor-open air hut style, typical Thai ambiance buildings that make up the main terminal building, immigration, baggage claim and pretty much everything else. The only air conditioned "hut" is the Duty Free. Weather in Koh Samui or just Samui for short, is tropical year round, just as one would expect Thailand to be. Last month it was a bit cooler in the evenings, pleasant breeze blowing in from the sea always. This video below shows an overview of the departure terminal after one clears Thai immigration.


I stayed in a hotel on the most famous beach on the island called Chaweng Beach. This strip has many hotel/resort options, many dining and party options and except for the sleaze massage parlors that can be easily identified, there are some good traiditonal Thai massage options as well. Night life is interesting, to people watch and hang out at the many theme bars and cafe's. This island is not as crowded as Phuket or that commercialized as Pattaya, at least for now, but is already one of the favorite destinations for travelers in Thailand. Chaweng beach is the most crowded, I saw a bit of Lamai beach, south of Chaweng and less crowded and much cleaner. Seafood options are many, on the beach, if only one walks up and down to look at the menu as well as the catch of the day in ice, inside small wooden boats. Food options on the main street are many and varied. I'd suggest local fare as always. Here's a video of Chaweng beach adjacent to my hotel, in the evening, in very low tide.



There are a few things that one can do in Samui. I'd suggest a one day tour of the Island in a tour bus. I took a tour like that and went to some of the interesting places on the Island. I found the first stop a bit wierd. There's a bunch of rocks by the sea and that's really nice. What's weird is that one rock formation resembles the make genitalia and a crevice in another looks like the female genitalia. This place is called Grandpa and Grandma rocks, for this reason. As usual, there are funny stories about how this place was named. One of them being two star crossed lovers who jumped off the cliff there and the only thing remaining were these organs. Here's a video of the area.


Next stop was something uniquely Thai, a temple monastery (Wat Khunaram) where a revered monk's mummified body is kept in a glass case in a meditative position. He gave up his body during meditation I was told, having predicted his own time of death. Then there's a visit to a coconut plantation where monkeys are trained to climb the trees and pick the right coconuts. Next stop was an Elephant ride park that is also the starting point for hiking up a hilly trail.The hike is a fairly steep climb and not very pleasant in hot climate, ending at a water falls and water pools that one can dip in to cool off. Here are pictures of the entrance area to the hiking trail and a small part of the water falls in the distance up in the hills.



A visit to the main town on Samui for lunch and then off to the big Buddha near the Airport. Here's a video of the Big Buddha.


The surrounding area of the Big Buddha has several other temples and I was surprised that the deities were of Hindu gods such as Ganesh, Shiva, Brahma and so on. Brahma is fine, one can see Brahma statues everywhere in Thailand, even Bangkok. Here are some pictures of the temples and shrines of the area.





There is another "must see" in the big Buddha area. There's a guy with a show room full of Alien and Predator sculptures (real looking dinosaurs as well). What's unique about it is that all the sculptures are hand made, using various parts from many junked motorcycles. Some of the Predator and Alien sculptures are really big, over 6 feet tall. Imagine if this was kept near your front door! They are so life like that I thought one of them was going to attack any minute. For all you metal heads out there, this is nirvana, and I spent a considerable amount of time gawking at the fantastic metal work. Click on the pictures to see brake pads, spark plugs, shock absorbers and so on, that make these sculptures! They are for sale. The challenge would be shipping, handling and re-assembly. The guy who makes them can do all this too.


There's lots more to do in Koh samui and in the neighboring islands. There's even a National marine park that comprises of 40 something islands where one can observe nature and get involved in snorkeling, kayaking, swimming in the sea and so on. Tours leave hotels very early in the morning for this trip. Cost of staying in Koh Samui can go from budget to high end. Eating out is not expensive and generally things are cheap. I'd suggest Samui as a destination to just go and hang out, do a bit of sightseeing but mostly for just hanging out at the beach and getting a relaxing Thai traditional massage for literally a song.

Monday, March 09, 2009

CAMBODIA AND ANGKOR WAT

One of my favorite places to visit is Cambodia. I guess everyone knows of my archaeological interests from all my previous blog posts. In the latter half of 2006, I had visited Siem Reap, cambodia (famous for Angkor Wat and hundreds of other Angkorean temples and cities) for a long holiday and blogged about the trip in three parts. You can find that here titled "Siem Reap, Cambodia" and second part titled "More of the Angkor Kingdom" and last part titled "Siem Reap Trip Ends". Click on each of them to be directed to the blog posts. Now, in the year 2009, I made a short return visit to Siem Reap. Last week to be precise! I had guests who'd never been to Siem Reap before. My previous posts have plenty of still pictures.


(Here above is a vdo clip of the inner courtyard of Angkor Wat now. They are doing a lot of restoration works in the Angkor Wat complex currently, being funded by foreign governments, saw a banner mentioning German Government aid for these works)

Information contained in my 2006 blogs on Cambodia is still relevant today because the details provided in them are still current. Almost nothing has changed except that many more hotels, shops and restaurants have sprung up. Tuk Tuk's (carriage pulled by a moped) still costs $2 anywhere in Siem Reap town and food is still cheap. Hotels are cheap as well, tourism is down like everywhere else. Very attractive for those looking for an interesting and adventurous holiday. This time I stayed at a slightly upmarket boutique hotel called the Victoria Angkor, rates being so affordable these days.
Terms of entry into the country are the same. E-Visa can be obtained online here and having that ensures that you spend very little time in line filling up on-arrival visa forms, paying fees and then having to standing in line at Immigration. E-visa is the fast track way of getting in.



(Above is a short vdo clip of a ride through Siem Reap town, taken from my Tuk Tuk moped-carriage. This is the central park area and houses the King's Palace which is not an extra ordinary building anyway)

This time I went in March, hot season actually and predictably muggy. It's all worth it at the end of the day. So, if you are remotely interested in history or archaeology, this would be the place to put on the top of your "must visit" list. I found a group who had just come to visit those temples where Angelina Jolie starred movie "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" was shot.


(Above is a vdo clip of the Bayon Temple complex, a part of it, taken from the upper-inner courtyard)

Backpackers hang around Cambodia because things are really cheap, there are loads of things to do on a lean budget. You'd find masses of whites on bicycles all around towns and the temple complexes. During my last visit to Siem Reap, I had described and photographed Pub Street, a common watering hole for many foreigners and expats living in Siem Reap. Pub street has expanded, the lanes and by lanes that feed pub street have improved a lot, adding many new restaurants and bars, all reasonably priced and wonderful street side ambiance.

(Doesn't the Mok look good?)

After a hard day of exploring, this would be a perfect place to chill out. Read my previous Cambodia blogs for details of Pub street and the food available there but one thing I'd strongly recommend is to try the Seafood Mok which is a seafood curry in young coconut. Usually served with rice, this is a complete meal, delicious and available everywhere. There are places where one can find the vegetarian versions of the same or sweet talk the waiter to get the chef to put in veggies instead of the seafood.



Here's a short vdo of one part of pub street at night ending with a shot of an Indian restaurant offering Kabab dinner.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

MACAU, MY FAV PLACE IN EAST ASIA...

I have been to Macau three times in the last two years and first wrote about it in my blog on April 21st, 2007 that one can read here and did a follow up on the same trip that can be found here. On my second visit there, I got to visit more of Macau (I spelt it then as the Portuguese had done-Macao) and posted a new blog called Return to the dragon which can be read here.

(At the start of the town center)
In 2008 I went there again because I do enjoy going there. As I had written earlier, Macau is not just about the Casinos although it has positioned itself as a country (China S.A.R.) promoting it's casinos more than anything else. This has actually led to a downfall as their tourism numbers have progressively gone down. In this economic down turn, China has put in restrictions for their nationals going to Macau and possibly prevent people from gambling away their money! This was on local news in Singapore recently. However, I think there is still a lot to do in Macau and is a perfect weekend getaway from SE Asia. If one is fond of colonial architecture and Heritage buildings, this is the place to see some fine restored samples, like the picture below illustrates:


I think one will find better room rates and lesser crowds now and therefore a good time to visit. While one is there, do make it to see The Venetian and enjoy the delights of being able to go on a Gondola ride inside the large complex, on waterways/canals built indoors with boutique stores lined on both sides. The Venetian is located in the Cotai strip and one can find free transportation from Macau ferry terminal to and fro The Venetian. One can shop, dine, gamble, take a gondola ride or just enjoy the many free performances that this place has to offer, all indoors and in air conditioned comfort. Take in the regular paid shows as well, this is the Las Vegas of the East.

(Inside The Venetian-apologies for the blurry picture, taken around midnight but looks like day time due to the artificial sky and lighting)


The above video was taken late night, indoors, in The Venetian.

On mainland Macau, here are some more options of things to do or places to go to, other than those mentioned in my previous articles. There is the UNESCO heritage town center that needs more exploration than I did last time. There's a typical 19th Century (Built 1889) Chinese house called the Lou Kau Mansion. Visiting the house gives a glimpse of how a typical wealthy trading family lived in those days.

(Inside the Chinese Mansion)

Another good place to visit is the A-Ma temple (featured in my April 21, 2007 blog) and I watched a Lion dance performance this time, something that one can catch during the Chinese New year time. A video of the area around A-Ma temple featuring a Lion dance troupe is featured below:


Right next to the Am-Ma temple and also visible briefly in the video above, is the Maritime Museum of Macau. This is a fascinating place for me, being a lover of the sea, ships and of course seaplanes.

This museum features models of old ships that plied the waters around Macau and also when the seaport was used for take off and landing of seaplanes in the 1940's.

Cathay Pacific offered Seaplane service between Hong Kong and Macau during that time. In 1948 Cathay Pacific seaplane service to Macau became infamous for the first ever hijacking of a commercial Aircraft by Chinese bandits who eventually shot the pilot and crashed into the water killing 26 of the 27 people on board the Catalina Seaplane. The lone survivor was the leader of the gang! Pictures below are those of the seaplane service and a data plate illustrating some of the history of the origin of aviation in Macau. Click on image to read.




All in all, another enjoyable trip to the Pearl River Delta, I made it back to Coloane' that sleepy village I talked about in my earlier articles. There's more to Macau!