Oshino Hakkai is a rustic village of thatched roof houses located in the Fuji Five Lakes area between Lake Kawaguchi and Lake Yamanaka in Japan.
It looks like there hasn’t always been five lakes in the Fuji Five Lakes area. Centuries ago, there was a lake called Lake Utsu. When Mount Fuji erupted in 800 A.D., the lava flow divided Lake Utsu into two – giving birth to Lake Yamanaka and Lake Oshino. So for a short time, there was six lakes in that area. Over time, Lake Oshino dried up but some springs being fed by Mt. Fuji’s underground water reservoir remained. The water from Oshino Hakkai’s eight ponds come from Mount Fuji’s snow melt that seeps to the bottom and is filtered through a series of porous lava rock, to finally arrive at Oshino Hakkai almost 80 years later!
With such an elaborate and extended filtration process, you can be certain that the crystal-clear water from the springs of Oshino Hakkai is pure and loaded with mineral goodness.
Each pond is home to different freshwater plants and marine life at varying depths. The water is so clear that even with 8 metres in depth, we could still see the bottom of the pond with shiny blue “gems” and trout swimming around.
Because it comes from Mount Fuji, the water here is considered sacred and highly revered by locals. In olden times, people making a pilgrimage up Mount Fuji would first come here to purify themselves by washing in the eight ponds.
Oshino Hakkai is nationally recognised as having one of the best water in Japan. It is not often that one can boast of having water that has undergone 80 years of purification! I was really looking forward to catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji’s reflection in the pond, but sadly it rained yet again and the mountain got lost behind mist and clouds.
From the main road or car parking lot, the village is not apparent. You need to walk through an ordinary-looking lane for about 50 metres before reaching Oshino Hakkai. You know you’ve arrived when you spot an unusually large crowd of people at one corner of the street. Oshino Hakkai is open every day of the year and entrance is free.
Besides being well-known for its scenery, Oshino Hakkai is also a great place for a walkabout. It has many souvenir shops and food stalls along both sides of the street to entice visitors to part with their money. I really enjoyed wandering around the food stalls. So many mouth-watering food to choose from. It is enough to make any diet addict abandon her original plans and stuff all that sumptuous goodies inside the stomach. We bought a few nice-looking peaches to eat for supper and tried some toasted green tea mochi with red bean filling. The con-on-a-cob was out of this world and we dutifully queued up to try out the village speciality – soft tofu topped with a special dressing!
As we made our way out, I spotted a lavender field behind one of the shops and ran to have a closer look at the flowers.
The charm of Oshino Hakkai lies on the assumption that the scenery can be enjoyed in peace and quiet. Sadly, Oshino Hakkai has become too touristy and overrun with foreign tourist arrivals by the busloads. By late afternoon, the atmosphere became more serene and pleasant as most of the tour groups had already departed. This was a good time to linger around a bit longer, but we had to hurry to catch the last bus leaving Oshino Hakkai at 5:00pm.
In Japan, the period between July and August is when people pray for the spirits of their deceased relatives and ancestors to be able to obtain Buddhahood without suffering. It is believed that the spirits of the ancestors revisit their family’s household alters and shrines during the three days that Obon traditionally lasts.
Two nights ago, I join three other friends to attend the 2-day Bon Odori 2017 festival held in the township of Gelang Patah in Johor, Malaysia. “Bon-Odori,” as the name suggests, refers to a dance (odori) held during Obon. The dance is performed all over Japan to receive spirits and send them off again.
The celebration of Bon in Malaysia started as a small affair over 40 years ago, with Japanese expatriates stationed here wanting to immerse their own children into their native culture. It has now morphed into a huge and much-awaited event, attracting crowds by the thousands. Presently, the religious aspect of Bon has been mostly lost, and the dance is held as an event to liven up the summer festival.
In Malaysia, Bon Odori aims to promote and strengthen cultural ties between Malaysia and Japan, as well as showcase to locals a part of Japanese custom that’s been around for the past 500 years. The celebration in Malaysia is believed to be the largest Bon Odori festival in the world, outside of Japan.
The carnival-like atmosphere is made all the more merrier with stalls selling a variety of Japanese food and drinks, lively dance, martial arts and taiko (drums) performances, Japanese karaoke, games and even a lucky draw. This noisy and colourful event also attracts Japanese companies to participate and promote their products.
As Obon occurs in the heat of summer, participants wear colourful yukatas, a traditional Japanese robe, or light cotton kimonos.
Then, there’s also the attire worn by today’s youth, where any style and combination goes…!
The typical Bon Odori dance involves people forming a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura.
There are many instances where the hand movements are made to coordinate with the lyrics, describing actions like “harvesting the rice” or “scooping the mud”. This makes the dance easy to follow so that everyone can join in and dance round the yagura.
Since I’ve not posted anything for the last three months, I thought I’d share some photos of my day trip to Parit Jawa, a river town on an estuary that opens out to a seemingly endless sea.
The majority of its residents are engaged in fishing and other related activities. You can see lots of fishing boats moored alongside the quay.
A short walk around this river town will take you past seafood restaurants, old shop houses, boat repair workshops, a mosque and two Chinese temples. There’s even a Fishermen’s Association established in one of the old buildings.
What I like about this place is that it has remained largely untouched and retained its rustic simplicity. Visiting Parit Jawa brings back the nostalgic feeling of being transported back to the 1950s. Life here appears to be relaxed and easy-going. During hot afternoons, it’s not unusual to find some senior residents chit-chatting and enjoying a game of Chinese chess in one of the restaurants. The younger folk, on the other hand, prefer to get on their motorcycles and round the vicinity for a bit.
Migratory birds like egrets and swallows scour the area in the evenings when the tide is out and the weather cooler. They compete for food with the many wild monkeys who seem to be everywhere – by the road side, on top of roofs, mangroves and exposed sea rocks.
Parit Jawa is known for its seafood, and in particular, a dish called Asam Pedas. Translated directly, it means “sour and spicy” where the method of cooking fish is not by frying or grilling, but by boiling the fish in spicy, sour broth.
There is little doubt that this fishing village is a haven for fishing enthusiasts and bird photographers. It’s a nice getaway from urban life and makes for a great nature outing with the children.
The weather here has been unpredictable lately – with sweltering mornings turning very quickly into heavy showers and thunderstorms in a matter of minutes. This makes planning for an outing difficult and frustrating. Three weeks ago, however, I felt that I had had enough of waiting for the weather to improve and decided to check out a mysterious lake that I had read about on the internet.
I was feeling pretty disgusted with myself for not knowing that this lake is just a 33-minute drive away from home. Notwithstanding the fact that many residents who have lived here all their lives are unaware of the existence of this lake sitting in their backyard.
Better known as the Seri Alam Blue Lake, it is not a natural lake but an abandoned granite quarry – with the bluest water ever! While a lake with blue water may not seem a big deal, it is certainly not a common sight here. In fact, I’ve never come across a blue-coloured lake in Malaysia, let alone get to know that one has been practically outside my doorstep all along!
The trip was fraught with obstacles from the beginning. It started to rain heavily just as I was about to drive off. The downpour set me back by an hour but did not dampen my resolve to check out the lake that same evening.
Finding the lake was a bit of a challenge. There were no road signs to indicate that there was even a lake in that area! You would not expect to find a lake hidden behind a hill, with a university campus and a residential development project nearby. This quiet stretch of road transforms into a racing track in the evenings for Mat Rempit, the term used to describe local youths who race on their modified motorcycles at daredevil speeds with dangerous stunts thrown in.
Upon arriving, I was taken aback to see that metal barriers had been erected at the entrance to the car park, effectively sealing off access and rendering the Blue Lake off-limits to visitors.
I certainly had no intention of turning back without satisfying my curiosity about what was behind those barriers. We drove a little further down the road, trying to figure a way to circumvent the barrier. We spotted an opportunity where the barriers ended and joined up with the road railings. In the end, I decided to lie flat on the ground and wriggle my way under the railing to get to the other side.
We then made our way across the uneven, sandy slopes and continued uphill…
….until we spied what appeared to be a chasm in the distance.
On reaching the edge, I was greeted by a stunning blue-green body of water cradled by granite cliffs and green foliage. It felt unreal, overwhelming and sad to see this beautiful, quiet lake in such a forgotten state. I made my way carefully down a protruding rock to get a closer view of the blue water and its surrounds. The damp ground was narrow and slippery, allowing enough space for only one person at a time to take in the scenery. One false step would have meant a one-way ticket all the way down to the beautiful but toxic waters of the lake.
The fate of the lake looks uncertain. The water level appears to have dropped considerably, reducing the size of the lake and exposing the granite rock underneath. If left to the elements, it’s just a matter of time that the lake will dry up and disappear forever. With all the building and construction taking place in the surrounding area, I am hoping that the lake will be retained as another attraction within a recreation area in the vicinity. The worse thing that can happen is if all that water is drained out for land reclamation.
The Blue Lake is certainly a fetching sight. I am waiting for clear day to sneak back in to catch the sunset.
Last month, I packed my camera and headed for a Hindu temple downtown to see if I could get some street shots of Thaipusam. This sacred but colourful event is dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Murugan, youngest son of Shiva and Parvati. The word “Thaipusam” is derived from the month of Thai and the name of the star, Pusam. Thaipusam is not only celebrated in India and Sri Lanka but also in South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, which all have a large Tamil population.
Contrary to popular belief, Thaipusam is not about Lord Murugan’s birthday, but rather, a day to mark his gift of a spear from his mother, Parvati. It is believed that the Goddess Parvati presented her son with a spear to conquer the army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Thaipusam therefore celebrates victory of good over evil.
One aspect that makes Thaipusam so unique is the way that devotees pay penance to Lord Murugan. They do this by piercing their bodies with hooks, skewers and small lances called ‘vel’. Devotees pierce their tongues and cheeks to impede speech in order that they may devote all their concentration on Lord Murugan.
Why would anyone be willing to undergo such pain and torture, you may ask. Hindus take a vow for the main purpose of averting a great calamity. For example, a devotee may have a parent or child faced with a life-threatening sickness. The devotee prays to the deity, Murugan, to grant the family member a lease of life, in return for which the devotee will take a vow and dedicate a kavadi to the deity. A kavadi is a simple but heavy metal and wooden structure which devotees attach to their bodies and carry through the crowd. Some of the more massive ones hold long skewers, with the sharpened end designed to pierce the skin of the bearer’s torso.
About 50 days before Thaipusam, devotees begin preparations by cleansing themselves through prayer, fasting, abstinence and adhering to a strictly vegetarian diet. On the day itself, devotees engage in prayers with priests and enter into a trance-like state with incessant drumming and chanting, in preparation for piercing. Amazingly, the devotees who pierce their tongues, cheeks and faces with skewers hardly bleed and say they experience very little pain! Once they get into a trance, they enter a different world, pulling chariots and kavadis for long distances, with hooks embedded in their backs .
The most famous kavadi pilgrimage during Thaipusam takes place at the Batu Caves in Malaysia, attracting over a million people each year. Devotees, some in a trance and carrying the kavadi while being supported by family, friends and relatives, reach the 42.7-metre high statue of Lord Murugan at the Caves’ stairway entrance and climb 272 steps to reach the temple on the hill.
The following photos may be quite disturbing for some readers so I would advise you to stop reading beyond this point. As for me, I spent my growing years watching these sacred rituals so I am not squirmish about them. I have my mother and relatives to thank for that. Since young, I had to accompany them to Hindu and Chinese temples found deep inside the rubber and oil palm plantations where these rituals would take place. At that young age, I wasn’t really concerned about watching a devotee entering into a state of trance. It seemed very natural to me. Rather, I was worried that the devotee would bleed profusely. Generally, I hate the sight of blood, even until today! I would imagine the devotee dancing in the procession with blood running down both sides of his mouth. (Just like in the Western movies after the cowboy gets shot and is about to die in the arms of his best friend).
“Don’t worry,” my mother said. “There won’t be any blood.” She was right!
Two Saturdays ago, I joined about twenty other photography enthusiasts in Singapore for the Scott Kelby Photowalk 2016 at Pulau Ubin. This island lying north-east off the Lion City is considered to be Singapore’s last authentic rural village (kampong) and retains the simplicity of the bygone era of the 1960s.
Pulau Ubin’s wooden houses and jetties, colourful wildlife, old rubber plantations, abandoned quarries and mangroves and laid-back lifestyle give the visitor a glimpse of the “old” Singapore that existed before industrialisation and modernisation. With no access to the modern and efficient public utilities on mainland Singapore, the 100 plus or so residents in Ubin rely on wells for water and noisy diesel generators for electricity. They used to engage in traditional farming and fishing for subsistence, but now those activities have been greatly reduced. Due to the growing attention on going back to nature, many of the residents have switched to bicycle rental services, restaurants and the occasional provision shop to cater to the needs of mainland Singaporeans and tourists who throng the place during weekends and holidays.
Getting there entails a 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal in Singapore. Each bumboat will depart as soon as there are 12 passengers on board for a one-way fee of SGD3.00 per person. If you’d rather not wait for the bumboat to fill up, the boatman will gladly bring your group across for a flat fee of SGD36.00.
The best way to get around Ubin is by walking or cycling. It’s a place where you can stop holding on to your mobile phone, grab the handlebars of your bicycle instead and go on a cycling journey of discovery round the island with friends and family.
You can rent bikes from the many rental shops at the main village near the jetty. A wide variety of bicycles is available from mountain bikes to tandems and children’s bikes for a rental fee of between SGD5.00 – SGD15.00 per day, depending on the type of bike and number of gears. You are allowed to test out as many bicycles in the open area in the main town until you find one that you’re comfortable to ride on.
Pulau Ubin is home to one of Singapore’s mountain bike trails, Ketam Mountain Bike Park. This trail is approximately 8 kilometres long and features a wide range of terrain from open grassland to dense forests. There are numerous levels of gradients, well-marked with signs that indicate the difficulty level of each section.
I have been to Pulau Ubin several times in the past especially during those working years when I was tasked with organising company retreats and teambuilding activities in the island. Not much has changed since then. Ubin has so far resisted the lure of urban development and remains a rural, unkempt expanse of jungle. I did not rent a bike this time round, as I didn’t want to have the added weight of camera gear on my back while I struggled to pedal up and down the gravel paths. I can say from experience that some of those cycling trails are really challenging. I still remember having to get down from the bike and pushing it uphill when traversing some of the steeper sections. At other times when I had to lead a group, I would stop for a quick rest on the pretext of admiring the view!
The island is home to lots of birds, insects, monitor lizards, monkeys and wild boars.
Ubin’s main tourist attraction is Chek Jawa, that used to be a coral reef 5000 years ago. You can stroll on the boardwalk to explore this six-in-one ecosystem that boasts of mangroves, beaches, coastal forests, sand flats, mud flats and coral rubble.
Before boarding the bumboat back to mainland Singapore, I ordered a coconut drink and sipped it under the shade of a huge umbrella in Ubin’s main town. Be forewarned, though, that food and drinks prices in Ubin are higher than in mainland Singapore!
Sitting on the south-western edge of Johor is the small fishing town of Kukup that’s built on stilts. An entire community, comprising mostly Chinese fishermen, live behind the row of shophouses fronting the main road that ends at the town’s ferry terminal.
Kukup is known for its fresh seafood, kelongs (fish farms) and houses built above the water. The houses are connected by a series of concrete walkways above the muddy mangrove shoreline. All services that support a community are also be found here – schools, temples, shops and restaurants.
When strolling down the narrow walkway, it is easy to forget that you are actually walking along a “main” road for motorcycles and bicycles. In Kukup, everyone seems to know how to ride a motorcycle or scooter. Not only the men, but also the women and even children as young as 12 years old! They seem to enjoy riding fast, sounding their horns at any pedestrian that blocks their path.
While we were sitting under the shade in someone’s compound and waiting for the sun to set, a middle-aged lady on a motorcycle sped right in front of us and made a sudden turn to the left without slowing down. She lost control and fell off the bike, stopping short of rolling over the side and into the mud below. We rushed to help her, together with four or five other villagers who seemed to appear from no where! After she was back on her feet, she dusted herself, got on the motorbike and sped off, without so much as an acknowledgement or “thank-you” to those who had come to her aid! Maybe living in a close-knit community like Kukup means never having to say thank-you!
The ferry terminal found here links Kukup to Tanjung Balai in the Riau island of Indonesia. It departs every hour and the journey takes an hour and forty-five minutes.
There are many floating fish farms (kelongs) in the channel between Kukup and Kukup Island National Park. For a mere USD1.25, visitors can take a boat ride to these kelongs to geta closer look at the sea critters being reared here.
The shops at Kukup specialise in selling dried fish products like keropok (crackers) and belacan (shrimp paste). The restaurants nearest to the main road are the biggest and busiest, serving a full range of fresh seafood at reasonable prices. My favourite dishes are crabs in salted egg yolk, buttered prawns and deep-fried baby octopus served with piping hot rice.
Over the years, the number of tourists to this town has increased. Some enterprising owners have seized this opportunity to convert their stilt homes into resorts, chalets and homestays. So finding a place to stay for one or two nights in Kukup is a piece of cake if you’re game for the experience of living like the locals and watching the sunset from the kitchen or backyard!
Some time in the first week of August, I was invited by three of my friends to watch Singapore’s pre-National Day Fireworks Display at 8:00pm that evening. Not wanting to get caught in the traffic jam across the Johor-Singapore Causeway Link, we set off for Singapore at 10.30am. Although it happened to be a Saturday, there was strangely not much traffic and we managed to breeze across the Causeway in record time! Since we had plenty of time on our hands we decided to explore some of Singapore’s nearby attractions in the northern part of this small but vibrant city. The Singapore Zoo? I’ve been there countless of times especially during my children’s growing up years. We were Friends of the Zoo then! River Safari? Not under the scorching heat of the noonday sun. Singapore Orchid Garden? Nice place but spending five hours there? Not really! Besides, one of my friends has a phobia of flying insects – butterflies, in particular.
Finally, we settled for Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. I am ashamed to admit that I had never made any real effort to visit this Wetland Reserve during my many years of working in Singapore.
It turned out to be a walkabout that I enjoyed immensely because it was fun to return to nature, away from the fast pace and towering buildings of digitally-connected Singapore. This Wetland Reserve showcased a rare and unique side of Singapore that I never knew existed.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is Singapore’s last surviving “wild” place. Here, you will find 202 hectares of mangroves, mudflats, ponds together with lush walking trails, boardwalks, bird-viewing huts and lookouts. This Wetland Reserve has been designated an ASEAN Heritage Park for its rich biodiversity. This secondary rainforest is ideal for watching migratory birds as they brave the long journey from Siberia to Australia during winter.
The Reserve is also a good spot to catch a view of monitor lizards, mudskippers, tree-climbing crabs, mud lobsters, snails and spiders. Many species are shy and observation hides are available where you can observe the flora and fauna undisturbed.
Believe it or not Sungei Buloh is also the only place in Singapore where you can catch sight of estuarine crocodiles, and I was lucky enough to spot one on that day!
All too soon, the hours flew by and it was time to make our way to the East Coast for the fireworks display.
There are still many parts of the Reserve that I did not have time to visit. If you happen to be a nature lover, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve should be at the top of your to-do list in Singapore. It is open from 7am to 7pm daily and admission to the reserve is free. The Visitors’ Centre has educational exhibits, an audio-visual show, a cafe, vending machines, clean toilets and lockers. It links to the Coastal Trail (1.3km), Forest Trail (300 metres) and Mid-Canopy Walk (150 metres). The 1.3km Coastal Trail links to the Wetland Centre, where the Migratory Bird Trail (1.95km) and Mangrove Boardwalk (500 metres) are found. Several observation pods can be found along the trails, most notable being the Aerie Tower with views of Malaysia.
Three weeks ago, J and I made a trip to a town called Kota Tinggi to hand a pair of customised 2017 desk calendars to a food stall operator. This friendly old man had sportingly agreed to pose for some portrait shots during our last trip there. Needless to say, he was thrilled to see his photo on print and started to show the calendar to his customers.
After a quick meal of char siew and chicken rice at his stall (incidentally our drinks were complimentary), we proceeded to drive around a bit to explore the surrounding area. There was really not much to see along the trunk road except rows and rows of oil palm trees. By and by, we came to a handwritten sign pointing in the direction of a rumah rakit (raft house). We hesitated. Checking out the place meant doing a 7-kilometre drive inside a vast oil palm estate. Deep, dark, deserted – pretty scary, on the whole. After some deliberation, however, we decided to venture into the plantation. After all, no pain no gain, right?
There were some pretty anxious moments as the car made its way deeper into the thick, undulating forest. As the minutes ticked by, we became increasingly doubtful about where the road was leading us. The whole place was so remote that internet reception became erratic. The quiet, winding road seemed never-ending and we began to wonder if the sign seen earlier was out-of-date. To make matters worse, the petrol gauge showed that we were down to one bar. Earlier on, we had stopped by the only petrol kiosk at Teluk Sengat to fill up but guess what? All petrol had been sold out! A local resident told us that the next available kiosk could only be found on the opposite side, requiring a 26-minute drive to get there. As we couldn’t be sure about getting to top up even in the next town, we decided to continue exploring with the optimistic hope that there would be sufficient petrol to last until we reached home.
We drove uphill along the meandering road until we came to a slope cutting through an expressway tunnel. We found ourselves inside another oil palm estate but on the opposite side of the highway. I began to understand the actual meaning of the phrase, ‘So near and yet so far‘. Civilisation was right in front of us but the car could not get across as there was a shallow ditch and fence separating the estate road and the highway. By then it was already too late to turn back. We pressed further up until we were about to reach the highest point of the hinterland.
It was during that moment of approach when the Johor Bridge revealed itself, rising out from the lush green valley and river below. Woo hoo! 🙂 🙂
Did we make it to the raft houses on the river? Yes, we did, walking around the jetty area before hurrying back up to our newly-discovered spot to catch a glimpse of the sunset.
It would have been ideal to get a shot of the sun going down behind the bridge but that didn’t happen. From where we were standing, the bridge was a few degrees off from the sun.
All in all, it was a successful day trip. Who would have known that such a pretty view can be found within the deep recesses of a dull oil palm plantation? And now that I know that the sign did not lie after all, I hope to visit Kampung Tanjung Buai again and spend a night in a raft house.
In one of my earlier posts, “A Twist in Sungai Rengit”, I related how I sprained my ankle when I unwittingly stepped into a big crack on the concrete walkway. It was just punishment for not paying enough attention to where I was walking and ignoring an off-limits sign! What I did not mention was that after the incident I did not go home immediately, thinking I was suffering more from shock than anything else and that my leg would recover if I just allowed it to rest until we got to our next destination.
So we drove to another town called Teluk Sengat and stopped at a sloping rocky outcrop overlooking the sea. To the left, we could see a long jetty and J suggested that we make our way there to check out the view. By that time, however, the pain had become downright unbearable so to cut a long story short, we decided to leave the place and come back again when my leg was much better.
Fast forward two years later…we made our way again to Teluk Sengat in the hope of catching the sunset.
Teluk Sengat is a quiet seaside town on the bank of the Johor River. You know you’ve arrived when you see the long jetty, as well as a row of open seafood eateries along the river bank. It’s a nice place to dig into an array of tasty seafood offerings while watching the sky change colour. The abundance of marine life here makes it a popular fishing spot, giving rise to a number of raft houses (rumah rakit) where fish, shellfish and crustaceans are bred.
From the jetty at Teluk Sengat, you can see the Johor River Bridge in the distance. This 1.7km bridge is the the longest single plane cable-stayed bridge in Malaysia connecting Kong Kong Village in the west to Teluk Sengat in the east. It pales in comparison with the other bridges around the world but nevertheless, it makes for quite a pretty sight at night-time when the bridge is lit.
Sadly, the appearance of heavy clouds that day dashed any hopes of capturing a brilliant sunset. We could have stayed back and waited for the Johor River Bridge light-up, but that would have meant driving on a rural road with little or no street lighting for most of the journey home.
Oh well…guess I will have to make another trip to Teluk Sengat. Who knows? I might be third time lucky!
While cruising along the east coast of Malaysia I came across this beautiful 3-kilometre stretch of beach, hidden away from the main road. Naturally, I had to stop to have a closer look. The tide was low and I managed to walk quite a distance out to sea. It was a good day to catch a glimpse of some of the surrounding islands in the vicinity. I did wonder if the water was shallow enough to get to the nearest island but didn’t attempt as there was nobody nearby to call in case I needed help!
If you would like to get away for a day from the hustle and bustle of city life, then Tanjung Balau is a good place to visit. Just an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive away from the city centre, this rather laid-back village on the east coast has a nice beach for swimming, fishing and relaxation. Established more than a hundred years ago by fishermen from the north-eastern Malayan states of Kelantan and Trengganu, Tanjung Balau is the oldest fishing village in Johor, Malaysia.
For those who are keen to know a thing or two about the livelihood of traditional fishermen and its historic legacy, there is a Fishermen’s Museum right by the beach. Artefacts on exhibit include fishing nets and tackles, and traditional tools used to fish. Visitors also get treated to a dose of local seafaring superstitions and techniques to determine a good catch.
The entire seascape at Tanjung Balau is especially beautiful during low tide as this is when the hidden marine life are revealed. There are lots of seashells in various shapes and sizes, small fish trapped in shallow pools of water between rocks and sandbars, and tiny crabs skittering across the sand, then disappearing just as quickly into unseen holes.
However, the most unique feature about Tanjung Balau are the wind-stressed rock formations seen only during low tide. The rocks are believed to be from the Permo-Carboniferous age, which is more ancient than those of the Permian period that began 275 million years ago!
It is possible to have a closer look at these prehistoric formations if you take the cement walkway that extends out to sea, circling round a little bay on another side of the promontory, before crossing a small bridge that joins up with the mainland. A number of shelters have been built along the walkway to allow visitors to take in the lapping waves against the rocky surrounds.
Wild monkeys are a common sight in Tanjung Balau. The family of monkeys living inside the forest next to the car park are rather mischievous. When they see a car approaching the parking area, they start chattering among themselves, as if deciding as to whose turn it is to prank the car driver. By and by, one of them walks to the middle of the road and lies down, pretending to be dead. This forces the oncoming car to stop. The “dead” monkey then gets up and starts to usher the rest across the road. The other monkeys take their time to cross, running back and forth before finally disappearing into the bushes. Usually, I would get out of the car and start taking photos. However, after my last experience in Chiangrai, Thailand, I decided to give this one a miss!
There are toilets, shower rooms as well as a food court for day trippers. However, I wouldn’t bet too much on getting a meal and drink at the food court. I thought a glass of iced coffee would be a good way to cool down and keep awake during the ride home. As it turned out, only one drinks kiosk was open and there was no one manning the place. I made my way into the kitchen, placed my order, then went outside and waited…and waited…and waited for ten minutes! There was no sound or activity from the kitchen! That was when I concluded that the residents at Tanjung Balau must be earning such a good income from fishing that they are not interested in any other trade to supplement their income!
I left Tanjung Balau without coffee.
For those who wish to stay overnight, there are chalets nearby as well as tents for camping on the beach. Just remember to bring along your drinking bottle and fishing rod!
Puteri (Princess) Waterfalls sits on the lower slopes of Gunung Ledang (Mount Ledang also known as Mount Ophir), between the borders of Malacca and Johor in Malaysia. Rising from a lofty height of 1276 metres, Gunung Ledang is the highest mountain in Johor, rich in diverse flora in a lush tropical rainforest.
The mountain is popular with amateur climbers as there is a trail leading straight to the summit. This, however, does not mean that the hike up is easy. Some parts are steep and slippery, requiring ropes to negotiate the rocky outcrops. A climber also needs to be fit as it takes about 6 hours of energetic hiking to reach the summit. Accidents have occurred in the past, some fatal, and it is now compulsory for climbers to be accompanied by local guides.
Gunung Ledang is considered a sacred mountain, steeped in myth and legend. There are stories of gold deposits in the mountain, and the Puteri Gunung Ledang (Princess of Mount Ledang) that lives on the summit.
During the reign of Malacca’s Sultan Mahmud Shah in the 15th Century, it was believed that a beautiful fairy princess lived on top of Mount Ledang. News of her beauty reached the Sultan’s ears and he was eager to make her his wife.
The Sultan sent two of his most experienced and trusted aids, Hang Tuah and Tun Mamat, to go up Mount Ledang to propose to the Princess. The climb was paved with many obstacles and in the end, only Tun Mamat managed to make it to the top. Upon reaching the summit, he did not meet the Princess of Mount Ledang, but was instead greeted by an old woman (believed to be the Princess of Mount Ledang in disguise) who claimed to be the guardian of the Princess. She outlined seven conditions that the Sultan needed to fulfil before the Princess would accept the Sultan’s marriage proposal:-
A bridge made of pure gold from Mount Ledang to Malacca A bridge of pure silver for her to return from Malacca to Mount Ledang Seven jars of tears from virgin girls for her bath Seven jars of young beetle nut juice (young betel nuts do not have juice) Seven trays with hearts of germs, Seven trays with hearts of mosquitoes, and A bowl of blood from the Sultan’s son
Some versions of the legend say that the Sultan was not able to fulfill any of these conditions, while others say that he was able to fulfill the first six requests but not the last one which would have required him to kill his son. Yet another version says that the Sultan attempted to kill his sleeping son, but just as he lifted the dagger, the Princess appeared before him and told him that she could not possibly marry a man who was willing to murder his own son.
The point of the story is that the Sultan was simply too egoistic and blind to realise that the impossible conditions set were merely a tactful and polite way of rejecting his marriage proposal.
Today Gunung Ledang is a place for relaxation, swimming, camping and mountain hiking.
This post is not about my hike up the mountain and meeting the Princess. I would rather not meet her face-to-face. There are stories of unnatural deaths befalling those who claim to have seen the Princess. Furthermore, I am not fit enough to be able to embark on 6 hours of energetic hiking! I would probably take 8 to 9 hours to reach the top, requiring me to spend a night on the mountain!
Instead, I headed for Puteri Waterfalls at the foothills of Gunung Ledang.
My 800-metre hike to the waterfalls started from the car park at Puteri Waterfalls Resort. There is ample car park space at USD0.50 per vehicle and an entrance fee of USD0.75 per adult.
There are a number of sections along the path leading to the Falls that accommodates the kind of activity that suits you. At the start of the hiking point, the walkway is cemented and the surrounding area sandy and open. This section is popular among the locals for picnics, with the water being shallow enough for children to splash in.
Further inwards, the cement path gives way to a stone path. Huge rocks and boulders are everywhere, adding to the beauty and serenity of the forest. A camp site is available for nature lovers who wish to take in the natural sights and sounds of the surroundings. There is an alternative dirt trail to the waterfalls for those who wish to get off the beaten track and experience the thrill of adventure.
While making my way along the deserted track, the therapeutic sounds from the forest were rudely interrupted by a disturbance coming from the bushes. I stopped short on my tracks and looked around, expecting a snake or wild animal to make its appearance. From nowhere, a huge monitor lizard, the size of a small alligator, sauntered in front of me, and disappearing as quickly to the other side of the path. It had come to depend on the litter bin for its food supply, scavenging and scattering rubbish all over the ground.
The hike became more and more energy-draining as I made my way along the slopes of Gunung Ledang. My only consolation was that with every step, the sound of gushing water became louder – a clear sign that I was getting nearer to the waterfalls.
Finally, the thick bushes opened up to a clearing and I was overjoyed to see a curtain of white water tumbling over the rocks. A stairway leading to the top of the waterfall had been carved out of stone on one side, providing an uninterrupted view of the powerful rapids as they made their descent across the slope to the ground below.
I spent quite some time on the steps just watching the water coming down like a never-ending water bucket! It was also an excuse for me to take a short rest before mustering enough energy for the long climb up find out what lay beyond the staircase.
At the top, I was slightly disappointed not to find a plunge pool, but yet another trail leading into the shadowy recesses of the forest. Throughout the entire hike, I had not come across a single soul headed in the same direction. I was getting a little concerned that I had made a wrong turning and was unknowingly on my way to pay homage to the Princess on the summit! The track descended round a bend so I decided to check out where it would lead.
I made my way along the trail across some boulders and rocks. About 30 metres in, the undergrowth opened up to reveal another waterfall – this one bigger and more impressive than the earlier one. I had come upon the second tier of Puteri Waterfalls!
This tier of Puteri Waterfalls marks the end of the paved track and the start of where the real climbing begins. It’s best not to venture beyond this point if you are unfamiliar with the topography of the mountain. As I stated earlier, Gunung Ledang is a spiritual mountain and it is not advisable to go up alone. If you must go, be sure that you are accompanied by a local guide.
Mention the word ‘koala’ to me and the first image that comes to mind is a cute, furry grey animal with a white stomach and no tail, found in souvenir shops, wildlife magazines and at best, in an Aussie zoo! Yes, I’ve caught glimpses of koalas in the wild. However, those sightings were not only rare, but difficult to spot as koalas usually sit high up in eucalyptus branches.
Driver: Look, there’s one up there!
Me: Where? Where?
Driver: See the big tree in the middle? (Duh???) She’s right there.
Me: I see only lots of trees. Where?
Driver: It’s a bit dark but you can still see her. Up there. Look, she’s moving now.
Me: Where? Where?
Everyone else: Yes, there she is! Aww! That’s so cute!
Me: Where? Where?
Driver: That’s all, folks. The koala’s gone!
I had never really seen a koala in its natural habitat until I visited the Koala Conservation Centre in Phillip Island. The Centre plays host to a special koala breeding programme, ensuring it remains a key player in the conservation of these iconic animals.
The unique treetop boardwalks in a eucalypt woodland area gives visitors the chance to see how these amazing creatures live as they would in the wild. Even while strolling, two or three koalas could be seen relaxing in the trees directly above me.
It was super exciting to see them face-to-face. Never in my life had I come this close to a koala. This fella was like on a branch five feet away from me and I could literally touch him if I leaned forward and stretched out my hand.
I was half expecting the koala to move away but instead, he moved even nearer towards me, bringing the both of us to eye level by his sheer weight on the branch. We just stared at each other for around a minute, waiting to see the other’s next move. It was perfect timing for a photograph (or selfie) but I didn’t want to scare him off with a lens in front of my face. That was a very special moment for me and one which I will never forget.
Certain stretches of the wooden boardwalk have more koala poo than others, indicating that koalas have their favourite spots to hang out. When walking along this part of the bridge, you need to be on your toes (pardon the pun) to avoid stepping on koala poo and keep looking upwards occasionally to make sure that no koala does its toilet business on you!
I have to admit that I’ve never ever seen a koala walk on the ground before! It was specially thrilling to see this cute fella casually climbing down the tree trunk and sitting on a log for a quick rest…
…before making his way under the boardwalk where I was standing. He appeared on the other side and proceeded to climb up another tree! How I wished I had videotaped the scene but I was so excited to see the koala on the ground that I couldn’t think straight!
Kennett River situated along the coastal bushland between Lorne and Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild. This area is home to hundreds of colonies that live in both the forests and more urbanised areas. You are practically guaranteed close koala sightings if you drive up the Grey River Road. Here, they can be found in trees surrounding the houses, in peoples’ gardens, relaxing on someone’s balcony and occasionally crossing the road!
Hearing this catchy tune on the way back to Melbourne, “Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear‘ by Don Spencer, sealed the end of a thoroughly enjoyable day with the koalas!
Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear
I’m a koala not a bear
And I don’t think it’s fair The way that people always add a word that isn’t there I’m a marsupial and proud of it And there can be no doubt of it I’m closer to a kangaroo than I am to a bear
So please don’t call me a koala bear Coz I’m not a bear at all Please don’t call me a koala bear It’s driving me up the wall If your name was Tom And everyone called you Dick Perhaps you’d understand why I’m sick, sick, sick I’m simply a koala And I want the name to stick
So please don’t call me a koala bear
I live here in Australia In a eucalyptus tree I’m as cuddly, cute and charming as an animal can be I don’t understand fair dinkum How anyone could think them Grizzly bears and polar bears Are anything like me
So please dont call me a koala bear Coz I’m not a bear at all Please don’t call me a koala bear It’s driving me up the wall If your name was Tom And everyone called you Dick Perhaps you’d understand why I’m sick, sick, sick I’m simply a koala And I want the name to stick
Darwin has come a long way from a laid-back frontier town to a modern city. She is arguably Australia’s most cosmopolitan city, boasting a population made up of people from more than 60 nationalities and 70 different ethnic backgrounds. Darwin’s multicultural mix is evident by its many exciting ethnic cultural festivals and weekly food and craft markets. Interestingly, Darwin has a youthful population with an average age of 33 years!
Darwin city living is characterised by wide streets, shady parks, a pedestrian mall, authentic ethnic restaurants, contemporary and outback-style pubs, clubs, galleries and museums. Its facilities and amenities are at least equal to, and often better than, what you’ll find in Australia’s southern cities.
At its heart is the Smith Street, a pedestrian-only shopping mall between Knuckey Street and Bennett Street. There are more than 200 specialty shops lining this Mall where you can find Aboriginal art and crafts, jewellery, tropical clothing and souvenirs. Two large supermarkets can also be found here – Coles and Woolworths.
The main entertainment district is Mitchell Street, with its cinemas, sidewalk cafes, open air bars, specialty restaurants, fast food joints, 5-star hotels and quaint Irish, English and Aussie pubs. A good number of budget accommodation catered towards backpackers are also found here. Overall, Mitchell Street has something to offer for groups, families or singles.
A short stroll from the Darwin CBD is the Darwin Waterfront Precinct. It’s family-style entertainment area with its seaside promenades, parklands, landscaped gardens, retail outlets, hotels and alfresco dining is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Darwin Waterfront’s unique appeal has something for everyone. There’s boardwalk dining overlooking the harbour where multicultural menus include Australian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, French, Greek, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Mexican and Indian influenced cuisine. It is reachable from the central business district via the Esplanade or an elevated walkway.
The Darwin Waterfront Precinct is home to Northern Territory’s only Wave Lagoon. Offering safe year-round swimming for the entire family, the Wave Lagoon is open daily and is a great spot to cool off, relax or ride a wave. The size of the Wave Lagoon is over 4000 square metres with depths varying from 2m at the deepest point. The lagoon creates ten different wave patterns with the highest wave reaching 1.7 metres. Admission charges are AUD$7.00 for an adult and AUD18.000 for a family 2 adults and 3 children.
At the opposite end of Darwin’s Business District and a stone’s throw away from Mindil Beach is the George Brown Botanic Gardens. Built in 1886, the Botanic Gardens offers a wide range of environments in the form of monsoon forests, coastal dunes, mangroves and open woodlands. It showcases a host of Top End flora, including 450 species of palms and plantings from Tiwi Island and Arnhem Land. This historic place is one of the world’s few botanic gardens with marine and estuarine plants occurring naturally in its grounds. This is the place for plants and flowers enthusiasts!
I spent about 1.5 hours in the Botanic Gardens until it was time for me to make my way to Mindil Beach. At the entrance before crossing the little bridge, I looked up at the trees for any last-minute shots and couldn’t believe my eyes. Just above my head, resting in the shadows of a tree branch was a python! Was I thrilled! As no one else was around, I had the snake all to myself, clicking away with my camera and cursing the lack of sufficient light.
And then, when I was drafting this post, Google Search results showed up about a fake snake in George Brown Botanic Gardens. Oh no! This couldn’t be my snake!
I compared my photo with the snake in the article. As you can see, there is no similarity whatsoever! Made my day!
I made my way to Mindil Beach Sunset Markets which was crowded with people. The weekend’s festivities had already started much earlier with the 42nd Darwin Beer Can Regatta in full swing by the time I got there.
The Darwin Beer Can Regatta is a festival held annually since 1974 at Darwin’s Mindil Beach. Participants show off their creativity by building boats using empty beer cans, soda cans, soft drink bottles and milk cartons. The can boats are not tested prior to water events, and those that fall apart in the water become part of the fun and entertainment.
Mindil Beach’s Sunset Markets have up to 60 food stalls offering cuisine from all over the world – Turkey, Greece, Sri Lanka, South America, North Africa, India and all over South East Asia. In addition, the stalls sell Aboriginal arts and crafts and jewellery. There is a host of other activities like buskers, masseurs, tarot readers, leather tailors, jewellers, artists and magicians to add to the hustle, bustle and fun-filled atmosphere.
With its easy and relaxed charm, stress-free environment, little traffic and a small population, everyday is a holiday in Darwin – even if a lifelike python is thrown in front of the visitor to add to the excitement. It’s a good thing that I didn’t have to pay any entrance fees to get into the Botanic Gardens. Otherwise, I would have felt cheated that the snake wasn’t real!
In mid-November last year, it became apparent that we would have to send our help back to her home country, as she was unable to obtain a working visa to remain with us. Being all too-aware that I would have to spend more time at home after her departure, I made plans with my friend, J, to go to Sungai Rengit for one last photo walk before the end of the year.
Sungai Rengit is essentially a collection of fishing villages on the south-eastern tip of Johor, Malaysia. This quiet, laid-back town is well-known for its seafood, especially lobsters. No wonder it is nicknamed Lobster Town!
After an hour-and-a-half on the road, we arrived at Sungai Rengit town. We decided to eat at the nearest food stall to get lunch out of the way. The place we picked was located right next to the beach. It was nice to eat under a breezy attap roof with the sand under our feet, while enjoying an uninterrupted view of the seaside and fishing boats.
After sharing some of my food with the resident cat, we went to check out the beach and surrounding neighbourhood.
We decided to drive further in to see what else Sungai Rengit had to offer. By and by, we came to a big seafood restaurant. However, it wasn’t the thought of tucking into a generous serving of delicious lobsters that caught our attention. We had spotted a walkway extending out to sea just behind the building.
We drove up to the walkway. It turned out to be a concrete path curving out into the sea and disappearing behind some rocks. However, our joy was short-lived when we saw a barrier with the sign: VISITORS ARE NOT ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT. The walkway appeared to be in good condition. The tide was low, exposing the rocks that formed the base of the path. No danger of strong waves sweeping us away. So we ignored the sign and made our way across the concrete walkway to see what was on the other side.
As we came to the end, I began to understand why the sign had been put up. The daily beating of waves had undermined the rocky base, causing a huge crack to develop right across the concrete path. I could see the rocks, broken steel and sea water underneath where I was standing.I carefully stepped across the uneven cracked surface and made my way towards the end. The dull, grey landscape in front of me was really nothing to shout about, but to my right and hidden from the general public, were huge rocks covering the shoreline, making this an ideal ground for lobsters to thrive.
After taking a few photos, I started to make my way back towards the restaurant, while viewing the pictures I had just taken.
Then, the unexpected, the untimely, the inevitable happened! I had forgotten about the crack across the path. I missed a step and twisted my left ankle in an effort to keep my balance!
I was more in shock rather than in pain. With J’s help, I even managed to reach the car with only a slight limp. However, as the minutes and hours went by, my leg became red and swollen, and the pain got worse and worse. By the time I reached home three hours later, I was almost crawling into the house! In retrospect, I was very lucky that my foot didn’t get in between the crack. The situation could have been a lot more severe!
I didn’t tell my family what had happened. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of having my leg treated by a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practitioner, commonly known as a singseh. However, you can’t keep a sprained ankle under wraps for long and when my husband found out, he chided me for not going to see a “singseh” immediately, citing that the longer I delayed, the longer it would take to heal.
I said something about being skeptical about the singseh’s method of treatment, preferring to allow time for the ankle to heal on its own.
My protests at self-healing went unheeded. My husband immediately made some phone calls calls to find out if anyone could recommend a good singseh. Just when the general consensus pointed to an old singseh who had treated me some decades ago for the same injury, I received happy news!
One of my husband’s friends told him that nowadays, Western-trained doctors are as good as singsehs in treating sprains. It is no longer a ‘must’ anymore to visit a singseh for my ankle. Awesome!
So first thing the next day, I visited an orthopaedic and trauma clinic. Cost me about six times more than what I would have paid the singseh, but I didn’t mind. Anything is better than having the singseh massaging my swollen ankle, applying extra pressure on the swollen parts and gathering his inner chi to push my injured foot back to its correct position with a piercing “Eeee“!
So, while making sure my ankle is well-rested and taking on the housework, you now know why I haven’t posted anything for some time!