Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Phuket 6 - 9 October 2006

Hotel: Holiday Inn, Phuket

My first trip to Phuket was full of anticipation.  It wasn't my first choice because I'm basically not a "sun, sand, sea" person.  I prefer aircon.  But because most of my colleagues chose it, I don't have a choice but to go with the flow.  We took Silkair which didn't take too long from Singapore.  The hotel was fantastic.  We had a room that facing patong beach and what's more, everything in the mini bar is for free!  They even top it up twice a day :)

As you can see, the room is spacious and comfortable.  I heard that this is newly renovated after the tsunami destroyed this part of the hotel.  Our balcony faces the pool and beach.  Not bad for a view.
As part of our 'must-go' places in our itinerary, we took a ferry to Phi Phi island.  Actually, it was 2 ferry and 1 boat.  The ferry brings us to the middle of no where to move into a medium sized ferry who then bring us to another place to transfer into a wooden boat.
Beautiful scenery and clear blue water greeted us during the journey.
We had to pass by Phi Phi Leh in order to get to Phi Phi Don (where most scuba divers would go).  All the while, I thought Phi Phi island was just....well, Phi Phi Island.  Didn't know there's a Leh and a Don but since the guide says so, we took his word for it.
That's the small wooden boat that brought us to the island.  It'll be good to wear your swimsuit underneath your t-shirt and shorts because the boat does not go all the way to the shore, it stops somewhere near.  So when we jump into the water to walk to the shore, the water was somewhere at our waist level.  It was a good experience though....coz for the first time, I could see my feet at waist leveled water!!
While the rest of my gang went for scuba diving, some of us who remained on land started wandering around.  We didn't wander too far off because there wasn't much to wander.  The island is tiny.  Saw this cute little shop with a bird nest on top.
Saw some really cute crabs while walking along the beach enjoying the heat and the breeze!
Our way back was basically the same.  We had to take 3 different transport.  When we land, I can't help but notice a Princess Leah wannabee (think starwars).  He used a piece of towel to make the 2 "donuts".  Quite an entertaining sight.
For dinner, we ate in Baan Rim Pa.  The food was expensive but good!  We had lobsters, crabs, 4 bottle (or was it 6 of red wine), fish, prawns, satay, pineapple rice and many more.  Our total bill came up to 21,000+ baht.  We must have been really hungry.  I was impressed with these old musicians.  The guy on piano was actually playing the piano with his hands and tambourine with his legs all at the same time.  The alto-saxaphonist was cool too!
This was our feast...lol
That's the hotel lobby at the top and views from my balcony at the bottom.  Not bad right?
We ended the trip with some last minute shopping around our hotel...and not forgetting some "roadside snacks".

Clearer low-res pictures here

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Manila (Philippines) 15 Jul - 18 Jul 2006

Hotel: The Malayan Plaza, Ortigas

Booked this hotel from www.booking.com.  There were 4 of us for the trip (not counting those friends who were already in Manila).  Got 2 one-bedroom apartment.  Not too bad except that my roomie freaked out on our first night as we saw one roach running around the apartment.  We had to get the guys to come and get rid of it.

The highlight of the trip was the Tagaytay trip.  It was a super long drive out of metro Manila but the trip was well worth it.  The view was spectacular.
Upon reaching Tagaytay, my friend brought us to a place where we can take a motor boat to Taal volcano.   When we reach the foot of the volcano, we were given the choice to either walk up or take a horse.  We decided to go with the horse option because we didn't want to spend time walking up and down again.  It cost us PHP1,800 (after bargaining) per horse.  It was sad to see that all the riders are kids.  We, of course, didn't hesitate to tip the kids upon knowing that they only got PHP80-100 per ride.  That's very little compared to the PHP1,800 we paid for the ride.
The ride up to the crater was fun.  My rider actually got down on a less steep slope and let me ride the horse on my own.  At some stages, my horse did gallop. If you are a greenery person, you would enjoy the scene up.  There's nothing but greens.
The view from the top of the crater lake (also known as Taal lake) was awesome!  The water look abit still though.
We were busy cam whoring while our riders and our horses took a rest.  We even bought them soft drinks.  Yupz, soft drinks are sold at the top.
Smoke coming up from the slopes.  Do note that this is NOT an extinct volcano.  It's dormant (last erupted in 1977).  Total amount of lives it took over the last few eruptions stands at 5,000-6,000.
We took the chance to snap a few more shots.
Time to get back to land.  Manage to steal a few shots of the sunset.
Was still able to steal more shots of the sunset while on the boat back to land.
We were treated with yummy authentic Filipino cuisine while still at Tagaytay (before heading back to metro Manila).  It was a feast.  The driver didn't want to join us initially as he prefers to sit by himself.  But we forced him to.  Well, we come together, we eat together and we go back together.
I have never had McSpaghetti so naturally, I got to try.  Didn't like the spag too much as it's too dry for my taste.  Comes with a piece of fried chicken.
The last day has arrived and we took a cab to Clark Airport.  This will be the first and the last time we fly into Clark coz it's just too far from town.  When we arrived, we took their public bus but the journey was too long.  I love to eat in the airport...any airport so I didn't hesitate to buy a cup of instant noodles.

The entire trip was tiring as per the rest of my other trips.  But it was fulfilling as I get to get on a volcano!!!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mandalay (Myanmar) 4 Feb - 10 Feb 2006

Hotel: Pacific Hotel

Upon leaving Yangon, we hop onto Mandalay air and scoot off to...well...Mandalay.  This is actually the first time I sat on a plane with propellers still functioning well.  As I sat very near the wings, the noise and vibration was almost driving me nuts!  Nope, its nothing like those Osim massage chair. 
Upon arrival at the Mandalay airport, we were greeted by our translator and the mini van which will also be our transport for the next few days. Alright, I have to agree that we were rather impressed with the fully aircon airport.  I mean, compared to the Yangon one...this is definitely better. 
Beautiful sunset greeted us on our way to the hotel.   As none of us (other than the driver and our translator) has been to Mandalay, everything we saw was an eye opener.  We also realised that both Yangon and Mandalay are so different!!
Didn't quite like the rooms we were booked into and the sheets didn't look too clean.  The bed is really hard too.  The room is one of the dimmest I have ever come across in my entire history of hotel stay.  I mean, even the cheapest I have stayed in isn't this dim.  We, of course, requested to be changed to another block which, surprisingly, is very very different.  Instead of carpeted floor.  The other room has tiled floor.  But of quieter (not many people were housed in that block), rooms are bigger and definitely alot brighter.  Sorry, I forgot to take picture of that room we moved into.
The church we were attached to in Mandalay was Paradise Mission Center.  They have their own Bible School.  It was their 8 yrs anniversary and I would say it was a total honor to be there.  More importantly, the long-gyi I bought from aung san bogyoke market (Yangon) came into good use!  I can be part of those girls representing the bamar tribe (although I always tell that locals that I suspect I'm from the chin tribe...lol.  Well, I did manage to learn one chin song)!  Yeah!!  The 8 major tribes of Myanmar was represented on the stage (not in order of the pics): kachin, kayah, karen, chin, bamar, mon, rakhine and shan.  After the event, our host wanted to bring us out for dinner.  We, naturally, requested for local food in a store that a local would go.  I love the nga-pya sauce (fish sauce) to the max so much so that I started dipping everything in it! 
Seminar day begins with praise and worship.  Check out the cool guitarist and bassist!!  The guy on the keyboard (he has a very difficult to pronounce name so I cant really remember his name) is the Youth Pastor.  His multi-purpose keyboard is actually the drums, the violin, the saxaphone...etc.  All these sounds were performed when he was still playing the P&W songs!  He just amazes me so much!
After praise and worship, we were broken into different groups and seminars goes underway. I took the youth and worship segment.  You cannot imagine how keen these people are.  Especially when they have trainers from Australia and Singapore. Their eyes were stuck on us.  Luckily, I don't have stage fright and have conducted classes before. I pity those with stage frights. I had so much fun playing the Camera-roll-action game with them.  Just gave them a scene and they have to act out.  Points will only be allocated at the point they freeze.  It was a good exchange of culture.
Found these dolls loitering around.  Aren't they just the cutest?  The yellowy power on the handsome boy's face is actually the thanaka power.  And oh, the little angel in white dress below...her name is Din Din Mo.  I can still remember.
While the seminars are underway, the bible school students are busy preparing our lunch.  We understand that not every one can afford to have a good meal especially after spending on transport to our seminars, so we chip in and paid for all their food for the few days.  There were about 1,200 pax.
We closed the few days seminar with prayers and lots of photo takings.  I was presented with a set of long-gyi handmade by a members wife.  She took one look at our body from a far and made us fitting long-gyi so we were quite taken aback that the costume fits to well.  She didn't take any measurements.  The other gifts the girls got was a jade bangle.  Can't say that it's the best jade but it's the thought that counts.  The guys got a framed picture made with semi precious stones like ruby, sapphire, jade...etc.  The craftmanship was very skillful.
After the few days of seminars, everyone was tired.  But Pastor Victor got a massage by their Youth Pastor.  Payment was a lollypop.  And because he got headache, the Youth Pastor sent him home on his bike while the rest of us stayed back and chill with our new friends.  The bible school students were busy preparing for lunch tomorrow.
Errrm....we use gas stove at home.  Maybe wood and fire cooks better.  And I certainly hope that the piggy will not be part of any future meals.  Love the transport system on the road....they have every kind of vehicles anyone could think of.
On the day before our departure, we decided to try their Mohinga.  The shop was closed when we arrived but host went to tell the owner that we are overseas visitors and the really nice owner open the doors again just for us. We were told that this shop sells the best Mohinga the whole of Mandalay and they normally close their business at 10am everyday.  Mine was actually made by the owner just to show the visitors how it is being made. I was given the first bowl because I looked desperate!
There wasn't much sight seeing activities to be done in Mandalay.  So we visited the central palace.  It was really empty.  I climbed up to the clock towel to take those pictures.  Looks really neat from the top but it was quite dusty and dirty inside.  Best of all, there's absolutely nothing inside their structure.  One would think that its like a museum with exhibits but there was none.  Quite disappointing.

Some of the things that caught my eyes when we were there.  I noticed Black Canyon Coffee.  Wasn't able to find Mac Donald's, KFC or Starbucks but Black Canyon???  Weird.
The little trishaw thingie was really cute.  The passenger seat faces 2 ways.  One to the front and another to the back.  Since I was in the trishaw infront of our interpretor (I took the seat facing the back because my friend had problems with moving backwards (some motion stuff) so I gladly took the backseat.  Managed to capture this :)   Passing by us was a vehicle that looked like a tuk tuk.  The friendly driver smiled for me to snap.
The carps were really hungry!!! I think this was outside one of the offices.  Can't really recall where.
On the whole, the entire Myanmar trip was an eye opener.  But Mandalay has very bad traffic.  Everyone was blasting their horns.  Doesn't even matter whether there's traffic infront of them or not.  They still horn even when the road was clear!  It wasn't very pleasant especially when a few vehicles horn together.

Clearer low-res pictures here

Friday, February 3, 2006

Yangon (Myanmar) 27 Jan - 3 Feb 2006

Hotel: Summit Parkview Hotel

This is my first mission trip and I've chosen to go to Myanmar.  Main reason is because I have never been to Myanmar and wanted to experience the culture.  It was really an eye opener and it changes my views on a lot of things especially how lucky I really am to be living in Singapore. For this trip, we focused mainly with children and youths. The bible said 'Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.' Prov 22:6 (NIV)

The hotel we stayed in is the Summit Parkview. It wasn't too expensive as we got the help of locals to do the reservations for us.  Most goods and services like hotels, internet, phones has 2 prices namely the local and the foreigner price.  I must say that this hotel is quite comfortable.  I love the breakfast!!!  Best of all, its within walking distance from Chinatown - a very small Chinatown.  Phone calls from this hotel back to Singapore cost USD7 per min.  They start counting the moment it start ringing...not when it started connecting.  And you can't call from the phones in the room, have to go to the business centre and someone will make the call for you.  The phone has a timer!
On our first day, we ministered in a church in Mingaladon.  The church was nothing but a sheltered area made of straws and wood.  As this is one of the poorer churches we ministered to, we were told that one set of clothings can last them 3-4 days before they change. The water sanitation was really bad too.  The journey into this suburb was a 2 hours bumpy ride from our hotel.  But what amazes me most was the smile on the faces of the people.  Their smiles just managed to wipe off every bit of tiredness we had.
We went to a church in Swephyitha the next day.  The whole structure was dilapidated and the drains outside had stagnant and smelly water. We were even approached by some government officials asking for our passport details.  After the ministry, we visited an orphanage cum hostel.  The kitchen looks like a place I wouldn't want my food to come from.  The sleep area is made of wood planks with a straw mat each.  After my visit, I realised how blessed I am to be able to sleep in aircon room and in my comfy bed.  So many things that we took for granted of are things that are called luxury to them.
 The next place we went to was a children's shelter call Amazing Grace.  This shelter is set up by the Gabriel family with no support from any organisations except for some sponsorship coming in from visitors like us.  They provide free education and food to the 120 children while their parents go to work.  As sanitation was also a problem here, some of the kids were blind due to contamination of the water they use.  As evening close in, there was a power cut-off and we had to minister under candle light.  Quite romantic, I should say but it wasn't very comfortable reading under dim lighting.  The locals did quite well, guess they are use to it as we were told that power cut-off is very common.  We left USD500 behind.  Its enough for a year's milk supply for the kiddos. 
The next few days was just ministry in the Free Methodist Church.  We conducted seminars for 3 groups namely Children's ministry, Young Adult ministry and Marriage & Parenting.  Needless to say, I was placed in the Young Adults session teaching them on games and music.  I had fun teaching them the earthquake game and...well...you got it...I kept shouting "EARTHQUAKE"!  Realized that their games were mostly done seating or standing in a circle.  So we decided to instill other more dynamic games like caterpillar to their lifestyles.
The next day was an adventure.  We got to take the ferry ride.  This is probably their only means of transport to get to the other side.  The moment we got onto the ferry, little boys would come offering us their small plastic chairs.  As tourists, we were taken aback by their hospitality only to realise that they were actually selling a service - yup, chairs rental service.
After reaching the Tamil  Methodist Church, we were welcomed by a bunch of mosquitoes - commando trained ones.  I'm not sure if it's because my blood was the sweetest (I heard that A+ has the sweetest blood in the blood group...I wouldn't know coz I'm not a vampire) but I got bitten the most.  Electricity comes from a generator and to get electrical products working, 2 wires were plugged into the wall powerpoint.  While playing on their keyboard ministering to the church, I was so scared that the wall powerpoint would explode behind me lol.  The last picture was one of the home cellgroups of the Gabriel family which happen after we got back to our side of the land.
On our rest day, we visited the Shwedegon Pagoda.  This place is magnificent and a beauty in its own ways.  Gold leaves were donated by devotees and were then hammered on the structure.  So yah, those are real gold.  To enter, we have to take off our shoes, wear long pants or jeans (those who don't have can rent longyi) and have covered top (no off shoulders).
Our last stop was the Insein Baptist Telugu Church.  The church building was right next to a pig sty.  Wasn't the most conducive environment but that's all they had.  They were very proud of it too.  At night, there were no street lights so the locals had to walk us out with a candle in their hand.  Torches were not the best idea because money would be wasted on batteries.  Can you believe how lucky we are to have well-lit roads?
We had dinner at the Karawek.  The entrance fee for international buffet is only KY7,200 per head (equivalent to USD6.40).  Very cheap in our standard but expensive for many there.  The ship restaurant was beautiful in the night as it sat serenely by the river.  Displayed at the entrance of the restaurant was a range of traditional musical instruments.  I love the sourng!!!  No idea how this harp looking this functions but I got to play with it when the nice performers at my hotel lobby allows me to try.  I failed big time so decided to settle for the xylophone.  I played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and got some applause from other tourist.  Not bad for someone without any performing genes. The puppet show at the Karawek was amazing!  I couldn't figure out how the puppets did the somersault. One min I saw the puppeteer pulled a couple of strings (there were so many, how does he know which one to pull) and the next min, the puppet did the most amazing somersault.  Needless to say, I left my entire group behind and sat right next to the stage to watch!
Another place we visited on our last day in Yangon was the Aung San Bogyoke market. This is the place to get your rubies and jade is you are into those kind of precious stones.  I still prefer diamonds.  The first picture on the frame is a Thanaka branch with the grinder.  What the locals (especially girls...well, guys do that too) is to grind the branch into powder, add a bit of water and apply the paste on the face.  It is suppose to have cooling effect and was said to be good for the skin.  I, of course, tried and didn't feel any cooler than before.  Maybe I didn't do it right :p  but it was fun.
Food was awesome.  I fell in love with the fish sauce and their chilli.  As we were special guests, we had an egg :) And for those who know me, I need coke everywhere I go.  So this time, I had Burmese coke.  Taste slightly different....not so sweet.  The Gabriel family cooked up a feast for us...my favorite dish in the feast was non other than chilli crab. The girls were presented with a longyi skirt each specially made by one of the Gabriel daughters.  She is really good!  Finished the skirt for the 3 of us in one night!
As Chinatown is just about 20 mins walking distance from our hotel, we decided to make our way there to celebrate Chinese New Year.  Love the lemonade...can't seem to find that in Singapore.  Those lion dancers were beggar kids.  The moment you sit down, they come hovering around your table.  We were told not to give them any money because, just like Thailand, when you give to one beggar...the rest will start appearing from no where.
 Some sights we saw all around Yangon.  Child labour is very common. 
The first picture in the frame is the Municipal hall.  Interesting part about the entire place is that it looks like Singapore in the 60s-70s.  We can see vehicles with both left and right hand drive all on the same road. We were also told that the taxis were actually purchased from Singapore. Yupz, those are the cars you scraped.
And so, the day came for us to depart Yangon and make our ways to Mandalay.  The airport had ceiling fans but we were still pretty hot!  The plastic chairs at the waiting area wasn't too comfy either.  But it was good experience....comparing it with our Changi Airport which had everything, they had only the basic necessity. 
Our luggage was lighter because we gave away some clothes.  I gave away 2 keyboards because well...they need it more than I do.  Though we left the place with almost empty luggage, we left with a heart full of gratitude with what we possess.  Actually, my luggage is not really that empty...I bought alot of tamarind snacks I keep stealing from the hotel counter.  After taking almost all in the container practically everyday, I decided to ask the hotel staff what it was and where I could get it.  Our interpreter couldn't stop laughing -_-" 

Clearer low-res pictures here