Sri Lanka travel- Colombo photo roundup

Colombo, Sri Lanka
Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, is a very interesting city with a number of fascinating and picturesque sites, ranging from a beachfront park to elegant colonial-era buildings to temples and mosque, to a small city lake. Walking around parts of the city such as Fort district, with its colonial architecture, and Pettah, with its candy-coloured mosque, Hindu temples, gold shops, and market, were very nice experiences.

Colombo is worth a visit, and is rather safe and orderly. It might be a little noisy, a little rundown in a few parts, and hustlers will approach you from time to time, but in general, it is a good city to explore. As a followup to my previous post about exploring Colombo, this is a photo roundup of the city.

Colombo, Sri Lanka
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Taiwan cross-country photo roundup

Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan
I’ve spent over six years living in Taiwan and have called this island nation home during most of my time in Asia, but I haven’t traveled to that many places here. However, I have visited all the big cities, all the counties in the north, and most of the counties in Taiwan. Here’s a photo tour of Taiwan, featuring the cities and counties I have visited.

The capital Taipei is in the north, surrounded by New Taipei City, which formerly used to be Taipei County and is still more of a collection of large towns and villages than an actual city. On the northern coast is Keelung, a port city which has a distinct status as a provincial city.

Taipei skyline
Sanxia, New Taipei City, Taiwan
Sanxia, one of New Taipei City’s many districts
Keelung, Taiwan
Keelung harbourfront

The other big cities include Taichung, in the central, Kaohsiung, in the south, and Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city (and perhaps most interesting), and also in the south. All three of these cities, like Taipei, are located along the west coast. Continue reading “Taiwan cross-country photo roundup”

Malaysia travel- Kuala Lumpur round 2

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s political, business and commerce center as well as the nation’s air transportation hub. While I don’t rate it as highly as Bangkok, Singapore or Hanoi, it is still a decent major city. I actually visited it twice though both times I didn’t spend too long.

The city’s most iconic symbol is the Petronas Towers, which I visited during the day and in the evening. Besides admiring it from outside, make sure to go inside to check out the mall at the base or go up to the observation level. At the back is a park which is also quite pleasant. The center of Kuala Lumpur has a giant park, Lake Gardens, which has a lake, a botanical garden, a deer park, a butterfly park, and a bird park, which I visited. It is a large aviary divided into several zones, but not all birds are flying around freely as some are caged. There are some peacocks that walk around on the paths and it is always beautiful to see one spread his tail feathers.

Along the boundaries of the park are the National Mosque, where friendly volunteers approach you to talk about Islam, and several museums including the Islamic Arts Museum, which I found very fascinating, and the National Museum, which was underwhelming and did not have a very large collection. Merdeka Square was where the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time at midnight on August 31, 1957. It’s a pleasant open space surrounded by several colonial buildings including the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (top photo), former British colonial office and now a Malaysian ministerial building, and Royal Selangor Club.

Visited the Petronas Towers at night and during the day. Both times, the towers were impressive. 

Mosque Jamek, KL’s oldest mosque

National Mosque

National Museum of Malaysia, with a plane on display near the entrance
Continue reading “Malaysia travel- Kuala Lumpur round 2”

Singapore travel- Exploring the (Mer)Lion City

While the city-state is basking in the spotlight as the location of the Crazy Rich Asians movie, I thought it was timely to showcase Singapore here as well. Modern, attractive, orderly, the city is without doubt Southeast Asia’s most prosperous metropolis and one of Asia’s as well. The only drawback is that it possesses those attributes in such great quantities that it overshadows any gritty or distinctive character and lacks a certain kind of charm that say, Hanoi or Bangkok have.

Nevertheless, Singapore has several interesting places of attractions and attractive landmarks. The Gardens by the Bay was very interesting, with a massive domed plant conservatory and an indoor waterfall, as well as its “Supertrees.” As the entry fees were not exactly cheap (foreigners are charged much more than locals, which is surprising since Singapore is one of the world’s richest countries), I chose to forego walking on top of the Supertrees. Nearby are the unique Marina Bay Sands hotel which features a long upper deck that lies atop three towers, and the iconic Merlion, Singapore’s lion-headed fish statue that is also the city’s symbol. Its downtown boasts some decent skyscrapers, lots of open space, museums like the Asian Civilizations Museum, as well as colonial architecture like St Andrew’s Cathedral and the National Gallery Singapore, housed in a magnificent gray colonial building that overlooks the Padang, a large playing field which also houses the Singapore Cricket Club. The Asian Civilizations Museum features artifacts from India, China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and Pakistan, which is a great idea but the collection was not that big.

As befitting its multiethnic society, Singapore has neighborhoods like Little India, Kampong Glam (sometimes called Muslim Quarter), and Chinatown. Little India, where I stayed in, was very busy on the weekend with lots of Indians, both local Singaporeans and migrant workers, as well as tourists. The main attribute is that there are tons of Indian restaurants and just thinking about it now makes me want to go back. Kampong Glam is a former Arab and Malay neighborhood that has been extensively restored and fixed up for tourists with cafes, shops and some nice murals. The neighborhood still has a lot of Muslims and is home to Singapore’s largest mosque, Masjid Sultan, a handsome building built in 1928. One can walk inside the compound and peer at the main hall as well as walk around. Chinatown did not seem that interesting to me (there is the Buddha Tooth Relic temple but I didn’t bother to go inside), but there are some older shophouses and decent open-air shopping streets.

Supertrees, Gardens by the Bay

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s most famous landmark

Masjid Sultan, Singapore’s largest mosque Continue reading “Singapore travel- Exploring the (Mer)Lion City”

Malaysia travel- Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia is one of Asia’s most visited countries but I only made my first visit there last year. While the port city of Malacca was my first stop, Kuala Lumpur was my main destination on that visit. I then visited the city again at the beginning of this year on a second visit to Malaysia. The Malaysian capital is probably most famous for its Petronas Towers, twin titans that are unmistakable for their appearance and which used to be the world’s tallest buildings.

Malaysia might be an Islamic country, but it is also a multi-ethnic one with a Malay majority and two sizable minorities, Chinese- and Indian-Malaysians, as well as indigenous peoples. Kuala Lumpur reflected this diversity as I stayed in a predominantly Indian neighborhood for my first visit, then in Chinatown this year. The city is relatively prosperous and orderly, though it is also a little grubby in some parts. Strangely for an Asian city, KL has a reputation for street crime at night but I was still able to take a few night walks around my hotel without any real concern. However in Chinatown, which was not that impressive, I did pass by a troubled person throwing things onto the road and on another evening, I had another troubled lady shout at me near my hotel.

To be honest, Kuala Lumpur didn’t seem as interesting to me as Bangkok nor as attractive as Singapore. That said, KL has a few decent colonial heritage buildings, a lot of open space and city parks, as well as the aforementioned mighty Petronas towers. Just outside KL is the Batu Caves, a cave inside a hill which is used by Hindus to worship, which is actually more well-known for the giant golden statue of the Hindu god of war Murugan at the foot of the stairs leading up to the caves. The Batu Caves’ main cave is very tall but not that long as it is basically two connected giant, open chambers. There are smaller, but longer caves at the side of the hill which you need to join scheduled tours to enter. For me, KL’s most interesting attraction is the Islamic Arts Museum which has a huge collection of artifacts from across the Islamic world as well as China and India.

KL actually is a youngish city, having only become a town in the mid-19th century before growing steadily and then being made capital of the Federal Malay States (what the four Malay states around KL were then called during British colonial rule). Its name sounds exotic, but it actually means muddy confluence in Malay as the city lies at the point where two rivers come together. KL is a little like Bangkok in that there are fancy malls and towers, as well as some dirty streets and visible poverty. While it was nice to have visited another major Asian city, I feel that two visits are enough.

The Hindu god of war Murugan stands guard at the foot of the stairs leading to the Batu Caves

This monkey was also standing guard too. There were lots of monkeys on the stairs leading to the cave.

Masjid Jamek, the city’s oldest mosque (1909) Continue reading “Malaysia travel- Kuala Lumpur”

Random Paris photo roundup

I was only in Paris for a few days during my Europe trip, but wherever I went, from the famous attractions like the Louvre and Notre Dame, to taking walks to the National Library and along the river, the view was enjoyable. It’s obvious that a lot of effort is put into preserving not just historic buildings but decades-old townhouses. There are a lot of old buildings and hardly any highrises, and this is probably a deliberate form of urban planning to maintain the look of entre neighborhoods. The subway also has a distinct antique character, so for example, you have to open the subway doors by hand and a lot of the hallways, stairs and platforms look like you could be in the 50s. It is a great city to stroll through the streets and neighborhoods and riverbank, and I only wish I could have done much more of that.

Goodbye Paris. Setting off at Gare Lyon station
The top photo and this one above were taken during a morning walk before I left Paris in the afternoon. It was a serene way to enjoy viewing Notre Dame without encountering hordes of people.

Bibliothèque nationale de France (National Library of France)

Elevated subway station

Looking at one of the many great paintings at the Louvre
Continue reading “Random Paris photo roundup”