Windsor Nature Park: An Island of Peace and Serenity

This newly opened park is absolutely great for a morning walk with a good friend, reconnecting with nature, listening to an astonishing variety of birds, and meeting the local species (like squirrels and monkeys).

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Flora at the entrance.

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The trails are well marked and covered. After some time they merge into forest paths.

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Two generations walking hand in hand. My good friend Roop is good at taking good photos. 

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Embracing forest colours.

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Let there be light.

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Meeting Masters of the Forest. We were forced to share our fruit breakfast.

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The alpha male (presumably) on the left hijacked all the food.

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The trees are tall, strong, and calm. Good example to emulate.

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Windsor Nature Park is about passion, love, and beauty.

Observation Deck – Marina Bay Sands

There are several goods spots to enjoy Singapore’s skyline.

Compared to ION Sky Observation Deck or Pinnacle, for instance, entrance to the MBS Observation Deck is quite expensive (23 SGD). I believe it’s worth the price though. Besides, I promised myself to go up after passing the PhD qualifying exam.

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The design of MBS hotel never stops delighting me.

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The observation deck is located at the 57th floor of the hotel. The access is provided through Tower 3 starting from 9.30 am.

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The stunning views of the Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, Marina Bay and Marina Barrage.

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Singapore Flyer (public observation wheel) and Benjamin Sheares Flyover. 

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From left to right: The Float (floating stadium), Helix Bridge (footbridge modelled on DNA structure), Youth Park, Bayfront Avenue, Benjamin Sheares Flyover, Singapore Flyover and Formula 1 pit building behind.

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Another breathtaking perspective: Marina Bay and the Central Business District with the elegant 1928 Fullerton Hotel on the right and Boat Quay behind.

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And here comes the famous Infinity Pool (top left). The entrance is restricted to hotel residents.

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Flower-shaped ArtScience Museum, The Float, and durian-shaped Esplanade theatre and concert hall.

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At the bottom of ArtScience Museum with the Fullerton Hotel in the background.

Marina Bay is a unique place that emits energy any time of the day.

Singapore’s Open Secrets: Chinatown

When I hear that Singapore is “small,” I keep smiling to myself.

Is some 400 parks small? Or 150 km of park connectors? Or incredible variety of cultures, peoples, architectural styles, and cuisines?

Geography is not a destiny. It’s an opportunity to look deep, and not just wide.

In this regard, Singapore’s Chinatown is incredible. Pardon – Singcredible.

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What is special about UOB Plaza in Raffles Place?

There is a historical Moulana Mohamed Ali Mosque in the basement of the Plaza, right in the Central Business District.

The Mosque adjoins the Market street which hosted a fish market – Singapore’s first market – and many double storey shophouses inhabited mostly by moneylenders. Two of such shophouses were purchased by concerned residents to serve as place of worship in the middle of the fast-growing trading district.

In 1982 UOB (United Overseas Bank) reached an agreement to exchange these two shophouses for the present site underground.

I walked by several times but never noticed the Mosque until a fantastic walking tour organized by a professor of design & architecture at NUS.

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What is the relationship between Samsung, sugar cane, and Lee Kuan Yew?

Samsung C&T office at the crossing of Church and Telok Ayer streets used to be a site of the “Heap Eng Moh Steamship Co Ltd.,” a shipping company owned by a Chinese Indonesian tycoon Oei Tiong Ham known as “sugar king.” The company was part of Oei Tiong Ham’s business empire formed largely through acquiring sugar factories in Java.

The Managing Director of “Heap Eng Moh Steamship” was Lee Hoon Leong, the grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee Hoon Leong is buried at the historical Bukit Brown cemetery.

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Amoy street in Chinatown was presumably named after the early Hokkien immigrants who arrived from Amoy, a port in Fujian Province, China.

Since the seafront was close then (the parallel Telok Ayer street was used for docking boats), Amoy had business to meet the needs of the sailors.

What did the sailors crave?

Opium and women.

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Rainbow at Amoy street:

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Murals in Chinatown: blending tradition and modernity:

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Telok Ayer street in Chinatown breathes with history.

One of the hidden gems is a blue building which hosts the Musical Box Museum. Originally this place, known as “Chong-Wen Ge,” was the first education institution set up by the Chinese community in Singapore. It is located next to Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple.

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Built in the 1970s, People’s Park Complex represents two architectural styles: Asian modernism and British brutalism. It consists of two parts: a lower podium of shopping space and a residential complex above. The former is famous for the shared public area at the rooftop carpark; the latter is infamous for frequent lift breakdowns.

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In front of the Bloomberg Tradebook broker agency at the crossing of Telok Ayer and Church streets there is a fountain. The fountain is at the opposite end of the line which leads to the Boat Quay nearby. The energy which emanates from the waters of the Boat Quay is thus transferred to the fountain to ensure better trading.

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Old and new, traditional and modern, past and present co-exist, intermingle, and inter-penetrate in Singapore.

Yueh Hai Ching, Singapore’s oldest Teochew temple, is located in the heart of the Central Business District. Built in the 1850s, the temple was developed out of a shrine set up by Chinese sailors and merchants to gratify Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.

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Gods and business live side by side:

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It feels like flying on top of the Pinnacle residential complex (50th storey) close to Chinatown:

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Let life be full of colours!

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Xin chao, Ba Vi

Ba Vi is a national park located around 60 km away from Hanoi. I went there during the 4th day of my stay in the capital.

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At the entrance of Ba Vi.

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Beautoful Ho Cua Lake.

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Old Vietnamese flags and the forest trail.

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Such a contrast with Hanoi: forest, hills, birds, and fresh air.

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Going deeper into the forest.

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A mini altar made out of stone.

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Natural tree gate.

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This is actually made of metal, but looks like from wood.

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Another breathtaking view of the lake. 

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Following the trail in the resort area.

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A restaurant seemed ike a fairy tale.

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My charming co-traveller from Hanoi.

Ba Vi is a great natural spot to get away from the noise and hustle-bustle of Hanoi. I  learned about it only thanks to a local person. Another great day!

Xin chao, Hanoi (day 3)

Today I continued exploring Hanoi with a motorbike. The highlights include the Phu Tay Ho Pagoda, Botanical Garden, Temple of Literature, and Peace Park.

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Phu Tay Ho is located at the West Lake (Ho Tay) in the centre of Hanoi.

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Locals fishing next to the pagoda.

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Very calm and peaceful in the morning.

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The pagoda and the tree.

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The fruit and the dragon welcome visitors.

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Inside the temple.

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Seafood :).

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Fruit garden in the temple area.

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What a cute architectural design!

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Spot for praying.

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This tree is gorgeous.

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People praying. It’s unbelievable, but I was the only foreigner at this serene place. I just sat next to the water and enjoyed the atmosphere. Why do tourists go to touristic places only?

In Saigon someone told me there is not much to do in Hanoi. I was also told I must try some local dish, the name of which I didn’t bother to remember.

This is the difference between tourism and travelling. You can do what TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet tell you, go on guided tours, and treat cuisine as the only experience worth of trying.

Isn’t this another face of consumerism and conformism?

Or you can raise your middle finger towards all reviews, and try out yourself: go to less known places, get lost in the city, use gestures to communicate with the locals.

When in Hanoi, do no go to Tran Quoc Pagoda. Go to Phu Tay Ho. Or go to both to feel the difference.

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After visiting the fantastic Phu Tay Ho, I took a walk in the Botanical Garden. I didn’t find it special, but it was nice to dive into a green oasis in the middle of Hanoi. And you can do sports there too :).

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Walking among the trees.

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Lake in the garden.

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Cute path.

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My next stop was the Temple of Literature. The man at the motor bike parking marked my bike with chalk :). 

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The Temple of Literature, or the Temple of Confucius, is the first and oldest university in Vietnam founded in 1076 (!). Chinese culture had a big influence on Vietnam (which doesn’t stop the Vietnamese from disliking the Chinese :)).

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The architecture has an old imperial style.

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Marvellous place despite an overwhelming number of tourists.

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Inside the Temple.

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Once I stepped away from a more crowded touristic zone, I was rewarded with a concert of traditional Vietnamese music.

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Having local cuisine for lunch.

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View to the lake on the way to the Peace Park.

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I found the Peace Park vast and empty. 

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Zero foreigners. That’s good!

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Perhaps the park was quite empty as it’s quite far. It took me about an hour by motorbike to get there. And on the way back I experienced an unforgettable Hanoi traffic jam :).

Xin chao, Hanoi (day 2)

Like another big city, Hanoi is full of contrasts. There are many sides to the capital of Vietnam, and each of them gives bright emotions.

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In the morning the popular Hoan Kiem Lake turns into a spot of physical activities. I was surprised to see old men working out with weights. And where did they get them? Brought from their homes?

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A strong mind in a strong body.

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Vietnamese women come to the lake with motorbikes, do a group dance with music, and then carry out with their daily lives.  

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These women deserve respect at least.

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Eye of the Tiger.

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The bridge at the lake is not so crowded in the morning.

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Vietnamese people love ice-cream.

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I tried the coconut one.

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Found a shop with interesting musical instruments.

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Jam session in progress.

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Houses in Hanoi are built “inside the yard”, i.e. perpendicular to streets. In this photo there are five houses. As far as I know, this is done to minimize the cost of the real estate. 

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It never hurts stop for an exercise.

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Hanoi Opera House.

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An island of green.

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There are several big lakes in Hanoi. These are great sports for a promenade.

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I loved getting lost on a motorbike in Hanoi. This time I ended up in a cool rusty bridge across the Red River. This is the Long Bien bridge built by the French in 1902. It was never renovated since then. Local students told me it is unsafe to drive there.

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The bridge is for motorbikes only.

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View of the Red River. Chuong Duong Bridge can be seen ahead – I rode across it another day. 

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Surprisngly, I found out a party district in the middle of the Old Town. I was taken there by a local person. It felt even more crowded and crazy than in Saigon!

Cảm ơn, Hanoi!

Xin chao, Hanoi (day 1)

I arrived in Hanoi early morning on the 1st of January. I fell in love with the city immediately for its spirit, traffic jams (better than in Saigon), and the people.

As always, the photos only reflect the places and the people. The amazing experiences and encounters I had in Hanoi remain in my heart.

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Morning at the Hoam Kiem Lake (“Lake of the Restored Sword”): The Huc Bridge.

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People are enjoying the 1st day of 2017.  

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Vietnamese blues trio.

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Turtle Tower.

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“2017” laid out with flowers.

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Interesting design.

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Women selling oranges …

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… and other fruit.

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Vietnam Military History Museum.

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Lenin Park.

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

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Grand plaza where Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France & where his body now lies.

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Mausoleum guards.

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Compared to Saigon the streets in downtown look empty!

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Rain in the city.

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“Animlas at the Hoam Kiem Lake. The lake is my favourite spot in Hanoi.

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So many balloons – she can fly away! 

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The Notes Cafe. Well-advertised on Trip Advisor, but didn’t appeal to me. During the trip both in Myanmar and Vietnam I realized a lot of stuff on Tripadvisor is for tourists, consumerists and conformists, not travellers. And this is how it should be. Travellers must explore and discover themselves.

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A typical cafe in the Old Town. I absolutely loved hot Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk! 

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“Portable” (on the truck) super tasty coffee and pancakes at the lake. That reminded me of the “Chef” movie. 

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There were several street concerts on the night of the 1st of January.

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The bridge at night.

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People are having fun jumping across the moving sticks :).

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And this is tug-of-war, where I took my part :).

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Fantastic live concert with superb singers and musicians. The songs were both in English and Vietnamese.

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At the night market.

My verdict about Hanoi: WONDERFUL.