Weekend getaways from Singapore

I am in need of a holiday already! I've just came back from Shanghai end of May and went back to my hometown in Penang end of June. I am feeling drained from work, and yes, that is also why I haven't been updating my blog as regularly. Due to the mountainous amount of work, I am unable to plan my long holiday to Europe that I was thinking of since early this year. So, unfortunately, short weekend trips from Singapore would be all that I can afford for the rest of this year.

I started searching for flights from the various budget airlines that fly from Singapore - Jetstar, Air Asia, Tiger Airways and even SilkAir, which is a cheaper alternative to Singapore Air. So, where can I go that I haven't been before?

{ Angkor Wat taken during my trip to Siem Reap in 2008 }

Weekend getaways that I've been...

Cambodia - Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)
One of the most famous archeological and UNESCO site in South East Asia, Angkor Wat is a great place to go for a weekend break with culture, history and amazing people. A great place to relax and unwind, and yet experience culture and history at the same time. I simply love the Siem Reap and would definitely plan to go there again!

Malaysia - Various places like Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur
Penang is my hometown, so I'll go back quite often. I may be biased, but the simply love the Penang's hawker's food. Melaka has great food as well and the town together with Penang is a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, you can be assured of culture and history as well. Kuala Lumpur is a great place for shopping.

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi
The hustling and bustling cities of Vietnam is not for the faint-hearted! There are people and motorcycles and more people! The food is great and crossing the road is an adventure. You have got to experience it to believe it!

Thailand - Bangkok & Phuket
I simply L-O-V-E Thai food so a trip to Bangkok would mean a food trip! Of course, Bangkok is great for shopping too! My Phuket trip was very relaxing but that was basically it - to relax.

Indonesia - Bali
Compared to Phuket, I would prefer going to Bali as there are more places to visit once I get bored with the beaches. I enjoyed myself

Weekend getaways that I've yet to go...

My home country, Malaysia, but I have to admit that I have not traveled around Malaysia as extensively as I should. Would love to have a road trip along the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia, as well as spending time in the famous islands like Tioman and Redang Islands. Climbing Mount Kinabalu is one of the item in my to do list, though I would definitely need lots of training before that! And of course, I would want to visit the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary in Sandakan. Who can resist a face like that?

Thailand - Chiang Mai 
Would love to finally make my way to Northen Thailand. Heard lots about the place and a visit to a relatively rural place in Thailand would be a good change from the hectic Bangkok and tourist filled Phuket. 

Hong Kong & Macau
Hong Kong is one of those places in my list that I would go, just so that I can tell people that I have been to the place! However, I seemed to keep postponing my trip there and I can always find an excuse to go elsewhere! While I have heard that the food is good, but Hong Kong is still one big city that I doubt I would enjoy myself much there. Macau would be a better choice for me, so when I finally visit Hong Kong, I would definitely make my way to Macau as well.

Indonesia - Yogyakarta
Would love to visit Yogyakarta, or also known as Jogja, but the flights from Singapore are not that great. So, while waiting for more flights to open up, we will put our holiday plan to this historical city on hold.

There are budget flights to Yangon, but not to Bagan or Mandalay. A weekend trip to Yangon would be good, but I would love to visit Bagan and the surroundings as well. With so much to see, a weekend trip may not be sufficient!

Similar to Myanmar, there are budget flights to Vientiane, but not Luang Prabang which I would love to go. The time required to visit Luang Prabang would be more than a weekend I believe, and so, we decided to just visit Vientiane for a long weekend as a prelude to what Laos has to offer! We just bought tickets for Vientiane in August, and couldn't wait for it!

{ Photo of baby orang utan taken by thaivol & Pha That Luang, Vientiane by Atsushi* }

Torii gates, temples and garden in Kyoto

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 7 - Kyoto }

Wanting to make full use of our second, and final day, in Kyoto, we took off (relatively) early in the morning. We only had half a day left before leaving for Osaka in the late afternoon. The plan was to spend the day around northern Kyoto, but at the last minute, we decided that we wanted to have the ultimate torii experience!

The Ultimate Torii Experience

Walking down the orange torii gates was a surreal experience. If you have watched Memoirs of Geisha, you may remember the scene where the young Sayuri ran through a gateway of orange torii gates. That scene was filmed in Fushimi Inari Taisha. The torii gates were donated by worshipers with their names written on one side of the torii gates (see the 4th photo with all the wordings), and put along a pathway going up the hill behind the main building. We only managed to walk a section of it, and even then we couldn't stop snapping photos! While it looked orange when we were there, it came out looking red in the photos.

The Golden Pavilion

Our next stop is the Golden Pavilion, or Kinkakuji Temple. If the torii gates of Fushima Inari Taisha is not the most photographed temple in Kyoto, then the Kinkakuji Temple most be! The bright golden pavilion looked even brighter and shinier under the bright and beautiful sunlight. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea! The place was filled with tourists, who had to gather at a specific area. Everyone was busy snapping photos of the pavilion. If only we could have the place to ourselves for five minutes - then it would all be perfect! The pavilion itself was not opened to public and we had to be contented with admiring it from the outside. 

After admiring the pavilion for as long as we could (among the crowd), we walked along the pathway across the garden. There was a pond along the way as well as statues that people threw coins for luck. Just before leaving the temple area, there were souvenir shops and a tea garden. The other parts of the temple seemed ordinary in contrast with the amazing golden pavilion.

The Zen Temple and Garden

Leaving Kinkakuji, we went to the town of Arashiyama for a quick lunch. There are many shops, cafes and restaurants lining along the main road. The highlight of Arashiyama would be the Tenryuji Temple. It was a Buddhist temple with meditation hall, lecture hall and kitchen, among others. However, the highlight of the temple must be the beautiful garden. The garden was designed in the fourteenth century by Musō Soseki, one of the founder of the temple. Up till today, the garden retained the same form, and was considered to be one of the oldest of its kind.

After strolling along the colourful garden, a path from the temple led to bamboo groves just behind Tenryuji Temple. As we were pressed for time, we only managed to walk a small section of the bamboo groves. After that, we walked to the train station, to catch a train back to Kyoto Station, before making our way to Osaka.

I would, if I could, spend a few more days, or even weeks in Kyoto. The trip ended too quickly, but I promised myself that I would definitely make my way back to the beautiful old town.

::: Footnotes :::

{ How to get to Kyoto } From Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The journey took about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The price for a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is about the same as a 7 day Japan Rail Pass. So, if you plan to take the Shinkansen, do consider getting the Japan Rail Pass. The Japan Rail Pass is only valid for the hikari and kodama trains, but not on the faster nozomi trains.

{ UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto } There are a total of 17 monuments that had been included as part of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities). Both Kinkakuji Temple and Tenryuji Temple are two of the 17 monuments.

{ Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 } The shrine is just outside the JR Inari Station and can be easily reached on the train from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line. It is said that it will take about 2 hours to walk the whole path. There is no entrance fee to the shrine.

{ Kinkakuji Temple 金閣寺 } The site was originally a villa and became the Kinkakuji temple in 1397. It was eventually converted to a zen temple. It was burnt down in 1950 and the current pavilion was rebuilt in 1955. Kinkakuji Temple can be reached on the bus from Kyoto Station. However, the trip is quite long and took about 40 minutes. Entrance to the temple costs 200 yen per person.

{ Tenryuji Temple 天龍寺 } The temple was founded by Ashikaga Takauji in 1339, and its first chief priest was Musō Soseki, who also designed the garden. The buildings in the temple were destroyed by fire numerous times and most of the buildings today were reconstructed during the Meiji Period. Tenryuji temple can be reached on the bus from Kinkakuji Temple. It is also connected via the JR Sagano line from Kyoto Station. The entrance fee to the garden is 500 yen with additional 100 yen to enter the hall. 

From Kiyomizudera Temple to Gion in Kyoto

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 6 - Kyoto }

It was finally time to visit Kyoto! While I love the vibrant and electric feeling that Tokyo radiates, I would still take culture and history over people and city anytime. Kyoto has one of the most number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan and many historical buildings. So, I was excited to see what the city has to offer.

Once we reached the Kyoto Station, we went up to the Kyoto Tower that offered a 360 degrees view of Kyoto from 100 metres above ground. While the view was great (and I loved the mountains at the horizon), the tower looked like an out-of-place candle.

Kiyomizudera Temple

From the bus stop at the main road, it was an uphill climb to reach the Kiyomizudera Temple. The path was filled with shops and restaurants catering to tourists and selling many local specialties and souvenirs. The best feature of the temple was the wooden platform standing above the hill. It provided a great view of the city amidst the cherry blossoms in various colours below. However, everyone had the same idea and the place was filled with tourists!

Behind the main hall was the Jinshu Shrine with two "love stones" standing about 18 metres apart. It was said that if you were able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, if you would be able to find love. You can also get someone to help you walk across, but that would mean you would need help in finding love. With all the people around the area, it would be a challenge to walk from one stone to the other! At the lower ground was the Otowa Waterfall which was divided into three streams of water. There was a long queue of visitors who used a cup attached to a pole to collect the water to drink.

From Kiyomizudera Temple to Gion

From the temple, we walked through the narrow lanes of Higashiyama. Although the alleyways and the steps were filled with visitors, I loved all the shops and houses along the path. I was not sure if there were old and refurbished or newly built, but I could easily imagined the Japanese in the olden days walking along the path in their traditional costumes. There were souvenirs and snacks to be bought all the way.

After the pleasant walk, we reached Maruyama Park. Similar to most of the parks in Japan during the cherry blossom season, it was a popular spot for hanami. There were many small stalls selling many Japanese food and snacks.

Just next to the park was the Yasaka Shrine, which was also known as Gion Shrine. The centre stage was filled with lanterns. I believed these were sponsored by the locals who came here to pray.

Gion was just across the Gion Shrine. The streets were lined with wooden houses with many restaurants. Gion, of course, is the famous geisha district. We went there with the hopes of catching a glimpse of a geisha (geiko) or geisha apprentice (maiko) but were, unfortunately, not that lucky.

::: Footnotes :::

{ How to get to Kyoto } From Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The journey took about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The price for a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is about the same as a 7 day Japan Rail Pass. So, if you plan to take the Shinkansen, do consider getting the Japan Rail Pass. The Japan Rail Pass is only valid for the hikari and kodama trains, but not on the faster nozomi trains.

{ UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyoto } There are a total of 17 monuments that had been included as part of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities). Kiyomizudera Temple is one of the 17 monuments.

{ Kyoto Tower } Standing at just 131 metres, Kyoto Tower (京都タワー Kyōto-tawā) is the tallest building in Kyoto. It has a viewing platform that provides a good start to orient yourself when you first reached Kyoto. The ticket is 770 yen per person, but we got it free with our hotel stay in Kyoto Tower Hotel.

{ Kiyomizudera Temple 清水寺 } The temple can be reached by bus from Kyoto Station. From the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, walk up the hill to reach the temple. Entrance fee is 300 yen per person.

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