Christmas in South East Asia

You sometimes lose the sense of time without the seasonal change in the tropics but the festive season is not easy to miss, thanks to the faithful reminders by commercial decorations and displays :-P

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saigon Centre 2009
Saigon Centre, Ho Chi Minh City (11/2009)

Pavilion 2009
Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur (12/2009)


Pha That Luang

No trip to Vientiane can be complete without a visit to the Pha That Luang, a majestic monument with great religious and historical importance to the Lao people. Images of the national symbol can be found on the banknotes, coat of arms and more recently on the logo of the 25th Southeast Asia Games which will be held for the first time in Laos this coming December. The construction of Pha That Luang began in 1566 by the order of King Setthatthirat when he moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The monument suffered extensive damage during the Thai invasion in 1828. It was later brought back to its former glory by two major restorations conducted by the French in 1900 and between 1931-1935.

Pha That Lang 1

Pha That Lang 2

Pha That Lang 3


Related links:

Victory Gate of Vientiane

The Patuxay or Victory Gate of Vientiane was built in 1962 and commemorates those who lost their lives in wars. It is the Arc de Triomphe of the East to many people. Some also refer to it as the vertical runway because the monument is said to be built with the US fund meant for airport construction. Most unexpectedly, the official signboard (scroll down for Picture 3) actually compares the prominent landmark in the Laotian capital to a Monster of Concrete. This level of modesty is unusual and it certainly does not do justice to the Patuxay. The Victory Gate was formerly known as the Anaosavali, which apparently means “memory” or “monument”, before 1975 during the monarchy era.

Patuxay 2

Patuxay 2

Patuxay 3


Related links:

Spirit City by the Mekong

Spirit City, or Xieng Khuan in Lao, is the brainchild of Bunleua Sulilat, a religious figure with interesting role of yogi-priest-shaman. Built in 1958, the park features a sizable collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, some of which appear to be unorthodox, if not bizarre, in design but there is definitely no lack of creativity and artistry. Xieng Khuan is located 24 km south of central Vientiane and can be reached by taking a bus (~45 min journey) from Talat Sao Bus Terminal in the city centre.

Xieng Khuan


Bicycles in the Netherlands

Q: If there are nine millions bicycles in Beijing, how many bicycles are there in the Netherlands?
A: Apparently, the number is estimated to be as high as 12-13 millions, in a country with a population size of just about 16 millions!

Bicycles in Amsterdam
Multi-storey bicycle parking lot by the canal in Amsterdam (Apr 2007)

Bicycles in the Hague
Rows of bicycles in front of the central railway station, the Hague (Apr 2007)

Related post:
Norwegian Kewet Buddy Kiat’s Eye View: Recharging a car in Norway

Sweeney Todd Demon Barber

Tucked away in a quiet corner, next to the MacDonald Bros Ltd Butchers & Delicatessen, Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, awaits unsuspecting visitors to the tranquil Scottish small town of Pitlochry.

Pitlochry Sweeney Todd 2

WARNING: The following picture contains scene which some viewers may find disturbing.

Pitlochry Sweeney Todd 2

Related links:

Culinary Delights in Saigon

From timelessly popular street food, high-quality Phở noodle soup chain to classy restaurants, the good food and culinary experience that Saigon has to offer are appealing even to the least food-inclined travelers. Here are some suggestions to delight your palate in the biggest city in Vietnam.

Saigon Food 1
Start your day with phở noodle soup, aptly known as the national dish of Vietnam, at one of the Pho24 outlets or Pho2000 near the Binh Tay Market.

Saigon Food 2
Wrap and roll your own gỏi cuốn, yet another famous Vietnamese dish, at the recommendable Wrap & Roll.

Saigon Food 3
Head to the streets for local delicacies and pick and choose your favourite dessert drink from a lineup in Binh Tay Market.

PS: You can still carry on after the dessert!


Related link:

Saigon Cable Chaos

Saigon is wired by a perplexing network of cables hanging above the city streets. They are interesting elements of the city and amazing to watch although walking under the masses of cables can be quite daunting at first. The task of maintaining the network must be a horrendous one.

Saigon Cable 2
Saigon Cable 2


Related link:

Saigon Street Vendors

Like many other Asian countries, street vendors are a common and unmissable part of street life in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam. The vendors here usually carry their goods on a shoulder pole and many are seen wearing nón lá (the traditional conical straw hat). The mobile stalls sell a variety of stuffs and are the best places to sample local foods! Pictures (from top to bottom) show street vendors near the Binh Tay Market, Ben Thanh Market and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Saigon Street Vendors 1
Saigon Street Vendors 2
Saigon Street Vendors 3


Strathclyde Jedi Police

The force is with the Strathclyde Police. A recent survey revealed that at least eight police officers serving the Scotland's largest force were affiliated with the Jedi. Who said Glasgow is unsafe?

Buchanan Street by Night
Buchanan Street, Glasgow (Nov 2007)


Related links:
  • BBC: Force is strong for Jedi Police
  • Times Online: The Force is with them: Strathclyde Police has Jedi Knights on staff
  • Wikipedia: Jedi Census Phenomenon

The Batak People and Culture

Horas! Welcome to the Batak heartland that centres on Samosir Island and covers the surrounding areas of Lake Toba. Sites of cultural and historical significance to the Batak people can be found on the island at places such as Tomok, Ambarita and Simanindo (see Lake Toba Album). Batak houses, with distinctive saddle-shaped, twin-peaked roofs, are eye-catching and unmissable. They can be found all over Samasir Island in all shapes and sizes, from elaborately decorated traditional houses preserved in museums to practical zinc-roofed village houses or resort cottages by the shoreline.

The following excerpt from gives some ideas on the Batak architecture and symbolism built into the design:
"The roofs of the house are designed so the back of the roof in higher than the front. The father of the house always sleeps at the front of the house and the children in the back. The higher roof in the back signifies that the father wants his children to reach higher in life than himself. The steps leading up to the small entrance are always atleast 4, 5 or 6 to signify how many children the family wants to have. The small entrance into a Batak house are designed so you have to bow down to enter the house paying respect to the people inside the house."

Batak House 1
Batak House 2 Batak House 3

Batak culture is also known to be rich in customs and rituals. This 53-sec video clip, taken at the Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo, aims to give a sample of traditional Batak dance. The performance (Mon-Sat 10.30-11.10, 11.45-12.30; Sun 11.45-12.30) is not to be missed by culturally inclined visitors to Samosir, Lake Toba.


Related links:

Samosir Island and Lake Toba

70,000 years ago, this was the site of a massive supervolcanic eruption. The impact was catastrophic. Severe environmental and climate changes rendered many life forms to the verge of extinction and changed the course of human evolution (Toba catastrophe theory).

The resulting Lake Toba is the testament to the event but its association to the violent past is not readily evident today. Visitors to Lake Toba and Samosir Island within the lake are charmed by the scenic beauty and tranquility that the heartland of Batak people has to offer. This hidden island within the island of Sumatra is definitely a gem worth going for.

Lake Toba 1
Lake Toba 2
Samosir Island and Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia (02/2009)


Related link:

The Route to Samosir

Samosir (within Lake Toba) is an island within the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Most visitors to Samosir fly to Medan, the gateway to North Sumatra, which is only about 50 min from Kuala Lumpur, crossing the Strait of Malacca. Samosir is a great place to be for scenery and culture or simply to chill out. Here're some get-in and get-out tips, from my recent trip there, to share with anyone who is planning a trip there.

Going through the immigration at the Medan Polonia International Airport was a breeze for me. Arrival procedures are pretty standard. Two forms, namely Customs Declaration Form and Arrival/Departure Card, are to be filled and submitted on arrival. The Departure Card (detached from the arrival card) is to be retained in the passport and submitted to the Immigration Officer on departure.

Leaving the country can be tricky if you are unfamiliar with the rules. Get your boarding pass at the Check-in Counter as usual but be sure to keep some Rupiahs for the airport tax (Rp75,000 for Polonia International Airport: international flights), paid at the Airport Tax Counter. Then submit the "fiscal form", which you collect at the check-in counter, to the Fiscal Counter. Foreign visitors are exempted from the fiscal that Indonesian citizens required to pay when exiting the country. Do not forget your Departure Card, which you have been keeping since arrival, as it will later be collected by the immigration officer.

PS: Although the access to the Polonia airport terminal is restricted to ticket holders, there are people, in plain clothes, within the terminal who offer assistance with the flight check-in, presumably with a fee. If in doubt, always hold on to your documents and do the check-in yourself!
Kuala Namu International Airport, currently under construction, is to replace the current airport in the near future.

Medan Polonia Airport
Medan Polonia International Airport

The journey from Medan to Prapat, the town by Lake Toba, takes about 4 hours by taxi and you get to experience the local traffic and driving ethic along the way. Some taxi companies pick you up directly from the airport and the trip to Prapat costs about Rp70,000 per person in a 8-seated Toyota Kijang.

Medan to Prapat
En route from Medan to Prapat

Prapat is served by regular ferry/boat service to Tomok and Tuk Tuk on the Samosir Island. Tuk Tuk is where most accommodation can be found. Some resorts in Tuk Tuk can pick you up from Tomok if you miss the last evening boat to Tuk Tuk, which leaves earlier than that to Tomok. Be sure to get enough cash at Parapat before crossing as there is no ATM machine on Samosir Island. There will be more on the lake, island and its people in the coming blogs.

Prapat to Tomok
Boat to Samosir from Prapat

Related links:

Lions in the Campus

This is another blog entry related to the Chinese New Year, with snapshots and video clip on the visit of the lions to UNMC (University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus). This has been an annual event and well-received by the campus community of diverse backgrounds.

Lion Dance 1

Lion Dance 2

Lion Dance 3

Video clip (QuickTime Player)

Video clip (YouTube)

OXpicious New Year

The Chinese communities around the world celebrate the lunar new year of the ox on 26 Jan 2009. The malls in KL are again lavishly decorated and embellished by festive red lanterns, mei (梅) flowers and ox-related ornaments to mark the annual occasion. Happy niu year (niu=牛=ox) and have an oxpicious year ahead!

Pavilion Golden Bull
"The golden bull of prosperity" at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur

1 Utama CNY
Red is the colour at 1 Utama, Petaling Jaya

Malaysia (RANdoM Pick)

KLCC Park Putra Mosque Christmas MidValley British University Malaysia

From left to right:
  • The recreational park in the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre)
  • The Putra mosque in Putrajaya, the federal administrative centre of Malaysia
  • Christmas decorations in the MidValley shopping mall
  • The Malaysia campus of a British university