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One day in Otaru, Hokkaido: What to see and do while in Otaru (Loads of pics!)

One day in Otaru, Hokkaido: What to see and do while in Otaru (Loads of pics!)

An itinerary for Hokkaido (and specifically Sapporo) cannot be complete without a stop at Otaru. Otaru is a small port North East from Sapporo and makes a perfect day trip outside of the city. This is my one day itinerary for Otaru and covers all the must sees and must dos while in Otaru.

Getting to Otaru from Sapporo

Otaru can be reached by train from Sapporo. There are two stations you can alight at depending on your itinerary: Otaru Station and Minami-Otaru Station.

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As to which is better, I would personally pick Minami-Otaru Station over Otaru Station as the former allows for a better/smoother itinerary. Otaru has two main attractions. There is a shopping street and also its canals. Coming in from Minami-Otaru Station places you close to the edge of the shopping street and from there you can visit the canals before ending at Otaru Station for your train back.

Otaru Shopping Street (Sakaimachi Shopping Street)

Once you exit from Minami-Otaru Station, grab yourself a map of the local area and walk towards the Sakaimachi Shopping Street. The walk is largely downhill with the occasional gem along the way:

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Coming from this end also gives a good start to your visit as you will first encounter the Otaru Music Box Museum with an odd pendulum clock by its entrance. Head on in to be amazed by the variety of music boxes available for sale. You can find the plain simple hand wound device and also delicate (and extremely expensive) music boxes on offer. Somehow, in our modern day and age, such a simple device still amazes. Be sure to look out for the historical music carts that are essentially self contained entertainment machines belting out popular jingles. There is also a short display showcasing the development of music boxes together with other major technological developments in the world:

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Across the road is the Sakaimachi Shopping Street. While I was there, there were free brochures left along the footpath advertising the different shops available and where they are located. Otaru, I think, can be considered as a mini Venice. Like Venice, Otaru appears to be a glassware city. There are countless number of shops selling delicate and beautiful glassware and also a number of wine shops selling both red and white wines as well as local sake.

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Make sure to grab a Hokkaido Cream Puff while there. There is a shop selling pretty decent puffs for a mere 90 yen that comes with a free cup of coffee. Definitely value for money! On a side note, the cheese based dessert was average. So stick with the puffs!

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Otaru is also famous for its seafood/sushi shops. Do shop around to see if you can get a better deal.

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If you are like us, you can consider venturing away from the shopping belt to get the real deal. Not far from the other end of Sakaimachi Shopping Street is Otarusankaku Market (just beside Otaru Station).

Otarusankaku Market is a small seafood market where you can dine in. We decided to splurge this time round and got ourselves a hairy crab for 6,500 yen on top of our kaisendons. Having done some research both pre and post Otaru trip, 6,500 yen is a reasonable price to pay for a hair crab. Snow crabs are generally cheaper. King crabs are generally way more expensive. Why not also grab a 400 yen oyster and down it with some local Otaru beer? 

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Otaru Canals

Once lunch is out of the way (definitely a late lunch by the time you are done with Sakaimachi Shopping Street and having walked over to the market area), you can stroll over to the canals. It is generally better to visit during winter as the views are better. The canals are just average without the snow. Consider having a Hokkaido Ice Cream while there. Perfect for a hot summer day and maybe a perfect supplement on a cold winter’s day!

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Do look out for the area just beside the canal where it used to be called Wall Street of the North. Despite its small town appearance, Otaru had for a brief moment the chance of being a financial centre in the North. What remains today are the streets lining the canals with their old stone warehouses (now converted into restaurants).

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Getting from Otaru to Sapporo

From the canals, you have two options. You can either head back via Otaru Station or Minami-Otaru Station.

If you are travelling during winter (night falls earlier as compared to summer), going back via Minami-Otaru Station offers a different night view and may be worth the walk.

If not, head back to Otaru Station.

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Signing off, eTraveller.

 

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Winter is coming: A bane to all travellers and all travel itineraries?

For all Game of Thrones fans, “Winter Is Coming” is the recognisable motto of House Stark. A warning of constant vigilance against the coming of winter. While a work of fiction, those three words are as important for travellers the next few months with winter bringing with it some unexpected consequences.

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I’m not talking about the cold. That, I think, is taken for granted for travellers. Travellers, not accustomed to the cold will tend to bring warmer clothing. For those more used to colder temperatures, they can make do with lesser. No real issue.

What this post is about is the effect winter has on travel itineraries and in particular my winter itinerary for Japan.

Winter is often tourism’s low season. People don’t travel as much. You lose out on the beautiful sights that abound during summer or autumn; no flowers on the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. Simple things like fountains also don’t operate. Although a downer, this can be managed with lower expectations.

What is of greater significance is the effect of winter on the length of your day. For people more accustomed to living in the tropics, a day is around 12 hours throughout the year. When travelling during summer, a day can stretch up to 16 hours or more. Perfect for sightseeing as you can cover all those spots listed on your itinerary.

I was busy and didn’t have much time to think things through when planning my upcoming Japan trip. For most of my earlier trips overseas (both Asia and Europe), they were taken in summer when the days were longer. I went through the motion of planing my autumn/winter itinerary for Hokkaido allocating things to see and do for each day just like I would for my other trips. But little thought was put to this peculiar aspect of winter. I didn’t realise that sun will be down by 4.30pm each day even in early November. Barely 12 and a half hours of sunlight each day! I had to rethink my itinerary.

Here are my tips on how to plan for a winter holiday and still have an awesome itinerary.

Reduce expectation. Just like Dorothy, I’ve a feeling that we are no longer having those long summer days anymore. So tailor your itinerary by cutting back on the attractions. Keep the musts and leave out the okays and/or hard to reach places. You just can’t cover as much as you would in summer.

Be flexible. While overruns happen all the time, be more flexible when carrying out your winter itinerary. If you really enjoy a particular attraction, consider cutting or reducing time allocated for another. Conversely, if you don’t really enjoy a particular attraction, why not cut your losses and move on to the next? This will help free up time that could be better spent elsewhere.

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Maximise both natural and artificial light. Start your days early! You can’t complain from not sleeping enough especially when night comes so early. Sleep earlier and start your day earlier to get the most from what sunlight hours you have. Correspondingly, arrange and maximise your itinerary by do things that require natural light first thing in the day before planning things that can be done either indoors or under artificial lighting.

For my upcoming Japan trip, I will be arriving in Hakodate late in the afternoon at 3pm. My revised plan is to hit Goryokaku first before going to see the autumn leaves at Kosetsuen Park. I am fortunate enough to visit during the autumn leaves festival where the autumn leaves at the park remain lit up until 9 p.m (I arrive on the very last day of the festival, lucky me!). This allows me to squeeze in one more item on my first day in Hakodate despite me arriving so late in the day.

Some people advise travelling during dark hours so as to not waste precious daylight in a car or bus. This requires some risk assessment balancing the pros and cons. While you get to save time, you also risk accidents due to the lack of visibility and also inexperience driving on slippery roads.

Location, location, location. Choose your hotel location wisely, a centrally located hotel that is close to the attractions and/or the main hub of transport will help cut back on your travel time. Less travelling time means more productive time spent on actually doing some proper sightseeing! While I booked my hotel before I was overly concerned with daylight hours, proper booking ensured that I will still benefit from the central location of my hotel.  

Plan your itinerary to include the minor details. Since timing is already tight you can’t afford to spend your precious daylight hours planning or figuring out where to go and how to go. Make sure to include in your itinerary information the relevant bus numbers/ tram or train direction and also the opening hours. This will help you on the trip.

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What are your tips on how to maximise a winter holiday itinerary? Let me know in the comments.

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My Guide on Johor Bahru: How to get there? and Where to Stay?

My Guide on Johor Bahru: How to get there? and Where to Stay?

Once again I find myself across the causeway in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The main objective of this trip was to attend my friend’s wedding. Emphasis on the word “was”. What was supposed to be a 2 hours journey dragged on for 4 hours. This was one of those unexplainable bad days when crossing the border from Singapore to Malaysia drags on for no apparent reason.

While I missed my friend’s wedding lunch, this trip across the border provided an excellent opportunity for me to let you guys in on a location you can either do as a day trip from Singapore or as a layover before you embark on your exploration of Peninsula Malaysia.

A word of caution for all travellers who intend to do a day trip. Please time your visit to happen on a weekday. The crowds are lesser and you will likely avoid the infamous human traffic jam while crossing the border. Surely you wouldn’t want your day trip to be unnecessarily shortened by a long wait at both customs, right?

Johor Bahru

Johor Bahru lies on the tip of Peninsula Malaysia. As the state capital of Johor and being so close to Singapore, Johor Bahru became the natural getaway location for Singaporeans and expats alike in search for a cheap holiday. Whether be it for cheap shopping thrills or a food gourmet hunt, Johor Bahru promises to offer each visitor something

How to get there?

The quickest way to get to the border and to avoid the confusing layout of Woodlands bus interchange is to take a train to Kranji MRT Station and then take 160, 170 or 170x from across the road. The bus will drop you off at the checkpoint just before the causeway into Malaysia.

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Drop off point, Singapore Customs, Woodlands, Singapore

What to get a forecast of the traffic? Check out this awesome camera feed.

Get off the bus (if you are paying using cash, remember to retain your ticket).

Go up the escalator into the customs area. Once you clear customs, go through the exit and go down to the bus boarding area. If you are paying using your ez-link card, board any public bus heading to Johor (i.e. 950, 170, 170x and 160). If you paid using cash, you may have to board back the same numbered bus. I’m not too sure of this, so please ask the bus driver.

If all went smoothly, you should be in and out of the Singapore customs within 20 minutes. “IF” is emphasised here.

The bus will bring you across to Malaysia where you will have to disembark to clear the Malaysian customs.

Now. Pay attention. It is important you get this right (more so during a crowded Saturday or Sunday). The Malaysian customs is built such that there are two rows of counters. If you can imagine it, the first row has pairs of counters separated by single queues leading to the second row of counters (which also is made up of pairs of counters). Due to this unique layout, each counter in the first row is serviced by its own queue. Whereas for the second row, each pair of counters is serviced by one queue. So doing your math, the queue leading up to the second row counters will clear faster. So please pick the right queue and save yourself some trouble.

Okay. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it across the border. Pheewww.

Where to stay

It depends on your budget and what you intend to do. Johor Bahru is quite spread out and there are different areas you can visit. Personally, I stick to the area just after the crossing and slightly further north as I think these areas promise sufficient things to do for a day trip or a short layover.

Near Jalan Wong Ah Fook

Having crossed customs, you will end up at City Square Mall and Komtar. These are large shopping malls built along Jalan Wong Ah Fook. If you just intend to have a cheap getaway without having to risk the “dangerous” streets of Johor Bahru, you can consider sticking to these malls and the surrounding area (more on that in another post). You can also stay overnight at one of the nearby hotels.

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Jalan Wong Ah Fook

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Kway Teow Soup cooked over a charcoal fire

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Herbal Tea Shop, Jalan Wong Ah Fook

Pros: Simple and fuss free. This was what I did in the beginning when I started to venture into Johor Bahru.

Cons: Travelling isn’t much of a problem in Johor (since Ubers and Grabs are readily available). The main drawback of staying just by the border would be the price. You can get better sized rooms for around the same price if you were to go further into Johor Bahru.

KSL Area

I would personally recommend you make that extra effort to go further inland. There are a few ways you can get to KSL.

If travelling along and on a really tight budget, there is a bus interchange just before you reach City Square Mall. Keep an eye out on the left for the interchange:

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Bus Interchange, Just after Malaysian Customs and before City Square Mall

The bus to take is S1. It gets you to KSL City Mall for just MYR1.50 (35 US cents?).

If you don’t mind splurging a bit you can get to KSL City Mall either by taxi or by Uber and/or Grab.

If taking a taxi, also head the same direction as the bus interchange but instead of going towards the buses, make a u-turn (i.e. walk along the direction of the road) and you will see a row of taxis further up. There is a ticket counter there and I believe KSL should be approximately MYR11. So, if you are travelling in a group of 3 or 4, why not take a taxi?

There are a few places you can stay at around KSL. My recommendation is either the serviced apartments or the hotel above KSL City Mall itself. The location is convenient being just above the mall and also close to awesome eating spots.

If you are slightly on a budget, you can consider staying at New York Hotel which is slightly further off from KSL. The rooms are cheaper per night by approximately USD15-22. While the location is not as desirable, the cost savings you have per room allows you to go about everywhere in a Grab or Uber (The most I made was around MYR 8 (USD1.90) per ride?). Do keep an eye out for my upcoming review of New York Hotel.

Pros: The KSL area is more laid back compared to City Square Mall and provides a better overall feel to the trip. The hotels in the area are also cheaper and more value for money than those by the border.

Cons: Just that tiny weeny bit of extra travelling.

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Street Cobblers: A dying trade?

When I was young, I read novels from the Victorian period and these novels had accounts or descriptions of street side cobblers who will not only shine your shoes but also fix them for you for a nominal price relative to the shoes themselves.

Fast forward a hundred years, it appears that such a trade is dying out or at best evolving where cobblers move off the streets into small shops hidden by a corner in a mall. Lets face the facts. When was the last time you saw a cobbler by the street?

Perhaps I was wrong.

While going through my facebook feed, I happened to come across an interesting clip of a cobbler still practising his trade along the streets of Singapore:

The cobbler is a Mr Lee Tai Chin who took up cobbling in his golden years having left the construction industry during the economic downturn in the early 2000s.

According to the news article that I read, he now “spends his busy days in a makeshift tented stall dealing with a constant flow of customers, who bring him all manner of footwear from pasar malam (night market) knockoffs to branded sports shoes and S$1,000 Pradas“.

The prices appear to be affordable ranging from being “free” (for a very simple glue job) to S$18 (USD13) (to sew a shoe together to keep it as a whole). Seats are provided so customers can sit and wait for their shoes to be mended.

So if you are in need of a shoe repair and going to visit Singapore for a holiday or business, why not bring that old pair of shoes down to Waterloo Street for some tender loving care by Mr Lee or any other local cobblers?

While you wait, consider visiting these few places nearby:

A few reviews taken from Tripadvisor

This temple of one of many famous and popular temple local visit. It was build with Chinese craftmen and the shrine and statues are of traditional Chinese buddhism artform. Apart from this, visitors can go to the counter and get the bamboo oracle, and get a fortune, or some query in mind answered by shaking the bamboo oracle and get an interpretation from the number on the stick.”

Not the largest of temples but very busy, on entering there are free josh sticks for you to light, place in the sanded area and say a prayer. Very colourful, not allowed to take photos, worth a visit.”

A few reviews taken from Tripadvisor

It has the best marble statues and sculptures of Narasimha and MahaVisnu adorning the sanctum Santorum of lord Krishna. It also has a standalone Surya Bhagavan vigraham for surya devotees. Andal and her dad are on the temple perimeter. So is Ramanujan – the great Vishnu Saint/scholar. It’s the intimacy and beauty of the temple that makes it worth visiting esp for the morning Pujas. Buy a lotus from the vendors outside and say a prayer. It’s a very moving experience for devotees seeking peace of mind or a shot of inspiration. Or both.”

The place is colorful and exotic. There was some sort of ceremony going on when I was there. Makes me resolved to go to India in the near future!

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Jonker Walk Night Market, Melaka – Review, Tips and Alternative Locations

Jonker Walk Night Market, Melaka – Review, Tips and Alternative Locations

If you have been following my blog posts, you would have accompanied me for the entire day I spent in Melaka. We covered quite a bit so far: Lunching on Peranakan food at Nancy’s Kitchen and visiting the historic sites in Melaka. We have now come to the end of the day and in need of our night entertainment to finish an awesome trip. Thankfully, the next destination is within walking distance from the Dutch Square where we last finished.

If you had the Watermelons or the Cendol by the river as suggested, you just need to cross the bridge and you would have reached the famous Jonker Walk Street. Jonker Walk Street is the main street of Melaka’s Chinatown and has its own night market every Friday and Saturday. The night market is one the more lively ones I have seen so far in Malaysia and is more “local” featuring things locals would buy instead of just selling plain old souvenirs. Yes, I am referring to you, Batu Ferringhi (a night market in Penang, Malaysia).

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Crossing the bridge

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Sanshugong

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The first main building that you will see belongs to Sanshugong (三叔公). Sanshugong is a shop specialising in the sale of local products. Whether be it coffee, tea or some local biscuits, Sanshugong should have them.

My personal favourites are the crispy peanut pancakes and also the peanut candies:

If you are there, why not give them a try?

Street Stalls @ Jonker Walk

Once you walk past Sanshugong, you will see stalls lining both sides of the street. As the street is rather small, it can be quite packed so just beware of your pockets and also your little ones. What I think makes this night market stand out is the contrast these stalls have against the traditional 1960-70’s shophouses in the background.

The street you are on will go on for quite a bit and you will mostly find stalls selling snacks and also other consumer goods. There will be a turning towards the end which will bring you to the main food area. There will be different push carts and also “fixed” stalls selling different types of street food. If you find it troublesome to locate a seat, you can always walk into a shophouse or unit being managed by a group of hawkers. These stalls band together to put up tables and chairs and each sector is managed by a group of stalls. The idea being that each sector monopolises on the customers using their tables and chairs (I think this rule is flexible and if you order most of your food from that one sector, the hawkers will likely close an eye to “outside” food).

We decided to plop ourselves down in one of these “managed areas” having discovered that our secret hideaway restaurant has since closed down. Each hawker in these “managed areas” would have its own staff going around. We had to order separately from the respective stalls as there was no centralised ordering system. We decided to go with the cockles with spicy dipping sauce, BBQ Sambal Stingray, stir fried clams, fried mini crabs, chicken satays, Nonya Laksa and Assam Lasksa. I personally liked the fried mini crabs for their crunch (who doesn’t like munching down on crispy stuff anyway), the cockles and the sambal stingray:

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Look how tender that sambal stingray is!!! The meat just comes off easily ><

Durian Puffs

On the way back, I saw a shop selling durian puffs. DURIAN PUFFS!!!

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For the benefit of my foreign readers, durian is a fruit (some say the king of fruits) native to parts of Asia. Some people regard the fruit as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance; others find the aroma overpowering and disgusting.

Personally, I think it depends on two things. One, whether I am actually going to eat or am eating durians. This makes a difference and I do get annoyed by the smell if I’m not actually eating the fruit. Two, the quality of the durians you are eating. In my humble opinion, I think premium durians may be easier for a first timer than the cheaper durians. Taste wise, it’s like a very rich custard paste. My Japanese friend describes it as being close to the taste of “Cheese” (I would hazard it being close to blue cheese ><)

One easy way for a first timer to try durians would be to have them as part of a dessert rather than the actual fruit itself. It may be cheaper on the wallet if you really can’t take the smell or taste.

Despite me being already full, my stomach somehow made some space for more food. I got myself 6 puffs. Unlike those in Singapore, the durian cream isn’t as thick and makes it easier to eat larger amounts without having a case of diminishing marginal returns.

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Durian puffs… an awesome way to finish an awesome night!

For those who want more of a dine-in dinner experience rather than street food or you have arrived in Melaka on a weekday, you can consider trying out the restaurants at the Portuguese Settlement (at a different location). This area opens up in the evening and serves Portuguese food as well as seafood. While I did not have a chance to visit and review the food on offer there, my colleague had in fact recommended I give that place a try. So why not try it out for me and let me know in the comments below.

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Half day itinerary – Historic Melaka

Half day itinerary – Historic Melaka

For most visitors to Melaka (Malacca), the day only begins after lunch (if you have not done so, check out my review on Peranakan Food in Melaka) having spent the morning travelling to the small city. Here is my half day itinerary that you may consider adopting as your own or incorporating into your own itinerary for your next visit to the historic city of Melaka.

Background

Melaka is a state in Malaysia located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, next to the Strait of Malacca. Historically, the city had at different points in time played an important part in maritime trade being both a trade hub and also a military base for colonial powers.

As early as the 1400s, the importance of Melaka as a sea port was recognised by the Chinese with the Admiral Zheng He setting up a depot in the region to help facilitate trade. Then came the Portuguese in 1511. The Portuguese were then defeated by the Dutch in 1641. Between 1641 and 1798, the Dutch ruled over Melaka but did not develop the city into a trading centre preferring to focus instead on its regional capital at Batavia (Now Indonesia’s Jakarta). It was during this period that a majority of the historic sites in Melaka were built: The Portuguese’s A Famosa (Portuguese for “The Famous”), St Paul’s Church and also the nearby Stadthuys.

As the Emperor’s eagles marched across Europe, the Dutch passed its colonial holdings to Great Britain for safekeeping. Britain concerned with returning such fortifications back to the Dutch upon the defeat of Napoleon, sought the destruction of the fortifications prior to any return. A Famosa was as a consequence demolished with the stones being shipped to the nearby cities of Penang and Singapore for the construction of Fort Canning and Fort Cornwallis. It was only by the intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles that the gatehouse (Porta de Santiago) of A Famosa was spared.

Today, these historical sites make excellent attractions providing their visitors a glimpse into a different Melaka under Dutch rule.

Getting there

As explained in my other posts on Melaka, the best option would be to either Uber or Grab your way to the intended destination. You can either put the location as being A Famosa (being the old Portuguese Fortress) or if you fancy a cool drink first visit the Megamall beside the fort.

A Famosa: Porta de Santiago

Either option will eventually see you being right outside the only remaining structure of the old Fortress: Porta de Santiago. The old gatehouse makes a good photo taking spot:

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A Famosa: Porta de Santiago

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Carvings on the gatehouse, A Famosa: Porta de Santiago

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Carvings on the gatehouse, A Famosa: Porta de Santiago

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A Famosa: Porta de Santiago

Interesting trivia here includes the date “Anno 1670” which refers to the year the Dutch renovated the fort after having driven the Portuguese out years before.

St Paul’s Church

Moving past the gatehouse you will approach a short hill with stairs going up the gentle slope. The stairs lead you to the old ruins of St Paul’s Church. And beside those stairs are display boards explaining the history behind this hill and also its links to both the Portuguese and the Dutch.

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Stairs leading up to the ruins of St Paul’s Church

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Display boards explaining the history behind St Paul’s hill and also its links to both the Portuguese and the Dutch

Built by the Portuguese in 1521, St Paul’s Church was converted into a reformed church by the Dutch around 1641 before being used an ammunition depot by the British. The church is now a ruin with only the walls remaining.

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Display board explaining history behind St Paul’s Church in Melaka

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Ruins of St Paul’s Church, Melaka

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Ruins of St Paul’s Church, Melaka

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Evening sun shining into chapel

But within those walls are tombstones left over by the Portuguese and the Dutch. While most are not in English, there are some tombstones with English translations on top of them and these provide interesting snippets into that dead person’s life. I found it fascinating to read bit and pieces where reference was made to the person living and dying a “free man” and wondered to myself why “freedom” is more important than anything else that dead man had accomplished during his time on this earth.

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Old Tombstones, St Paul’s Church, Melaka

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Old Tombstones, St Paul’s Church, Melaka

Dutch Square

Walking back down the slope and passing through the gatehouse, you should then turn right. 600m away and around a corner, is the Dutch Square and the Stadthuys.

The Stadthuys was built in the mid 1600s between 1641 and 1660 and may be one of the oldest Dutch building in the East displaying all the common features of the Dutch colonial architecture which includes substantial solid doors and louvered windows. Beside the Stadthuys is Christ Church built in 1753. Along this street, you will find many small stalls selling souvenirs.

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Stadthuys

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Christ Church, Melaka

Close by is another historical site: Queen Victoria’s Fountain. Although British built, the fountain complements and adds to the beautiful architecture surrounding it.

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Queen Victoria’s Fountain, Melaka

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Queen Victoria’s Fountain, Melaka

While you are there, why not consider having a cendol by the river opposite the fountain or have a whole watermelon to yourself? I went with a watermelon and the stall owner made a small cut into the melon before inserting some kind of blender gadget into the fruit. What resulted was refreshing watermelon juice served in its own shell.

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Girlfriend enjoying her watermelon juice

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1 Day Bangkok Cultural Itinerary – Palace, Temples, Canal Boat Ride & Floating Market

1 Day Bangkok Cultural Itinerary – Palace, Temples, Canal Boat Ride & Floating Market

Due to my tight schedule in Bangkok, I cobbled an itinerary that captures the main sights of Bangkok without having the feeling that you are being rushed around to check things off a list. So if you are looking to have a family or children friendly itinerary, you may want to include some of these places into your list of places to visit.

This itinerary is ideal as the sites are right beside each other and can be done in 2.5 to 3.5 hours (for the Grand Palace and the Temples) and another 1.5 hours (for the Boat Ride and Floating Market).

The Grand Palace and the surrounding temples of Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew

If you look through the online guides and various printed guidebooks, you will soon realise that Bangkok is all about … temples! If you see the word “Wat”, it is a give away that you are dealing with a temple. To prevent yourself from overloading on temples during your trip, I suggest you hit Wat Pho together with the Grand Palace (that is inclusive of Wat Phra Kaew) and if you are still interested in exploring the other Wats, you can do so on another day. If you are done with exploring temples, you at least could tell your friends back home you saw the top two temples in Bangkok and how amazing they looked.

Wat Pho, first!

My suggestion is to hit Wat Pho first. While Wat Pho closes much later (6.30pm) than the Grand Palace (3.30pm), this shouldn’t really matter as I am assuming you are starting the itinerary early in the morning. However, if you are starting in the afternoon, feel free to flip it around (this may, however, affect the second half of this itinerary which involves a boat ride).

The reason why I suggest hitting Wat Pho first is lighting. While Wat Pho may look impressive, the Grand Palace’s Wat Phra Kaew is even better. For those wanting that awesome selfie of the exotic east or an instagram worthy photo, your photos taken in the Grand Palace will look more vibrant when the Sun is fully up.

Wat Pho is the shortened form of the temple’s previous name, Wat Photaram. The temple is known for its Reclining Buddha that is 43m long and 15m high making it one of the largest in Thailand:

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The temple has a long history having been rebuilt by King Rama I and later expanded by Rama III. The importance of Rama III is perhaps most evident from two empty stone tablets in the temple complex. Originally intended to record Rama III’s deeds, these tablets were left empty after the King died:

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While the main highlight of this temple is the reclining buddha, be sure to look out for

  1. the beautiful architecture that is peculiar to this part of South East Asia;
  2. the rows of Buddhas lining the perimeter of the complex all facing the main building in its center also housing an impressive array of Buddha statues;
  3. the little “desks” with their iconic green lamps that help shed light on the complex’s history: and
  4. the gold leaf covered Buddhas.

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What an odd hat!

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Check out the booths for more context and information on the temple complex

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Gold leaf covered Buddhas – An act of devotion by the faithful

The entrance fee is 100 Thai Baht and comes with a free bottle of water. So if you want to cut back on weight, leave that bottle of yours at the hotel and get the free bottle with your ticket. There are refill points in the temple complex which you can use to top up your bottle before leaving the complex.

Grand Palace

There is an exit right beside the area where the reclining buddha is. This exit faces the rear of the Grand Palace. Once you leave Wat Pho, turn right and walk along the road. The wall of the Grand Palace should be on your left and Wat Pho on your right.

Keep walking.

At the time of my visit, Thailand is still in a national state of mourning. While the Grand Palace is open to tourists, you will likely find Thais as well dressed in black paying their respect to their deceased King. Given the numbers, security is tight. You will find a security check point at the end of the road. Go through it.

When in doubt, follow the other tourists in front of you. You will walk past the Thai ministry of defence with its decorative antique cannons before turning left towards the main entrance of the Palace:

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Once you enter the Palace, don’t worry of not seeing a ticket booth. Just follow the flow and the directions as the booth is located deeper inside the Palace.

The ticket costs 500 Baht and includes not only the entrance to the Wat Phra Kaew, the Grand Palace grounds and also other minor attractions. Depending on your time schedules, you may or may not want to visit these other minor attractions.

You will find an audio guide booth beside the ticket booth. They accept credit cards and passports as a security deposit. They do not accept national ID cards. As to whether to get a guide, again it depends on your preferences. If you want to know more, why not rent a guide? If you just want some flavour and context, there will be a pamphlet in various languages available once you walk into the paid area and past the murals on the wall:

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For me, the pamphlet was sufficient. I normally don’t remember much anyway (as its an overflow of information) so having bite size bits of information was enough.

Once you picked up your pamphlet, you will be dropped right smack into courtyard outside of Wat Phra Kaew (i.e. one part of the Grand Palace). For me, it felt like a sensory overload grander in scale than the sights in Wat Pho:

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Follow the crowd and you will slowly move towards the heart of building housing the Emerald Buddha. The temple building itself is a work of art with intricate carvings and an overall beautiful facade:

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While I’m no history expert, Wikipedia has a short paragraph explaining the historical bit concerning the Emerald Buddha (which is actually jade and not emerald):

“It is not known when the statue of the Emerald Buddha was made, but it is generally believed that it was crafted in 14th-century Thailand. However, there are also claims that the statue originated in India or Sri Lanka. None of these theories can be firmly established as none of the historians could get a close look at the statue.

According to one account, the Emerald Buddha was found in Chiang Rai, Lanna in 1434, after a lightning storm struck a temple. The Buddha statue fell down and later became chipped, and the monks, after removing the stucco around the statue, discovered that the image was a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade. The image was moved a few time to various temples, first to Lampang, then to Chiang Mai, from where it was removed by prince Chao Chaiyasetthathirat to Luang Prabang, when his father died and he ascended the throne of both Lanna and Lan Xang, in 1551. The statue remained the it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. The statue remained there for twelve years. King Chaiyasetthathirat then shifted it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. He took the Emerald Buddha with him and the image remained in Vientiane for 214 years until 1778.

In the reign of King Taksin, Chao Phya Chakri (who later became Rama I) defeated Vientiane and moved the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane to Thonburi where it was installed in a shrine close to Wat Arun. When Chao Phra Chakri took over the throne and founded the Chakri Dynasty of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, he shifted his capital across the river to its present location in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha was also moved across the river with pomp and pageantry and installed in the temple of Wat Phra Keaw.”

The overall lighting is low so it will take a short while for your eyes to be accustomed to the dark environment. Photos are not allowed inside the building. So just keep your eyes open and take it all in. The Buddha you are looking for is right at the top:

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Nobody said photography outside the temple building was not allowed >< (30x zoom using my Sony HX90V)

The King changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter, and rainy seasons.

Okay you are done!

I’m only joking. Yes, it is a little underwhelming (the Buddha looks really small from the viewing area) but the true beauty is outside. Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia tend to follow two styles. The first is the simple kind typically seen in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. The temples are whitewashed and plain to the eye. The temples in Thailand and Cambodia are more elaborate and in Thailand’s case very colourful and vibrant. This makes their temples very instagramable:

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Once you are done with your photo taking (I sure took a lot) , you can head over to the Grand Palace area. While grand, it is largely closed off to the public. It still makes a good picture though:

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When you are done, leave by the main gate. If you are hungry, turn left. You will find a row of shops selling souvenirs and a few eateries. I popped into a beef noodles / rice place and got their No.1 recommended beef noodles. The broth was rich and flavourful with good chunks of beef in the bowl. For 60 Baht, it was a good bargain at a touristy spot like this. I topped it off with a nice ice cold cup of Thai Milk Tea. Yummmy!

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Canal Boat Ride and Taling Chan floating market

When I was done with lunch, I decided to continue walking in the same direction thinking that it will lead me to some exit. I was definitely wrong this time as I was actually headed to the shoreline and I came across signs advertising boat rides.

I thought to myself that I had nothing to lose (other than the boat fare) to go for a boat ride. So I walked into the ferry terminal and approached the most obvious stall there (one directly facing the entrance and in front of the queues to the piers). I was offered an hour’s ride (no stopping) for 1000 Baht and a one and a half hour’s ride (with a stop at a floating market) for 1300 Baht. I went with the latter (again, why not since the price difference is minimal).

Caution: When I was preparing this review/guide, I realised that they may have been cheaper options available. So my readers, please ask around the pier area to see what better deals you can get for yourself. Just be mindful that while some deals might be very cheap, do consider the actual time you spend doing certain activities. For example there is no reason to pay 1000 Baht (just giving some random example) to visit 4 floating markets in 2 hours as you will be touching and going for each of these markets instead of spending quality time in a market (which should be the ideal situation).

Of the 1.5 hours, I had half an hour to tour Taling Chan floating market. It is a small floating market offering a range of items. The market can be split into two areas. One is by the shore and the other is onshore. The onshore part has at least 20 small stalls selling food items and other souvenirs. As I just had lunch, I wasn’t too hungry. I therefore went with something unique: Crispy Pancakes with some kind of cream of them topped with what appears to be coconut shavings. These pancakes were mixed and had savoury and sweet pancakes. Personally I preferred to savoury ones (those with the red coconut shavings and cilantro bits on them.

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I carried my food to the music area which had a band playing. I got myself a small can of Chang beer before diving into my food:

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If you are hungrier, you can try to grab some seafood from the stalls by the shore. The stalls here are more of a hybrid. Instead of having to eat on a floating boat, the eating part is now done on raised platforms with tables set on them. The cooking, however, is still carried out on little boats docked against these platforms thus retaining some of that real floating market flavour.

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If food is not your thing, you can either grab a quick massage at the market or go grab awesome pictures of a train track. The floating market is located beneath a railway bridge that is actually operational (thank god there was no train when I was taking the pictures):

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After visiting the market, it was back to the pier. The ride was enjoyable and was a good escape from Bangkok’s traffic congested roads. One plus point is that as you head deep into the canals, you get to see the less built up areas of Bangkok and another side of Bangkok.

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My boat brought be back to the area where I boarded near the Grand Palace. From the Grand Palace, there are a few ways to make your exit. You can either take a taxi or a Grab/Uber back to your hotel (which is very difficult as the drivers are unwilling to brave the notorious jams in Bangkok) or you can choose to ask them to drop you off at the nearest metro station (National Stadium) and taking the metro to where you are headed. I ended up doing the latter as I did not want to feel cheated by the drivers who were demanding 400-600 baht for a journey not more than 200 by meter.

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