Tag Archives: City

Yangon, Myanmar

In 1989 the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma became the Union of Myanmar. At the time it was a military dictatorship until it ceded to a democratic government in 2010. It was around this time that the borders opened and travellers such as myself began flocking to a country mostly untouched by the modern western world.


Five years later and it’s a very popular travel destination with many coming to the country to see it before it becomes the next Thailand, of which it borders.

Between 1974 and 1988 Myanmar was known as one of the world’s most impoverished countries. So, when I arrived in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon and the country’s largest city, I was surprised to find it bustling with some large rich houses, many newer looking cars and a smart phone in most people’s hands. It seems the western world will not stay locked out for long as there is evidence of a slow seepage already occuring… There’s a KFC in the city, but only one, and it’s very popular with the locals. No doubt more will follow.


Yangon is a very busy city with just too many cars for the infrastructure, but unlike the rest of South East Asia there is not a scooter to be seen. Because everyone seems to own a car there are traffic jams everywhere and catching a taxi can be a very slow process although at their cheap fixed prices, it’s a better way to get around the city if you have the time.

Myanmar is still hanging on to its culture with fruit markets popping up everywhere as night rolls in. Most of the restaurants are what I call ‘plastic chair affairs’ – a stall set up with small plastic chairs scattered around short tables under the open sky. While mobile phones signs and satellite tv dishes are everywhere, it still feels very real and original. I’m sure this will change in time.


One of the more fascinating cultural elements seen in the city is the dress. Many women wear clothing usually associated with Thailand, but that is not seen often in that country these days. They come in many colours and are very pretty. Both men and women tend to wear the Longyi, a thick fabric sarong often worn over the more western long shorts.

While there is some use of western cosmetics, most women and many men use a traditional cosmetic called the Thanaka made of a bark compound applied to the cheeks and sometimes the forehead. It has several good properties including a fragrance similar to sandalwood and it is used as a sunscreen. It certainly makes everyone stand out.


This lovely young lady spoke excellent english as she harassed me to buy her postcards. I finally agreed after a bunch of haggling that included letting me take this photo.

During my visit, I got around the city to a few of the more popular tourist sites…

Shwedagon Pagoda
More than 2,500 years old, the pagoda enshrines strands of the buddha’s hair and several other holy relics. It is the most sacred buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, reaches 99 metres tall and is plated in gold leaf. At the top of the spire, an area known as the crown umbrella, there are 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies. At the very top, a place called the diamond bud, there is a 75 carat diamond.


The Shwedagon compound contain many different pagodas, stupas, shrines and statues. It is a very popular location with many groups of people in the different halls, praying and chanting. Most of the buildings are well maintained and often very shiny, like this silver one.


Each corner of the compound has a great Bodhi tree, the so called tree of enlightenment buddha liked to sit under.


Sule Pagoda
Said to be even older than the Shwedagon Pagoda, the smaller stupa is in the centre of the city. Standing at 45 metres tall and gilded in gold it stands out on the skyline of the city.


Legend tells that it was once the home of a powerful spirit called a Nat and now houses a single strand of the buddha’s hair.


Kantawgyi Gardens and Karaweik
Situated beside the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Kantawgyi gardens is a grand park area surrounding a small lake. It is a very popular place on weekends for the locals who come to enjoy the surroundings of nature in the middle of the city. There are many areas where people can hide away and just relax. It’s a beautiful place with a great view of the Shwedagon pagoda sparkling gold across the lake.


But there’s another amazing sight in the park… Once floating, but now attached to one shore is Karaweik. It was an emperor’s palace, but is now a massive restaurant for the local elite.


Chau Htat Gyi Pagoda
The Chau Htat Gyi Pagoda holds a much revered statue that is known as the six-story buddha because it is literally housed in a six-story warehouse. And it’s just down the road from the five-story buddha, although as the six-story is reclining, its overall length is far greater than the sitting five-story buddha.


The site is over a century old and is even more massive than the golden reclining buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok.


Circle Train
At the cost of only US$1 you can board the circular train and ride it in a circle around the city returning three hours later to the central train station. It takes a long time not because Yangon is that large but because the train goes very slow.


The train is a fairly popular tourist experience as it takes you out into the country side, through smaller townships and past some of the more impoverished parts of the city. The ride was interesting and while the views were similar to some I’ve seem from a train in Bangkok, it was watching the locals go about their daily business that was more interesting. There were even wandering fruit vendors carrying trays of fruit on their heads. Because the train goes so slow, it doesn’t usually stop at stations, people just get on as the train slowly moves past.


After a few days in Yangon, I headed north to one of the great wonders of Myanmar, the Bagan Plains.

The World Wanderer


Malacca, Malaysia – Impressions

Founded around 1400AD by Sultan Sri Majara, Malacca was established as an international trading port. There must have been something about its location as a hundred years later it was invaded by the Portuguese Empire who slaughtered all of the Muslim inhabitants. A further hundred years on and the Dutch seized the city, near destroying it in the process. Then, two hundred years later and after rebuilding it, the Dutch gave it away to the English.


After a four-hour bus trip from Singapore, we arrived in the late afternoon to sticky heat and rain. While the rain would stick around for the four days of our visit it didn’t stop us from getting out and about.

Jonker Walk
The Chinatown of Malacca, the street is a popular spot for tourist and locals alike. During the day the street is busy with many local stores and cafes.


Then on weekends, the street transforms into night markets, bustling with local food and includes a large stage where locals can show off their karaoke skills.


Red Square
In 1641 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in battle to conquer the Malacca, leaving the city in ruins. The city was rebuilt around Red Square in a classic Dutch design. The square also includes a Christ Church, another landmark in the old city centre.


Saint Paul’s Hill
Another historical landmark of Malacca is St Paul’s Hill. Situated behind Red Square it contains the roofless shell of old Saint Paul’s Church, now part of the A Formosa complex, an old Portuguese fort.


During our stay in town, St. Paul’s Church hosted an art festival, with plentiful contemporary dance and music shows.

Break The Code
A more modern aspect of Malacca, Break The Code is an escape room experience. Blindfolded, you are lead into a room and given an hour to escape. The idea is to solve a set of puzzles that lead to more puzzles, which will eventually allow you to exit the room(s), all in the space of an hour. There are four separate rooms available, each with a different theme: ‘kidnapped’, ‘haunted house’ and similar.


While possible to complete the task with only two players, it’s quite tough. For this kind of game, the more minds thinking through the puzzles and throwing around ideas the better. While the two of us managed to get much of the way through, we ultimately failed to escape. A fun experience and one I’d do again, but perhaps with more people.

Pulau Upeh
Right off the coast of Malacca is Pulau Upeh, an island that is currently under reclamation. With only a short bridge to it, we rode there on bicycles loaned to us by the hostel.


The island is in a strange state of being semi-built. A large portion of the island is already completed, with shops, housing, hotels built and just sitting there empty. The mosque is perhaps the only building in full use…


Then at the other end of the island, diggers are working to build more of the island. The island does have perhaps the best beaches in the city.


Malacca was a nice place to spend a few days where simply walking through the quiet streets at night has a light show of its own.


As for the local transport, there are the Trishaw’s emblazoned with Hello Kitty that lights up brightly at night and pumps out hard dance music.


Next we head 92km north to the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The Trail Wanderers

Singapore – Impressions

Measuring 40km by 20km, Singapore is an island city-state off the southern coast of Malaysia. While people have lived on these islands for 1800 years, Singapore was only established 200 years ago as a trading port for the English. Occupied by the Japanese in World War 2, it joined with other English Territories to form Malaysia in 1963, only to be expelled two years later. It has since grown to become one of the Four Asian Tigers, free economic states, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.


After nearly 2 months in Indonesia, Singapore seems like the cleanest and most organised city in the world. The downside is that everything is more expensive.

The Central City
Singapore has spread to fill its island quickly and has begun to grow upwards. While the central city boasts many skyscrapers, large portions of the island are covered with high-rises. Singapore is a city of architecture, from the old english style of many central museums…


…to the more modern and unusual, such as The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay buildings.


Marina Bay Sands
Completed in 2010 and standing out on the skyline is the most expensive building in the world. At US$4.7 billion The Marina Bay Sands has three main towers, a major mall, casino and a Skypark across its top.


Most of the Skypark, which is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, is only available to hotel patrons and includes a 150 metre vanishing pool.


The rounded tip of the Skypark is a viewing platform available to the general public providing 360º views of the city and marina. Even in the rainy season the views were magnificent.


Little India
Singapore has a large Indian contingent with their own region of the city. Little India has plentiful Indian restaurants and several temples.


Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday evening when half the population of continental India had popped over to visit. Sunday evening is a common time among the Indian community to go shopping. This was to such a degree that we found it difficult to move through the streets.

Tiger Breweries
Singapore has its only international recognised beer, Tiger. As it happens it was my birthday during our visit, so we headed out to the brewery for a tour.


Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there on public transport than we’d expected and we missed half of the tour. All was not lost as we did manage to catch the end of the tour, the 45 minutes of free beverages. When my birthday was mentioned, somehow the time stretched to 90 minutes before we decided it best to head off. A good evening!


Night Safari
Singapore has a world-class zoo with many species of animals. However, a zoo is a zoo and once you’ve seen a few they all start to look the same. Night Safari is still a zoo, but for nocturnal creatures with a tram tour through a portion of the park.


After the main tram ride, there are several other walks available along dimly lit paths. These lead to various other enclosures, including many great cat enclosures, including two separate lion zones, and a bat enclosure. Other animals include elephants, monkeys, opossums and many other lesser known nocturnal species. With no flash photography permitted, getting good photos was near impossible but we still enjoyed the experience.


Sentosa Island
Off the southern coast of Singapore is the resort island of Sentosa.


This entire island is an entertainment zone with a myriad of different activities, such as a large Universal Studios theme park, 2.2 kilometres of sheltered beaches…


… 2 golf courses, a Megazip adventure park, a Underwater World, a cable car, and many others, including the Luge, which began its life in New Zealand.


Since I’d never actually been on the Luge in New Zealand(!), I had to do it. What crazy fun!

A lot of time and money can be spent on Sentosa island, but we had only a single afternoon among showers. Thankfully entry to the island is only S$1.

Orchard Road
With a couple of things on my shopping list, we decided to head to the main shopping area in Singapore, Orchard Road. Renown for having 30 malls along its 2.2km length, the street is Mecca for tourist shoppers.


The start of Orchard road is the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, which exits beneath a 7-level mall. I managed to find the items I was looking for on the first two levels of the mall, so avoided having to spend too much time on the street.

Gardens by the Sea
Behind the Marina Park Sands is a large park area called the Gardens by the Sea. Most of the gardens are free to walk around, with several lakes, bridges and many separate garden areas, including the Supertree Grove…


Gardens by the Bay also includes a pair of domes that contain specialty areas: the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes respectively. These are pay areas and can be quite expensive, so we decided against visiting them.


City Lights shows
Most nights of the year Singapore hosts two separate free, light and sound shows. The first is in the Gardens by the Sea where lights dance around Supertree Grove in time to seasonal music. During our visit it was a Christmas theme.


There is a canopy walk through the Supertree Grove which gives great views of both the Gardens and the Marina Bay Sands.


The second light show is on Marina Bay in front of the Marina Bay Sands, where plentiful seating is provided. While waiting for the show to begin, there are great views of the central city buildings.


The main show is about 20 minutes long and is laser light displayed on three fans of water projected up from the bay. The show depicts the life-cycle of humanity. It’s an interesting and most enjoyable show.


Four days was simply not enough, so we extended to a week and still didn’t get to see everything. But alas, it was time get back on the road. Next stop, Malaysia.

The Trail Wanderers


Bandung, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Our trip to Java’s third largest city by train provided us amazing views over vast valleys of volcanoes and rice patties. The beauty of inland Java is unbelievable and the locals on the train seemed to agree.


Bandung, however, didn’t live up to this beauty. Like the other cities of Java, we knew little of the area before we arrived and were determined to see what it had to offer.

A City of Two Halves.
Bandung is loosely split in half by the railway lines.

The area south of the train lines is a mass of street vendors and crowded dirty streets. We were warned about pickpockets and narrowly avoided a group of smug youths and their attempt on the busy street. There was a sense of being crowded with a little bit of danger. There are large areas of construction and so many cars and motorbikes it was difficult to simply cross the road.


But crossing to the north side it’s like you’ve just stepped out of the 3rd world into the West. On the north side there are malls, higher class shops and restaurants, prominent architecture and more importantly, a relative sense of safety. This is where the few tourist spots are and many of the city’s prominent buildings.


Finding an Information Centre in the city is next to impossible. With the vague tourist map we had and absolutely no help from online maps, we walked around dirty, hot streets trying to find a hidden shop that turned out to be inside a mosque. When we found it, we were given little information beyond another copy of the map. We headed off determined to find something about the city that we liked.

Jalan Braga
Near the Information Centre we went to check out the south side’s only tourist spot, Braga Street. Called the Paris of Java, the street was made famous in the 1920s as a promenade street, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Now, apparently, it’s the top place locals come to party. When we arrived on Jalan Braga we discovered that it had largely been dug up with dirt and the stink of sewage in many places. And adding to it was the stream of vehicles along what was left of the road.

Frustrated at our day’s efforts, we spied a bar and settled in for a beer before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, determined to find something to like about the Bandung, we set out across the north side with more of a plan.

As you travel further west across Indonesia, the Bemos we’d first encountered in Surabaya are called Angkutan Kota meaning ‘city transport’ or Angkot for short. Similar to those in Surabaya the Angkots travel predetermined routes across the city for between Rp2,000 to Rp5,000 depending on how far you’re going. The problems are still the same… if you don’t know the routes, you could end up anywhere. Best to ask the driver just to be sure.

Jalan Cihampelas
Cihampelas Street is a famous shopping area in Bandung which also called ‘Jeans Street’ because of the number of denim clothing stores that opened in the 1990s. The street has many malls and shops for bargain hunters. The area is very popular with Singaporean and Malaysian tourists, who flock here for the good prices. While in the street we stopped by Cihampelas Walk for lunch, a Western mall containing many Western-style stores and every American fast food chain possible.


Museum Geologi
While generally not a great fan of museums, we stopped off at the Geology Museum for an hour as it began to rain. The first signs of the approaching rainy season. While most of the displays were in Indonesian, some were in English discussing the volcanos of Indonesia and the different time periods of the early earth.


The museum is popular with local school trips and during our visit the museum was under sustained attack by three separate hordes of school children. Even so, it was still an informative stop off during a brief rain storm.

Saung Angklung Udjo
30 minutes by Angkot from the Museum Geologi is a school dedicated to the Angklung. The Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo tubes strung together that makes a dull chiming noise when rattled. On most days the school hosts tourists for an ‘Afternoon Show’. Listed as the most popular attraction in Bandung, we attended the show, which was made up of small acts and tunes played on the Angklung.


The show had some dancing and towards the end the children handed out Angklungs to everyone in the audience and we were taught to play as an orchestra through many songs. The show lasted two hours and was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bandung.

Tangkuban Prahu Crater and Kiawah Putih Lake
Bandung is in a valley between volcanoes and as in many volcano towns, tours up the slopes are common. But after climbing Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta only days before, we felt that paying twice as much to be driven up a volcano wasn’t worth it this time.

Next we continue our travels to the west to the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

The Trail Wanderers


Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Surabaya is known as the City of Heroes for the part it played in the war of independence against the Dutch Empire. It’s also the country’s second largest city.

Surabaya isn’t a city that has embraced tourism to any great extent and because of this it doesn’t attract many travellers. This didn’t stop us from spending a couple of days checking out the attractions it does have.


Surabaya is a major shopping destination for Indonesians with many Western style shopping malls in the central city. But just outside this area the city changes to more squalid conditions where the poor try to eke out a living.

Strangers in a Strange Land
As we walked around the city we garnered much interest from the locals, who would often stare at the two tall, bearded, foreign lads. Many times we’d hear, ‘Hello Mister’, followed by giggles, as if this was somehow funny because it was the only words in English they knew. Then unexpectedly, at another time, a local would strike up a random conversation in fairly fluent english.

For two days we felt like the only Westerners in the city until returning to the hostel we discovered a young Italian guy had moved into our room. He joined our troupe and began travelling with us.

The Bemo
While there are plentiful taxis in the city, we discovered a very cheap form of transportation known as the Bemo. A Bemo is simply of minivan converted into a taxi-bus that travels along a predetermined route through the city. Simply wave at it to stop, tell the driver where you want to go and get in the back. When you’re at your destination the driver will let you know or press the button to get him to stop.


The cost of the trip is 4,000 Rupiah (40 cents) no matter how far you go. There are more than 40 routes, each defined by a large letter emblazoned on the front, and sometimes the back, of the vehicle. There are many Bemos on each route, so if the first one is full another will come along soon after. The entire Bemo system is reminiscent of the taxi system I discovered in southern Chile, the difference being that in Chile they use cars instead of vans.

There’s one large downfall of the Bemo system, knowing where a certain lettered Bemo goes. While there’s a list of routes online at: www.angelfire.com/on/Genhome/rutebemo.htm, there’s no map. So, unless you know the areas getting lost is easy. Having a maps app on your phone helps a lot.

Monkasel – Submarine Monument
Probably the least likely tourist attraction in the city is the Submarine Monument, dedicated to a SS-type Whisky class submarine built in Russia in 1952.


The Monument is the full-sized submarine and is open for viewing most days of the year for the hefty price of Rp8,000 (80 cents). The submarine has seven rooms, although entry to some are through very low bulkhead doors. This height issue isn’t a problem for the locals, but at 189cm I had to crawl through them.

Tugu Pahlawan – Heroic Monument
Standing at 41 metres tall, the Tugu Pahlawan is a large monument commemorating the heroes of the war of independence. It is also the main symbol of Surabaya appearing on the city’s Seal, which also contains a shark ‘Sura’ and a crocodile ‘Baya’.


House of Sampoerna – Clove Cigarette Museum
While I’m morally against cigarette smoking, Surabaya contains an award-winning tourist museum devoted to the history of clove cigarette manufacturing in Indonesia. While surrounded by poor areas, the grounds of the museum could be mistaken for being in central Amsterdam.


Other Places
While there are several other places in Surabaya of interest to travellers: The Four Face Buddha; Joko Dolog, the 700 year-old statue of Buddha; or several mosques and temples, it’s not always easy to find them. Whether they are down hidden alleyways, the Bemos don’t go near them, of they just don’t stand out. Several times ended up walking at length through slums trying to find a site. Unable to ask due to the language barrier and floundering in the sticky heat, we’d eventually give up and head somewhere else. We did get lucky a couple of times and found the occasional Hindu temple.


While walking through the myriad of slums, at no time did we feel unsafe.

Next, we head by train to the student capital of Indonesia, Yogyakarta.

The Lone Trail Wanderer


Manchester, England – Impressions

Manchester is an industrial city in northern England. The Greater Manchester region boasts the second largest population for an urban area in the United Kingdom.


With the city’s recorded history beginning in 79AD by the Roman Empire, the city is famous for being the first industrialised city in the world. The term Manchester is used by many countries in the southern hemisphere to refer to the textiles manufactures in the city during the industrial revolution. Manchester is also famous for having the world’s first railway station and the oldest public library. It is also the location where the atom was first split and where the concepts of both communism and capitalism were created.

During the two months I spent in Manchester waiting for a work permit, I made the most of my time getting to know the city without spending too much money. Over the course of several days, I explored the central city and enjoyed some of the architecture I found there.


During my wanderings I located one of the city’s original roman sites, a the roman granary near the site of the roman fort Castlefield, which is now little more than a plot of land.


Like London, Manchester has embraced a more modern style of building, including the One Angel Square building completed this year.


Culturally, Manchester has plenty to offer such as the National Football Museum…


…or Manchester United Stadium, if soccer is your thing…


There this is the Museum of Science and Industry, which is spread over several huge warehouses.


Then there is the neo-Gothic Central Library.


One cannot come to Manchester without at least acknowledging it as the home of Coronation Street. The street itself is fictitious and is housed inside ITV studios.


Going a little further afield I found a local collector showing off his cars. With vehicles from the past fifty years on show…


Air shows are plentiful around the United Kingdom and I had the pleasure to see one of them at a local air field, featuring displays from many different aircraft including many ageing airplanes and helicopters.


Lastly, I took in a canal cruise for a day, travelling along the extensive canals of northwest England out to the sea.


The canal system was very important to the shipping of goods in the industrial era and is still put to good use. There are many bridges over the river canal, most swinging to the side to let the ship through, while others lift high into the air. The cruise finished in Liverpool, 53 kilometres away.


Overall, Manchester was a relaxed place to spend time a couple of months and far cheaper than the more multi-cultural London. Although with the vast numbers of pregnant women and newborn children, I began to wonder if there was something in the water. Because of that I’ve labeled Manchester the breeding capital of England.

The World Wanderer


Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia


In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina


From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador


From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico


From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.


The World Wanderer