Tag Archives: Annapurna

Pulau Ubin – Singapore as it once was

Travelling is about meeting the unexpected. At least, when you do it right, it is. And about keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunities. And giving yourself credit for doing it, which is what I am about to do.

Welcome to Singapore and have a nice fine

Welcome to Singapore and have a nice fine

As we were hiking to the Annapurna base camp, I’ve spotted a billboard in Chomrong, reproducing an article in The Times that was promoting the joys of a break at a certain cafe on the next hilltop. The article was absolutely right – the cafe was spotlessly clean, the service friendly, the views unrivalled and the break mostly welcome after the long climb. But as I am addicted to reading whatever printed text I lay my eyes on, I’ve read the whole article, which was about enjoying relaxed spots in faraway places. One of the places mentioned was Pulau Ubin, a small island offshore Singapore. Singapore is of course offshore itself, but in addition to the main island the city-state is comprised of dozens of smaller ones, some unihnabited, others, like Sentosa, resembling Disneyland. Pulau Ubin was praised by The Times as an opportunity to experience Singapore as it once was.

Singapore 7

High-tech Singapore

We’ve spent a few days in Singapore as a pleasant acclimatization step between the turbulent Asia and the Westernized New Zealand. On the last day with a few hours to spare before our flight, we decided to give Pulau Ubin a shot. Pulau Ubin is relatively close to the famous Singapore airport, but the feel of it couldn’t have been more distant. Getting there was not a trivial affair, invlovling train, bus and boat, fortunately all perfectly connected. The progressive means of transport were moving further and further away from the high-tech image of Singapore, culminating with the rather squeaky ferry boat with space for no less than 12 passengers. All it lacked was a pair of chicken and a pig on board and you’d never know that you’re in one of the richest countries on earth and not in a remote corner of Sichuan province.

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The chicken and pigs were all present at Pulau Ubin, and The Times was right on the money again – if you want to know what Singapore was like before it got rich – go to Pulau Ubin. Bicycle is the number 1 transport on the island, and renting one is totally worth it – Pulau Ubin is small, but still big enough to get tired if you’re walking. There’s little if any traffic on the local dirt roads and the slopes are very moderate, accessible to even the most inexperienced cyclist. But the best thing about Pulau Ubin is the wildlife. Yes, there’s wildlife in Singapore, outside the superb Singapore Zoo and the wonderful Jurong Bird Park. On Pulau Ubin there are wild pigs, kingfishers, weird crawling fish and even beautiful monitor lizards are running around, in perfectly natural setting, without any fences or nets. There are also a couple of fishermen villages that supposedly serve great seafood but it was really time for us to go. We finished our Asian adventures in style – chilling in the rooftop swimming pool in the airport before the long flight to New Zealand.

Rooftop swimming pool at Changi airport

Rooftop swimming pool at Changi airport

I liked Singapore a lot – the food, the friendly people, the shopping walhalla, the variety of temples, the amusement parks and the excellent museums. And I am also very happy I’ve stopped on that path in¬†Chomrong to read the whole billboard – thanks to it I’ve seen the quiet side of Singapore in Pulau Ubin. Tourists usually spend just a few hours or a day in Singapore in between flights and many never leave Changi airport, which is rightfully famous for its excellent facilities. I promise you, though, that there’s more to Singapore than just the airport. Should you be in the area, I would suggest to take a few days to get a full taste of what this suprisingly diverse tiny country has to offer. If you’re really just passing by, and you would like to have a different, laid-back kind of a Singapore stopover – a trip to Pulau Ubin might be just the thing for you.

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Celebrating Nepal

There are mountains and there are Mountains – the Himalaya

My knee was not doing well. On a regular day that wouldn’t be a problem. But when you’re on the first day of a hike around Annapurna, with more than two weeks and a 5.5 km high pass ahead of you, the perspectives look bad. Our guide was assigned with finding us a porter, just for a couple of days, until my knee got better. He found Raju. You never know when and how you will strike gold. To cut the long story short, at some point the guide turned out to be a “guide”, upon which we sent him home and his tasks were fully overtaken by Raju.

Prayer wheels in Manang

We teamed up with another couple of hikers, led by Raju’s soulmate Bill (a typical Nepali name, isn’t it?). Every morning one of them would start out early to the next village, to get us a place to sleep. Every evening in the hotel I’d check the ubiquitous Lonely Planet that would say “if you can, try to get a place in Hotel X, if possible in room Y, that’s the best possible spot”.¬† And every time, without failure, that would be the hotel we were in, and that was the room we’ve got. Which was especially impressive, considering we were hiking in the busiest period in the history of Around Annapurna trek.

Hotel Forest Camp

Once the hike was over we were no longer employers-employees but friends. The guys invited us to their village of Bhulebhule, to celebrate Tihar. We were of course more than happy to accept the invitation. After all, Bhulebhule was just 5 hours bus drive and 3 hours hiking away – just around the corner! And to think that nowadays I rarely go the The Hague because its so far away – more than half hour by train.

Thorong La, 5416 meters above sea level, literally the highpoint of the whole trip

In Bhulebhule we got the best room in house – the one with the bed. The room was also equipped with a goat, a cat and sometimes with a chicken. We were obviously the guests of honour. The guys took us on a tour of the village, which included the giant swing, the giant spider, the rice fields and the raksi brewery. And in the evening we went dancing. Bill danced best.

Giant spider

Back home after the dances we were treated to a performance of the local quire, that came up the hill especially for us. Unfortunately, they were rather tipsy after performing the whole day at a neighbouring village, and kept falling asleep while singing. I would enjoy the show very much if I wasn’t that tired myself. It was impossible to tell them that we’re way too tired to enjoy the singing without sounding insulting and they kept singing as it would be rude to leave us without entertainment at such an important festival. So we kept each other in a stranglehold of politeness until forever. To this day I don’t know how we broke that vicious circle, but at some point I did get some sleep.

Tihar breakfast

On the fifth day of Tihar brothers and sisters exchange tika’s and gifts

The next morning started understandably late. It was the day of the Bhai Tika, the day when, according to Wikipedia, “a fantastic Tihar feast takes place”. Fantastic is an understatement. Let’s just say that the first course at breakfast was a full glass of raksi and for dessert we, the guests of honour, were treated a special treat, a local delicacy – a beehive. With (dead) bees in it. I am prepared to go a long way to broaden my horizons, and I’ve eaten the dessert, but when offered a second serving I’ve done my best to show how full my belly is and how there’s absolutely no room for more delicacies.

It was time to leave, towards more hiking and new adventures. Raju and Bill walked with us for a while, and we waved goodbye, as they called “don’t forget us”. We won’t. Here they are:

Raju (right) and Bill

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