30 July 2013

Red Dot Roaming - Bukit Gombak MRT - Bukit Batok Town Park

As a result of a variety of factors it's been a while since I've been able to go Red Dot Roaming so I was eager to get back out there again as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  My latest roam being to Bukit Gombak MRT, the first time I've been here.  

Having done my customary research for my next stop on the MRT map I'd stumbled across references to Bukit Batok Town Park which is known for its apparent resemblance to Guilin in China.  Now I've never been so I can't verify that personally but I was curious to visit this place having read that.  The park is just a short walk from Bukit Gombak MRT so perfect for further investigation.  

The park was created from a disused granite quarry giving the park its unique rocky features which I guess has given rise to the comparisons with Guilin (from looking at photos on the Internet).  It had been intended that the quarry would have been filled when it closed and a road built on it.  However because the area had a pleasant look to it it was converted to a pond and park instead.  Personally I think it's nice to hear that for a change as the park is noticeably different in appearance (thanks to the quarrying) to any other I've been to in Singapore.

I only visited the area around Little Guilin lake accessible from Bukit Batok East Avenue 5, although the town park does appear to extend beyond that behind the granite rocks bordering the lake.  Has anyone visited that part too?  This park is also close to Bukit Batok Nature Park, can anyone share with me what this park is like?  It seemed a little too far to walk from the MRT given that my rule of thumb for my Red Dot Roaming is that my destination needs to be reasonably accessible from the MRT.  However if it is worth visiting then I'll definitely consider returning on another occasion.  

Walking around the corner from the MRT station it really struck me how impressive the lake looked flanked by the remains of the years of quarrying that had gone before.  There is a condo immediately opposite which must have great views from the higher floors overlooking a scene very different to that I've become used to here.  Whilst I probably only spent an hour or so there it was lovely to enjoy a different type of scenery and enjoy the relative peace for just a little while.

If you missed any of my previous Red Dot Roaming adventures check them out here, if you think there is somewhere I ought to be visiting please do comment and let me know.

Bukit Gombak MRT station is on the North South line NS3.

26 July 2013

July - Black #worldcolors #worldcolours

July brings us to black for #worldcolors #worldcolours which I've found the hardest colour (so far) to represent through my photos.

Black swan and cygnet - Martin Mere Wetland Centre, Lancashire UK

Sunset, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Chair at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sunset silhouette of boats and buildings from the Tonle Sap, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Night time view of Singapore

windmill - Kent, UK

Fragile Structures - Frayn Yong, OH! Open House Marina Bay 2013

Black cat

If you missed any of the previous months colours check them out here.

19 July 2013

River Safari, Singapore Zoo

We visited the zoo for the first time not long after we moved to Singapore and have returned since, it truly is a great place.  Towards the end of last year though a new reason presented itself for going, the arrival of two giant pandas and the opening of the new River Safari.  We decided to let the initial rush of visitors die down before visiting and spontaneously decided to finally go one Sunday morning.

Of course the pandas are by far the stars of the show but the exhibit has a lot of other animals to view as well.  The theme focuses on the wildlife of some of the largest and most well known rivers of the world, the Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Murray (we revisited the River Safari in August 2015 and the Murray river part of the display has now gone), Mekong and Yangtze.  There is also a part of the safari which focuses on the Amazon but this section will not be open until later this year.  As a result at the moment entry prices to the safari are a little cheaper.

As you walk through each section you learn a little about that river and its wildlife and of course see some of it too.  As I said the main stars of the exhibit are the two giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia.  I'd never had the opportunity to see giant pandas before so I was very excited and they didn't disappoint.  Although we only actually saw Kai Kai that afternoon (Jia Jia is shyer apparently) but still one panda is better than none!  I also fell in love with the Red Pandas which you can see in this part of the exhibit as well.  I have been lucky enough to see them in other zoos and their beautiful reddy/orange coats truly are stunning as well as having incredibly cute faces!

Crab-eating Macaque

I assumed that once we'd seen the pandas that would be the end of the safari.  However as soon as you leave there is the Amazon exhibit (open later this year) to see.  Even though it is not open yet there are some parts you can see (since writing this and revisiting in August 2015 the Amazon River display is now fully open) and our afternoon was rounded off by walking through a mini monkey forest of Squirrel monkeys running in amongst the trees and branches above our heads.  Finally we got to see manatees another animal I don't think I've ever seen in real life before.  Although they are big animals they are so incredibly graceful in the water and mesmerising to watch.  It's no wonder sailors used to think they were mermaids.

Our visit was well worth it and I'd highly recommend it along with the zoo and the night safari.  I don't think you could hope to do all three in one day though simply because you'd never see everything and you'd be exhausted!  All three though are fabulous days (and nights in the case of the night safari) out.

African Dwarf Crocodile

Red Panda

The star of the show!

The story of how pandas came to be black and white

Squirrel Monkey


09 July 2013

Boat Ride on the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers

On our last evening in Phnom Penh we decided to take a sunset boat trip on the river.  Being in Phnom Penh we were at the point where the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers meet so we wanted to do a trip that took us on both.  We'd seen lots of different options advertised and eventually found one which suited what remaining amount of time we had left in Phnom Penh.  We booked and that evening met at the travel agent shop and were then taken on a short tuk tuk ride to the area of the river where the boats departed from.

The boat had two decks, the lower being partially inside whilst the upper was open.  We opted for the upper in the hope of enjoying some good views for a few last photos and also to enjoy a pleasant evening breeze.

As we boarded the boat there were ladies selling drinks and food for the trip, we already had dinner plans so just got some drinks.  Shortly after boarding our boat set sail.  There was no commentary on the boat but we were taken out to the point where the Tonle Sap river meets the Mekong river and back to the dock in a big circle.  The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, whilst the Mekong river is the world's twelfth longest river and flows through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  The Tonle Sap is unusual in that its flow changes direction twice a year.  At Phnom Penh when the Mekong is low water flows from the Tonle Sap into it and when the Mekong floods the flow is reversed and the flood waters flow up the Tonle Sap.

We gently cruised past the waterfront of Phnom Penh as we left dock, getting a different perspective on buildings we'd become familiar with in the preceding few days and then across to the opposite bank, and into the waters of the Mekong.  As we approached the bank we could see a small village on the shore with fishing boats, many homes and what looked to be a church with a large cross on the roof.  Our boat trip was approximately forty-five minutes and in that time we only saw a small part of the these huge rivers.  Perhaps one day I'll get the chance to see some more.  However the main point for us that evening was to see the sunset from the rivers, something we definitely achieved!

02 July 2013

A Place I Shall Never Forget

Whilst we were in Phnom Penh I visited one place that I know will stay with me forever.

Before visiting Cambodia I'd, of course, heard of the Khmer Rouge but my knowledge was, I'm ashamed to admit, very sparse.  I was also aware of the killing fields but I didn't really know where they were, how many there were or much about them.  When we were looking at places to visit in the Phnom Penh area we realised we could visit Choeung Ek one of over three hundred killing fields throughout Cambodia, which we decided was something that we simply had to do.

We hired a tuk tuk to take us there and bring us back to Phnom Penh.  If you are travelling from Phnom Penh this is the best way to get there and back as there is no public transport to the site, I recommend you agree a price with your driver and agree that he will wait for you outside the site to take you back.  As we travelled through the city and out into the countryside I began to think about just how recent this history was and how potentially the people I saw on my journey had or at least their family had been touched by events personally during that period.

Memorial Stupa

By way of just a little background the Khmer Rouge was an alternate name (and probably the better known name) given to the followers of the Communist party of Kampuchea in Cambodia.  It was formed in 1968 and was the ruling party in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, led by Pol Pot.  After gaining power the Khmer Rouge undertook a radical social reform process in Cambodia with the aim being to create an agrarian-based Communist society, basically to create a society which was non-urbanised.  The Khmer Rouge forced people from the cities and out into the country to work in agriculture regardless of whether they had any experience of this type of work.  They controlled many aspects of Cambodians lives and over the course of their time in rule killed over a million of their people (approximately 21% of the population) many of these were intellectuals, for example those who could speak a second language or had any form of education, city dwellers and minority people.

Many of those killed were firstly taken to what were known as the killing fields.  Choeung Ek near Phnom Penh is the most well known of these killing fields.  In order to save ammunition the victims were often killed by poisoning or with spades, children and babies were killed by having their heads bashed against tree trunks.  After being executed the men, women and children were buried in mass graves at these sites.  

When we arrived we were given an audio guide to listen to as we walked around the site.  I thought this was incredibly well done, very informative and really helped me to understand a little of what had happened there.  Though I'm not sure I could ever fully appreciate the horror of it.  Having your own audio guide meant you could take your time and reflect on what you were hearing, it also preserved the peace of the site with everyone walking around in virtual silence.  The guide began with a brief history of the Khmer Rouge and we subsequently stopped at the sites of all the buildings that once stood there and heard more about what happened there.  There are not any buildings here left from this time as many of the buildings were, understandably, destroyed.  Before the site was used for these horrific crimes it had previously been used by the Chinese as a burial site.  There were still remains of some of the Chinese graves on the site and the familiar semi circular shape of them reminded me of those I've seen in Singapore.  How different those burials were to the ones that followed them.

Listening to the descriptions of what happened in each of these places was harrowing but the audio also gave you the opportunity to hear accounts from those who had survived the killing fields.  One story that particularly touched me was that of a mother whose baby son died because she did not have the food to feed him.  Had he survived him and I would have been similar ages which really made me stop and think.  

What I had not appreciated before visiting was that bone and clothing fragments are still surfacing, especially after there has been heavy rain.  Many of the mass graves have not been excavated and the bodies were buried in very shallow ground at the time of their execution.  There are numerous signs around asking you not to stray from the marked paths in case you disturb fragments that have come to the surface.  The tour showed us some of these bone and clothing fragments which have surfaced since and been collected and preserved as a memorial by the team who so respectfully care for this site.  To see these bones and the clothing still in tact and in a style that could so easily be worn by someone today was quite simply, heartbreaking.

A seemingly beautiful, peaceful place now but one which witnessed terrible horrors

The final part of the tour brings visitors to the Memorial Stupa (pictured above) which you can enter.  As we approached it from the other side to the angle my photo is taken at the skulls of victims could clearly be seen through the glass.  There are more than five thousand skulls of victims killed at Choeung Ek in the stupa.  By this point, as my tears fell, both my husband and I decided we couldn't go in there, maybe if I returned I would but my thoughts, what I had heard on the audio and what I could see from outside was enough.

As we travelled back to Phnom Penh my husband and I were completely absorbed in our thoughts about what we had heard and seen.  We barely spoke to each other the whole journey.  I'm not ashamed to admit that as I thought about what I'd heard on the way back those tears I'd shed welled up again, even writing this now I can feel my eyes stinging just a little.  My experience made me marvel all the more at what lovely people all the Cambodians we'd met at that stage and afterwards were, given what had happened in their recent history this made me appreciate that warmth all the more.  I was also suddenly struck by how few older Cambodians I'd actually seen and the reality of just how many had been wiped out by this regime.  

I'm glad I went, I learnt so much more that day than I knew before and yet I know what I heard was only a small part of what happened during those terrible years.  I'd urge anyone visiting Cambodia and reading this to visit the sites and museums for yourself if you can.


There is, of course, lots of information available about the Khmer Rouge, the killing fields and the trials of those accused of various crimes if you are interested in reading more.  The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center recommends the following websites:

Khmer Rouge Tribunal  www.eccc.gov.kh/en;
Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program  www.yale.edu/cgp;
Cambodia Tribunal Monitor  www.cambodiatribunal.org
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