Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Travel Photos Series#15-Sunset at Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto

Sunset at Kiyomizudera Temple

I captured this photo at one of my favorite temples-Kiyomizudera Temple at my most recent trip to Kyoto, Japan. We did not intend to visit the temple on that day but never regret our decision to do so. We were just in time to witness the amazing sunset embracing the surrounding ravishing autumn red leaves and ancient temple structure.

The first time Alison and I visited this temple was  more than a decade ago during the Sakura blossom period. It was a different setting but similarly beautiful. We had never forgotten this temple since. It was really a wonderful feeling to be back here this time with our daughter-Charlotte.

Photo taken on 28 November 2015.  

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Travel Photos Series#14-The Temple of a Thousand Faces (The Bayon Temple of Cambodia)

The Bayon Temple

I would never forget this temple after my visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia in Year 2013. Although Angkor Wat is the "star"temple where many tourists rush to visit, please do not miss the Bayon temple. Upon setting eyes on the facade of the temple, you will seemingly feel thousand of faces smiling at you. I had the lasting impression that the temple was greeting and welcoming me to it's premises.

Read my trip to Siem Reap and review of the sacred temples here. This photo was taken on 7 June 2013.

Related Posts: Temple Run at Siem Reap, Cambodia, After thought-Visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Travel Photos Series#13-A Traditional Japanese Wedding Procession

Traditional Japanese Wedding Procession
I went to Meiji Jingu Shrine at Tokyo with a main purpose. It was to witness a traditional Japanese wedding at the popular religious site. I was not disappointed as there were many wedding processions taking place on that day (1 June 2014). Though Japan is a modern country, traditional practices and cultures still hold  important places in many Japaneses'hearts.

You can read my experience at Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Related Posts: Meiji Jingu Shrine-Tokyo, Japan, The Tokyo Trip

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Travel Photos Series#12-Kirin Sculpture at Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong

Kirin Sculpture at Wong Tai Sin Temple

I remembered when I first came to Hong Kong many years back, Wong Tai Sin Temple was the very first destination that I visited. It is the most famous temple here and you are deemed not to have visited Hong Kong if you have not pay it a visit. There were extensive renovation  over the years and I personally felt the place has become overly commercialized to attract tourists. Nevertheless, I still love to visit the temple as it offers many photo capturing opportunities with it's fabulous architectures and beautiful gardens.

This photo was taken on 3 December 2014. I presented it in black and white to reflect the rustic charm of this religious ground.

Related Posts: Hong Kong-Pearl of the Orient, Tai O-The Fishing Village, Hong Kong, Cheung Chau Trip (Part 1), Cheung Chau Trip (Part 2)

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Travel Photos Series#11-The Javanese Musician

I was glad to capture this photo when I checked into Manohara Hotel on 17 March 2015 for my visit to Borobudur, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Indonesia. I spotted this friendly Javanese musician playing the traditional instrument-Gender at the reception hall.  He sportingly posed for a few photos when he seen me taking pictures of him. I always remember the smile he wore on his face :-)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Travel Photos Series#10-Marina Bay Skyline, Singapore

Marina Bay Skyline

Took this picture from Marina Barrage last week at 30 Aug 2015, Sunday. It was amazing to see how much Singapore has transformed. Captured in this photo were the Singapore icons-Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay and the Singapore Flyer. We always love to visit here as a family as there are many amenities around for us to enjoy. This is also a great place to enjoy the fabulous sunset at the Marina Bay Skyline.

Related Posts: Visit Singapore on a Cheap Budget (Part 1), Visit Singapore on a Cheap Budget (Part 2), The Singapore Flyer

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Mount Merapi Jeep Lava Tour

The Jeep that brought us around
Touring Mount Merapi by a jeep at close proximity was not part of my initial plan for this trip. When Yanto suggested to me to visit the (in)famous still active volcano, my thought was that we would be watching the fiery mountain from a safe distance. Added bonus would be under the shelter of a restaurant, just like when we admired Mount Batur in Bali.

But I felt something was amiss when he pointed at the 4 x 4 jeeps bumping their ways through the rough terrain of lava rocks (created by Merapi's numerous eruption) during the way to our destination. My instinct was proven right when we reached a place parked full with the jeeps we seen earlier. When I questioned Yanto in more details, he told me Merapi must be visited by a jeep to "see better"in his halting English. When I shown hesitations, he referred me to the photos  displayed near the ticket booth. I scanned through the photos and was somehow impressed by them. Most of them were pictures of the past visitors with the jeep and Merapi as the backdrop. After some self convincing and the difficult part of convincing Alison (Charlotte was always adventurous and needed no sweet talk :-P), we agreed to take up the 1.5 hours tour around Merapi. The price was RP 400 000 for a jeep (I read up later and understand you can get one for Rp 350 000).

The moment the jeep started moving, I knew "we were in for a ride!" The designated roads for the jeep was littered with rocks and we were bumping up and down on our seats. We were "clinging for dear life"at times on the uneven roads and there was no safety belt on board. The driver tried to communicate with me in Indonesian but I could understand little of what he say. Luckily, we still could get through each other with universal language (sign languages :-) ) and the help of a brochure which shown details of the jeep trip in English.

The Jeep trip was mainly divided into different stations where we would stop to visit and take photos. The 1st station was furthest away from Mount Merapi whereas the last station was the nearest. I would narrate our adventure based on the stations that we had visited.

The House of Memory

Our first stop was at a village that was destroyed by the recent Merapi's eruption. It resembled some kind of museum which displayed the things that were over-ran by the destructive lava. We could see potteries that were melted and became out of shape, a set of cattle's skeleton (obviously killed by the eruption) and the photos taken during and after the eruption. The most eye catching display was a clock that was jammed and shown the time of the eruption.

Ruined Village
Warped glasses and cups 
Cattle's Skeleton
The Jammed Clock

The Alien Rock

The "star"of this stop was the "Alien Rock". It was part of Mount Merapi till being tossed a few kilometers to this location during the eruption. From a certain angle, the rock looked like a giant Alien's head. You could see how big it is from the photo we take with us standing beside it. From this vantage point, we could also see the lava channel all the way from Mount Merapi. From our photo, you could see how massive it is by observing and comparing to the small yellow lorry within. Imagine red hot molten lava flowing through the channel during the volcano's eruption!

Family Photo with Alien Rock
Alien Rock from another angle
See the massive Lava Channel behind us!

The Burning Lava Rocks

With the help of cigarette's ashes and some fanning motion, our driver was able to "reheat" some of the lava rocks. I was asked to hold some of the rocks to feel their heat. The heat became unbearable after a while and I had to release them from my hands. Note that the last eruption was about 5 years ago in Year 2010 but yet we could still feel it's heat after such a long period of time.

Our driver digging out the active lava rocks
Burning Lava Rocks

The Bunker

This was our last station and the closest distance to Mount Merapi (about 1 kilometers). During it's heyday before the destructive eruption, many photographers and adventurers would make this place their base to take beautiful photos or climb the holy mountain. It was now in a state of ruin. Our driver shown us an underground bunker which was meant for people to hide during any eruption. But it failed it's purpose when two person died of suffocation by the fumes after using it during the last eruption.

The Bunker
Close proximity with cloud-covered Mount Merapi
We were kind of relief after completing the trip and returning back to the jeeps'base. This trip was not for the faint-hearted and I recommend you read my tips before deciding to "take the plunge". Alison had a fall during an uphill climb and my heart was in mouth when the driver almost drive over the edge of the road which would bring us almost 30 meters downhill! Only my shout alerted him and he steered the wheels to safety in the nick of time.

Ride with us!

Experience our bumpy ride!

Tips for Mount Merapi Jeep Lava Tour

1. I had mentioned this ride is not for the faint-hearted. I would not recommend this ride for young children (below 8 years old) and the elderly.

2. For those who have motion sickness, please do not take this ride. The jeeps are travelling on uneven and bumpy rock-strewn paths and can make you real uneasy. The area is also very dusty. If you have breathing-related illness, this ride is also not recommended for you. A mask will be issued to protect you from the dusty environment.

3. Bring lots of water. This is a volcanic area and the lava rocks are still emitting heat. The hot weather at Indonesia does not help the situation. Drinking water will keep you hydrate.

4. Wear comfortably with long pants/jeans and flat heeled shoes. You are required to come down from the jeep to explore the different stops. Some of the stops would require you to perform climbing up slope. Wearing flat heeled shoes would make your climb easier and the long pants/jeans would minimize your injuries if you trip and fall.

5. Always be on the alert. Although the Jeep's drivers know their way and are experienced, do not let your guard down. You are acting as a second pair of eyes for him. Do not hesitate to shout out warning in advance if you foresee something risky on the roads.

6. I use yogyadriver for my trip around Yogyakarta. Write a comment and drop your email address (I will reply you) at the comment column below to enjoy up to 10% discount off the normal rate if you decide to use their service.

Have you taken the Mount Merapi Jeep Lava Tour before? Share with us your adventure!

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Friday, 3 July 2015

Travel Photos Series#9-Rickshaw at Kawagoe, Japan

Took this photo on 9 June 2014 when we visited Kawagoe, Japan for it's famous ancient architectures from the Edo period. Saw this rickshaw driver pulling an old couple along and I quickly snapped a picture of them with the Edo's buildings in the background. This is one of my favorite photos taken in Japan and I hope you enjoy it.

Related Posts: The Tokyo Trip

Monday, 18 May 2015

Travel Photos Series#8-Vesak Day Celebration at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Flora Decoration at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Took this photo at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at Chinatown, Singapore on 17 May 2015. The temple is beautifully decorated with flowers and lanterns to celebrate the impending Vesak Day on 1 June 2015. It is one of the few temples I have visited that is fully conditioned and you can cool yourself here after immersing in the humid and crowded street of Chinatown. 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dawn at Borobudur Temple

Dawn at Borobudur Temple
It was 4 am. I got up from the creaky bed and dragged up Alison and Charlotte. We were ready to head to Borobudur and experienced it's famous sunrise view.

The hotel we resided at was Manohara Resort, the nearest hotel to the World's famous UNESCO World Heritage site and offered free access into the temple (Foreigner fees-Adult: USD $20, Child: USD $10). But the hotel charged a separate fee for it's sunrise and sunset view (Foreigner fees-Adult: IDR 380 000, In-house Guest (Adult): IDR 230 000, In-house Guest (Child above 5 years old): IDR 175 000).

"Borobudur Sunrise" Signboard
At 430 am, we arrived at the reception area to purchase our tickets. Surprisingly, there was no queue. We were provided with torch lights and directed to follow illuminated signboards to the temple. It was still pitch dark and finding the temple would not be an easy task.

Fortunately, I had done my homework the day before and surveyed the route to the site. Borobudur had always been in my bucket lists for the longest time. I was glad to have ticked it off but witnessing the sunrise at this holy site would be yet another totally different experience.

As we walked to the temple, we could hear chanting being broadcast in the compound. It sounded a bit eerie but yet strangely comforting to hear this in the darkness. It also reminded me of the similar chant we heard during our sunset visit to Pura Tanah Lot at Bali.

Stairs to the top of Borobudur
At the temple gate, the security guards would perform a check through our belongings before letting us in. We could see a number of people already making their way into the temple ground. We were puffing and panting as we clambered up the steep stairs to the top tier of Borobudor. It must be the morning dense air(and of course our lack of exercise :-p).

Buddha's View#1
Buddha's View#2
There was already a crowd when we reached the top. The recce on the day before had came helpful again as we took up a strategic position to witness the sunrise. The sun was supposedly to raise from the east at the direction of Mount Merapi. After settling Alison and Charlotte on a good place beside a stupa, I decided to take a short walk round to savor the morning scene.

As most of the people were focusing to see the impending sunrise at the eastern end, the rest of the temple premise was almost empty. The seemingly endless stupas overlooked the surrounding environment. Some might not know that a mediating Buddha statue resided in each and every of the stupas.

Few of the stupas have actually been "un-covered" to reveal the Buddhas within. There was a shroud of mist settling above the forest surrounding the temple, adding to the already serene atmosphere of the temple.

Stupas View#1
Stupas View#2
Stupas View#3
There was a commotion when the golden rays started to appear behind the still smoking Mount Merapi. I could finally comprehend why the sunrise view at Borobudur was considered one of the twenty-seven places to see before you die.

The yellow rays filtered through the still active volcano and cast upon those on the top of Borobudur. If "Enlightenment" has another meaning, it might actually refer to this moment of time. The scene was stunningly beholding. Although the sun was covered by the cloudy sky, it did not mar the beautiful moment.

Golden Ray of the Sunrise
Sun Ray on the Buddhas#1
Sun Ray on the Buddhas#2

Family Photo with the Stupas
Myself with the Bas-Reliefs
The crowd began to dissipate after the sunrise. We did not leave but stay to explore the temple further. It was a good move as there were only few people around. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the World and the single most visited monument in Indonesia.

Basically, the temple was built like a stepped pyramid with bas-reliefs, stupas and statues to honor the life and teaching of Buddha. It has nine platforms-the bottom six are square and the top three are circular (we watched the sunset at the top circular platform). Seventy-two perforated stupas surrounded one big central stupa at the circular platforms.

Please refer here if you want to read up more info on this 9th century ancient construction.

The Main Stupa
Gallery with Bas-Reliefs
The day crowd began to arrive in number at around 8 am. It was also getting hot and we felt it's time to leave the temple. I have been wanting to visit the temple on numerous occasion but did not do so due to various reasons.

There was a sense of achievement when I could finally stand upon the temple and witnessed the famous sunrise.  Borodudur did not fail my expectation. It shall also meet yours if you wish to visit it someday :-).

Borobudur's Facade#1
Borobudur's Facade#2
Borobudur's Facade#3
Fun Family Photo

  Tips when visiting Borobudur Temple

1. Stay at Manohara Resort for convenience. It is the nearest hotel to Borobudur temple (around 5-10 mins ) and inexpensive. The stay includes unlimited accesses to the temple and a discounted rate for the sunrise and sunset tour. But remember to book early (few months before) as rooms are limited and always taken up fast!

2.  The sunrise tour is a must. After that, grab the time to take great photos before the day crowd arrives.

3. If you have the chance, visit the temple once before the sunrise tour. It will help you locate strategic spot for your sunset view especially if you are preparing to capture the golden moment. The "site survey" will also help you save time to locate other good spots for photo taking.

4. Note that the entrance and exit of the temple are two different gates. Ensure you oriented yourself and do not get lost after coming out of the temple.(I nearly did ;-) !)

5.  Read up before visiting. Otherwise, the temples are just like big rocks and stones to you and can get very boring. A guide will be helpful. Manohara Resort provides a free video presentation about Borobudur which helps me to understand more on the temple background.

6. It gets very hot in the noon. Come in the early morning or late noon if possible.

7.  Bring lots of water. Wear comfortably and bring a hat.

8.  A sarong is needed to wear around your waist but not strictly enforce. You can get it free near the ticket booth after paying the entrance fee.

9. Take note of the vendors near the entrance and exit of the temple. They can be very aggressive to sell their stuff to you. Just say a firm "no" and walk away if you are not interested. If you want to buy some souvenirs from them, press down the price to a quarter of their quoted price. Settle no more than 50% percent of what they ask for. You shall get what you want as competition is stiff among them.

10. I use yogyadriver for my trip around Yogyakarta. Write a comment and drop your email address (I will reply you) at the comment column below to enjoy up to 10% discount off the normal rate if you decide to use their service.

Have you been to Borobudur yet? Share your great experience here!

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Related Posts: Travel to Borobudur Temple, The Prambanan Temple, Mount Merapi Jeep Lava Tour
The Borobudur Temple

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Travel Photos Series#7-Nan Lian Garden, Hong Kong

Golden Pagoda at Nan Lian Garden
Took this picture at Nan Lian Garden on 6 December 2012 at Hong Kong . This place holds great memory for Alison as she used to live here till the area was cleared to make way for the garden. You will not miss the Golden Pagoda in the photo if you visit here as it was the star attraction in this beautiful Tang Dynasty-styled garden. Just a stone throw away here lies Chi Lin Nunnery, a serene and scenic site.

Related Posts: Hong Kong-Pearl of the Orient

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Prambanan Temple

The Prambanan Temple
Our plane finally touched down on the Adisucipto International Airport. It had been hovering in the sky for almost half an hour before being given the clearance to land. It was a small airport and we had to wait a while before clearing the custom.
Young Students
Our driver Yanto was waiting for us at the Arrival gate. I identified him by the big board he was holding with my name "Paulo" prominently written on it. Yanto spoke in halted English but luckily I was able to comprehend most of the things he said. We spotted many adorable young local students at the airport while waiting for Yanto to fetch his car. I could not resist snapping photos of these big eyes and shy looking kids.
The Prambanan Complex
Inside his six seater car, Yanto asked if we would like to change our plan and visit the Prambanan Temple first. My original plan was to head straight down to Borobudur Temple. After talking to his boss Ukhi on the mobile phone and understood from him that the Prambanan Temple was only half an hour from the airport, I agreed to the change of plan.

The Prambanan Temple Compound is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It consists of Prambanan, Sewu, Lumbung, Bubrah and Asu. Except Asu, the rest are situated in the complex. Prambanan Temple is it's star attraction followed by Sewu Temple. Lumbung, Bubrah and Asu are still in ruins and have nothing much to offer.
Signs at Prambanan
The Prambanan Temple was dedicated to Lord Shiva, a Hindu god. There were actually 240 temples in the beginning but nearly all were destroyed in a massive earthquake. Only six of the main temples were fully restored and the rest are still work in progress. One could only imagine how massive the temple complex was during it's heyday. For extensive info on Prambanan Temple, please refer to this site.
The Imposing Shrines
We paid the foreigner entrance fee (adult: IDR 207 000) and went into the temple ground. Not surprising, we went straight to the Prambanan Temple first. Despite seeing the temple umpteen times in the internet, I was still beheld of the monstrous size of these ancient constructions. To say that we looked like ants when compared to the temples was no mere exaggeration. The tallest and biggest temple in the center was obviously dedicated to Lord Shiva the Creator. The two temples flanking it were dedicated to Brahma the Keeper and Vishnu the Destroyer. These three main shrines formed the "Trimurti" (three forms). The three other smaller temples were dedicated to the "Vahana"(vehicle) of the gods-Nandi (Shiva's bull), Hamsa (Brahma's swan) and Garuda (Vishnu's eagle). All were dwarfed by the presence of Shiva's 47 meter tall buidling.
The Shiva Temple towered above the rest
The design of the temples shared these similarities. They were divided into three realms. The lowest realms-Bhurloka depicted mere mortals who were still tempted by earthly desires and lusts. The outer courtyard and base of the temples represented this most unholy realm. The middle realm-Bhuvarloka represented those who had seen the light of truth, resided at the middle courtyard and the body of the temple. The holiest realm-Svarloka was for only for the gods and resided at the roof and top of the temples. The architecture reminded me of the the Angkor temples in Siem Reap. They were designed to be Meru-the holy mountain of the Gods.

Top View of the Complex
Guardian of the Temple
Entrance to the Gallery
View from another angle
The temples are adorned with life like panels of bas-reliefs narrating the stories of Hindu epic. They could be attained by climbing a set of steep steps to the gallery behind the balustrades walls. It would also lead you to a dark chamber which housed a statue of the god it symbolized. One would need to start from the east entrance and walked clockwise along the gallery to follow the sequence of the narration. Sadly, just like what I have witnessed at temples of Siem Reap, many of the statues' heads were missing. They were being stolen which can fetch high price from private collectors.

Statue of Shiva
We spent a couple of hours at the Prambanan Temple before proceeding to Sewu Temple. Along the way, we passed by Lumbung and Bubrah. As mentioned before, they were still in the state of ruins. Sewu temple was in a much better state and we could see the familiar guardian statues guarding the front gate of the temple. Due to time constraint, we did not explore much of this site. On our way back to the front entrance, we saw a deer park in the vicinity.

Sewu Temple
Deer Park
Family Photo at Prambanan
Fun Photo
We met Yanto at the carpark after navigating through a complex of souvenirs shops. I told him to bring us for lunch and then proceeded to our main destination-The Borobudur Temple.

Prambanan Complex Map

Tips when visiting Prambanan Temple:

1. It gets very hot in the noon. Come in the early morning or late noon if possible.

2. Bring lots of water. Wear comfortably and bring a hat.

3. A sarong is needed to wear around your waist but not strictly enforce. You can get it free near the ticket booth after paying the entrance fee.

4. The complex is very big. The walk from Prambanan to Sewu is around 1 km and takes around 20 mins walk. There are free tram rides offer which takes you around but the frequency is not very high.

5. Lumbung and Bubrah temples can be taken out of your plan if you are deprived of time.

6. Read up before visiting. Otherwise, the temples are just like big rocks and stones to you and can get very boring. A guide will be helpful.

7. There are licensed photographers in the complex which can take good photographs of you and the temples. Ensure you ask and negotiate the price before engaging their services.

8. Candi means Temple in Yogyakarta and Central Java.

9. I use yogyadriver for my trip around Yogyakarta. Write a comment and drop your email address (I will reply you) at the comment column below to enjoy up to 10% discount off the normal rate if you decide to use their service.

Have you been to Prambanan? Share your tips here!

Related  Posts: Travel to Borobudur Temple , Dawn at Borobudur Temple, Mount Merapi Jeep Lava Tour

Patrol Van at Prambanan
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