December 4, 2013

Chek Jawa at Pulau Ubin

Leaving Changi Point
In the past, we used to plan our route to cover either the eastern part of Pulau Ubin which included Chek Jawa or the western part which included the Ketam Bike Trail. If it were the eastern part of the island, we would also look for durians if there were fruits hanging from the trees.

On this trip we wanted to cover as much of the island as possible. Our objective was first to walk up Bukit Puaka then walk to Noordin Campsite, Chek Jawa and Maman Campsite then return to the jetty via the Sensory Trail.  

Pekan Quarry

Changi Point
We took the ferry from Changi Point after an early lunch at the Changi Village Food Centre. It was recently reopened after a renovation to improve ventilation and to allow for more hawker stalls. There were 9 persons this time, therefore it was easy to wait for the requisite 12 pax before the boatman would take off from the terminal for Ubin.

Bukit Puaka
Once we arrived on the island we walked through the village to the temple for a member to pray for our safety. Then we proceeded to the Pekan Quarry to view the birds. There were not many at this time of the year. It was too early to see the migratory birds.

Panorama from Bukit Puaka

Then we were off to Merbah Hut along Jalan Endut Senin where the trail to the summit of Bukit Puaka began. Those who cycled would leave their bikes beside the hut. It was a short climb taking us about 10 to 15 minutes. At the summit we were greeted with a view overlooking the Ubin Quarry. To the north was the coastline of Johor and to the west Punggol. After a short rest and photo session we left the summit to return to Jalan Endut Senin.

From Noordin Campsite

Normally we would stop over at a local farmer for a drink and chit-chat near the Merbah Hut. Today however, we were pressed for time, so we had to skip our visit. We returned to the junction of Jalan Jelutong and Jalan Batu Ubin, turned left to reach Jalan Nordin that would eventually lead us to Nordin Campsite. When we arrived at the beach it was closed due to beach erosion. We could see over the barricade the sea fence to keep out intruders. We saw a marine patrol boat passing by.

Chek Jawa
Back we returned along Jalan Nordin to Jalan Batu Ubin where we took a left turn to head for Chek Jawa, along Jalan Ubin and Jalan Durian. Near Punai Hut a female pig with 2 piglets were sighted dozing in the shade. They were obviously used to us visitors as they totally ignored us when there were like 15 of us trying to take pictures of them.

Local Residents at Chek Jawa

At Chek Jawa, we dropped over at House No. 1 to enjoy the view of the pier, Pulau Sekudu and to take a short rest. After that we proceeded to the Chek Jawa Boardwalk to view the marine life. As it was high tide, we did not see much.

House No. 1 at Chek Jawa

At the mangrove trail, we climbed the Jejawi Tower for a better view of the area and watching aircraft landing at Changi International Airport. After Chek Jawa, we returned by another trail as directed by the signboards.

Chek Jawa Boardwalk

At Beberek Hut, we decided to return direct to the pier as we were tired and pressed for time. We had to skip Mamam Campsite and the Sensory Trail. Back at the jetty, we found we had covered 16km.

Route

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October 9, 2013

Changi Point Coastal Walk to East Coast Park

Changi Point Coastal Walk
Changi Village
Our plan for this outing was to meet up at Changi Village, as some would go by bus while others would cycle there. Those who go by bus would walk the Changi Boardwalk and explore the area around Hendon Road and Halton Road. We would return to Changi Village to meet the rest of the group and have lunch at the Airfield Coffee-shop. After that we would rent bicycles, cycle to East Coast Park to return the bicycles. PCN Pitstop provides this service with their network of kiosks throughout the Eastern Coastal Park Connector Network.

Changi Point Coastal Walk

Changi Point Coastal Walk
The main party after arriving at the bus terminal proceeded with the Changi Point Coastal Walk. This is a 2.2km trail with a mixture of terrains such as beach, cliff, kelong and along the frontage of a sailing club. It starts at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal and ends at just beyond the Changi Swimming Club. When we reached the Changi Sailing Club, 3 cyclists caught up with us. They had cycled from McDonald's at the East Coast Park to join up with us.

Changi Sailing Club
After the usual greetings we continued on with walking the boardwalk until the end just after the Changi Swimming Club. The cyclists had to at times carry their bikes up and down the steps. The hikers exited at the Changi Swimming Cub to get to explore Halton Road and Hendon Road.

The former colonial buildings at Hendon Road were being renovated to house F&B outlets. The former Changi Hospital and the Orange Valley Nursing House are located at Halton Road. It is a quiet area most conducive for the inhabitants.

Kelong Walk
Meanwhile the cyclists proceeded to Changi Village by a different way.

Eventually we all met at the Airfield Coffee-shop. We had an enjoyable meal for all 11 of us. After lunch we went to the PCN Pitstop kiosk at Changi beach to rent bikes to cycle to Marine Parade.

Coastal Park Connector
The ride was uneventful. We cycled through Changi Beach Park, then along the Coastal Park Connector that runs parallel to the Changi Coast Road and the runway. We made several stops to rest. The stretch alongside the runway is 6km in length and we could feel the effect of the south-westerly wind blowing against us making our ride a bit more strenuous.

Former Changi Hospital
Soon we cycled past the National Service Resort & Country Club and arrived at the East Coast Park. It was another 5km to the PCN Pitstop kiosk to return the bike. Then we crossed the East Coast Parkway by the overhead bridge to get to the nearest coffee-shop at Block 59 for refreshments.

Route

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August 24, 2013

Walking the Green Corridor Former KTM Railway Track

Near Jalan Jelita
KTM Railway Track
We witnessed the last afternoon run of the KTM train from Singapore to Johor Sentral in 2011. That was a nostalgic ride. The cabins were full and passengers were hanging out to wave to passersby like us who were walking the track. One of us almost got knocked down as he underestimated the width of the carriage vis-a-vis the track. It was time to revisit the former KTM railway track now called the Green Corridor or the Rail Corridor.

Near Biopolis
So what has changed. The metal tracks and sleepers are gone except those at the Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah Stations and the iron bridges near Rifle Range Road and The Rail Mall. The bridge across Hillview Road was removed and also those at Junction 10 and the Mandai River.

Now the former railway track is more a grass covered trail for hikers and cyclists to travel along as they enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

We walked the Green Corridor in two stages. The first one was from Bukit Timah Station southward to Tanjong Pagar Station and the second from Bukit Timah Station northward to the Mandai River. At the Tanjong Pagar Station a fence just after the Kg Bahru Flyover prevented us from reaching the station.

Cyclists on the trail
Bukit Timah Station to Tanjong Pagar Station
The day we walked this trail was Hari Raya, a public holiday. We expected and saw more hikers, runners and cyclists then usual but it was still generally quiet. The trail condition was dry except for a few wet patches but nothing to complain about. The obstruction by vehicles reported in the news forum were now cleared. There was planting of some young trees along the side to hide the road traffic so there were some construction vehicles around.

Because of the overcast sky providing cool weather, we were motivated to walk all the way from Bukit Timah Station (near the iron bridge across Bukit Timah Road) to Alexandra Village Food Centre without a break. We left the trail near Block 1002 to get to the food centre. After that we continued on to the end of the trail just before the Tanjong Pagar Station. Access to the station was blocked by a fence to prevent vandalism. We left the trail at a path just next to the Kg Bahru Flyover and headed for the New Bridge Road Bus Terminal to take the bus home.

Bukit Timah Bridge
Bukit Timah Station to Kranji
Again we started off from the iron bridge across Bukit Timah Road and walked along the trail that borders the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. This is the most 'close to nature' part of the trail due to its nearness to the reserve and wildlife knows no boundaries. As we walked along we could hear the calls of the birds and see the flitting of the butterflies and the foliage growing closer to us.

Very soon we passed the bridge near the Rail Mall and had to descend to road level at Hillview Road as the bridge over this road was removed. We found a path on the left that led us down (see GPS track below) then we crossed the road and accessed the trail again on the other side. One could either climb up the steep slope from the road or walk around the slope to the right to get to a more gentle path to the trail.

Cut Lallang
The lallang had grown taller to man-height and resembled a corn field. Luckily we came after they did some pruning so our path was unobstructed.

At Junction 10 we had a break then proceeded to walk the rest of the trail. We returned to the trail through the heavy-vehicle park north of Junction 10. The heavy-vehicle park is separated from the trail by a drain and vegetation but there are several places where one can get through.

Mandai River Bridge
We were stopped at the Mandai River. Here they built a dormitory for foreign workers on the bank of the river and there is a brightly coloured bridge that allowed workers to access Woodlands Road. We made use of this to get to Woodlands Road, then turned right toward Kranji station from where we took the train home.

Related Posts
Railway Track from Mandai to Bukit Timah Station
Railway Track from Bukit Timah Station to Tanjong Pagar Station

July 17, 2013

Round Island Walk - Punggol to East Coast Lagoon


From the Sunrise Bridge at Punggol Waterway
Round Island Walk Leg 9. Punggol to Changi

We gathered together at Compass Point in Sengkang and had our lunch there as the
choice of  food was poor at the Punggol MRT Station (the starting point of our walk). After lunch at the Compass Point food court we took the train to Punggol.

On alighting from the train we began our walk by walking along Punggol Walk toward the Punggol Waterways. At the Waterway just after crossing the semi-circular bridge, we walked down the slope to the waterway and headed to the west end of the waterway. Here we turned right to follow the Punggol Park Connector along the Punggol River. On this Thursday afternoon, the park connector was quiet. We saw few people except for an angler whiling away his time.

Eventually we reached Punggol Point. There were a number of anglers here. We had a short stay at the lookout before continuing our walk to the Serangoon River on the Punggol Promenade. The trees along here were newly planted and provided little shade. After passing the West and East Serangoon Dam we came to the east end of the Punggol Waterway. A bit further on and we come to the red coloured pedestrian bridge to Lorong Halus Wetland where water is treated using plants and ponds. Here we have our first stop of the day.


Fishing at Punggol Point
After the break we continued on Pasir Ris Farmway 3 and Pasir Ris Drive 1. As we came abreast of the Pasir Ris Station 3 members left us to attend to some personal matters. The rest of us plodded on until we sighted the coffee shop at Pasir Ris Drive 6 for our second break. During this time, it rained.

After that we continued on Pasir Ris Drive 1 until we hit Loyang Ave. At Loyang Valley we had to stop again for the heavy rain and finally decided to take the bus all the way to Changi Village.


Round Island Walk Leg 10. Changi to East Coast Lagoon

We met up at Changi Village hawker centre which was recently renovated. The layout has been improved for better ventilation and there were more food stalls. After lunch we crossed the bridge over the Changi Creek to begin our walk. Most of the hoardings at the beach were removed so the park is now more open and accessible. At the Changi Beach Park, the trail has recently been tarred and changed from the old sand trail. Sure missed the feel of the older trails.


Coastal Park Connector
We left the park just after the second PCN Pitstop kiosk which rents out bicycles and sells drinks for the thirsty park users and bikers coming from the Coastal Park Connector. At these kiosks one could rent a bike and return it at another kiosk. This means we do not have to cycle back on the same route if we are pressed for time.

Just after the Changi Ferry Terminal is Aviation Park Road on the left. We wanted to go to the Changi Exhibition Centre to attend Imdex a maritime defence show. A check with the security post revealed that this is for professionals only and not the one where the public are allowed in. So we gave it a miss and proceeded with our walk along the Coastal Park Connector which parallel the Changi Airport runway. As we proceeded along here we could see many planes taking off every few minutes. Most of these are budget or regional airlines such as Tiger, Air Asia, Silkair, Jetstar, etc.


East Coast Park
Along the way we snapped pictures of landmarks such as the control tower so our non-walkers could follow our progress as they planned to join us at the Lagoon to celebrate the completion of our round island walk started 21 February. This was however interrupted by trips to Johor Bahru for lunch and to Sapa North Vietnam to trek the highland rice terraces.

As we reached the end of the runway walk and turned toward the canal, we met up with another of our walker P. He had come from the Lagoon to join us as he could not start earlier. Together we marched on with a brief stop at the NSRCC Sea Sports Centre. This is where our youths learn and hone their skills in sailing and surfing.

East Coast Lagoon Food Court
The rest of the walk along the East Coast Park was uneventful and excitedly we rushed toward the lagoon where our friends were waiting with their food goodies. Finally at close to 16.30hr we arrived. The celebration was subdued with the absence of 2 key rabble rousers but we happily congratulated each other with beer, satay,  and tarts and ang ku kueh all the way from Johor. Later on we found out that the satay belonged to the next table so we had to pay for it! CH brought his Samsung tablet and a set of mini speakers and some of us were merrily singing along including “My Way”, those who still have their voice.

June 28, 2013

Round Island Walk - Kranji to Punggol

Woodlands Town Park
Round Island Walk Leg 6. Kranji to Sembawang

For this leg there were 5 of us as 2 were out of town. We gathered at Kranji Station. After finding out that there was no food here, we walked toward  Woodlands Town for lunch. We travelled along Woodlands Ave 3 to Woodlands Centre Road via Woodlands Town Park to Woodlands Town and had lunch at the hawker centre. After that we crossed the overhead bridge to the Marsiling Park Connector walking past Blocks 33 to 37 to Admiralty Road West that would lead us to the Woodlands Waterfront jetty.

The weather was hazy, hot and humid and it made us lethargic. We cut short our visit to the Woodlands Waterfront Park and went toward Admiralty Park. We entered Admiralty Park from the north entrance. Sungei Cina runs through the park from the Johor Straits. A short distance in the forest, we were blocked from crossing  the bridge over Sungei Cina as it was under repair. We had to walk around it via Riverside Road West Entrance. Here we had a choice of walking through the forest or cross the bridge to the exposed trail. We took the exposed trail east of Sungei Cina and eventually walked past the Sakura Restaurant and arrived at the Republic Polytechnic.

Republic Polytechnic
We found the students’ canteen next to the Reflecting Pool and took a break there as the hot humid air was energy sapping. They charge different rates for students and non-students.

After that we moved along Woodlands Ave 9 to Sungei Sembawang where we turned right, crossed the bridge and walked along the Sembawang Park Connector until we reached the overhead MRT Line. We turned left toward the Sembawang Station. There was light rain just as we approached the station. We ended this leg of our walk here.



Round Island Walk Leg 7. Sembawang to Khatib

From Sembawang Station we walked to Canberra Road and Wellington Circle. Opposite Block 506A on Montreal Drive was a staircase leading to Canada Road. Here are the black and white houses left behind by the British Government now managed by Singapore Land Authority. Usually these are leased out to expatriates who love the open space and greenery reminiscent of their houses in their home countries. We saw some Caucasians gathering for school or some social function. This estate has its own auxiliary police to maintain security. The staircase that we took has a door to keep out intruders at night.

Play Structure at Sembawang Park
At the end of Canada Road, we crossed East Admiralty Road to King's Ave to Malta Crescent where we cut across the lawn and aimed directly for the coast through Sembawang Park. Part of the park was being renovated - the area near the Beaulieu House and some of the shelters. Along the coast and at the jetty were some anglers. At Kampong Wak Hassan, we still could not go directly to the former Bottletree Village as it was still blocked despite more than 3 years of construction. We had to walk down Sembawang Road to Andrews Ave to Jalan Mempurong to reach it. The site of the former Bottletree Village was deserted awaiting further development. At the beach next to the mouth of Sungei Simpang Kiri we saw a group of Indians offering prayers and leaving a bundle floating in the sea.

We walked along the Simpang Kiri Park Connector to Yishun Ave 2. At Block 1001 food court we stopped for refreshment. Then we continued on through YIshun Neighbourhood Park, Northpoint Shopping Centre, Yishun Town Garden and finally to Khatib Station where we terminated our walk.

May 27, 2013

Sapa Trekking

Sapa Rice Terraces
Sapa Trekking Journal

After completing 8 legs of our Round Island Walk in Singapore we decided to take a break by going trekking in Sapa in Vietnam. We were itching to do some trekking outside of Singapore as in the last five years of walking together we have been to all corners of the island several times. The timing was perfect as it was late spring and the weather was warming up but there was always a risk of rain. This would mean muddy tracks. Instead we were blessed with 3 gorgeous days of sunshine, perfect for trekking. This trip was bandied about for more than a year, but we finally confirmed our booking for the trip in early April. Seven of us signed up. We were most fortunate to be recommended to a tour organizer who arranged for our trip from the moment we touched down in Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport, brought us to Sapa then delivered us back to a hotel in Hanoi. So here is the record of our journey to this mountain resort town and the treks we did.

Thursday Day 1 Hanoi

Our Tiger Air flight TR2308 was delayed in taking off but we managed to arrive at the Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport close to the scheduled ETA. We located the driver outside the arrival hall and in less than an hour were deposited at the Asia Star Hotel at the corner of Dao Duy Tu and Nguyen Sieu. This hotel is situated in the Old Quarter close to the north end of Hoan Kiem Lake, a major Hanoi attraction for both locals and tourists.

No rooms were available when we arrived so we left our luggage and were led to the neighbouring Vietnamese restaurant Pho Com Co for lunch (included in our package). We were satisfied with this restaurant (the food, price and the ambience) and returned several times. We decided there and then that we would go back for dinner but we never did as we ran out of time. We discovered there was wifi in the restaurant and were happily whatsapping to our friends and to each other. During our trip we found that every restaurant or pub or hotel in Sapa and Hanoi we visited offered free wifi. After lunch, we were given 2 day-rooms to freshen up before we hit the streets of Hanoi.

Before we explored the streets I explained how to cross the streets without too much trepidation to one of my fellow trekkers. He thought I was pulling his leg. “Just step cautiously onto the street and walk at a steady pace. No running, no sudden stop. The cyclists and bikers will compensate and adjust their direction in anticipation of your intended track”. This reminded me of the sixties when we used to cross the same way in Chinatown or Geylang. Of course we got to be more careful with larger vehicles such as cars, trucks or buses. These we give way first. After our trip, we found that this was more or less correct. But we did not experience the full force of the traffic as Hanoi was on 5 days’ holiday to celebrate Liberation Day.

View of Fansipan Range from Sapa Unique Hotel balcony
We walked along Tran Nhat Duac. The reward was seeing the largest mosaic wall (3,850 linear meters 6,950m² in area) in the world built  to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi. We asked for directions two times and the locals were very specific eg. walk past 2 traffic lights and turn right to the lake. For us in Hanoi there were two things to see and experience - the lake and the Old Quarter where our hotel was located. No museum tours for us. For the lake it was to enjoy the atmosphere there as the locals and tourists mingle. For the Old Quarter to discover and marvel at  the 36 specialist streets, each street generally specializing in one type of goods. The street next to our hotel suitably had several alcohol retailers where a bottle of Bordeaux was bought for 110,000 Dong.

We arrived at Hoan Khiem Lake and did the mandatory red bridge crossing. We did not enter the Ngoc Son Temple due to lack of time. We returned to the hotel by the same road. It was not so pleasant as the road was a busy thoroughfare. When we returned to Hanoi after Sapa we would follow a better route along Hang Ngang and Hang Dao. These were lined with shops dealing in the rag trade.

As we walked back to the hotel, we past the Prague Pub near the hotel. We stopped by and tried their Hanoi Beer at 12,000 Dong. The dark draft beer was at 18,000 Dong. We ran out of time and Y graciously volunteered to go back to the same restaurant Pho Com Co to pick up fried rice to be eaten on the train. Someone suggested this instead of noodles as it would not be soggy and this turned out to be true and delicious.

Sapa Town Cau May Street
The hotel sent us to the station with a staff to help us check in. Our vouchers had to be exchanged for train tickets. What with the noise and the crowd of tourists leaving for Sapa it was total chaos. We checked with our minder several times as he appeared to be lost also but he assured us not to worry. Finally the time came for boarding and we were happy to find our rooms and soon settled down.

We had two 4-bed aircon night berths. At first the ride was smooth but after leaving the city it felt like riding on a horse. Although the bunk was comfortable it was hard to sleep. I got up several times and had to struggle to avoid losing my balance while walking to the wc and within the wc itself. Toward the early hours of the morning the water ran out as well. At 5am, we were finally roused from our sleep by the the train staff as he shouted “lao cai” several times. We thought he was a food vendor offering some form of chicken. “Cai” sounded like “chicken” in Cantonese.

Friday Day 2 Trek from Sapa to Ta Van

We arrived at  Lao Cai at about 5.30am and were picked up by a driver who took us to the Sapa Unique Hotel in Sapa Town. It took about an hour as it is about 38km away. At that hour in the morning, the traffic was light and our driver skillfully overtook every vehicle that we came across. The scenes as we drove past were beautiful but nothing compared to what we were about to see when we trek. In Sapa Town we drove past the lake, then the public square. Hmong vendors were already laying out their plots to be used later to show their wares. We turned into Fansipan Road and within a few minutes stopped at the Sapa Unique Hotel. The hotel is run by Mr Viet and Mr Hung. They were short of rooms when we arrived very early in the morning. Some of us had to share a room to refresh then had breakfast before we start trekking. Our guide was a young fresh-faced girl from the Red Dao minority tribe. She spoke perfect English (better than some of our secondary school students) yet never attended English class. She claimed that her English was learned from tourists. She demonstrated great maturity by responding intelligently on any topic we threw at her.

We walked past Sapa market to Cau May where we turned right to leave Sapa southward. A few Black Hmongs trailed us. Their purpose was to sell us their handicrafts as they returned to their village which was also where we were heading. They were helpful when we negotiated tricky terrain always willing to lend a hand.

Just a few hundred metres out of Sapa Town we came to a road clearing where we could have an excellent view of Sapa Town and a promise of what's to come. I could identity the hotel where we were staying by its shape and colour. There were other groups of trekkers as well - mostly angmos. What surprised us was they would then pile into a minibus and go off. Further out we took a right turn down the valley. Here we had an amazing view of the Muong Hoa valley. We could see across to the Fansipan range. Everywhere rice terraces enveloped the hills or wrapped around the slopes. Houses were scattered all over the valley. We could see trails leading up to the opposite mountain range.

On the Way to Ta Phin
The trek was generally easy except for a shortcut we took where there was a vertical drop. But with plenty of helping hands, we quickly negotiated this.

Eventually we arrived at a bridge built to carry equipment and supplies to the generating station under construction. There were no railings and I carefully stayed in the middle as the valley the bridge crossed was way down below. Just after the power station, we crossed a bridge over the Muong Hoa River and arrived at a restaurant next to the river for lunch.

After lunch we entered the Lao Chai village and were shown an unattended water driven rice pounding machine and given a tour on how they produce cloth by weaving and then dyeing with natural dyes. We walked on past the village and observed at close hand the rice terraces, the domestic animals such as buffalos, pigs, ducks, etc. We continued walking past Ta Van until we crossed a bridge back across the same river to wait for our transport.

Back at the hotel all of us finally had a room each and we prepared for dinner at the hotel at 7pm. After that we roamed around and stopped at the Elysian Hotel for a drink. Next day we were told that Y had dropped his wallet (when pulling out his notebook) at the Elysian. He spoke to Hung who knew the manager at the Elysian. One phone call and he confirmed the wallet containing US$600  was still there. Hung biked Y over and recovered his wallet. It would have spoiled our trip if the wallet was lost.

Saturday Day 3 Trek from Sapa to Ta Phin

This morning the trek would be from Sapa Town to Hmong village Ma Tra then to Ta Phin. We walked past the public square and the church. Many villagers were at the public square with their goods laid out for display and sale. Just past the square was a small park where vendors were exhibiting their photos. After passing the lake we turned left onto a path that would lead us to a Hmong village. We entered a house that provided accommodation for 3 families. The building had an upper floor for storing their stuff. It had a low door frame and some of us bumped our heads because of the lack of light.  The villagers marry young and we saw a young girl nursing her baby.

After going through this village we tiptoed through some rice fields. We found that where the bunds were made of earth it was easy to balance but when they use stones it was harder. A couple of us almost twisted our ankles negotiating through here. R with foresight got a few bamboo poles and this helped us to keep our balance.

Bac Ha Sunday Market
After this stretch we accessed the newly cemented trail. It was only about 2 months old. This would make it even easier for both tourists and locals to walk especially in rainy weather when the old trail would have turned muddy. It was somewhere along this stretch that Y found his camera missing. He had dropped it earlier. Luckily P was the last in the group and he sighted the camera and handed it over to our guide thinking perhaps someone else had lost it. Y was about to return to search for his camera when the guide showed him the camera. We kept up our pace walking up and down hill slopes until we reach Heavenly Homestay for lunch. During our trek  we noticed that some of the rice fields were freshly planted as the planting season was just beginning.

After lunch another 20 minutes' walk brought us to Ta Phin, the home village of our guide. Every morning she would take a motorbike ride to get to our hotel.

At Ta Phin we met her mum who was kept busy selling her wares to us as we wanted to show our support. Then we moved on to the pickup point in the village. Here we saw minibuses lined up waiting for their passengers. When a new bus arrived, hordes of the tribal women approached them to hawk their wares.

The bus took us back to Sapa Unique Hotel for us to pick up our luggage to bring to the next hotel. Viet told us that dinner would be at his new restaurant Michell near the Elysian at 7 pm.

When we arrived at the next hotel Sapa Lodge the rooms were not ready so 2 of us temporarily shared one to refresh. After that we went to a sports shop to buy North Face bags, shoes etc. They also sold a cap that is foldable and can be put in the pocket.

At 7pm we went to the Michell Restaurant for dinner. We were happy with the variety and the taste of the food. The trek had worked up a good appetite in us. Hung offered us rice wine gratis.

After dinner we went back to the Elysian Hotel (out of gratitude) where Y recovered his wallet the previous evening for a few beer on his account. We had some unhusked almonds so we had to use the back end of the bread knife to knock the almond. We created such a racket that after awhile the manager politely asked us to reduce our noise. We respected his request as we were indeed creating quite a ruckus. We saw the same group of Thai tourists the previous night. They were busy repackaging the North Face bags they bought. They also bought 3 hiking telescopic poles for US$10.

Sunday Day 4 From Sapa to Bac Ha Sunday Market

I woke up to see clouds billowing below my room through the valley to the left. The view from the bedroom and balcony was indescribable and the air fresh.

We checked out at 8.30am. Our guide was now dressed in jeans instead of traditional costume for the previous 2 days. The bus took us to Bac Ha. On the way we stopped at Lao Cai to view the border crossing with China.

At the Bac Ha market we walked past tourist stalls to the animal market where horses, birds, buffalos are sold. Then we walked through the market stalls where the locals come to have meals, fraternize, blind dating or buy their supplies. Here all types of freshly slaughtered meat (including horse meat) were sold.

After lunch we were taken to a trail where we walked another 20 min to reach the boat landing. The boats were built of metal with long-tail engines. Because of the low water level we had to get off the boat at certain spots to help to push. Luckily our boatman knew the water so we only got off at one short stretch. When I got out of the boat my toe scraped the side of the boat and sustained a cut but a bit of cotton wool and plaster soon stopped the bleeding. Surprisingly there was no feeling of pain. Could be the mineral content of the river water. The other boatman was not so experienced as his boat got stuck often despite his son and daughter helping him. At some stage, my fellow travellers had to get off the boat to help as well.

Where we landed was a sand mining operation. Sand and water were pumped out of the river and sand deposited along the shore. Later trucks would come by to haul these away for construction. We walked up the slope to the bus which took us back to rest at Lao Cai and for dinner before boarding the train back to Hanoi at about 8.30pm.

Monday Day 5 Hanoi

The train attendant woke us up at about 4.30am shouting Hanoi! Hanoi! warning us of our impending arrival at Hanoi. As we left the station, we met our taxi driver who had a 7-seater taxi. The size was good enough for 7 pax without luggage. It was a squeeze with the bags pressing against my back and my head. After a short ride he stopped outside a hotel that was not familiar to us. We refused to get off and told him it was the wrong hotel. He finally understood and drove us to the Asia Star Hotel the same one we used when we first arrived in Hanoi on the first day. Luckily we knew our hotel.

We managed to get a room to share to freshen up after our long night train journey. After that we walked around the Hoan Kiem Lake and had breakfast of pho (Vietnamese noodle) at 50,000 dong for each bowl. We noticed that the vendor collected money from us as soon as he served us whereas for the local he collected later and at a cheaper rate.

We had lunch at Pho Com Co and ordered US$7 set per pax with a complimentary glass of wine each. We were in high spirits. We observed a local in his thirties come in to the restaurant with his son in tow. After he sat down, they brought him a bottle of red wine. This is impressive for a guy to finish a whole bottle alone for lunch. We continued to watch him as he poured a bit of wine into his glass swirled the wine then pour away the wine into the spittoon below the table. This is even more impressive using wine to clean your wine glass.

We went back to the lake to buy tickets for the water puppet show then do a bit of shopping followed by a drink to while away the time near the northeast end of the lake.

We had dinner at Hai San Seafood Restaurant at US$6 per pax consisting of several types of shellfish including oysters, a vegetable dish and noodles. After that we returned to the Prague Pub for the dark Vietnamese draft beer.

Tuesday Day 6 Hanoi - Singapore

We had breakfast in the basement of the Asia Star Hotel. This was included in the room rate. We observed that the waitress was doubling as a cook and later in the morning we saw her cheerfully helping in the hotel upstairs to carry items to the lift.

After breakfast we took a walk to St Joseph's Cathedral near the southern end of the Hoan Kiem Lake. It occupies a huge compound. Then we walked to M2 shop opposite the Melia Hotel. M2 sells branded clothes but no sports stuff - it was a of waste of time. Then back to the hotel to rest and prepare for checkout and to the airport.

GPS Tracks - Sapa Treks to Ta Van and Sapa to Ta Phin

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GPS Track - Sapa to Bac Ha to Lao Cai

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April 22, 2013

Round Island Walk - Boon Lay to Kranji

Round Island Walk Leg 4. Boon Lay to Jalan Murai

We assembled at Boon Lay MRT Station and had lunch at Jurong Point. After that we moved on to Pioneer Station and the nearby Yunnan Park at Jurong West St 93 to view the original Nantah Gate. This was where we had to drive through in the 1970's to enter Nantah from the old Jurong Road.

Old Nantah Gate
Thow Kwang Industry
After that we walked along Pioneer Road to NTU. We followed Nanyang Crescent northward to Nanyang Ave where we turned eastward past Cleantech 1 then into Cleantech View to Cleantech Loop to Lorong Tawas. Thow Kwang Industry is located here. They run the longest kiln in Singapore. It is operated only 3 times a year during which clay products from local potters are fired. The company also exhibits and sells products from China. However the kiln will be closed next year as JTC wants the place for Cleantech factories.

A garden has already being built next to the company and landscaped with granite streams and staircase to the Cleantech 1 building. Cleantech 2 is now under construction. A group of students from the Communication Class of NTU interviewed us for their class project. They wanted to find out what was our interest in the dragon kiln but missed the story of our Round Island Walk.

We moved on to Jalan Bahar where we walked past the Christian, Muslim and Chinese cemeteries. One of my friends told me he used to cycle among the cemeteries as he found the surrounding peaceful and serene.

Thow Kwang Industry
About 500m after the junction of Jalan Bahar and Old Lim Chu Kang Road, we turned into another stretch of Old Lim Chu Kang Road where bus service 975 also turn in to drop soldiers on their way to or from their camps. We did so because this stretch has more trees to provide shade.

This stretch of road finally turned back to Lim Chu Kang Road. Threatening clouds were fast approaching when we stopped at a bus stop opposite Jalan Murai. We powwowed and decided to stop our walk here because of the rain clouds and lightning that were fast approaching. As soon as we got on the bus the heavy thunderstorm descended on the bus. We were lucky this time and avoided a drenching.

Round Island Walk Leg 5. Murai to Kranji

We met at Choa Chu Kang Station and had lunch at the nearby Lot 1 Shoppers' Mall. After that we took bus no. 975 to Jalan Murai at Lim Chu Kang Road where we stopped our walk the previous week. As we alighted the bus driver was concerned and asked whether we were at the right place. We confirmed that it was and he left us. The bus would turn around after reaching the end of Lim Chu Kang Road. On the way back the bus driver waved to us as he recognized us walking toward the jetty.

Lim Chu Kang Jetty
Midway through our walk on LCK Road it rained. We were lucky to be at a bus stop shelter so we had a short break. When the rain slowed to a drizzle we continued our walk to the jetty.

Neo Tiew Road
After enjoying the misty scene at the jetty, we followed the path that we did earlier a few years ago (see Lim Chu Kang Farms). This way we reduced the distance we had to walk along Neo Tiew Road which was heavy with traffic, especially trucks carrying recycled building waste to and from the construction sites. Neo Tiew Road is a narrow 2-way road. With big trucks moving near the edge at times we had to step off the road to be safe. At Lim Chu Kang Lane 6, as we walked past one of the farms, the resident guard dogs gave us the obligatory barks, but seeing that we numbered 6, they decided not to go further.

Finally after passing the third Neo Tiew Cresent, we arrived at familiar territory, Neo Tiew Crescent led to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. By then, we were exhausted by the heat and the constant lookout for traffic, and walking single file that we went past this without comment. After a short break at a bus shelter, we proceeded to Block 259 next to the Chinese Temple at Kranji Loop for refreshments. Just before reaching the canteen, we were threatened by dogs again, this time they were more fierce and showed their teeth. But because we were a group of 6 and showed no fear, we continued on our way. However no more walking on this road what with the dogs, dust and noisy trucks. After the break we walked along Kranji Road to the Kranji Station where we ended this leg.

Related Article
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Round Island Walk - East Coast Park to Marina Bay Sands
Round Island Walk - Marina Bay Sands to Boon Lay

March 28, 2013

Round Island Walk - Marina Bay Sands to Boon Lay

Round Island Walk Leg 2. Marina Bay Sands to Haw Par Villa MRT Station

We alighted from the bus at the Marina Bay Floating Platform where we ended our first leg (see Round Island Walk - East Coast Park to Marina Bay Sands). We walked across the Double Helix Bridge to meet up with 2 more walking buddies. The weather was perfect giving us excellent views of the bay for photo-taking especially with the sun shining from the south providing good lighting on the skyscrapers emblazoned with their financial pedigree. There were not too many people because of the heat - probably indoors admiring all those branded stuff, eating or gambling.

Marina Bay
Amoy Street Food Centre
We wandered around the Marina Bay Sands promenade to Shenton Way to Amoy Street Food Centre for our lunch. We arrived just minutes before the office lunch crowd and so did not take too long to queue. By the time we finished our meal, the queues were much longer. Here we observed the power of the tissues used to 'chope' i.e. reserve a seat or table. I regretted not taking a picture of this unusual low tech Singapore phenomenon. Perhaps could have pushed all these away and see what happened. After lunch we continued our walk to Keppel Road via Anson Road. The traffic along Keppel Road was heavy, noisy and dusty but we had to endure it. Going by a more pleasant route would add mileage to our walk.

Marina@Keppel Bay

Keppel Island and Reflections
We passed the old Tanjong Pagar railway station which was locked up awaiting final plans for refurbishment. We walked through Vivocity for some cool air and had some refreshment at Kopitiam. After that we walked past Harbourfront to Keppel Bay Drive. We paid a short visit to Keppel Island to admire the boats berthed at the Marina with the backdrop of Reflections at Keppel Bay. Looking at the top of the high rise apartments I always wanted to ask the architect when they were going to complete the building. This was because of the skeletal structure at the top looked unfinished.

Then we walked along the promenade in front of Reflections to the Bukit Chermin Boardwalk. There was hardly anyone there except for the crew maintaining the grounds

Labrador Nature Reserve
The Boardwalk led us to Labrador Nature Reserve. Here they were some workers taking a lunch break doing fishing from the shelter. We walked through the reserve and exited via Labrador Villa Road to Pasir Panjang Road.

The afternoon was hot and 2 members left us at the Labrador MRT Station. The rest proceeded along Pasir Panjang Road past Pasir Panjang Station and finally Haw Par Villa Station from where we took a train ride home on the Circle Line.


Round Island Walk Leg 3. Haw Par Villa MRT Station to Boon Lay MRT Station

We met up at the Haw Par Villa Station and proceeded to walk along West Coast Highway. Near the West Coast Car Mart we stopped at the Kopitiam Food Centre for lunch.

West Coast Park
After lunch we continued with our walk along the West Coast Highway then turned into the West Coast Park to enjoy its serenity and avoid the roar of the road traffic along the highway and the hot sun. We dropped by at MacDonald's (it was packed full with lunchtime crowd from the nearby offices) for a quick taste of their ice cream cone and proceeded toward the shoreline to enjoy the marine scene. It was unshaded near the two jetties so we hurried along to the mangrove boardwalk. Reaching the end of the park we continued on the same highway to Jalan Buroh where we turned left to get to the Pandan Reservoir.

Boats at Republic Singapore Yacht Club

Pandan Reservoir
When we reached the reservoir we climbed up the slope to access the jogging path for a better view of the reservoir. With a circumference of 6km unshaded. the thought of walking around the circumference was terrifying as it was hot and unshaded but we just had to show it to those who have not experienced it.

Pandan Reservoir
We returned to the sidewalk which was partially shaded to provide us respite from the afternoon sun.

On we plodded past Sungei Bajau. We wrongly turned into Jurong Port Road instead of Jurong Pier Road so we missed visiting Jurong Hilltop where we had spent many evenings enjoying the beer there.

We finally found our way to Jalan Boon Lay. At International Road we turned left to reach the canal where there was a park connector taking us all the way to Boon Lay MRT Station.

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March 6, 2013

Round Island Walk - East Coast Park to Marina Bay Sands

Round Island Walk 2013 or Walk Around Singapore in 10 days

This came about when one member shared a video of some seniors going around Taiwan on motorbikes. I commented that it would be easier to cycle in Singapore but since cycling has logistics issues he said why not walk around the island. So the idea was hatched to walk round the island in stages. When we come to the end of one leg we would continue where we left off on the next walk.

Camping at East Coast Park
We would try to keep as near to the coastline as possible by walking along the nearest trails, park connectors or roads. The exception is Tuas and Safti. Below is the route for the Round Island Walk 2013. It would consist of 10 legs each about 10-15 km in length so the total distance is about 130 km. We would start at the East Coast Lagoon. The last leg would end at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village where we would celebrate the completion of the whole route and claim bragging rights and bore our family members and friends to death about this 'epic' walk. We would also celebrate 5 years of walking all over Singapore together.

So for the next 9 weeks there will be little route planning required as all we have to do is follow the route shown below. We do have to deviate at times to ensure we pass the appropriate places to refuel our bodies and suitable termination of the relevant leg.

Leg 1 East Coast Park to Marina Bay Sands

We gathered at the Lagoon View bus stop and walked around the condominium to the underpass to gain access to the East Coast Park. We went by the Lagoon and followed the park connector all the way to the Fort Road exit. The weather was excellent but there were few people around this time of the morning. The early morning walkers/joggers have already finished their bit. Just after the Siglap Canal we met up with 2 other members.

Gardens by The Bay East
Near the junction of Tanjong Katong Road was the holding area for the fishermen's boats. A group of them were seated around shooting the breeze. They apparently had enough catch for the day and were not going to heed the consultant's advice to catch more fish.

From Fort Road we walked to the Jalan Batu Market and Food Centre at Block 4A behind the 2 petrol stations for lunch. The Tanjong Rhu Wanton Mee was most popular so we had to queue.

Kite Flying at the Marina Barrage
After lunch we walked along the Geylang Park Connector which became the Tanjong Rhu Promenade and under the Benjamin Sheares Bridge to Gardens by the Bay East. This garden has a 1.5km trail all the way to the Marina Barrage. We came across 2 photographers with the biggest lenses that I have seen mounted on tripods. They were walking with these to take pictures of some crows perched on top of the trees. We noticed that there were more birds in the adjacent secondary forests  than in the garden itself probably because of more varied vegetation.

We crossed the Marina Barrage and observed that construction was still going on for  the west side of the undersea road tunnel. On the rooftop some students were either flying kites or throwing frisbees watched by their teachers.

As we walked toward the Bay South Garden, we saw that the Satay Club was operating. So we took a break After that we hurriedly walked past the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome to the Helix Bridge which was our termination point as the sky looked threatening.

Round Island Walk 2013 Route
Blue is the colour for the legs not travelled. After a leg has been completed it will be changed to red.

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February 26, 2013

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve Wetland Park

When we visit the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve we would aim to include Routes 1 and 2 within the reserve plus the Mangrove Boardwalk just next to the Visitor Centre and the Kranji Nature Trail. We would then achieve our target of close to 10km for our weekly walk. Some visitors may miss the Kranji Trail if they visit on the weekend as the bus would drop them off at Neo Tiew Crescent near the entrance to the reserve. If they were in a hurry to enter the trails they would also miss the entrance to the Mangrove Boardwalk at the Nature Gallery as well.

Mangrove Boardwalk
Kranji Nature Trail
At this time we did not walk the trail as it was closed for renovation. It will be redeveloped as an extension to the reserve and renamed the Sungei Buloh Wetland Park. Expected completion will be late 2014. The Kranji Nature Trail is a 2 km relaxing walk. It starts from opposite the the Kranji Reservoir Car Park B, leads toward the coast then turning left toward the reserve. The car park is where bus service 925 let passengers alight on weekdays before turning back to its final destination of either Choa Chu Kang or Woodlands.

Main Bridge

The Kranji Nature Trail is left wild and you would have walked past grasslands then a secondary forest and finally reaching the shore along the Johor Straits. There are signs posted to remind us to look out for crocodiles so I would cheekily remind my companions to walk in front or at the back to protect me!

Main Hide
The Walk
We gathered at the Marsiling MRT Station and walked to Block 304 at Woodlands Ave 1 for an early lunch. Then we proceeded to the bus stop along Woodlands Ave 3 to take bus service 925 that brought us to Kranji Reservoir Car Park B just after the Kranji Tidal Gates beside the Kranji Reservoir Park. On Sundays and public holidays the bus will drop visitors at Neo Tiew Crescent near the reserve entrance.
One Of Several Ponds

After alighting at the car park. we walked along Neo Tiew Road and then turned into Neo Tiew Crescent to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
The Resident Monitor Lizard Making Way For Us

Mangrove Boardwalk
After entering the Visitor Centre, we accessed the Mangrove Boardwalk through the Nature Gallery. The Gallery is where exhibits show the different themes in the reserve. Along the 500m Boardwalk we could see varieties of mangrove plants, mud-skippers, crabs and if we were lucky the Kingfisher and the White-bellied Sea Eagle. There are several shelters along the walk where we can relax and enjoy the view and breeze coming from the Johor Straits. We can also see across the Straits to Johor Bahru.
Aerie

Routes 1 and 2
We returned to the Visitor Centre in order to access the mudflats where the birds roost and feed. First we crossed a Main Bridge with a shelter in the middle. After crossing the bridge you can see the Main Hide, the first hide that has a view of both ponds. Here is where you can have a closeup view of the birds feeding. Once we saw a lot of birds feeding when suddenly they all rose into the air. Some of the photographers with pro camera were busy bursting their shutters. The reason was the birds sensed a bird of prey in the sky and rose in a fright. This gave us a chance for aerial shots of the birds in flight.

Birds Feeding on the Mudflat
There are a number of hides along the routes and they are numbered based on the route number and sequentially so we can easily tell our progress as we moved along the trail. We should consult the map frequently or we may miss the entrance to Route 2 between Hide 1.15 and 1.16. The Aerie is located here also. Climb up to the top for an aerial view of the mudflats and a lesson on bird identification through the posters hung up here. This is where a long lens or binoculars will come in handy.

Mangrove Arboretum
Along the trails watch out for monitor lizards. Sometimes they bask in the sun and when they hear us, they will head for the water. On one occasion we saw a big one feasting on a fish it just caught. We carefully walked past it to avoid interrupting its meal. Another time we saw one that was wounded in the face. It was slow and laid almost motionless.

Mangrove Arboretum
While at Route 2 lookout for the Mangrove Arboretum. This is a 575m boardwalk that will bring you close to the mangrove.

Reference:
"A Guide to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve" published by NParks.

Related Article
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Round Island Walk - Boon Lay to Kranji    

Route

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January 23, 2013

East Coast Lagoon to Changi Point

This walk took us from the East Coast Park Lagoon to Changi Beach Club a distance of 18km. Along the way we went past the National Sailing Centre, the National Service Resort & Country Club, Changi International Airport, walked through the Changi Beach Park and traversed the Changi Point Boardwalk.

East Coast Park
We first gathered at the Lagoon View bus stop, then walked across the East Coast Parkway via the Laguna Flyover to the East Coast Park to begin our walk.

Bedok Jetty
The day was cloudy but no rain, perfect weather for walking or cycling. We walked past the Xtreme SkatePark and the Bedok Jetty. This is a favourite haunt of anglers who will come day or night depending on the tides to fish.

Just past the Bedok Jetty is the Sunset Beach Bar at the Bougainvillea Garden. It was closed as it was late in the morning. After that we arrived at Kitesurfing and next to it the Outward Bound Centre for the young.

East Coast Park beach
Soon we arrived at the National Sailing Centre and the National Service Resort & Country Club. This is a golf and country club for national servicemen from all services. You can join for terms of either 5 or 10 years. The 3 courses are usually very busy and golfers have to play fast without too much delay or the course marshal will come by to remind you.

Changi Coastal Track
Just outside the golf club is the NSRCC Sea Sports Centre where the young can take part in canoeing and sailing. We stopped by the Belly View Cafe here and had lunch. The prices here are reasonable $5-6$ for noodles and rice dishes. A can of beer costs $5.50. There is also a pub here at the sailing centre. This place should be great for an evening drink by the beach.

NSRCC Sea Sports Centre
After lunch we moved on to the Changi Coastal Track that runs generally parallel to the runway at Changi International Airport. One can watch the planes landing and taking off along this stretch of more than 6km track. We noticed that there were a high proportion of regional budget airlines operating during the late morning and afternoon such as Tiger, JetStar, Air Asia, Lion Air, Scoot and many more. This stretch of road is also very boring for hikers and cyclists but we had to slog through it somehow. There are shelters every 1km to provide rest and shelter from rain and lightning.

Changi Coastal Track
Changi Beach Park
Just past the Changi Ferry Terminal is the Changi Beach Park about 3km long and ends at Changi Point. Changi Beach Park is being upgraded with more shelters and tarred trails. I felt a loss for the dirt trails of the past. Many people come here to fish and relax on the beach as it is readily accessible by public bus.

Just past the Cargo Complex is the SAF Ferry Terminal. This is where NSmen depart for their training at Pulau Tekong. After crossing the bridge over the Changi Creek, we made a decision to continue our walk on the Changi Boardwalk. This stretch is from the Changi Point Ferry Terminal to the Changi Beach Club a distance of 2.2km.

A Catamaran at Changi Sailing Club
Surprisingly although it was sunny along the beach here, it rained suddenly in bright sunshine. After the stretch of beach, we got on the boardwalk and went past the chalets, the Changi Sailing Club and the Changi Beach Club before turning inland to Cranwell Road.

Our walk ended at the junction of Cranwell Road and Loyang Avenue where we took a bus home.

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Route

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