Visiting The Historic Town of Heidelberg, Germany

*This post is part of my Euro-tour series. I’m clearing up some very old travel posts, some of which were migrated from another site. 

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Guten Tag! Germany has one of the prettiest landscapes I have seen so far, with its vibrant colours that seem fit to burst out of every leaf, its cloudless blue skies and sapphire blue rivers. Our next stop on our itinerary was the beautiful town of Heidelberg. Surrounded by rolling green hills perched with castles and overlooking the River Rhine, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place more picturesque than this.

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As we approached Heidelberg in our bus, we were greeted by the most famous landmark in the area – Heidelberg Castle – which majestically overlooks the town and the flowing waters of the Rhine. Originally built in the 13th century, the castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Although it is relatively small in comparison to some other European castles, nobles and kings once called this castle home as they stared out at their surrounding lands. In the 17th to 18th centuries, as the ruler of the area moved the court to a newer, grander castle, Heidelberg Castle fell into disarray, parts of its stone quarried for other buildings. It decayed even further during the French period, when most of Northern Europe was controlled by the Napoleonic French government, with townsfolk looting the castle for wood, stone and other materials.

Ironically, it was a French count – Charles de Graimberg – who saved the castle from falling into further disrepair, serving as its warden and living for a while in the building’s Glass Wing where he kept an eye out for looters. His work with the castle, which he commissioned for painters and writers to document (the olden-day equivalent of Instagram/ travel blog marketing, I should think) eventually drew interest from many tourists to visit Heidelberg. Even famed American writer Mark Twain wrote about the castle and its town.

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Another major landmark here is the Old Bridge (Alte Bruecke), which connects the old part of town to newer establishments. Built in the late 1700s with sandstone, it is an example of a classical stone bridge building and spans the Neckar, a tributary of the Rhine river. We alighted at the base and proceeded to the bridge for photos.

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It was my first time seeing such a deep blue river, disturbed only by occasional boats slicing through the surface like knife through butter. The sky, which was cloudless, seemed to stretch into an infinite horizon, while the banks were green and full of lush vegetation, lined with colourful, square-shaped buildings. I absolutely would not mind living here for the rest of my days, lol.

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At one end of the bridge is a large arch, signifying the entrance to the old town. Originally part of the town’s wall, the two black helmets were later added on in 1786 when the bridge was built.

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One of the most prominent statues on the bridge is a monkey holding a mirror. Records indicate that such a statue existed as early as the 15th century, but the original disappeared during the Nine Years War of the 17th century, fought between Louis XIV of France and a European coalition of the Holy Roman Empire. The current statue was only put up in 1979. You can put your head inside the monkey’s helmet-like hollow. If you rub the mirror, local legends have it that it will bring you good luck, and if you rub its fingers, it will ensure that you will return to Heidelberg someday! Next to the monkey are some bronze-cast mice, which are reported to bring fertility.

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As you walk through the archway and into the town proper, one of the first buildings to greet visitors is the Town Hall (Heidelberg Rathaus). With its many windows and flowery plants lining the edges, it looks more like a posh hotel than a town hall. The building is located within the Marketplace, which is littered with cafes and small tables and chairs for tourists, where you can grab a coffee and dine al fresco.

Heidelberg is a touristy town. During our visit, it was crowded with people from all over the world and I could hardly see any locals, except those manning the stores.

A little history – modern Heidelberg has ‘existed’ at least since the 5th century. Did you know that the Filipino freedom fighter, Joze Rizal, lived and studied here for many years? He attended the prestigious University of Heidelberg, then considered a leading university in Europe.

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We didn’t have a lot of time in town – just a couple of hours – which we spent wandering the streets and popping into whatever buildings seemed interesting. The houses are colourful and uniform, with an occasional turret or castle-like structure.

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There is a large church in the centre of town called the Church of the Holy Spirit, its turret towering over everything in town. We took some pictures outside, but since there was a crowd waiting to go in, we opted to spend more time in a smaller church that we stumbled upon in one of the alleys instead.

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The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) has an attractive, rosy pink facade. It was erected in the 1700s as a Catholic church and was originally built in a baroque style, although this was not preserved. All that remains of the original is a central altar painting. If you’re into history, the church houses a museum of sacred and liturgical art with objects from the 17th to 19th centuries, including treasures of gold and silverware.

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The inside is so well kept it looks brand new.

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The central altar painting.

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We only had a couple of hours to spend in Heidelberg, before it was time to bid adieu to this lovely, historic town. I touched the monkey statue’s fingers, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit again someday!

Travel tips: The nearest international airports to Heidelberg are Frankfurt and Stuttgart. From Frankfurt, trains run regularly to Heidelberg and take approximately an hour.

 

Buddha’s Birth, Enlightenment and Death: How Wesak Is Celebrated Around The World

May 7 marks Wesak (or Vesak) Day, which commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha, a central figure in Buddhism. It is one of the most important days for Buddhists around the world. Unlike Christmas, which has a set date each year, Wesak falls on the full moon of the month of Vesakha according to the ancient Indian calendar, which is typically between April and May.

While Wesak is celebrated in many different ways, with some practices intertwined with the local culture, one common aspect of the festival is paying homage to Buddha and observing the Buddhist precepts of kindness to all living beings. As such, Buddhists will usually eat vegetarian food, go to temples to offer prayers, practice loving-kindness and donate to charity. Many temples around the world will also organise talks on dharma (the Buddhist equivalent of the gospel – ie Buddha’s teachings) and activities such as bathing the Buddha, a symbolic ritual which involves pouring water over a small Buddha statue to cleanse one’s sins.

MALAYSIA

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At 19.2% of the population, Malaysia has a significant number of Buddhists – and Wesak is considered a national holiday. During this time, temples are usually packed with devotees, who come together to donate to the needy and light candles, incense and joss sticks as offerings. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple – one of the most prominent Sinhalese Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur – turns into a bustling hive of activity on Wesak Day, as thousands converge to chant sutras together and pray for the wellbeing of all living beings. The highlight of the celebration is a large procession through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with lighted floats of Buddha and the deities accompanied by devotees holding prayer candles.

NEPAL 

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Buddha was believed to have been born in Lumbini in Nepal, and every year, thousands of pilgrims gather at this pilgrimage site (as well as the surrounding Kathmandu Valley) on Buddha Jayanthi (Buddha’s birthday), to attend religious processions and chant Buddhist scriptures. Similar to other parts of the world, kind deeds and acts of charity are observed, such as donating food and clothes to the needy, providing financial aid to schools and monasteries, and taking part in blood donation drives. Some people dress in white (to symbolise purity), and observe a vegetarian diet.

SRI LANKA 

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A Pandol for Vesak. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Varuna Harshana / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Wesak is a major event in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, with celebrations lasting for a week. The sale of alcohol and fresh meat is prohibited during this period. Aside from alms-giving and prayers, Wesak celebrations in Sri Lanka take on a slightly festive mood – with public displays of electrically-lit pandols (a temporary structure which illustrates stories from Buddhist scriptures) as well as colourful lanterns called Vesak kuudu hung along streets and in front of homes, to represent the light of the Buddha, Dharma (his teachings) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community). There are also organisations and groups that go about singing bhakti gee, or Buddhist devotional songs, much like the Christian practice of carolling.

SOUTH KOREA 

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons. Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service/ CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

South Korea celebrates the birthday of Buddha, or ‘seokga tansinil’, on the 8th day of the 4th month in the Korean lunar calendar. Besides being a religious celebration, it is also very much cultural, with traditional performances, folk games, parades, and more. The world-famous Lotus Lantern Festival, which dates back over 1,000 years, is held in conjunction with seokga tansinil. Seoul hosts the largest event of its kind, featuring grand parades, floats with Buddhist figures and cultural icons such as dragons and phoenixes. Parade participants carry lotus-shaped lights (Buddha is often depicted seated on a lotus) – a symbol of purity and wisdom.

THAILAND 

Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand
Candle Light Vesak day ceremony at WatYai Chaimongkhol Temple, Ayudtaya, Thailand. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Leelaryonkul / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Another Buddhist-majority country, Thailand’s Wesak celebrations are massive. Many Thais are deeply devout (young men are encouraged to be ordained as monks for a certain amount of time as a rite of passage into adulthood) – so temples will usually be full of devotees offering prayers to gain ‘merits’ (in millennial terms – they’re kind of like a points system in Buddhism: do good stuff, get good merits, do bad stuff, get demerits) in order to accumulate good karma.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons – ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Buddhism in Thailand is mainly of the Theravada branch (there are several differences between the two major branches namely Theravada and Mahayana), so devotees observe the Five Moral precepts according to the branch’s tradition – by refraining from harming living things or consuming intoxicating substances. Bars and clubs are closed during this period as a sign of respect.

INDONESIA 

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Waisak (as Vesak is known in Indonesia) celebrations at Borobudur. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Aditya Suseno / CC0

Indonesia once housed powerful Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, with many ancient structures that have stood the test of time scattered across the region. One of these is Borobudur near the city of Yogyakarta, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. It is an important site for Indonesian Buddhists as well as pilgrims from around the world, who gather here for Wesak Day celebrations. Something unique to Indonesia’s Wesak Day celebrations is Pindapata, a ritual involving thousands of monks walking around the structure as well as on the streets, whilst praying to receive charity and blessings for the Indonesian people. Sky lanterns are also released into the night sky, which makes for a magical display against the backdrop of the full moon.

LAOS 

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The Rocket Festival being celebrated in Yasothon, Laos. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Wesak is known as Visakha Bouxa in Laos, where Buddhism is the predominant religion. As Visakha Bouxa falls during the transition between dry and wet season, Laotians celebrate it with Boun Bang Fay, or the Rocket Festival. Villages compete with each other to send large homemade rockets into the sky in an attempt to convince celestial being to send down rain. The rockets can be rather dangerous as they contain a large amount of gunpowder and can sometimes reach several hundred metres. The rocket launching is preempted by parades, musical shows and dance performances. These practices are also apparently quite prevalent in the northern Thai region of Isan.

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Locals performing as part of a street parade for the Yasothon Rocket Festival. Photo via Wikimedia Commons – Takeaway / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

 

 

 

 

Review: Rest.Pause Rainforest Retreat @ Janda Baik, Pahang

Happy CNY, everyone! The Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, so I’m not too late with my wishes! 😛

This year’s celebration was a little different. Instead of the usual balik kampung to Ipoh, the fam rented a bungalow in Janda Baik, Pahang for a 3D2N stay. Tucked among hills and greenery about an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, the area is a popular tourist spot for those who like relaxation and nature.

Our accommodation was called Rest.Pause Rainforest Retreat – and it did not disappoint.

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Built on a hill slope, the house was spacious and beautifully designed, with all the comforts of a modern home, surrounded by lush greenery. There was a nicely kept garden at the back with its own fish pond, as well as a natural stream. There was also a caretaker on hand to take care of all our needs during our stay. He lived in a small but immaculately kept house just next to the main building, and kept the fattest chickens I had ever seen.

(Above) Spacious living room, complete with comfy couches, a large-screen TV and a selection of DVDS to watch. Tall wooden sliding doors opened up to the verandah, allowing for plenty of sunlight to filter in. The place was airy and bright.

 

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The dining area where we had most of our meals was outside on the verandah, affording us scenic views of the garden and surrounding jungle. It was lovely especially in the morning when a mist shrouded the trees and there was a cacophony of chirruping crickets and birds.

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Insert obligatory vain photo here.

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Our welcome drinks of sweet and fragrant pandan water.

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They also prepared a gift basket of snacks; peanuts, instant noodles and Mamee.

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There were four rooms in the bungalow – two on the ground floor, and two upstairs. Ideally, the house should fit a maximum of 15 people – we had 25 ._. They were still really accommodating and even prepared extra mattresses and pillows. Some of us slept in hallways and living rooms.

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View of garden from staircase window.

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One of the rooms upstairs. The setup was basic but comfy. The springy mattress wasn’t good but I slept on a thin one on the floor. Super comfy and cooling!

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Room shared with Moo, Pops and the Bro. I like small spaces and tight corners so you can guess which bed I ‘booked’ immediately upon entering the room. 😀

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The thing I liked most ? THEY HAD A MINI LIBRARY!!!! The bookworm in me shrieked with pleasure when I saw the cupboard of volumes just waiting to be flipped and caressed and devoured (figuratively speaking, of course). There were also some board games on the shelves underneath: UNO blocks, congkak, poker cards, Monopoly, chess.

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Picked up a gem of a book called Shantaram; but it was a long novel so I couldn’t finish it within 3 days. 😦

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Venturing out to explore the garden. Caretaker’s house (right).

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View of the bungalow from the garden.

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Bougainvilleas in bloom.

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Dinner on the first night was hotpot. The place had all the facilities we needed, included cutlery and pots – all we had to do was bring the food. It felt really warm and comforting to enjoy hotpot in the cooling weather!

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Breakfast the next morning was prepared by the caretaker and his wife – simple but tasty fare of fried eggs, sausages, toast and beans.

Janda Baik is close to many tourist spots, including Genting Highlands, Bukit Tinggi, Bentong and a couple of waterfalls. I wanted to stay in and read but the fam was bored so we drove up to Genting Highlands. It was my first time playing slot machines at the casin; it might have been beginner’s luck but I won some money – enough to treat the fam to a good lunch.

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Dinner on our second night was BBQ – the caretaker set up the charcoal and stoves for us on the front porch. The aunties also made a killer lap mei farn (rice with waxed meats).

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Breakfast on our final day was fluffy pancakes with honey and butter – washed down with steaming mugs of coffee and refreshing glasses of orange juice.

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I’d highly recommend Rest.Pause to those who love nature, and those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city without driving too far. The Wifi is pretty wonky, which prompts you to tear your eyes away from the screen for awhile, and reconnect with nature, family and friends (in my case, I still had my nose in a book so, shrug). Everything was provided for – kitchen facilities, entertainment such as books / TV, even mosquito repellents and insect cream – so all you have to bring is yourself and the food. Travel is best by car as there is no public transport in the area. Cycling seems popular but I don’t recommend it as the roads are windy and narrow.

A stay at Rest.Pause costs approximately RM1,000 per night.

Bookings: rest-pause.com

REST.PAUSE RAINFOREST RETREAT 

Lot A293, Sum Sum, Jalan Tanarimba Pine, Tanarimba, 27540 Kampung Janda Baik, Pahang

 

Exploring Wat Pho, Bangkok : The Birthplace of The Traditional Thai Massage

One of Bangkok’s oldest temples, Wat Pho is a must visit if you love architecture. Built in the 16th century, this vast royal temple complex boasts a splendid design, with towering spires, colourful glazed-tile roofs and grand halls. The temple is home to the largest collection of Buddha’s images in Thailand (over 1,000), the most famous being a 46-metre-long giant reclining Buddha. It is also the birthplace of the traditional Thai massage, which is offered to visitors as a communal experience at an open-air pavilion.

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The temple complex covers over 80,000 square metres, so it’s best to allocate several hours if you wish to fully explore the place. There are numerous pavilions, hallways, shrines and prayer halls to within, so tourist maps (located at various points throughout the temple) come in handy !

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The ordination hall, or Phra Ubosot, is where monks perform rituals. The hall looked absolutely stunning, with maroon and gold floor to ceiling motifs and a glittering gold and crystal dais, upon which was seated a gilded Buddha dating back to the Ayutthaya period. The statue was ‘shaded’ by a golden, tasseled nine-tiered umbrella, a symbol of Thailand. The ashes of the ruler Rama I can also be found under the pedestal.

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Making our way around the temple complex, we could see influences from various cultures, such as these Chinese-style stone pagodas. There were figures and statues of Chinese deities as well. The colour of the tiles on the roof differed from building to building, but most had orange/gold as the primary shade, accentuated by blue, red, white and green.

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Chedis are an alternative to stupas in Thailand, and there are hundreds of these within the temple grounds. The smaller ones rise up about five metres, and are decorated with floral or geometric motifs from the base to the top.

Beyond being just a religious place, Wat Pho was also intended as an education centre, so visitors will find murals and engravings on granite slabs throughout the complex with texts and illustrations depicting subjects such as history, medicine, health, custom, literature and religion.

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Marble towers called Phra Prang, which are found at the corners of one of the main courtyards.

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Aside from the Reclining Buddha statue, I found the Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn – a grouping of four large chedis – to be most impressive. Located within a courtyard, their sharp spires towering over their surroundings, these 42-metre-high chedis are dedicated to the first four Chakri kings: Rama I, Rama II, Rama III and Rama IV. The chedis each have a distinctive look and are covered in beautiful tiles, in green, yellow, white and blue.

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Inside one of the buildings called Viharn Phranorn, we finally came to the temple’s famed golden reclining Buddha. It was humongous, filling up one entire side of the hall, the statue’s long legs stretching from one end to the other. There were nooks all along the passageway for visitors to stop and take photos, while on the right were bowls where devotees can drop coins as part of a prayer ritual. The walls were decorated from top to bottom with elaborate murals, and there were artists doing touch up on places where they had faded.

 

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The feet are decorated with laksana, Sanskrit symbols and texts, some of which have been inlaid with mother of pearl.

Wat Pho is located right next to the Grand Palace, so you might want to pair your trip with a visit there. The entrance fee for the Grand Palace is quite pricey, which is why we opted not to.

Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

GETTING THERE 

Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin, then a Chao Phraya express boat at Taksin pier to Tha Tien Pier.

There is an entrance fee of 200 baht to get into Wat Pho.

Opening hours: 8AM – 6.30PM (daily)

 

We Spent Six Hours At The National Museum in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand has a rich and colourful history, and it’s chronicled incredibly well at the National Museum in Bangkok.  From the early days of its ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Sukhothai, Lan Na and Ayutthaya to the more modern eras under the Rama kings, the museum offers visitors a look into the history and various facets of what makes up Thailand today – and it’s absolutely fascinating. N and I spent six hours exploring the vast museum grounds, and would have spent more if it wasn’t for the fact that we had other items on our itinerary to go to :’D

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The museum was about 1.5 kilometres from our hostel in Rambuttri, and it was packed with tourists, locals and students, despite being a weekday. From the outside, the museum didn’t look very large, but there were actually many buildings within. There was an entrance fee of 200 baht (RM27) for foreigners.

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Our timing was excellent as the museum was running a temporary exhibition, “Qin Shi Huang: The First Emperor of China and Terracotta Warriors” during our visit. The showcase included historical artefacts and items from the rule of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, some of which were flown in from Xi’an.

QSH was a bit of an obsessive personality and during his lifetime, drank mercury in an attempt to prolong his life (mercury was believed to be the secret to immortality back then). When he died (presumably from mercury poisoning), he was entombed in a necropolis, complete with 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors. The mausoleum, which was designed as a reflection of a palace / city so that QSH could continue ruling in the afterlife,  has never been fully excavated due to fears of possible damage.

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Although it said ‘life-sized’, I felt like the sculptures were actually taller than normal, averaging about eight feet.

The original statues that were discovered were actually coated in paint, so they weren’t all grey and dull looking. The paint evaporated into the air after the mausoleum was excavated.

 

 

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Terracotta horse-drawn chariot.

Beyond just his odd practices of drinking mercury and burning books, SHD was an extraordinary figure who united China’s many warring factions under one banner. The exhibition also detailed this, explaining the economic and political reforms that took place during his rule, as well as cultural and historical impact that can still be felt two millennia later.  On display to tell the narrative was advanced weaponry, decorative statues, household items, ritual objects, and more.

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A distinctive stone armour worn by soldiers, made up of hundreds of interlinked stone pieces connected by bronze wire to offer more flexibility.

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Decorative / ritual objects in the shapes of farm animals like horses, cows, goats, pigs and sheep; or scenes from everyday life like a rice mill, shrines and small houses.

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N was fascinated, and I had to literally drag him out to the main courtyard (lest we stay there the entire day). We next ventured into the Buddhaisawan Chapel. Built in the early 18th century, the main hall houses one of the most sacred Buddhist images in all of Thailand, the Phra Buddha Sihing.

The vast hall had sleek wooden floors, with a red ceiling and walls decorated with images of the Devas, as well as old paintings telling Buddha’s story. Some of these were faded with age and were difficult to discern, but you could still see the meticulous attention to detail poured into creating each one.

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The entrance to Buddhaisawan Chapel is guarded by garudas – mythical creatures in Buddhist and Hindu mythology that sport avian and human features.

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Another building you can check out within the museum is the vibrant-looking The Red House. Constructed from teak, it was originally the private living quarters of a princess. Today, it houses items used by royals in the past, including those of Queen Sri Suriyenda.

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A beautiful gold pavilion with intricate decorative features and exquisite detailing on the ceiling.

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The halls within the museum seemed to go on forever – there were just so many things to see. There were sections dedicated to Buddhist art from Thailand and neighbouring regions, the evolution of the country’s monetary system and currency, paintings, weaponry, clothing worn by royals, palanquins which were used to mount onto the backs of elephants, war drums, dioramas and much more.

 

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Royal throne. The colour gold is prevalent in Thai colour, as it is an important colour in both Buddhist and Thai culture.

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Life-sized replica of an elephant with a palanquin strapped to its back. Elephants are the national animal of Thailand.

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Students writing notes down as they observe a diorama, complete with war elephants, cavalry, foot soldiers and archers

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Thai royals were a fashionable lot, with ceremonial and everyday costumes featuring rich fabrics, elegant colours, beautiful detailing and patterns, and slim silhouettes.

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Everyone likes beautiful things – and there were sections detailing Thai art, such as how artisans apply mother of pearl to everything from furniture to sword scabbards; as well as a section for enamel pottery.

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Another impressive section was a hall containing numerous royal funeral chariots. Built from teak, the chariots were ornately carved, painted and gilded in gold, with mythical / religious figures and decorative fixtures such as nagas and devas.

Thais have deep respect for their royalty (they have some of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws), and they revere them as much in death as they do in life. When a member of the royal family passes, the chariots are pulled by hundreds of men in a parade down the streets with the urn carrying the ashes of the deceased royal sitting atop a tall roofed shrine.

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Grand send off.

The Bangkok National Museum is, by far, one of the most impressive museums I have been to in Southeast Asia, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you love history and culture. Allocate at least half a day for the place if you’re planning to have a more in-depth experience.

BANGKOK NATIONAL MUSEUM 

Na Phra That Alley, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Opening hours: 9AM – 4PM (closed on Mon – Tues)

 

What To Do At Khao San Road: Bangkok’s Backpacker Mecca

So after years of incredulous looks whenever I tell friends I’ve never been to Bangkok (“but it’s so near!”), I finally got to visit Asia’s City of Angels, The Big Mango; or more notoriously, Sin City. It was a short trip and we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer – but N and I enjoyed our time here immensely. Now I see why everyone was like “why haven’t you been to Bangkok yet?!”

Bangkok at night 01 (MK)
Mathias Krumbholz [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
We didn’t do much research prior to going (a mistake seasoned travellers should avoid!) so I wasn’t sure which area would be a good place to stay. Bangkok is a huge city, divided into many subdivisions, each with its own attractions and experiences. We were on a budget so I picked the cheapest accommodation I could find that wasn’t a hostel. I found one near Khao San Road, a backpacker’s paradise. The only problem? We aren’t exactly party people, so I wasn’t sure what we could do around the place. Turns out, plenty.

Bangkok, like Kuala Lumpur, has two major airports: Don Mueang, which services low-cost airlines, and Suvarnabhumi, which is about 20 km away. Traffic can get pretty bad in the city so always allocate plenty of time going to and from the airport.

HOW TO GET TO KHAO SAN ROAD from DON MUEANG AIRPORT 

The night before we were due to depart for Bangkok, I scoured various websites for info, but there seemed to be no easy way to get to Khao San from Don Mueang. If you’re landing at Suvarnabhumi, things are much easier as there is an airport rail that goes directly to the city centre. The worst case scenario (for our budget, anyway) was to take a taxi (900 baht (!!!) (RM 121) from the official taxi stand inside the airport).

I wasn’t about to spend a good chunk of the money I brought for one taxi ride, so I stubbornly went to the tourist information counter to ask if there was any other way to get there. Lo and behold – the airport runs shuttle buses to various tourist-centric areas within the city ! The A4 bus would take us directly to Khaosan Road and it only costs …. 50 baht! (RM6.77). That’s like a 95% cheaper alternative! 

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The A4 bus runs every 30 minutes. You need to wait for it at the airport’s Exit 6, which is just after arrivals. If you have a lot of luggage, this might not be the best mode of transport since you’ll have to lug it on and off the bus, then up to wherever your hotel is.

The coach was air conditioned, clean and cosy. We got on around 2-ish, and it was quite empty so we had a lot of space to ourselves. From the airport, it took us about an hour to reach Khao San Road.

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We hopped off near Banglamphu, because our hotel/hostel was actually on Soi Rambuttri, just off Khao San Road. Rambuttri is a good place for people on a budget who want to be close to the action, but not at the centre of it. The place is much quieter, with a quaint hipster vibe. The streets are well paved, there is very little traffic except for the occasional bike or trike or two, and there are loads of shops that mirror the ones you find at Khao San, but with less crowd.

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Rambuttri is known for its chill cafes, bars and restos, with large and shady trees and greenery.

 

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There are street stalls as well, peddling souvenirs, cheap clothing, bags, shoes, and more.

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Street massages are a thing. No one bats an eyelid if you’re reclined in full double-chin glory with your feet exposed by the side of the road. An hour-long foot massage will set you back around 250 – 300 baht.

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Exploring the Banglamphu area

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We took a short cut that ran through a covered area, which had more souvenir shops and massage parlours, but also some interesting gems like indie bookstores

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Cue N pushing me past this 2nd hand bookstore really quickly lest I stop to look (after which he wouldn’t be able to get me out of there again)

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Souvenirs for sale. Many sold the standard stuff like fridge magnets and T-shirts saying “I Love Thailand”, but there were also some interesting pieces like paintings, decorative wall hangings and handmade items.

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Finally emerging into the 400-metre-long Khao San Road, we were greeted by dozens, if not hundreds of signages proclaiming various services, from bars and massage parlours to jewellery stores, fashion and retail centres, tattoo studios, restaurants, money changers and supermarkets. Not to mention the many street stalls selling food and clothes on the pedestrian-only main thoroughfare. Loud music blasted from every corner, vendors shouting cheap beer! massage! exotic show! party! fun! It seemed like if you had the money for it, you could find anything along Khao San Road.

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Bangkok’s famous tuk-tuk 

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Khao San felt like a riot on the senses. The swirling colours, the different faces from all walks of life in every shape, colour and size, the smell of barbecued meat and steaming corn wafting into the air, whole barbecued crocodiles and exotic insects on sale, touts shouting “Ping Pong Show!” while holding up placards of sexy women, open air bars where the music was so loud the ground felt like it was shaking slightly.

There were tall blonde Westerners dressed in strappy spaghetti tops laughing boisterously over drinks as they flirted with the tanned, handsome bartenders, petite Thai college girls giggling with their friends as they checked out merchandise, young local women clinging to the arms of older white men, old Japanese tourists, families, students. An essayist once wrote that Khao San was a ‘place to disappear’, and she wasn’t wrong.

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Even the McDonalds here has a Thai flavour ! (pun)

It was fun for awhile to observe the goings-on at Khao San, but also draining for introverts like N and I lol. We retreated back to the Rambuttri area for dinner. Popped into one of the nicer restaurants, which was still reasonably priced.

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Can’t come to Bangkok and not have a coconut shake

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Cheese-filled wontons

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Chicken tom yum for that spicy kick

 

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Gotta pad thai like a basic tourist. It was great though!

Me to waitress: I don’t want beansprouts.

*Waitress does not understand.*

Me: You know, the long white things.. vegetables

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Walking back to our hotel we came across this souped up van that was converted into a mobile bar, with seats on the pavement and a TV installed into the boot. If you like your alcohol, I think you’d be very happy at Rambuttri / Khao San.

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There was still some time to kill so we had a massage (in the shop rather than on the street). Wasn’t much in terms of privacy as everyone was chatting away, but still relaxing.

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Ended the night with a banana nutella pancake!

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Visiting The Melaka Butterfly & Reptile Sanctuary @ Ayer Keroh, Melaka

The Melaka city centre can get pretty crowded with tourists, especially over the weekend and holidays. If you’re looking for a more relaxing (and educational!) excursion, consider the Melaka Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary. Tucked in Ayer Keroh, about 15 to 20 minutes away from the city, this mini zoo of sorts was opened in 1991 and is home to hundreds of insects, small animals and reptiles, as well as some larger specimens.

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For a 30-year-old park, the place is well maintained, spread over 5 hectares and set amidst lush, tropical surroundings. There are dedicated areas within the vast park for butterflies, reptiles, birds, etc. It’s also a nice place to escape Melaka’s blistering heat. Entry is RM22 per pax.

There weren’t many visitors when we came to visit on a Monday afternoon, so we took our time exploring the various exhibits and habitats. Some allow for you to get upclose to the animals, and when I mean upclose, I mean upclose. You can pet rabbits, the resident giant iguana, or take a selfie with the parrots and the cockatoos.

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N and I had great fun trying to locate the different insects and creepy crawlies within their glass cases; most times they were camouflaged, so it was like a game to spot them.

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Fat, colourful iguanas congregating on Pride Rock

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Resident white cockatoo. Did you know that cockatoos are very smart animals? They are said to have the cognitive abilities rivalling a four-year-old human child, and in studies, can undo locks to get to food.

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There were two sections dedicated to butterflies, and there were hundreds of them swooping overhead, some even flying into our faces, or landing on our shoulders. These pretty insects have a fleeting beauty, as they have a short life span lasting just 10 days.

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Most of the butterflies were of the same species so we didn’t spot much variety, but they were still pretty all the same.

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A beautifully landscaped section with a pond and artificial waterfall, stacked with fat, gold, red and white koi fish.

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Venturing to the aviary, we came across this bird (I named it Sid Vicious) with beautiful blue plumage and a rockstar mohawk. It looked completely unafraid of humans and came quite close to us, before hopping back over the ‘fence’ into its habitat.

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The sanctuary is also home to a pair of American alligators. They were absolutely huge and looked as if they could swallow my entire body whole, and then some. There were also some saltwater crocodiles, gharials and emus.

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The sanctuary’s resident alligator snapping turtle. Dubbed ‘living fossils’, the species dates back to over 200 million years ago. An alligator snapping turtle can live up to 150 years old. They can weigh up to 220 lbs and are quite capable of literally snapping off your fingers.

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At the reptile section, we caught glimpse of some beautiful snakes, including an albino python and a giant king cobra. I’ve always wanted to keep a small ball python, but I can’t bear the thought of feeding it live prey like mice  (Apparently it’s best to feed them live prey to simulate how it is in the wild).

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Bright and colourful (and poisonous) frogs. in the wild, the more vibrant the colour, the more likely they are to be poisonous. Kind of like nature’s warning signs.

If you’re travelling in a family with young children, I think the Melaka Butterfly & Reptile Sanctuary is an awesome place to take the kids on an educational (but fun!) excursion. Even without the kids, it’s great for the adults too. Kudos also to maintenance; you can see that the animals are all well kept and fed, rather than in horrid zoos where space is cramped and they all look half dead.

BUTTERFLY & REPTILE SANCTUARY 

Lebuh Ayer Keroh, 75450 Ayer Keroh, Melaka

Opening hours: 8.30AM – 5.30PM (daily)

Website

 

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Attractions Near Jonker Street, Melaka : A Day/Night Itinerary

Tucked in the heart of Melaka’s Chinatown, there’s plenty to see and do in Jonker Street – from unique craft shops and museums to temples, mosques, decades-old eateries, chic cafes and more. It also has a rich history. Dutch colonists lived in nearby Heeren Street, just next to the Melaka River, while the main thoroughfare, ie Jalan Hang Jebat, was home to rich Peranakans (Straits Chinese) settlers, who built lavish homes with beautiful architecture and filled them with exquisite furniture.

BY DAY 

Lung Ann Refreshments 

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Start the day with a traditional Malaysian breakfast at Lung Ann Refreshments. The shop’s setting is typical of Malaysian kopitiams, where elderly aunties and uncles bustle about preparing your orders, and drinks are served in white and green ceramic cups. No fancy noodles, only the basics – half boiled eggs, and toast with kaya and butter, washed down with either coffee or Milo.

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I didn’t realise how Malaysians take this for granted (usually if someone asks about local dishes to recommend, I’d think of nasi lemak) until N told me how unique he thought it was (half boiled eggs for breakfast isn’t a thing in the Phils, apparently). Sometimes it’s really the simplest things that are the best. Bread is nicely toasted and fluffy, with generous amounts of kaya and butter. Despite how simple it looks, half boiled eggs are notoriously difficult to get right (the timing has to be extremely accurate). The one’s at Lung Ann were perfect.

Baba And Nyonya Heritage Museum 

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A private housemuseum that once belonged to a wealthy Peranakan businessmen, the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum is a must visit for lovers of culture and history. The Peranakan, or Straits Chinese (also called Baba Nyonya), are a community descended from Chinese settlers who immigrated to parts of the Nusantara, ie Dutch-controlled Java in Indonesia, southern Thailand, the British Straits Settlements of Malaya (Penang and Melaka), as well as Singapore. Many adopted local customs, whilst still maintaining a strong Chinese heritage – resulting in a unique blend of cultures that you will not find elsewhere. The Malaysian Baba and Nyonya, for example, speak a creole version of Hokkien and Malay, dress in baju panjang which is influenced by the Malay kebaya dress, but still practice ancestor worship.

You can wander the museum, which consists of three terrace homes joined together as one, on your own – but I highly recommend the guided tour. The tour brings the entire house and its past occupants to life, as knowledgeable guides point out details and events that have happened in those very spaces. You get a sense of being separated by time, but not space. Everything is lavish, beautiful and meticulously made – from elaborately carved furniture inlaid with mother of pearl and silk embroidered paintings done by masters in China, to hand painted tiles, crystal ware, porcelain dining sets.

Note that photos are only allowed in the foyer.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple

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Literally the ‘Temple of the Green Cloud’, Cheng Hoon Teng is the oldest functioning Chinese temple in Malaysia,  built in 1673. It is dedicated to the three precepts, namely Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, so visitors will see deities dedicated to all of these religious beliefs. The altars in the main hall are dedicated to Guan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, as well as the Taoist goddess Mazu and deities such as Kwan Ti, the God of Justice, and Thai Sway, the god of worldly human welfare.

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Even if you’re not a devotee, the temple is worth visiting for the architecture alone. Lacquered surfaces, gold gilding, intricately carved archways and windows abound. The main hall, made from timber, was built without the use of nails.

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Keilun, ie what Westerners like to call foo dogs (they’re actually mythical lions).

Orangutan House 

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The quirkily named Orangutan House is an art gallery-cum-souvenir shop, where you can get colourful printed tees and art pieces. It’s hard to miss if you’re walking around the area, as there is a huge mural of an orang utan on the side of the building. The inside is equally colourful and trippy.

Explore the Streets

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Jonker Street is chock full of interesting sights, and sometimes the best way to see them is just to explore the area on foot. You never know what hidden gems you might uncover. In any case, they make for great photos. (Above) the doors of the Hokkien Association.

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This neat little nook next to the river.

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BY NIGHT 

We’re not done: sundown is when the fun really begins. Jonker Street is the place to be on weekends, as there is a huge night market, just there for you to snack from one end to the other.

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Crowds, yes.

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Worth it because you get to gorge on delicious street food…

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Did I mention delicious street food?

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Delicious street food!

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One does not come to Melaka and not have a refreshing taste of a coconut shake. 

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You can also commission a street artist to have your portrait drawn…

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Or buy a hand-drawn sketch from this extremely talented young man. His drawings were phenomenal!

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Jonker Street’s entrance is hard to miss, as you have this inn/restaurant lined with red lanterns, which somehow reminds me of the classical Chinese novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’.

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You can do the touristy thing and hop on to one of the loud and colourful trishaws for a spin around the city.

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If crowds are not your thing, opt for a cruise down the Melaka River, which is decorated on both sides with neon lights.

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Dutch Square, just a few steps away from Jonker Street, is also much more quiet at night.

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Literally had the whole place to ourselves for photos.

I hope this itinerary has been useful in helping you to plan what attractions to see while in the Jonker Street neighbourhood. Happy travels!

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