Visiting Tsukiji Honganji: Why Is There An Indian-Looking Temple In Tokyo?

There are plenty of beautiful traditional Buddhist and Shinto temples around Tokyo – but one, in particular, piqued my curiosity as I was Googling for places to explore around Tsukiji. Located not too far from where Tsukiji Market used to stand, Tsukiji Honganji is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo Shinsu sect, the largest in Japan, with a history dating back to the 16th century. What is notable, however, is the temple’s appearance, which is modelled after ancient Hindu / Buddhist temples from India.

20190909_170359

Physically, there’s nothing left of the ‘original’ temple, which was totalled in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The current building was completed in 1934, and features many elements common to Hindu temples in India. Rather than the usual red typical of many Japanese temples, the Hongan-ji has a granite-brown hue; as well as dome-like shapes, elaborate carvings and even a pair of stone lions guarding the staircase to the main hall.

20190909_170527

20190909_171123

The main hall, aka Hondo.

Japan is known to be more culturally homogenous than many other countries around the world, so it was amazing to see the blend of different cultural elements at the temple. While the interior features many Japanese elements, it also had foreign touches as well, such as a towering 2,000-pipe organ from Germany, and stained glass windows. I also felt it quite unusual to be in a temple with so little red – an auspicious colour for many East Asian cultures – but instead has lots of elegant black and gold.

20190909_171353

20190909_171501

The main altar, with a Buddha at its centre. The temple also houses several important artifacts, making it a popular pilgrimage site.

 

20190909_171757

20190909_171846

Getting There 

The temple is a 2-minute walk from Tsukiji Metro station.

HONGAN-JI 

3 Chome-15-1 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan

Opening hours: 6AM – 5PM

Hamarikyu Gardens @ Chuo, Tokyo – A Green Respite From The Tokugawa Shogunate

Despite being an ultra-modern metropolis, Tokyo has beautiful green spaces – like the Hamarikyu Gardens in Chuo-ku, just a stone’s throw away from Ginza. Like an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, these tranquil gardens once served as the hunting grounds and imperial R&R spot for the Tokugawa clan, in Edo-era Tokyo.

20190909_155155

I was only able to visit at 4PM – leaving me an hour to explore the place. There had been a typhoon the night before, so some sections of the park were closed for repairs, but there was still plenty to see – like the majestic 300-year-old pine tree greeting visitors at the entrance. Typical of Japanese parks, many of the trees and rocks felt carefully composed and structured, with wide gravel paths and immaculately manicured lawns.

20190909_155508

20190909_155411

Each season offers a different view – in the hazy summer heat, tiny yellow cosmos peppered the field. In spring, visitors will be privy to blooming plum and cherry blossoms, while fall brings with it autumn foliage on maple and gingko trees.

20190909_155802

Ignoring the shadow of the buildings surrounding the park, it’s easy to imagine how the royals would use the park as a tranquil retreat, hunting ducks from behind blinds or enjoying tea by the pond.

20190909_160332

20190909_155916

20190909_160545

Reconstruction of traditional buildings

20190909_161656

The park is built around a man-made lake, which draws its water from the Bay of Tokyo.

20190909_161346

Drop by for a spot of tea at the park’s traditional tea house, which is built on a platform at the edge of the lake, giving it the appearance that it’s floating. Visiting is free, or you can order a matcha for a fee.

20190909_161948

20190909_162548

The Hamarikyu Gardens is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a couple of hours, and it’s also less crowded than some other parks in the city, such as the Imperial Palace East Garden or Kiyosumi Teien – so you’re almost always guaranteed of having the vast grounds to yourself (or close enough to it). It’s also very accessible, being a 5-minute walk from Shiodome Station or a 15-minute walk from Shimbashi Station. Entrance is 300 yen (RM 11 / USD 2.64).

 

 

 

 

One Night In Ginza, Tokyo

With its bespoke boutiques, branded luxury stores, glitzy malls and chic eateries, Ginza is widely considered to be one of Japan’s (if not the world’s) most luxurious and elegant shopping districts. Today, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than classy and upscale – but did you know that Ginza was actually built over a filled-in swamp in the 167th century? Together with two other districts – Nihonbashi and Kanda – they formed the original downtown centre of Edo-era Tokyo.

20190909_173557

During my stay in Tokyo, I was based in a quiet street just behind the main shopping thoroughfare, which made it very convenient to access the area. Unfortunately due to work and time constraints, I only got one full night to explore what Ginza had to offer; barely a tiny glimpse. It was an interesting glimpse, nevertheless. While the rest of the group took the train to Shinjuku, I wandered around Ginza poking my nose into random shops and department stores.

(Above) The Wako Store, housed in an art deco building that dates back to the 1930s. You’d know Wako now as Seiko, the jewellery and watches brand. The clocktower plays the Westminster Chimes tune every hour.

20190909_173548

The Nissan showroom at the eponymously-named Nissan Crossing, where pedestrians can ogle at the latest high-tech vehicles from the car-manufacturing giant through a glass window.

20190909_173634

20190909_181254

As the sun sets over Tokyo, Ginza comes to life, like a magical wonderland of lights filled with a sea of people. Couples stroll hand in hand down the pavement, loud Chinese tourists flaunt their bags of luxury goods, businessmen with sweaty foreheads and crisp suits congregate for a beer and some after-hours socialising, and impeccably-dressed women with the air of rich tai tais push their baby strollers forward.

(Above) Tokyu Plaza, where tourists can enjoy duty free shopping.

20190909_182320

Popped into UNIQLO’s flagship store – which spans a mind-boggling 12 floors. Most of the floors had a display section in the middle with mannequins dressed in the latest fashion pieces. Not big on shopping tbh so I did not spend too much time here, but this will probably be a pilgrimage site for Uniqlo fans.

20190909_185628

One of the peeps I was travelling with was going on about Ginza Six, one of the newest shopping complexes in the area, so I went to see what the hype was all about. It was nice, but again, malls aren’t really my thing (excluding the grocery store + restaurants). What I really liked, though, was the bookstore on the top floor, and the rooftop garden which had an open concept an several interesting art installations. If you’re into branded things, then the flagship stores for Fendi, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent can be found within the building. There is also a Noh theatre, and banquet hall facilities.

20190909_175257

As much as I love sushi, raw fish doesn’t sit well in my stomach these days (getting old and shit). For some inexplicable reason, I also found myself craving a burger lol. Now, fast food isn’t big in Japan because they’ve got all these healthy, delicious and wholesome restaurants to choose from, but they do have a brand called Lotteria, which was originally from South Korea. I found one hidden in an underground nook (you have to descend a staircase into the basement). It seemed largely frequented by locals – I mean, what tourist comes to Ginza and eats fast food, amirite? Oh, wait…

(Above) The setting is catered more towards single diners. After placing your order, they give you a pink slip which you have to clip on the top of the divider, and they’ll send your food to the table.

20190909_175405

Shrimp burger isn’t something we see much in KL (God I miss the ones at Wendy’s before they took it off the menu), so I had to get that. It was close to a 1,000 yen for the set, ie about RM40 lol probably the most I’ve paid for fast food, apart from that Burger King I got at the Hong Kong airport a couple of years ago. I wasn’t expecting it to be American-sized, but boy was the portion paltry. This is why you don’t see fat people in Japan…

20190909_175414

All things considered, I loved the shrimp burger. The patty was fried and breaded well, and was chock full of shrimp rather than flour or filler. Add to that tangy mayonnaise, a slice of cheese, some cabbage to cut through the grease and plain, soft buns.

There are many things to see in Ginza, and it carries well its moniker as a shopper’s paradise. Even for non-shoppers, it is close enough to several attractions such as the Hamarikyu Gardens (will detail in another post), art galleries and museums, making it a great base for travellers.

Where would you visit if you had one night in Ginza?

 

 

 

Visiting Senso-ji, Asakusa – Tokyo’s Oldest Buddhist Temple

Buddhism came to Japan very early – around the 6th century – and the archipelago is dotted with ancient shrines and temples. Unlike regions where the rise and fall of kingdoms have resulted in a change of the major religions (think the ancient Indonesian kingdoms which used to be Hindu, then Buddhist, and now Muslim), Buddhism in Japan has survived the influence of outside forces. Today, many Japanese practice either Shinto-ism or Buddhism, or a blend of both, as the principles tend to complement each other.

20190908_155602

One of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist temples, also its oldest, is the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Completed in 645, it is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, or Avalokitesvara, who is depicted as the female goddess Guanyin (the goddess of Mercy) in Chinese Buddhist beliefs.

The story of how the temple came to be goes that two fishermen found an Avalokitesvara statue while fishing near the river. The chief of their village built a shrine for it, and it slowly grew into a magnificent temple, with worshippers coming from far and wide. During the Tokugawa era, it was even proclaimed as the main temple for the Tokugawa clan.

20190908_161143

Entering from the South end, visitors will first pass through the outer gate guarded by two kami (Shinto deities) – Fujin and Raijin,gods of wind, lightning and storms – and the Buddhist gods Tenryu and Kinryu on the east and west, respectively.

The temple grounds house dozens of stalls selling everything from souvenirs and food to toys and clothes. After a long stretch, you will be greeted by the Hozomon, ie the ‘Treasure-House Gate’, or the inner gate before you enter Senso-ji’s main courtyard. Towering  two-storeys high with a wide berth, the structure is impressive to look at, and features giant lanterns hanging down each of the archways. We arrived right before a typhoon was forecasted for the night, so the main lantern had been rolled up and tethered for safety.

20190908_160752

The main temple is quite a sight, but what we’re seeing is actually a reconstruction – albeit a very accurate one. The original temple was bombarded by air raids during World War II,\ and much of the grounds and its buildings were destroyed. The roof, for example, is made from titanium, but retains its traditional architecture.

20190908_160959

Booths where you can get a fortune reading.

 

 

20190908_161224

20190908_161745

Before entering the temple, you can cleanse yourself at a basin by scooping water up with a ladle. There is a proper way to do this with instructions written at the site, but I can’t recall – I think you’re supposed to wash your left hand, then your right, your mouth and finally the handle?

20190908_161314

The main hall, with the goddess Kannon in the centre. The original statue is kept hidden, similar to the one I visited in Nagano. You can make an offering by placing some coins in a large wooden container at the front, before paying your respects.

20190908_161344

20190908_161542

SENSO-JI

2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Getting to Senso-ji 

The temple can be reached by the Tokyo Metro, by exiting at Asakusa Station. The temple is a one minute walk from the station. Alternatively, take the A4 Exit at Toei Asakusa Station, which will take you two minutes, or the Tobu Asakusa Station, which is 3 minutes away.

Opening hours (temple): 6AM – 5PM (Daily). Note: The temple grounds can be visited at any time.

 

Things To Do In Seremban, Negeri Sembilan : A Travel Guide

AS one of only four state capitals in Malaysia that have yet to achieve city status, Seremban in the Southwestern Malaysian state of Negeri Sembilan is an interesting place: at once busy but idyllic; modern but with old world charm. It was founded in the early 19th century as Sungei Ujong, and its tin mining riches attracted many Malay farmers, Arab traders, as well as Chinese miners to the area. Later on, the British would establish their presence here. This hodgepodge of cultures can be seen even today, such as in the architecture of its buildings, the unique flavours of its cuisine, and the rich and varied traditions and cultural practices, some of which are still practiced to this day.

Seremban is just an hour and a half from KL, making it perfect for day tripping. If you’re planning one, here’s an itinerary that you can follow to get in all (or most) of the sights in, as well as helpful tips on how to make the most of your time. I hope you find it useful!

8AM: Pasar Besar Seremban 

20191016_070714

Wet markets are a great place to get a feel for the local way of life – and there’s no better place to do that than at Pasar Besar Seremban, one of the most recognisable landmarks in town. The architecture is reminiscent of the good ol’ 1970s (when it was opened) – brutalist; industrial-like, with a squarish layout that reminds one of the buildings in the Soviet Union, where the style was most popular. Part of the upper floor was burned down in a fire in 2017, which has since been restored, but many of the food vendors are still camped out at the front of the market underneath makeshift tents.

20191016_071347

The market’s neat, grid-like layout is divided into sections for vegetables, poultry and seafood, with another area for dry goods. If you’re here for shopping, it’s best to come early so you can have your pick of the best and freshest produce.

20191016_072743

20191016_073117

Indoor vegetable corner

20191016_074230

Stall selling dry goods, herbs and spices in sacks. For urban millennials (like me, lol) who are used to doing their shopping in malls, come visit the market for a change! I guarantee you’ll ooh and aahh at all the things you can never find in a regular grocery store.

20191016_075545

When you’ve had your fill of exploring (or shopping) at the market, adjourn to the front for breakfast, where there are about a dozen food stalls operating under makeshift tents. Originally, the food stalls were located on the first floor of the building, but they had to move because of the fire, and the premises weren’t ready yet during our visit. A must have is the local specialty – Meehoon Sotong – fried vermicelli doused in a gravy and topped with slices of pork and cuttlefish.

20191016_080742

Another very popular dish to have in the market is the Beef Noodles from Stall 748 – although in my honest opinion, this was rather overrated. Tried the dry version which came topped with preserved vegetables and peanuts. The gravy was way too starchy and thick, and it might be my taste buds but I didn’t like the combination of flavours at all. Perhaps one would fare better with the soup version.

9AM: CHURCH OF THE VISITATION 

20191016_083631

A short drive from the market is the Church of The Visitation. Founded in 1848 by French missionaries from Melaka, it is one of the oldest in Seremban. What started off as an ‘attap’ chapel has become an impressive building with beautiful Neo-Gothic architecture. Unfortunately since it was a weekday, the church was not open for ahem.. visitations. You can still stop by to take photos of the facade, though. I especially like the weather vane at the top of the spire.

20191016_083509

Pretty colonial architecture in town. Also I just realised the billboard placement looks as if there are people peeking over the top lol.

10 AM: THEN TZE KHOON TEMPLE (CENTIPEDE TEMPLE) 

20191016_090834

Undoubtedly one of Seremban’s top attractions, the 150-year-old Then Tze Khoon temple, otherwise known as the Centipede Temple, is shrouded in myth and legend. Built on Bukit Jung, the stories go that the hill, which resembles the shape of a large ship, was actually once a real ship, navigated by a young man. The man had gone out to seek riches and fame, leaving his poor mother behind.

When he returned a wealthy and powerful man, he was not filial to his mother, casting her aside. Angered, the gods punished the man to become a rock ship, never to sail from the spot. It is said that a large centipede would often appear next to this rock, leading the locals to believe that the insect was a reincarnation of the man’s mother. The belief today is that if you see a centipede at the temple, it will bring you good fortune.

20191016_092749

The main shrine, dedicated to the Taoist deity Then Tze, part of it built into the rock ‘ship’.

The other story of how the temple came to be is that the hill was once filled with all manner of wild beasts and dangerous animals, so the locals asked Then Tze (coz he had a rep for vanquishing evil) to provide them with protection. Then Tze gave them a sign and they found some joss sticks at the hill, indicating they should build a temple on the site.

20191016_094038

While hiking your way to the top, you will pass by this small shrine with a pair of Malay-looking statues, complete with songkok and sarong. These are the Datuk Gong (Literally Grandfather ‘lord’ – a title in Chinese used to denote respect or someone elderly), aka local deities or spirits. Praying to Datuk Gong is a Chinese folk practice in places such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and southern Thailand.

It is said that when the Chinese immigrated here in the 18th to 19th centuries, they brought with them the culture of folk worship – praying to local deities and real historical figures for protection. Back then, many Malays still practiced a brand of Islam with animism (pagan beliefs), praying to local spirits, and when the Chinese came, they incorporated this into their own culture – hence Datuk Gong.

This shrine at the Centipede Temple is guarded by a pair, and you can see the songkok and tongkat offerings on the rock behind the shrine. Its just fascinating to see the assimilation of cultures – a rich and colourful shared heritage.

20191016_094613

Being a Taoist temple, one can expect to find figures of various Taoist deities here, including the 8 Immortals, Yue Lao (the god of marriage) and Guan Yu, the ancient Chinese general revered as a god of protection.

20191016_095107

Guan Yu’s pavilion is one of the most scenic and picture-worthy spots in the temple, with a view overlooking the entire Seremban town. The shrine is beautifully endowed with traditional elements, with curving roofs topped with dragons, intricate cloud patterns on its beams and stone dragons wrapped around its pillars. Surrounded by the hill’s lush greenery, it provides a tranquil atmosphere for meditation and relaxation.

20191016_095759

Did you know? Guan Yu was a real-life general who lived in the third century, during the time of the Three Kingdoms (of which the Romance of the Three Kingdoms was based on) and was revered for his loyalty and righteousness. Today, Guan Yu is a popular figure in many East Asian cultures. Fun tidbit: In places such as Hong Kong and other parts of China, he is worshipped by both the police force, and the triads.

20191016_094934

View from the Guan Yu Pavilion.

20191016_101319

Goddess of Mercy Pavilion

20191016_101641

Pond stocked with fat koi fish

20191016_101826

A large centipede statue at the top of the hill. Unfortunately we did not come across any centipedes during our visit. :/

11 AM: SEREMBAN STATE MUSEUM AND CULTURAL COMPLEX 

20191016_110012

Seremban, like most of Negeri Sembilan, is home to a large Minangkabau diaspora. The Minangs, who are originally from the highlands of Sumatra, have a unique culture, most notably in their architecture, which features sharp roof spires similar to that of the horns of a buffalo. The Seremban State Museum and Cultural Complex is a prime example of this. The inside houses a small but interesting collection of exhibits relating to the state’s history as well as culture. Unfortunately the upper floors were not open during our visit, but the air conditioned interiors are a good place to chill out in and escape the heat. Entrance is free.

20191016_111647

Pottery and utensils on display inside the museum. There was also a section detailing the Minangs and their unique culture, which is matrilineal. Which means that the womenfolk call the shots when it comes to inheritance, with homes, land and property passing down from mother to daughter. Some of the practices may not be followed so strictly in the Malaysian Minang community, but in the highlands of Sumatra, husbands still move into their wives homes when couples get married, and decisions are made collectively between men and women.

20191016_112124

20191016_113852

Within the museum grounds, visitors will also find two wooden houses – one a replica of a traditional Negeri Sembilan house, and another a wedding gift from the 5th ruler of the state to his daughter. Both are built without the use of nails, but instead use the stacking of timber frames to put the building together – an impressive feat of architecture and building in its day.

20191016_114725

Khat detailing

1 PM: LUNCH TIME! @ YI POH 

20191016_122651

Known for its Hakka Mee and Lou Shi Fun, Yi Poh is an institution in town, where many locals flock to for breakfast and lunch. The Lou shi fun served here is similar to lai fun, which is long, slightly transculent and chewy, rather than shaped like a rat’s tail as is common in KL.

20191016_123232

Honest opinion? The Hakka Noodles are decent, but nothing great.

20191016_123454

Fried mushroom snacks. Needed more flavour, but portions were generous.

20191016_123612

What I actually enjoyed here was the peppery pork stomach soup. Innards were prepared well and tasted clean, with a nice, chewy texture. If only the weather wasn’t so hot, lol.

YI POH 

26A, Ground Floor, Jalan Seng Meng Lee, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan (opens 7.30AM – 5.30PM, closed Mondays) 

2PM: SIEW BAO TIME 

20191016_130844

One cannot simply go to Seremban and not get their famous siew bao aka oven baked pork/chicken buns. Just across the road from Yi Poh is Kedai Siew Pau Asia, where the flaky meat-filled pastries sell like hotcakes (pardon the pun). You can even watch the bakers in action, like this lady here who expertly applies egg yolk onto the buns to get that lustrous shine, before popping them into the industrial ovens by the trays.

20191016_130945

Aside from siew bao, the shop sells a variety of other biscuits, breads and pastries, all reasonably priced. They are also famous for egg tarts.

KEDAI SIEW PAU ASIA 

368, Jalan Seng Meng Lee, Taman Unian, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan (open daily: 8 AM – 6.30 PM) 

2.30PM – RIDING A BLACK CHOCOBO OSTRICHES AT JELITA OSTRICH FARM 

20191016_135914

Jelita Ostrich Farm has been around for quite a long time – I remember coming here when I was in high school. Tucked within the grounds of the Negeri Sembilan Veterinary Department, you have to drive aways in to the farm, where you pay an entrance fee of RM 10. A handler will bring you on a tour of the premises, where the ostriches roam around in grassy paddocks. You can also buy a packet of corn to feed them over the fence.

20191016_140212

Fun fact: Male ostriches have luxurious black plumage, while the females are grey. They can tower up to three metres in height, making them the world’s largest flightless birds. The birds here are imported from South Africa. The oldest is one affectionately called ‘Orang Tua’ (old man), a 60-year-old half blind bird with sparse feathers. We tried feeding it but because it couldn’t see properly the corn ended up being scattered all over the place.

The handlers will take you to a paddock where you can ride one of the males (the bird is blindfolded so they don’t run off and cause an accident). If you’re not up to the excitement, you can watch the handlers race the birds on a short track (ostriches can clock in at speeds of up to 70 kilometres/hour).

20191016_140359

While you’re walking around the grounds, you might be accompanied by these sweet long-eared goats (I like to call them Djali goats, after the character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). They seem very used to human presence and will frolic beside you as you move from station to station, playfully nuzzling against your hands for a pet or treat.

The tour will not take more than an hour, and you can also stop at their souvenir shop to buy some ostrich-based products, including feathers, soaps and creams. They give you a certificate at the end of it proclaiming you are now a certified ostrich rider lol.

3.30PM – TUANKU JAAFAR ROYAL GALLERY 

20191016_170344

Feeling the afternoon lull? Escape the heat at the Tuanku Jaafar Royal Gallery, which was opened several years ago, dedicated to the 10th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Jaafar. The three-storey building houses various exhibits chronicling the king’s life, as well as several displays relating to Negeri Sembilan history. There is an entry fee of RM10, which is rather steep imo.

20191016_162337

Tuanku Jaafar was multi-talented. Apart from being an avid sportsman who played golf and cricket, he could also paint quite well. The above is one of his works.

20191016_163134

Gallery with some of the Tuanku’s personal effects. Do check out his extensive collection of golf clubs! There’s also a mini putting green where you can try your hand at knocking a golf ball into the hole.

20191016_163839

20191016_165740

A replica of the royal dais.

20191016_163443

Replica of a traditional Rumah Gadang (home of the Minangkabau) from Sumatra.

5PM : CHILL AT ULU BENDUL RECREATIONAL PARK 

20191016_150815

Take a 20-minute drive out of town to the nearby area of Ulu Bendul, which is home to a recreational park at the foot of Gunung Angsi. Seasoned hikers will know the place, as it is a popular trail for hiking, but for the rest of the unfit population, taking a nice dip in the cool stream is also very refreshing. If you’re not up to clambering over the rocks littering the stream bed, there’s a dedicated pool at the bottom, complete with gazebos. There are also picnic and shower facilities.

20191016_151000

Great place to unwind if you love greenery. Surprisingly, I was not bitten by mosquitoes.

20191016_151736

20191016_150302

You might come across friendly cattos hanging around the food court area. I suggest petting.

7 PM : DINNER 

20191016_173618

Before leaving town, stop by at Seremban Gateway, which has several restaurants and shops to explore, including a largish bookshop, a spa and a karaoke centre.

20191016_174425

Have a fruitful trip to Seremban!

AC/DC Lane – Melbourne’s Tribute To Rock And History

One of the things I like most about travelling is exploring neighbourhoods solo.Experience has taught me that when travelling in a crowd, everyone has diverse interests, so walking around on my own gives me the freedom to focus on things that I like, without feeling rushed. That being said, it’s also important to be alert, since you are in a foreign land – but I felt super safe walking around Melbourne during the day, as there were lots of other tourists.

20190213_185239

I touched a bit about Melbourne’s laneways in a previous post, but let me take you down the city’s most popular one – AC/DC Lane.

Laneways have a long history, dating back to Melbourne’s early days during the Gold Rush. Narrow and often flanked by old brick buildings with walls sprayed over with colourful graffiti, the laneways were built as quick thoroughfares for horses and cargo. They quickly gained a reputation as slums, before gentrification saw it being filled with cool eateries, bars, cafes, indie shops and more. AC/DC Lane, formerly Corporation Lane, is one of these.

20190213_184909

Named after Australia’s most successful rock band, AC/DC Lane reflects its rock n’ roll roots. Both sides of the street are plastered over with colourful posters, band and gig announcements, alongside rock n roll / music-themed mural art.

20190213_184931

20190213_184940

20190213_185228

20190213_185347

The star of the lane is Cherry Bar. Opened in 1999, it was a popular venue for rock bands and their crew, including Airbourne and Jet, both of whom wrote songs referencing the Cherry. You can say the Cherry Bar is to Melbourne what The Cavern Club is to Liverpool.

20190213_185006

20190213_185312

Take your time checking out the fantastic street art on the lane.

20190213_185339

20190213_185419

20190213_185432

20190213_185438

20190213_121818

Bonus: View from the hotel room on Collins. Now this is a view I’d gladly get up early for!

 

Quirky Sculptures @ The Pt Leo Estate Sculpture Park, Mornington Peninsula

Enjoy good food, wine, art and the outdoors all in one at the Pt Leo Estate on the Mornington Peninsula, home to not one but two award-winning restaurants, a winery and cellar door, as well as 60 sculptures spread across 135 hectares of land. The sculpture park was one of our last stops to the area, and being located close to the edge of the peninsula, afforded beautiful views of the coast.

20190216_171217

The design of its restaurant is modern and contemporary, with lots of wood accentuated by touches of sleek black. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay for a meal, but we did manage to explore parts of the massive sculpture park.

20190216_173510

The Pt Leo Estate is fairly new, having opened in 2017. Owned by the Gandels, who made their fortunes in retail, the ambitious project had a cost of over AUD 50 mil. The park, dotted with sculptures from international as well as Australian artists, can be enjoyed on well-paved walkways that wind through the hilly green. There are two circuits, one which takes 30 minutes to complete, the other 60.

20190216_173637

One of the most striking sculptures in the park is a nine-metre ‘sleeping’ head by Catalan artist Plensa. The sculpture is such that the three-dimensional sculpture projected a 2D ‘flat’ effect when seen from different angles, which was, to me, quite a trippy viewing experience.

20190216_174028

20190216_174116

You can get up close to most of the sculptures and touch them; except the ones taht are fenced off.

20190216_175124

20190216_180049

Surrounded by vineyards and flanked by the coast, the sculpture park and its quirky, oft times beautiful structures made for the perfect outdoor art gallery. If you’re dining at the restaurant, entrance is free. Otherwise, its AUD10 per pax.

Opening hours: 11AM – 5PM (Sculpture park and cellar door); Restaurant opening hours: 12 – 5PM Sun – Wed, 9.30PM Thurs and 10.30 PM Fri-Sat.

PT LEO ESTATE 

3649 Frankston-Flinders Rd, Merricks, Vic

ptleoestate.com.au

FOLLOW ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA 

Facebook 

Instagram 

Twitter

 

 

Siniawan Travel Guide: Attractions and Things To See & Do In The Cowboy Town Of Borneo

When it comes to travel these days, ‘hidden gems’ don’t stay hidden for very long. All it takes is one viral photo, and suddenly the hordes are descending upon the place like a swarm of camera-toting, Instagram-obsessed zombies. 

Siniawan in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, however, has largely remained ‘off the beaten path’ – although its popularity has also been on the rise. Having never heard of the place prior to my trip, I did not know what to expect. By the end of it I was absolutely taken by its rustic charm, the warmth of its people and the town’s extraordinary story of resilience and perseverance. This is, truly, a gem that needs to be seen and experienced – so I recommend visiting before it gets too commercialised.

With that, here is a list of things to see and do in Siniawan. I hope you’ll find it useful!

20190525_184850

Tucked by the banks of the Sarawak River, Siniawan is about 30 minutes away from Kuching and was once a thriving trade town, thanks to the region’s gold mining activities.  At its peak in the 1870s – early 1900s, it even had opium dens, theatres, hotels and brothels.

After Sarawak became part of Malaysia, improved infrastructure meant shorter travelling times – but roads had been built bypassing Siniawan, and the town lay forgotten. Refusing to give up, the townsfolk (some of whom have lived here for over FIVE generations!) decided on a revival plan – a night market. Started in 2010, the pasar malam became a success, and is now a must-visit for many travellers to Kuching, who come to dine and bask in its unique old-world atmosphere.

20190525_143401

Siniawan during the day. The difference is, pardon the pun, like night and day. lol. 

The main street is comprised of two rows of wooden shoplots. The buildings were constructed during the height of the town’s glory days in the 1910s. Unlike Sino-Portuguese buildings in West Malaysia, which typically sport colourful facades and elaborate decorations, the architecture here is Javanese, since it was easier to get carpenters from there via Singapore). The double-storey shops look rustic, with vertical wooden panels and unpainted fronts, earning the town it’s nickname “cowboy town”. (Doesn’t it look like the perfect place for a showdown at high noon? All it needs is a couple of tumbleweeds rolling in the wind).

1. HAVE A KOLO MEE BREAKFAST AT YONG TAI CAFE 

20190525_103617

Start the day with breakfast at Yong Tai Cafe, one of the few kopitiams in town that are open during the day. The shop has been in operation since 1971, and specialises in a well-loved Sarawakian Chinese dish – kolo mee (literally dry noodles). With deft movements, the shop owner expertly cooks and tosses the bouncy egg noodles dry, before placing into a bowl and topping it off with fragrant fried onions in oil and lard, a serving of minced meat and charsiew (sweet barbecued pork).

20190525_103723

Dine ‘al fresco’ on the walkway. Most patrons are locals and have been eating here for generations.

20190525_105501

There are two types of kolo mee, the original (plain) and the one in red sauce which is actually a sweet charsiew sauce. Personally, I prefer the red as I found it more flavourful. The version at Yong Tai came topped with a few pork balls, veggies and charsiew slices. The noodles were bouncy and al dente, and everything just came together really well.

Can I just say that the PORTIONS HERE ARE HUMONGOUS ? And it only costs RM3 (USD 0.72!?) per bowl what in the actual eff. I know it’s a small town and everything but you can’t even get nasi lemak for RM3 in Kuala Lumpur these days (average bowl of noodle in KL = RM6.50 – RM10, depending on area).

2. VISIT SHUI YUE GONG TEMPLE

20190525_120124

Walk a few hundred metres down the road and you’ll come to the town’s Chinese temple, Shui Yue Gong (Water Moon Temple) which is dedicated to the Goddess Guanyin. The temple is almost as old as the town itself, with a Qing dynasty sign hanging from one of the doors that dates back to 1886. While parts of the temple such as the compound are new and modern, the interior of the main shrine looks pretty old. The Guanyin statue on the altar was brought over from China over a century ago.

20190525_120214

While small, the temple is well maintained. A fresh coat of pink paint hides the temple’s age, while the beautiful gold dragons coiled around the pillars look like they were carved just yesterday.

20190525_120448

One of the town’s major festivals happens during Chap Goh Mei, the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, where a grand parade takes place. Departing from the temple to the town centre, the deity is taken on a procession accompanied by lion dances, music, firecrackers and performances.

20190525_121821

I was fortunate enough to be in town close to Gawai (Harvest Festival / Thanksgiving for the Dayak people of Sarawak), and there was a small activity going on nearby – a blowpipe contest! These weapons were used for hunting game in forests, such as squirrels, birds and wild boar, for hundreds of years. While less used today, communities in the area still practice the art, with blowpipe associations and blowpipe competitions.

The ones they used for the competition were extremely long – around 7 or 8 feet. I was amazed at how accurately they could hit the balloon targets which were about 30 metres away. Some of our group tried at the line where the asphalt ended (like what, 5 metres?) and still failed miserably lol.

20190525_121603

Traditional beads for sale. It was hard for me to tell them apart, but they were sorted according to colour and style – eg beads from the Bidayuh ethnic group would have a certain colour, while beads from the Iban typically featured red, black, yellow and white.

4. TAKE A STROLL AT THE SINIAWAN BUDDHIST VILLAGE (AKA KBS BUDDHIST VILLAGE) 

20190525_131458

The Siniawan Buddhist Village surprised me, because I had not expected to find such a beautiful place so far away from the city. The place was abuzz several months ago when Hollywood star Steven Seagal (is he a star anymore though? lol) came to visit, but otherwise, visitors can take their time wandering the massive, tranquil grounds – home to a crematorium / columbarium, function halls, rooms where you can book a night’s stay (for meditation activities, talks, etc.) and a nine-storey pagoda, easily the tallest building for miles around.

20190525_131659

Surrounded by greenery, the grounds feature several Chinese-style gazebos and gardens peppered with stone statues of Buddhist deities; it even has a small pond stocked with fish.

20190525_134705

Thankfully, we did not have to climb nine storeys to the top of the pagoda, as it had a lift (whew!). At the top, there was a beautiful statue of a thousand-hand guanyin facing four directions, while the roof was painted to look like the sky.

5. DROP BY LIU SHAN BANG SHRINE 

20190525_141351

There’s not much to see at Liu Shan Bang’s shrine, but it’s worth a visit for the sheer history.

So who was Liu Shan Bang? 

Liu Shan Bang was a gold miner from nearby Bau who founded the 12 kongsi (companies) that would operate the Bau gold mine, effectively making it a self-governing entity. Unhappy about taxation laws imposed by the ruling British ‘White Rajah’ James Brooke, Liu led 600 miners to attack Brooke’s mansion in the capital. Brooke escaped and his nephew Charles led an Iban force to quell the rebellion. Liu was killed. Many years later, a mining company came to the area looking to establish their operations, but the story goes that staff had horrible dreams about Liu’s restless spirit. Eventually they built a shrine over his grave, and the nightmares stopped. Today, Liu is worshipped as a local deity and has been recognised as a Sarawakian freedom fighter.

6. INDULGE IN STREET EATS AT THE SINIAWAN NIGHT MARKET

20190524_203946

Head back to town as the sun sets to see it literally coming to life. Stalls are setup, shutters are opened, and traders bustle about preparing for the night. The decorative red lanterns hanging from one end of the street to the other are lit, providing a picturesque backdrop for photos. With the rustic buildings flanking both sides of the street, one might almost think that they’ve taken a step back in time, if not for the plastic tables and chairs.

20190524_203456

20190525_184914

Here, visitors will find all sorts of delicious and mouthwatering street food, be it Chinese, Bidayuh or Malay – the three major ethnic groups in the area. You’ll also find typical street food stuff like fried chicken, grilled seafood, grilled meats, satay, and more.

One of the must-tries here is the pitcher plant stuffed with glutinous rice – a Bidayuh specialty – but after walking up and down the street I couldn’t seem to locate it. 😦

20190525_185502

I did get to try the kompiah, a Fuzhou specialty which came highly recommended by the locals. It’s basically like a fluffy Chinese-style burger stuffed with tender pork and various fillings, overflowing with juices. You can easily polish off half a dozen in one go!

20190524_203810

A ‘stage’ where you can choose a song to karaoke to for just RM1. Cue aunties and uncles belting out power ballads at the top of their voices out of tune.

20190524_211111

The Chinese vibe is pretty apparent in town, seeing as how 99% of the shops are owned and run by Hakka Chinese.

7. GRAB A DRINK AT THE BIKALAN

20190524_204413

The only non-Chinese shop in town is The Bikalan, or ‘The Jetty’ in the Bidayuh language, which is run by a husband and wife team, Andy and Grace Newland (super nice people – I stayed at their place during my visit). Quaint and cosy, the bar-cum-bistro serves a good selection of traditional Bidayuh food, a few Hakka dishes, Western fare as well as alcoholic drinks.

20190524_224650

PS: RIDE A SAMPAN ACROSS THE RIVER 

20190524_202850

While Siniawan can be reached by car from Kuching, villagers from the surrounding areas who live across the river commute to town by sampan, a traditional boat. It was quite the experience for a city girl like me! The fare is just 0.50 cents per ride.

GETTING TO SINIAWAN 

The best way to get to Siniawan from Kuching is by car, as public transport only services town during the day, with the last bus leaving Bau at 3.20PM. Grab is the only other choice if you intend to visit the night market, costing around RM30+ one way.

Bus schedule (Bau Transport Company. Tel : 082 – 763160) :

Departure from Kch – Bau : 7:00am, 8:20am, 10:20am, 12:20pm, 1:40pm, 4:00pm, 5:10pm
Return from Bau – Kch : 5:45am, 6:40am, 8:40am, 10:20am, 12:00pm, 2:20pm, 3:20pm

ACCOMMODATION 

There is a homestay in town called Tian Xia Homestay, which is affordable but very basic. Rooms start from RM65.