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Fortress of Seoul

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An ancient map of Seoul.

When dynasties once ruled the empire of Goryeo (what Korea was named once), kings were born & thrones were fought for. King Taejo Yi Seonggye declared a new dynasty in 1392 under the name of Joseon, thus reviving an older dynasty also known as Joseon that was founded four thousand years previously and renamed it to “Kingdom of Great Joseon”. He established himself a palace, known as Gyeongbokgung which served as the main palace for successor Kings of the Joseon dynasty and their households until it was systematically destroyed & burnt to ruins during the Japanese invasion. Restoration & reconstruction work began after it was left derelict for centuries & it stands as the most beautiful & the grandest of all five palaces in Korea today.

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Walking alongside the fortress.

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The old & new stone blocks as part of the restoration process.

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Taejo’ is a temple name, a posthumous title used for Chinese, Korean & Vietnamese royalty. Chosen to reflect the circumstances of the emperor’s reign, it means ‘ancestors.’ In Korea, temple names are used to refer to Kings in the Goryeo & Joseon dynasties.

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One of Gyeongbokgung’s grand entrances.

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The palace was not the only grand structure he built. The foresight of King Taejo who was once a General of the army of the dynasty he overthrew, knew the grandeurs of a kingdom should be demarcated by a structure around the city he ruled. He wanted to build a fortress. He decreed & enlisted the service of one hundred ninety seven thousand four hundred (197,400) young men around the country over two years to participate in the erection of an 18 kilometre fortress with four main gates and four auxiliary gates that fell in line with the Chinese cardinal directions of East, South, West, North. They are Heunginjimun (East Gate), Sungnyemun (South Gate), Donuimun (West Gate) and Sukjeongmun (North Gate) with the East & the South gates being designated as National Treasures today. The fortress took 30 years to complete.                 
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Gyeonghoeru was constructed in 1412, the 12th year of the reign of King Taejong, Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, is a hall used to hold important and special state banquets during the Joseon Dynasty.

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The Throne Room.

King Taejo designated an auspicious day for the groundbreaking ceremony on 1 January 1396. The fortress was completed in 98 days after the war along the mountains of Bugaksan, Naksan, Namsan, and Inwangsan. The wall contained eight gates, all of which were originally constructed between 1396 and 1398. He ordered for the stones to be inscribed with the names of the county and prefecture responsible for constructing a given wall section, as well as the name of that section, while in the mid-Joseon, they were marked with the names of the supervisors and lead technicians, and the construction date. The inscribed stone blocks in the photo below, can be seen outside the wall, at the end section of the Naksan Trail.

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Mayor Park arriving at the start of the tour.

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Mayor Park elaborates on the history of the Fortress.

There are six walking courses or trails you can do, the Baegaksan/Bugaksan Trail, the Naksan Trail, the Namsan Trail, the Inwangsan Trail, Heunginjimun Trail & Sungnyemun Trail. We were taken on a journey along the Naksan Trail by the Mayor himself, Mr. Park Won Soon, who’s fondly loved by the people of Seoul for his candour & spontaneity. We walked along the path parallel to the section of the wall that cordoned off Ihwa Mural Village from the ‘’outer city’, marvelling at the artists who painted the stairways & walls of this village with vibrant murals, thus enlivening the place. We passed these colourful expressions either adorned with paint or mosaic-plastered on the riser of the staircase making the vertical hike not so challenging. This village was once left out in the urbanisation process, used to be seen as a backward neighbourhood but a collaboration between the public, cultural artists, the metropolitan government and the residents turned Ihwa-dong into a vibrant art village.

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Despite the fact that he overthrew the dynasty of Goryeo, and purged officials who remained loyal to the old regime, King Taejo Yi Seonggye was very much regarded as a revolutionary and a decisive ruler who deposed the inept, obsolete and crippled governing system to save the nation from many foreign forces and conflicts. His sons of different wives, fought & killed each other in a preemptive move after the death of his beloved second Queen (wife). While he was still mourning, he crowned his second son to be king but 2 years later, this King voluntarily abdicated it to his brother, Yi BangWon, who became King Taejong, the one who rightfully deserved the throne as he had demonstrated the best potential of a good ruler even during his father’s reign.

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An artisan in the village who specialises in tie-dye artwork.

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The artisan explains the colouring process.

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The Joseon period has left an indelible mark on modern Korean etiquette, cultural norms, societal attitudes towards current issues. A substantial legacy was left to the Koreans of today, with much of the modern Korean language and its dialects derived from the culture and traditions of Joseon.

This fortress, even with some parts of it torn down in the city’s development process, significant parts had been preserved as a historical reminder of the dynasty that influenced the culture of Koreans today. It has in the running to be listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage Site by 2017.

What else can you do in Seoul? Gwangjang Market food experience, silver ring smithing & kimchi making workshop in the next post as I bring you other hidden treasures!

For more information, go to Seoul Tourism’s official page of the Fortress here and download your guide book! http://bit.ly/1gc6iJl
To download the English version, you need to view the site in Korean to get to the download section because the English section of the guide book doesn’t work. I’ve simplified the process for you by including the direct download link here:- http://bit.ly/1IuQ88R

Full resolution pictures can be see in my Flickr album

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Inaugurating First Edition of Flock in Zamboanga

Flock, the birding e-magazine by Amazing Journey Asia Media, reporting on the events in Zamboanga in conjunction with the 9th Philippine Bird Festival 2014. This edition will be updated progressively as the videos are edited & uploaded. I hope you would enjoy this birding chronicles in Flipbook style! A big thank you to the Department of Tourism in Philippines & the people at the Wild Bird Club of Philippines, without you, this experience wouldn’t have achieved so much fun, action & camaraderie! Enjoy the e-magazine!

Get Flock here.

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Arriving in Kunming, Dali & Erhai Village, China in 24hours

As far as my eyes could see out of the little pane on my window seat, we were descending into a mountainous region. Whatever I’ve seen in paintings of old China plastered on the wall of coffeeshops as I was growing up actually reflected what was before me. Landing in Kunming, Yunnan, China, my 12 day trip began. The superfluous road journey was enough to set my hip off if it weren’t for the BackJoy Posture+ seat that I had lugged along. Absolutely necessary for long car rides. Each day, we travelled between 150 – 350km, stopping along the way for scenic spots & photo opportunity. Given the chance, I would have loved to stay put longer in one place to experience the culture & life of the people.

Our first stop was at ErHai Fishing Village, a lake that the Chinese term as the sea for the never-ending sight of the horizon. Not getting much sleep from the night before when we arrived at The Ancient City of Dali (Dali Gusheng), I woke up to a temperatures too low for my liking. A cotton-loving girl donned in Uniqlo HeatTech, fleece & technical jacket is hardly anything to marvel at. I saved my waterproof ski pants for the coldest sector of my journey…….Yading, in Sichuan near the Himalayas.

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At dawn, these boats are parked by the lakeside.

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Boats parked.

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Fisherfolks row out to haul in the catch.

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Wheat clusters left by the road.

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Mode of transport for the village folks.

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Taking out the vermicelli noodles at the factory.

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Noodles hanging out to dry.

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Garbed in balaclava, beanie & hooded jacket.

This was our first stop on our long & arduous journey to Yading Nature Reserve. On the bus, there were 12 other photographers & an MPV with 6 people plus the driver. Travelling 350km upon arrival in the evening was anything but nice. The fun only began on the 3rd day when I was accosted by Leong Taoping (Long Bean Army as I called him) and the demure but bean-bashing, Angela.

Don’t Miss Reef Rescuers’ Airing Times

Are you looking forward to the screening of Reef Rescuers tomorrow? I have! Have you been participating in the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ‘7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz? Congratulations to the lucky participants who got their hands on a GoPro camera, you can express your creativity in shooting terrestrial & underwater life now! If you still haven’t got yourself one yet, there’s still time to participate today and tomorrow! I’ve been telling everyone about the fantastic effort by Astro Kasih to clean up unwanted debris in the sea and how you can share in the excitement. It’s all HERE!

Having planned my viewing party for tomorrow’s Premiere of Reef Rescuers on Thursday, 30th May at 7pm, I want my students to know how their activities can impact the environment as it’s a perfect documentary to show new divers how to take up stewardship of the ocean wherever they dive. Debris can choke the reefs and the reef is a home to many species of life with each of them depending on another for survival.

If you can’t get your fellow divers to watch with you, send them an invite through the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. And if you can’t make it tomorrow night, do not fret for there are several repeats as scheduled below:

Repeats on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm
  • Tuesday 4th June at 7pm
  • Wednesday 5th June 12am
  • Wednesday 5th June 1pm

Repeats on Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571)

  • Friday 31st May at 1pm
  • Sunday 2nd June at 5pm

Till next time, I’m off to stock up on Pretzels & Nuts for my viewing party at my sister’s place. Enjoy the show tomorrow!

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Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia – Reef Rescuers Programme

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Divers surfacing after a round of cleaning up underwater.

Ever wondered what’s it like to have a little underwater camera that produces megapixels of high definition videos? Beginning on 24 May 2013, you can have a go at the Astro Kasih Reef Rescuers ‘7 Days of Sharing’ Facebook quiz that runs until 30 May 2013 to get selected for a GoPro camera giveaway & there’s one given away daily! In bringing you the longest underwater clean up, held at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park off the shores of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Astro Kasih team organised a GUINNESS WORLD RECORDSâ„¢ attempt from 6th – 13th April 2013 – a total of 7 days or 168 hours – the same length of time that the quiz will run! The initiative was started to create greater awareness on marine conservation – with the help of 134 volunteer divers from Malaysia and across the world, working at 14 dives sites around the park, in an epic, non-stop 168-hour, seven-day underwater clean-up mission.

Astro Kasih’s Beautiful Malaysia programme is a volunteer initiative undertaken by Astro employees for the betterment and advancement of the community that we live in. Being one of Astro’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives under its environment pillar its main focus is to raise awareness on preserving the environment with community engagement for environmental activities. You can give your comments & suggestions as they welcome ideas on the Astro Kasih Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/astrokasihmalaysia.

Astro Kasih Beautiful Malaysia includes a coral transplanting project in 2011 at Ribbon Reef in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, Sabah – an effort that achieved certification by the Malaysia Book of Records with 777 corals transplanted. To learn more, just surf over to www.astrokasih.org/beautifulmalaysia. The purpose of Astro Kasih’s initiative is to help the many underprivileged villages and children in Sabah since 2009. Their activities include building and repairing amenities and infrastructure and contributing to the improvement of educational resources for the kids.

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Volunteer divers posing with their haul.

You may not have been aware of this record-breaking attempt, hence, a 30-minute television special showing an insider perspective of what it takes to plan and execute such a huge marine conservation project will be aired on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571) on Thursday 30th May at 7pm. This is a collaborative effort by Astro with Discovery Network to produce Reef Rescuers. Watching it will not only get you into the charms of the purpose of Astro Kasih but to get you involved in this upcoming premiere of Reef Rescuers, through a special quiz!

In that duration each morning you will be given a chance to a multiple choice question that you must answer by 7pm on the same day. You only need to submit your real name, email address and phone number for authentication purposes should they need to call you about the giveaway. Last but not least, you’re needed to spread the word on the Reef Rescuers programme and quiz through a Facebook status update that says “I just took the Reef Rescuers quiz about the world’s longest underwater clean-up in Sabah, Malaysia. Take the quiz today and get selected for a GoPro! Catch the 30-minute documentary on Discovery Channel (Astro Ch 551) and Discovery HD World (Astro Ch 571), premieres 30 May, Thursday, 7pm.” If your sharing can help educate someone about the ocean’s reefs, imagine how much destruction you can help prevent! Share away & save a reef! After that, check back on the Astro Kasih Facebook page after 10am the next day to know if you’ll be getting your hands on a GoPro camera courtesy of Astro Kasih. It is easier to receive notifications if you click ‘Like’ on the page.

If you are a diver, don’t stop there! Watch it with your fellow divers to see if you get ideas from the Reef Rescuers to safeguard your patch of reef! Connect & invite them on the Reef Rescuers Facebook Events page at https://www.facebook.com/events/320722658059225/. Remember to use the Red Button on your Astro remote control during viewing to get more info, chat on Twitter, see an info feed, or check out their other giveaways.

After you surf over to join the quiz, you can also look around for ways to keep Malaysia green or engage in sustainable living. If you prefer to check out the best places for scuba diving or cool places to travel to, have a look at the conversations on the Discovery Southeast Asia Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DiscoverySEAsia. There’s always something cool to discover every day!

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The Astro Kasih’s team and the divers commemorating their extraordinary achievement with a group photo. Amongst them is my NAUI Course Director, Michael Tong!

Borneo’s Most Happening Event of The Year!

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What do you get when you put a flock of birders, bird photographers & birding enthusiasts in a 130 million year old forest??? An animated pandemonium of ornithologists at the international Borneo Bird Race 2013! We are heading to the heart of Brunei & Sabah for a chance to capture on media, over 680 species of resident & migratory birds, 350 of which are in Sabah! Tell me if that’s not reason enough to be electrified! Birders from Hong Kong, Thailand, Philippines, India, Taiwan, Japan, Brunei & Malaysia will be on the path of flight to congregate for this event.

The pristine forests have been teeming with avian life since the beginning of time & participants will be competing for coveted prizes in the form of cameras & cash from Nikon & various sponsors. Sabah Tourism Board is equally excited to co-host the event at a grand scale as the Bird Race will take off in Ulu Temburong in Brunei before flying over to Kinabalu Park to find montane birds and make the descent to Sepilok, Sandakan for the 5th instalment of the Borneo Bird Festival 2013! Covering coastal regions, freshwater swamps, lowland forests, to the hills and mountain ranges of Sabah, this 10-day expedition will be The Big Year of the East!

I can hardly wait! Preparing my feathers to fly soon!

Will be giving updates on-the-fly from 31 May – 9 June 2013 so follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my FB!

Next, the Bird Photography Contest! Stay tuned!

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Drive Around New Zealand in a Rented Car!

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Photo by Thomas Young

Seeing some of the pictures on National Geographic website, I’ve been stirred with the thought of exploring the land of The Lord of the Rings by road which would be the best option to see places of interest at my own pace. New Zealand is also known as the land of Kiwis and packing for a birding trip would be easier if I don’t have to worry about transportation that can accommodate all the detours I’d be making with a discovery. Checking my options, I found a car rental site that can provide me with a supersaver compact car for only NZ$25 per day! It’s RM2.458 to NZ$1 which is about US$0.815 only. Being mobile can take me to more places than if I were to stay in one place throughout a 10-day trip.

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There are two islands, the North & South islands to explore. Snap Car Rentals offers a range of rented cars from economy to premium depending on the size of your group. They take care of reservations of ferry tickets by Interislander Ferry if you want to cross the islands too. What makes it more convenient is that I’m able to select a pick-up at Auckland airport & choose to return it in another airport! The options are available as shown below in a simple dropdown list form to check the availability of the car of your choice for your dates of travel. While you are there, pick up some hip bags or some cool motorcycle gear in Motormart with a 3-day shipped to you option in New Zealand! And if you fall in love with the country & want to buy yourself a holiday home, check out this mortgage site too.

The notably large number of unique bird species & a mild maritime climate, this land was mostly covered in forest. New Zealand’s varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks caused by the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. This undulated landscape makes a perfect picture & one of the places I must visit is Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island. Self-drive is an option I choose to get the birds on my list to photograph!

Brought to you by Snap Car Rentals, New Zealand.
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Landscape of Lake Tekapo by Pichugin Dmitry.

Istanbul Aku Datang!

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Attending the gala premiere of the movie Istanbul Aku Datang on the night of the 24 October under the invitation of Tourism Turkey, I truly enjoyed the performance of our homegrown actors, Harris (Beto Kusyairy), Dian (Lisa Surihani) & Azad (Tomok). The entire movie was shot in Istanbul, Turkey, a place that I will be visiting next year. The stars were mingling about while I said my hellos to my host, Ali Gulen & the people from the embassy. What thrilled me in the movie was how this idealistic blogger, Dian, who makes her journey to Istanbul a trigger to all her emotions, in a plan to get her boyfriend to propose marriage. She was confronted with the harsh realities of travel (and life) when she had to struggle with her many bags, (something that I too, have to manage), her hope for her love, her fear of cats and the unexpected circumstances that came her way. Thinking she had it all planned, she enrolled in a language course to stick around for 3 months, a period that was to encompass the fairy tale proposal.

On her second day, she was reminded to get a place of her own as her boyfriend, Azad, didn’t want her to be seen living with 3 blokes. Each night, she would blog & plot her moves with her readers giving her sound advice as she signs off with XOXO, D & publishes the blog. Her house-hunting became another nightmare. She ended up in an apartment without knowing it was already tenanted. The conflict starts when the rightful tenant, Harris, whom she antagonistically calls Awak (You) & her intrude into one another’s private space, especially while in the bathroom. Director Bernard Chauly, cleverly depicted the surprise reaction, when Harris stood in front of the water closet, he jumped & ‘misfired’ the entire bathroom. There were other hilarious moments that had me in a fit. I was glad to note that I wasn’t the only one laughing so hard. There was a ‘Maggi moment,’ which I could identify with, causing a stir to know how close to home we are when we have such familiarities. Harris starts out as an unrelenting, rightfully assertive, gay housemate…..until he received his Maggi Assam Laksa replacement in a box with an apology. His role as Harris is the man any woman would want while Azad’s act showed the unpleasantness of a man-in-want. Dian’s portrayal will ring true for any girl who has gone to the other side of the world to look for love. I will not give the plot away because watching this movie will stir you into a fury of emotions as their characters unfold. I can’t wait to get my DVD copy to get stirred up again. The movie has English sub-titles & when they converse in English, sub-titles would be in Malay.

        
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Tomok when singing on stage at the launch.

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Beto being interviewed.

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The actors & the host in a lighthearted moment before the movie which will debut on 8 November 2012 in local cinemas.

Set in Istanbul, you should plan your holidays to Turkey after watching this movie because if the romanticism doesn’t make you want to go, the beautiful architecture would.

Ming Kee Bak Kut Teh In The Heart of Old Town, PJ

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Collage of Bak Kut Teh dishes!

Tender pork ribs that simmer in a bowl of herbal soup make the best meal on a cool, breezy night in Old Town, Petaling Jaya. Popularly known in its Hokkien term called ‘Bak Kut Teh’ which translates to ‘meat bone tea’ in reference to the pork ribs used, the generous sprinkles of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, tong kwai, fennel seeds and garlic are just some of the spices & herbs used to make this tasty soup that forms the ‘tea’ in this dish.

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Panorama photo of the place from outside.

Light and dark soy sauce are also added to the soup depending on whether you are patronising a Teochew or a Hokkien-inspired style of preparation. Arriving at Ming Kee Bak Kut Teh with my cousin Damien & his associate, Ruben, we ordered the usual fare of ribs & meat, mushroom & tofu puffs side dishes, choy sum (vegetables) to go with rice. There are tables on the inside of the coffeeshop & outside in the open, enabling us to have dinner under the stars on that cool night. For Klang Vlley residents, this place is easily accessible without the hassle of going to far for a delicious meal of soupy goodness! The soup has been cooked to the right consistency with the infused herbs, complementing the ribs & side dishes. You will come away with a very good feeling in your tummy.

Located at the junction of Jalan Othman & Jalan 1/21, this corner lot Chinese coffeeshop is where Ming Kee Bak Kut Teh sits.
GPS Coordinates is at N03.086544, E101.64614

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Tofu/beancurd puff!

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Choy sum!

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Aunty preparing the dishes.

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The interior.

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Our dinner!

This is another entry for Selangorlicious contest! Please vote for me & leave a comment here! :- http://bit.ly/OtbcOc

Footnote:- Selangorlicious has a personalised purpose for me.

Cape Range National Park in Exmouth

Cape Range National Park is a wondrous place, with a rugged hilly terrain of limestone ranges situated on the west side of the North West Cape. These deep canyons form culverts in satellite maps and with 50km of pristine beaches, taking a roadtrip down would make you want to stop & dip at every bay.

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Exmouth Escape Resort.

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Thomas Carter Lookout

The 50,581 hectares park is just 40km from Exmouth. We drove here upon spending 3 days at Coral Bay & another 4 days at Exmouth Escape Resort. I saw some big red kangaroos here & stalked an emu for a picture!

According to what’s on record, ’in ancient times the range was isolated as an island as rising sea levels inundated lower lying areas. As a result of this geographic isolation there are some species of plants and animals that are endemic to the area, including the red centred variety of the Sturt Desert Pea. Surveys have recorded over 630 species of flowering plants on the peninsula of Cape Range National Park. This is a surprisingly high number for an arid limestone area. Over 700 caves are catalogued in the area and it is likely that many remain undiscovered. There are numerous gorges and sanctuary areas that provide a haven for wildlife and contain often rare and unusual flora. A beautiful array of wildflowers can be seen in late winter including Sturt Desert Peas and the beautiful Bird Flower.’

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I went on the Top of The Range tour of the Cape Range National Park to see the beautiful natural surroundings. Dave of Ningaloo Safari Tours, gave a brilliant commentary on the history & origins of this place, as he drove the 4WD over the ridges that overlooks the canyon below. The rock formations & caves in the area were a sight to behold. If I wasn’t taking photos of the rocks or the scene, I was looking out for unusual plants & fossils on the ground. Our first meander was through Charles Knife Gorge. We stopped for morning tea & fresh fruit cake on top of the ridge before continuing the journey to Milyering Visitor’s Centre. You can find interpretive displays, audio-visual facilities and a library containing a wealth of information on the National and Marine Parks to help visitors appreciate the natural environment.

Here, I bought some souvenirs & Torri Bottroff, the lady at the souvenir shop counter, suggested that I go for the patches & some stickers to commemorate my trip upon telling her where I was from. And I did just that! Thank you, Torri! It was a delight to have met you!

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We headed to Osprey Bay for a swim in the crystal clear warm sea & it was simply refreshing after the ride. Dave & his family who joined us in a separate car, prepared a delicious lunch of fresh prawns & sandwich for us after the swim & we continued to Yardie Creek to see the Black Footed Rock Wallabies! The walk to the creek before boarding the boat yielded some great fossil finds! According to Exmouth Visitor’s Centre, ‘Centuries of erosion have formed a spectacular multi-coloured gorge. Hidden within the safety of the gorge walls is a colony of black-footed rock wallabies. Yardie is the only gorge in the area with permanent water however this is salt water fed from the ocean. This interesting ecosystem has mangrove areas that provide roosting sites for many bird species while the sheltered waters are a sanctuary for many marine animals. The beginnings of the gorge are deep in the limestone range. These timid creatures seek shelter on ledges along the gorge walls resting during daylight hours, coming out to feed in the cool of the night. There is a relatively easy walking trail along the top of the northern wall of the gorge or you can join a boat cruise through its cool depths.’ Definitely not to be missed.

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Yardie Creek.

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By evening, we headed towards Turquoise Bay & Ningaloo Marine Park, our last stop was Vlamingh Head Lighthouse. The moon had risen in the horizon & after the long ride, it was good to unwind with a glass of wine over dinner at Novotel Ningaloo Resort Exmouth to end our evening. To get to Exmouth, get your flights to Australia & land in Perth. Then fly to Exmouth in the North West.
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Shark & Yolanda Reef in Egypt

One of the most exhilarating dives I’ve had was in the Red Sea when I was in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Visibility exceeded 30m & water temperature was around 20 – 21 degrees Celsius, prompting me to wear a 5mm farmer jane wetsuit for protection. The initial shock as I entered the cold waters set all my senses into alert. My heartbeat fluttered for awhile but as soon as I saw how clear the water was, that apprehension turned to excitement. Wolfgang was my buddy & we went down to Shark & Yolanda Reef at Ras Mohamed National Park, which sat at approximately 15m – 30m of water. The wreck sits at 145m – 200m further below after the drop off & what’s left on the shallower bed is the cargo of bathtubs & water closets strewn all over.

The corals in the surrounding reef was amazing. Sunlight penetrated to more than 20m depth & with the help of strobes, I brought out the colours of the soft corals as we inched along towards the sunken cargo.

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There wasn’t a shark in sight. I was hoping to encounter at least a reef shark & was geared to film my first oceanic shark but they just didn’t appear when I was there. I could even get close to a Sea Perch without it flinching while I pressed the shutter button.

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Sea Perch.

The sight of bathtubs stacked together was quite nostalgic as my mind wandered to how I’d been raised taking herbal baths for all my ailments but to me, it was a time to frolic! Toilets & pipes were all over the place too, albeit encrusted with corals.

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It was interesting to see what we sit on with our bottoms at the bottom of the ocean & this WC having great growth prospects gave me a new sense of respect for them!

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An inverted WC!

This part of the cargo below has turned into a reef. Can you see the pipes & bathtub?

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Visibility was near perfect!

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Flying to Egypt was quite an experience. I flew UAE & had a stopover in Dubai. I will be planning another trip really soon as I’ve yet to see the SS Thistlegorm, sunk during World War Two. If you are planning a trip to the Red Sea, you can check out holidays to Egypt & request to dive with Diving & Discovery, awarded as the best dive centre in Sharm El-Sheikh!

Going On Air with Linora Low on Red FM

On 11 May, I was invited to be on air as a travel blogger on Red FM, made possible when Donovan Chan introduced me to a very cool babe who’s a DJ for the show. Linora Low is a fitness devotee & her hair colour suggests the bubbly personality that goes with her show! It’s red! You can find her on FB.

We got on to a great start talking about the myriad of gadgets that I take on trips & what they were for. Our video camera recorded even instances of an alarm ringing in the background, something she picked up while I was totally oblivious to it. In the studios where the acoustics absorb sound & exude silence, Linora was probably more acute to buzzes & rings than I would have been. So we got on chatting. Then we went on air & did things behind the camera where no one could see. We were Facebook-ing & Tweeting!!! Muahahahahah! And swapping seats!

We talked about everything under the sun & where the moon can’t shine given that we had attended the same launch of the Vibrance Kegel Device. This is what girls get up to when they meet. Of course, we covered food topics, how can we not? We are Malaysians where we are predominantly filled with thoughts & suggestions of what to eat & how to eat it. The one hour on the show was really short considering how much we talked when the mic was off. Wait for the recording to be posted!

Here’s a shot of me behind the console!

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Her own mic cover!

And then the super fit DJ herself in her red tresses & Macbook Pro!

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Redhead!

Then a shot of the two of us!

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Note:- Uploading the video now & will embed once done! I’ve been filled with assignments all month & that takes precedence over blogging but do know that I tweet in between. Will post more once I settle my work!

The Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheelsâ„¢ Event on Boxing Day

This post appeared first on Detours US blog under the Ambassador Program of which I had become a part of. Detours is the maker of bike bags in the USA. You can see it here.

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Selangor Heritage Trail on Wheels was a cycling event that took approximately 100 cyclists to get to know the historical sites & places with heritage value at Kuala Kubu Bharu (KKB), Selangor, Malaysia. We went to recce the places & earmarked them to let participants experience the splendour of that destination on bicycles! An initiative effort by the state government of Selangor under the Tourism & Environment portfolio of YB Elizabeth Wong, the Head of Tourism Executive Committee, we collaborated with the Hulu Selangor Town Council (Majlis Daerah Hulu Selangor or MDHS) to bring cyclists & cycling enthusiasts together to participate in a non-competitive, non-race event to seek out the heritage trail with a map on a route led by authorities.

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Traffic Police Station.
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How it looked like in the old days. It was once a church!

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Group photo with Well Tan (in white top to the left of person in black shirt) & her darling riders.

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So many foldies!!!

Recognising the need to reduce our carbon footprint, we designated two segments of the program for that day, one being the main trail in town, the other being the adventure trail to see the historical broken dam of Ampang Pecah, the Masjid (mosque), the Chinese & Indian temples located just outside of KKB town. The dam that collapsed in 1884, was responsible for flooding the old town of Kuala Kubu, causing the death in untold numbers, one of the reasons why they moved the old town that’s now submerged, to the new site called Kuala Kubu Bharu. There are a few churches in town & a lot of interesting eateries that have been around for ages. There’s a little quaint restaurant that used to serve chilled herbal tea in brandy bottles & ordering them is equally fun!

The cook in the kitchen of Teo Kee Restaurant at Big Tree in front of the post office in KKB.

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The heritage spots.

The route promised to be exciting with a famous Butter Sponge Cake shop as one of the stops & a police station that was formerly a church. Riders went to all the spots encompassing a 25km loop with a stop at a broken dam & a hot spring. At the end of the event, I was asked to do a similar event in a different district & it looks like the heritage trail will soon go places!

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Ampang Pecah, the broken dam.

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King George Monument

The town has a cycling lane, an effort to get citizens back to riding bicycles but the route of the heritage trail covered everywhere else.

I managed to get Folding Bike Trading to be the official supporting bicycle shop to standby with technical support for the cyclists & Lafuma as the sponsor of discount vouchers for the goodie bags. Even breakfast & lunch were catered for together with a lorry load of fruits (durians, dukus & rambutans) for the cyclists to feast on!

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Cyclists in full coloured fashion!

We asked the ladies to come dressed in their most fashionable attire as riding is not just about racing but about looking good on your bike! We wanted them to come accessorised with gadgets & bags too! Then we asked the men to come in anything but racing outfit. The photo opportunity depicted them in cool attire rather than in competition vests. They redefined Sightseeing on Wheels! The launch was officiated by the President of the town council, two Members of Parliament & head of police in the district & we had a bike acrobat to perform some really cool stunts that put people half his age to shame. 70+years Ramanathan did some calisthenics & balancing act on his bike to the stunned audience before the ride.

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Flag off!

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Bike acrobat & riding around the block.

As the country was developed without the cyclist in mind, we are helping the state gazette cycling lanes to make the roads safer to ride in & create any event that will bring cyclists together in numbers. Working with local councils who are all for the idea is a great experience & nothing beats the thrill of riding in the countryside discovering new places & finding food along the way. Follow my journey as we convince others to get on the bike again!

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Yours truly having a picture taken with YB Elizabeth Wong!

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Hot spring – a soak after a cool dip at the dam….

The Golden Proboscis Primates of Labuk Bay, Sabah

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The owner of the land had wanted to convert the forest into an oil palm estate but upon discovering a family of Proboscis Monkeys in the boundaries, he decided not to cut the forest down. Instead, he went on to set up the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary to protect these primates, admitting visitors to have a closer encounter with these grunting & gleeful golden monkeys.

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The Alpha Male

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One of the females leaping onto the feeding platform.

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Don’t stare……

Feeding them twice a day at two platforms, I was able to see the harem & spotted the alpha male by the sheer size. A macaque was in the vicinity & the Proboscis monkeys were not the least perturbed by its presence. It was exhilarating to see the Silver Leaf Monkeys in the sanctuary too, roaming freely in the building & accepting humans as part of their community. One baby Silver Leaf Monkey scampered across the hall to leap onto a visitors lap, moving to perch itself on her knee. What a sight that I forgot to click the shutter. I had come for these kinds of encounters & allowing the baby monkey to grab my finger was a connection that I can’t describe. The adult monkeys would walk about the railings & plonk themselves right next to humans. One of them watched me while I shot the Proboscis when in fact, I should have grabbed my compact camera to shoot the Silver Leaf Monkey’s curiosity of my gear!

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Silver Leaf Monkeys

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Baby Silver Leaf Monkey start their lives in golden fur!

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Juvenile Proboscis Monkey

There was an ultra clingy Oriental Pied Hornbill adopted by the sanctuary since it fell out of the nest as a fledgling. This hornbill took an extreme liking to one of the girls & by that time, I couldn’t differentiate which bird was shrieking.

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The lush greenery of the sanctuary

Labuk Bay is about 30 – 45minutes drive from Sepilok, Sandakan & is a destination that you must not miss. Observe the feeding times & go earlier to set up your camera & tripod to catch them leaping into the air to traverse to the feeding platform.

Hamit Suban was our dedicated nature & bird guide who brought us to Kinabatangan River, making stops along the way to see the magnificent monkeys in Labuk Bay while giving us the history of how it all began. He is with the fantastic people at North Borneo Safari, owned & run by Cede Prudente, the NatGeo photographer whom I had hijacked by in 2007 to autograph my bird books. Four years on & I’m finally heading to Sukau, Kinabatangan River!
Let the good people at North Borneo Safari take you to Labuk Bay enroute to Sukau! I can’t wait to have my Orang Utan encounter!!!

Hours / Feeding times
Platform A : 09:30am & 02:30pm Daily
Platform B : 11:30am & 04.30pm Daily

For further information, please contact:-

North Borneo Safari Sdn Bhd
Lot 31, 1st Floor,
Block B4, Jalan BU 5/1, Bandar Utama
Mile 6, 90000 Sandakan,
Sabah, Malaysia.

E-mail:        inquiry@northborneosafari.com
Telephone: +6089 235525
Fax:         +6089 235526
http://www.northborneosafari.com

The Challenge of Bird Photography In The Rainforest of Borneo

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Panorama shot of the trails within the Sepilok Forest Reserve.

Pictures do not tell a thousand words when the eye of the beholder does not know the behaviour nor the habitat of the bird the picture was taken in. The level of effort corresponds with the level of commitment to obtain the shot given the probability of  most conditions that are not favourable to photographers. With a very small window of opportunity in the thick foliage of Sepilok jungle, you have a few seconds to respond to adjusting your lens to frame the bird & get it into focus before firing the shutter.

Most times, you need to be up early & light is usually not favourable to you. Making the best of these situations, you either use fill-in flash on 2nd curtain sync or bump up the ISO to the max, depending on how capable your camera is. (If you are in a competition, flash photography is not allowed.) Pictures shown here are the exact lighting conditions without any adjustments.

Venue:- Rainforest Discovery Centre, Sepilok Forest Reserve, Sandakan, Sabah.
Heat & Humidity – This place must be the most awesome creation of tropical foliage in the rainforest of Sandakan but having so much thick cover, the humidity can reach well above 90% on an average day. It’s almost like the foliage on the canopy had trapped a massive amount of moisture for the life below that lingering inside is like a mist-cooker, you would be melting without even moving an inch. Lugging your gear with you & walking in the trails can cause you to be drenched wet with perspiration within your first half hour into your excursion. Solution: Get a Cobber, an expandable water-activated gel tube scarf to tie around your neck, cooling your carotid nerves as the day gets hot & hotter. Wear quick-dry & light attire to wick off moisture & sweat.

Hilly Terrain – Be prepared to trek uphill as well as downhill. Carrying your mounted tripod if you have a 400mm lens or above would test your stamina & endurance but thats just the beginning. Your essentials are almost always needed on an expedition like this so add it on to what you will be carrying on your photo backpack. Apart from carrying the right bag, an airtight/moisture-tight container is recommended for your batteries, memory cards & any peripherals which you think might be subjected to the humid air. A mini trolley would be an ideal partner for your bag & tripod as walking to the hotspots (spots with rare bird sightings) from one location to another can really drain you. Bring a 1.5litre bottle of water to rehydrate. You would not want to move from your spot for water only to discover from your birding buddies later that the bird landed, courted, fed & possibly mated when you were gone.

Wet Ground – Bring a foldable chair. Camouflaged preferred. I had to resort to sitting on the ground with my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod shortened to fit into the little window. Alternatively, bring a small piece of spongy, exercise mat to sit on. Wear shoes with traction. I had my Timberlands Chocorua Trail on & it has served me well for the last 6 years.

Here are the shots, unedited, a few of them just cropped to give you clarity.

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In this picture, there is a hole in the tree. What we didn’t know was that this hole, is a secret bathtub for the birds!!! Note the twigs & branches obstructing the view.
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Close up shot of the bird bath…..
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And I managed to capture a Leaf Bird! Video below:-

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See the full frame picture……
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….and this section here where I pointed my lens!
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Here the bird sits quietly as it hunts for food. And a twig was in my way! Grrrr…..!
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Sometimes, you get lucky. There were two Kingfishers in this shot! Unfortunately, they were too far in even for my 500mm lens’ reach.
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To get a shot of the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (8cm in size only & this male was in a feeding courtship!), there was only one window around the leaves.

 

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This is the ‘window.’ The blurred parts of the picture are leaves obstructing my view.
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See the leaves again?
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Courtship in action! I gotta find a male who would feed me too! LOL!
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I think marriage is on the way…….yay! (Chan Pak, the HK veteran birder, eventually got the mating shot of these OD KF!)

 

The jungle is filled with sounds of bugs & birds. We were so engrossed with the little Dwarfs that we missed the big red Trogon behind us. The Diard’s Trogon has a red chest but always remain hidden with its back facing us so any opportunity to take a frontal shot is a shot in the dark…..

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See what I mean??? Obscured, I managed to get an ID shot of its chest.

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Still obscured despite me shifting position & angle.

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Getting a little frontal shot is still not considered good enough for any birdmasters, who will never show shots like these.

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Finally after a strained neck, a twisted back & wobbly legs from contorting myself to get the shots, I got the Diard’s Trogon!

The people behind the Borneo Bird Festival were fantastic & the resort I stayed in (Sepilok Jungle Resort) gave me a lot of opportunities to shoot birds in their compound. Being appointed as one of the judges in the Bird Photography Contest of the Festival, I want to thank the organisers for that honour & opportunity although it blew my cover as The Wannabe, I still think I do better stalking & reporting in my profession! Make Sepilok Forest Reserve as your next birding destination & be thrilled!

Editor’s note:- My foray into bird photography in 2006, was attributed by my best friend, Choo Tse Chien, (who passed away on the 24 August 2011) when he talked to me about how he got those waders by staking out in the water to wait for the right moment. His pictures are astounding. His passion was even more infectious. He was born to teach & by sharing what he knows, he had enlarged his circle of influence to emulate what he did. And everyone enjoyed doing what he taught us to do, birding & learning about the habitat of birds to get the right time & capture the right shots. He had been a great friend & I am a product of emulating what he did with bird photography. I will share with you my discovery along the way just as Chien was so enthusiastic about sharing his discoveries when he was alive. Whatever challenges in bird photography that comes my way, his teachings would always echo in my head.

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Nature’s umbrella In the jungle – even the yam leaves are taller than I am!

 

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A Sunbird in natural lighting.