Friday, 27 May 2011

Beautiful Seoul

Great time lapse photography here for this "Beautiful Seoul project" :

Seoul was also the object of an article on this week : "50 reasons why Seoul is the world's greatest city". Agree with them or not, it makes interesting reading. Some reasons are rather dubious (most committed celeb stalkers), frivolous (green tiramisu), and some I've never heard of despite three years in Seoul (G Dragon ?). However there are plenty I do agree with : bibimbap, heated floors, excellence in flight, world's best airport, superb service, world's most wired city ...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Night sky wonders

These two photos taken on Reunion Island by Luc Perrot have just won prizes at this year's Earth and Sky Photo Contest, put on by The World At Night, an international organisation dedicated to night-sky photography.

The first photo won third place in the Beauty of the Night Sky category. The Milky Way arcs above the Piton de la Fournaise, Réunion's active volcano; in the background you can see the Southern Cross on the upper right, and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds on the lower right.

"Beauty of Southern Sky"

The second photo won fourth place in the Against the Lights category.  Venus is captured in this panoramic mountain view over the cirque of Salazie. Mars is visible to the lower right and bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri are to the top left. The colourful glows in the mist are from the lights of small villages hidden in the valley.

"Venus above Reunion Island"

I have blog posts with more photos taken by Luc Perrot here, here and here.

If you want to see all the winning photos please click here.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Welcome !

If you've arrived here from the BlogExpat interview page, welcome ! Please feel free to look around and leave any comments.

If you've come from somewhere else and would like to read my BlogExpat interview "From London To Seoul" please click on the following badge :

Expat Interview

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Borneo - visiting Kuching and Brunei

After climbing Mount Kinabalu and diving at Sipadan we flew to Kuching, the state capital of the other Malaysian province in Borneo, Sarawak.

The symbol of Kuching is a cat, as "Kuching" may or not have taken its name for the word for cat, depending on who you talk to and which language they speak.

city symbol

The province was governed by three generations of white rajahs, the Brookes, during 19th century and first half of 20th century. Some remnants of this period still remain :

square tower

Today the state capital building is very modern :

Kuching mosque

Leaving Kuching we headed north to the Sultanate of Brunei, where we stayed in the small capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, (commonly abbreviated as BSB).
The city is dominated by the attractive Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, which was built in 1958 :

but we also come across a Chinese temple :

A must for all visitors to BSB is the Royal Regalia Museum, which charts the life of the present Sultan of Brunei and contains all the trappings of Bruneian royalty.

Royal Regalia Museum

Another quintessential part of BSB is the stilt villages where up to a quarter of the population prefers to live. These villages are equipped with electricity, piped water, TV ... We visited the closest village to the city centre, Kampung Ayer :

primary school

We ended our visit of BSB with a trip to the Tamu Kianggeh day market :

suggested reading :
My life in Sarawak by Margaret Brooke. An account of life in 19th century Sarawak by the wife of the Second "White Rajah".

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Borneo - diving at Sipadan

Sipadan, an island off the eastern coast of Sabah near the intersection with Indonesia and the Philippines is well known in the diving community as one of the world's best dive sites. 

What makes Sipadan special is the fact that it is composed of a limestone pinnacle that rises up 600m from the sea bed. Since 2005 it's been prohibited to stay overnight, so most divers stay at the nearby island of Mabul (our case), with some opting for Kapalai island, or the town of Semporna, about 1 hour away. Some choose the following accommodation, which can be found just next to Mabul island :

a different type of dive resort !

Mabul is well known for its muck diving. We saw lots of turtles, fish and nudibranches.


Access to Sipadan is limited to only 120 divers per day (from all resorts), and this is the all important board at our resort where we saw whether we'd be diving at Sipadan the next day. The reason it's written SMART is that it's the abbreviation of the resort's name. I didn't realise when I booked it that my surname would be plastered everywhere !

On Sipadan
Turtle, Sipadan

During a surface interval on Sipadan between dives we saw a monitor lizard:

On our last day we couldn't dive as we were taking a flight from Tawau, so we walked around the local part of Mabul Island, and saw some more non-marine wildlife ;-)

local village mosque

On the way back to Semporna from Mabul

Suggested reading :
A Diver's Guide to Reef Life
Diving Malaysia (Periplus Action Guides)

Friday, 6 May 2011

Borneo - climbing Mount Kinabalu

At 4095m Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in SE Asia between the Himalayas and the island of New Guinea, and is a real challenge for anyone who likes mountain hiking. 
Mt Kinabalu is about 80 km from Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian province of Sabah and the gateway to Borneo for most people. 
You start hiking at about 1500m altitude and the view after an hour or two is like this :

Along the way it's possible to see pitcher plants, which eat insects :

Also hiking up are many porters carrying heavy loads to the Laban Rata resthouse where most hikers spend the night.

Laban Rata at 3270m altitude is very comfortable. Most people arrive during the afternoon, have any early night, and get up at 2am to attempt the summit before dawn to see the sunrise. This is the dining area of the resthouse :

 These are views from the summit :

And this is a view of the summit :

Back in Kota Kinabalu we saw an orang-utan at the nearby Lok Kawi wildlife park. Unfortunately we never got to see any in the wild:

Finally, Kota Kinabalu, which faces west, is apparently famous for its sunsets. We certainly saw some nice ones, of which one is below:

suggested reading :
Borneo (Lonely Planet Travel Guides)

Monday, 2 May 2011

Flung how far away ?

Amusing mistake in the Borneo Post, although the situation can't have been very amusing for the person concerned.

The newspaper articles says that a tourist was knocked down by a taxi while strolling around Kota Kinabalu. However the article says that he "was flung about five kilometres away"!  I presume they meant metres, not kilometres.