With Singapore positioned as a Garden City, it’s entirely fitting that a whole swathe of the reclaimed land beyond Marina Bay became the Gardens by the Bay.
Opened in 2012, it’s the number 1 tourist attraction in Singapore and deservedly so. Gardens by the Bay is a showpiece of horticulture and garden artistry, presenting worldwide plants in both an educating and entertaining way. Key features are two massive glass conservatories (so much larger than the ones at Britain’s Eden Project), displaying plants from cloud forests and mediterranean regions, and the collection of 18 iconic Supertrees.
Designed by landscape architects from Bath (England), these steel framed structures covered in vertical gardens of tropical plants with lots of added environmental features, are up to 16 stories high and strangely ethereal and captivating.
And at dusk the Supertrees turn into a wonderland of lights and moods that ‘perform’ to music, in our case a medley of golden oldies themed around the ‘moon’. They are a fantastic creative achievement and a must see.
If you plan to do this Allow a good few hours to fully enjoy the Flower and Cloud Forest Domes. And be sure to see the evening Supertrees light show. We found the best view was from the raised bank on the east side of the Supertrees Grove – this gets you away from the noisy crowds, and enables you to see the top of the Supertrees without getting neck ache.
After all the cities of Japan, Korea and China, it’s been lovely escaping to the Javan countryside.
We borrowed bikes from our Borobudur guest house, and set out enthusiastically, with no set route in mind, along the narrow country lanes. Soon we were engulfed in shades of green.
It was growing season, farmers dug the rich soil, planting coconut palms, tobacco and orange trees in neat rows, and scooters passed us with bales of grass across their back. Through the colour of villages we cycled; clothes drying in the sun, peanuts spread out on mats, bricks in the kiln, and a community of men digging a new drain. And everywhere immaculately swept.
We felt blessed. As we waved to children playing in front of their houses, their faces lit up, shouting hello back. Thanks to Roger, who is always good at chatting to the locals, we learnt their ages, their names, that they learn English at school, and persuaded them – despite their giggles and shyness – to pose for photographs.
How amazing to be able to have such a sense of fellowship on the opposite side of the world. If you biked down a street in England saying hello to everyone and stopping to chat to young children you would probably be arrested.
Seemingly everyone in Shanghai converges on the historic riverfront area, called The Bund, in the afternoon and evening. Excited children run along the boardwalk. Policemen blow their whistles to keep the crowds moving. Those with SLR cameras set up tripods.
The view across the Huangpu River of the Pudong District skyscrapers is just wonderful, perfectly proportioned for photographs, certainly a top 20 experience of this gap year. In the foreground on the left, the iconic Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and in the background on the right, the Shanghai Tower, at 632 metres, the second tallest building in the world.
Then, as the sky turned black, the lights across the water created an even more amazing spectacle. But there was another show too. All along the waterfront couples were being professionally photographed. Pre-wedding images to share with family and friends.
The fastest lifts in the world took us up 118 floors in 29 secs to a record height.
Although it’s not the world’s tallest building, that’s Dubai’s Burj Khalifa which Roger has been up, the Shanghai Tower has the world’s highest observation deck.
Opened in 2015, the Shanghai Tower is a multi-purpose vertical city, with a 120 degree architectural twist that makes it so beautiful to look at, as well as strengthening the whole structure, allowing its lighter framework to be more wind resistant.
It’s amazing to look so far down at the 1920s riverfront buildings of The Bund, the almost insignificant other skyscrapers, and the miles and miles of apartment flats radiating out in all directions. This is a city of 24 million in a country of 1.2 billion. Welcome to today’s China.
After Mao died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping took over, declaring “To get rich is glorious” and the entrepreneurial Chinese spirit was unleashed. Just 35 years later, China is the second biggest economy in the world, and responsible for lifting the largest number of people out of poverty.
We wanted to include China in this trip, as it’s key to so much that’s happening in the world. To provide context to today’s macro events, to reflect upon the seismic changes happening, to appreciate the type of world our children will live in, there’s a need to understand China.
So with a route that begins in Shanghai and ends in Hong Hong, we aim to travel away from the iconic tourist spots, trying to get under the skin of this beguiling country.
As we watched the golden sun disappear into the Timor Sea, we reflected on perfect sunset locations.
Roger remembered a sunset at Key West, Florida. Hilary recalled Goa, India. And on this gap year, we’ve seen the sun setting into the Pacific at Iquique (Chile), Uvita (Costa Rica) and Vancouver.
Now Mindil Beach. It’s where everyone in Darwin goes on a Thursday and Sunday evening. There’s the popular beachside market, full of arts and crafts vendors and pop-up foodstalls, as well as the sun’s performance.
As a friend has commented to us, it’s all too easy “to become entombed in our houses and offices”. So here’s a suggestion. Wherever you are in the world, whatever the skyline, irrespective of your hectic lifestyle, try and take time to watch your sunset tonight.
Port Douglas, high up on the Queensland coast, has gone through three cycles of entrepreneurship.
Firstly, in 1876, it was gold fever that brought European settlers here for the first time. Then secondly, in the early 1900’s, sugar cane plantations with their Chinese workers powered the local economy. That was until the 1950’s when Townsville took over as the main port, and Port Douglas lapsed into a backwater. And thirdly, the current cycle is tourism to the Barrier Reef that started up in the 1980’s. Today, the town has expensive yachts in the marina, sumptuous seafood restaurants, and extensive designer holiday apartments. It’s Palm Springs-by-Sea.
We enjoyed our walk up the headland and visit to the small volunteer-run museum, but this is a town for the tourist not the traveller.
We got back in our campervan, which our son compares to the one in Scooby-Do, and headed inland.
Originally part of a 16th century trail that encircled the island, the Hana Highway is the ubiquitous tourist route out to the far east of Maui. It’s long and windy with more than 600 curves and 56 one-lane bridges. It reminded us of the Amalfi Coast drive.
On the way, you can discover waterfalls, beaches and special secret stops. But, given the crowds, we didn’t do any of that, preferring to get to Hana where we stayed two nights camping at Waianapanapa State Park.
For us, Hana was delightful. It’s largely underdeveloped, completely lived-in by native Hawaians, and reminded us very much of laid-back Costa Rica, although a bit richer.
We fly to Hawaii in a day’s time, so are camping on the coast just south of Los Angeles.
An opportunity to enjoy the SoCal (South Californian) lifestyle, and watch the surfers lining up to wait for just the right wave. Thanks to the cool of the Pacific breezes, it’s the perfect place to live and everyone looks so incredibly happy. Bronzed youngsters jog along the boardwalk, a rock band plays on the beach and the retired are meeting-up for picnics.
On our way to Joshua Tree National Park we drove through the desolate Mojave Preserve and then a stretch of Route 66. Six weeks after enjoying this historic route in Missouri and Kansas, it seemed like an old friend.
Because of its isolated location, Roy’s Motel and Café built in 1938 at Amboy became the place to stay. Business boomed in the deluge of motor tourists after World War II.
Today, its 1959 sign is still an iconic sight and the whole setting is bizarre, but the motel is closed and the only sign of life (just) is a seriously overweight man serving in the gas station.
Since 2005, this slice of history has been owned by Californian fast food entrepreneur Albert Okura, who offered $425,000 in cash and promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy’s. Much work is still needed. Roger would like to return one day and stay in the motel.
With the temperatures so high, and the desert wind gusting up to 40 mph, camping in Death Valley was impossible. So we had no option but to check into the Furnance Creek Ranch; our most expensive stay of the gap year so far. We consoled ourselves in the morning with the swimming pool, in the driest place on earth!
Ten minutes drive up the valley was Zabriskie Point. Along with many others, we went there for both sunset and sunrise; made extra special by the full moon. Christian Zabriskie was the Vice President of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, and did much, after mining revenues collapsed, to open up Death Valley to tourism.
Also in the morning we did a little trekking into the so called badlands. But we soon turned back, it was getting very hot and we were worried about losing our way.