Archive for the ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ Category

Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru

Cusco and Machu Picchu


The name Machu Picchu had been haunting me for years, made famous by the ubiquitous surreal picture of the ruins atop a hill next to a bigger hill. I finally found the opportunity to visit this sacred Incan spot, perfectly hidden in the jungles of Peru. But first we had to travel to Lima, Peru’s capital, then flew to Cusco (another important Incan capital). From Cusco we took a van to a train station in the middle of nowhere called Ollantaytambo, for the journey to Aguas Calientes, deep in the mountains. From this small town, we had to take a dedicated shuttle bus all the way up a steep hill to the ruins. And that’s the best and fastest way to get to Machu Picchu!

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The Galápagos Islands of Ecuador

The Galápagos Islands


A very long journey for us indeed — with Malaysia Airlines A380 from Kuala Lumpur to London, then British Airways B747 from London to Miami, followed by American Airlines B757 to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The final leg to the Galápagos is by LAN Ecuador A319.


The Galápagos Islands are actually a volcanic archipelago comprising 21 islands, some one thousand kilometres west of the South American continent, in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The main airport is on Baltra Island (1), while we stay in Puerto Ayora (2) on Santa Cruz Island, and in Puerto Villamil (3) on Isabela Island. The distance between Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil is 80km, traveling on a fast boat.





The Ancient City of Yazd and the Caravanserai, Iran

After a memorable night in an inn which was originally a Silk Road caravanserai, we explore ancient Yazd and its rich Persian, Islamic and Zoroastrian heritage.

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Our Stories from Kyushu, Japan

For easy access, I have collected all four stories from Kyushu here. 


Being an avid fan of belching, erupting active volcanoes, the Kyushu volcano of Sakurajima has been on my to-visit list for a while. Being Japan’s most active and one of the world’s most active, I just have to see it. Soon I find myself making my way from Tokyo, via Kyoto, all the way to Kagoshima, the city at the western end of Japan’s main islands, right in the shadow of Sakurajima itself. Then we backtrack to visit beautiful Nagasaki and industrious Fukuoka.


Kagoshima, First Stop in Kyushu

Sakurajima, Former Volcano-Island

Nagasaki, Pleasant City with Tragic History

Fukuoka, Largest City in Kyushu









The Ruins of Persepolis and a Desert Crossing, Iran

November 2016


We leave Shiraz for Yazd, with stops at the spectacular ancient ruins of Persepolis, Naqsh-i Rustam and Pasargad. Then a long desert crossing before reaching our caravanserai lodge south of Yazd at sundown.

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The Splendour of Shiraz in Southern Iran

November 2016


We explore Shiraz in southern Iran, the capital of Persian art, culture and literature. Highlights are Nasir-ol-Molk or Pink Mosque, Eram Garden, the epitome of Persian gardens, and Vakil Bazaar.


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Fukuoka, Largest City in Kyushu, Japan

January 2017

We end our Kyushu adventure by spending the final nights in Kitakyushu at the top end of the island, staying just next door to the Kokura Station, a major point on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. The plan is to explore this northern tip of Kyushu before returning to Tokyo with the shinkansen.

Japan is a heaven for train-spotters, I tell you. But I have no clue who these dudes are.

The thing about any big Japanese train station is, the nice way they integrate it with the other structures around it. You just happily walk along covered paths following the signage, and before you know it, you are in the lobby of the hotel. Extremely safe and convenient too, especially when weather is poor.

So we take a walk through the Kokura Station complex and soon find ourselves in a covered pedestrian path, lined with shops. There’s a construction on the side, but true to the Japanese way, it’s totally clean. Not a speck of dirt on the footpath, while an excavator is busy doing messy stuff just metres away!

We are on our way to this beautifully rebuilt Kokura Castle, the only in Fukuoka Prefecture. Originally completed in 1608 during the early Edo period, it got burnt down in 1866 (which always happened to old wooden stuff), and this is a concrete version of 1959. Japanese castles have this lovely wing-like roof design, and the way its wide base evolves into a smaller floors as it goes up. And of course the mandatory gardens (and moats sometimes) surrounding them. Kokura Castle is a very popular site for watching the cherry blossoms.

Another important historical spot in the neighbourhood is the old port of Kitakyushu. To get there we board a local train, after the morning rush hour of course.

As we approach the station of Mojiko, we can already spot some old European-style structures.

Mojiko is the terminus of the local line, with wooden structures from 1914. It is the oldest station on the long Kagoshima Line.

A short stroll from the station brings us to the waterfront, the old port itself, with buildings from the late 19th century when Mojiko (Port Moji) was an important international and domestic trading point. This particular building used to be an old club, and Albert Einstein stayed here once during a visit.

Another old building from 1917, with a sort of lighthouse attached to it.

And of course the delightful quirkiness of Japan, commemorating Mojiko as an important gateway for imported bananas!

Here’s the old Customs Building from 1912, with the Kanmon Bridge in the background which linked Kyushu and Honshu islands.

A view of the 712-metre-long Kanmon Bridge which connects Kyushu (on the right) to Honshu, opened 1973. The town on the Honshu side is Shimonoseki.

The Kanmon Bridge is high enough for big ships to pass under, in this case the ferry of Shin Nihonkai.

Sightseeing on trishaws should be nice on a cold and windy day like today’s.

I’m always impressed with Coast Guards vessels whenever I see them on my travels.

Anyway, we are back at Mojiko Station after the old port walkabout. We take the local train, and go past Kokura till the Space-World Station.

The station serves a nearby theme park called Space World. However it is due for closure at the end of 2017. But these orderly bikes belong to commuters so they should be around everyday. They are safe, nobody steals them, this is Japan, you know.

The reason we stop here is to a visit a recently-added member to the esteemed list of Unesco World Heritage Site — the Meiji Industrial Revolution steel works.

Love this comic-like map of the environs.

The tip of a huge model of the US Space Shuttle with boosters, parked at Space World, is prominent against the mountainous backdrop.

Finally the Unesco site, not easy spot to find. Being a new addition to the list, they are probably not exactly ready to receive a stream of visitors yet, but the volunteers manning the place have been most helpful and welcoming. I think they are retired workers of this historic steel plant.

The Yawata Steel Works, the nation’s first modern steel mill, built during the Meiji era. The problem is, it is still owned by a private entity so access is restricted. We can only observe the compound from a platform a distance away. Better than nothing, but the obliging guide is full of information, in broken English unfortunately. If only we had known some Japanese.

This is also part of the Yawata Steel Works. In the second half of the 19th century, Emperor Meiji realised the importance of steel-making for the industrialisation of Japan. The history of Japan’s steel-making industry actually started here, which propelled the country into an advanced state in a short period of time.

Our journey continues as we board the next train that comes along.

This time a visit to Fukuoka proper, alighting at its impressively gleaming Hakata Station, the largest in Kyushu. The Sanyo Shinkansen line from Osaka ends here. The Kyushu Shinkansen line then takes over to end in Kagoshima, 260km away.

Exiting the huge station, there’s only one big street leading right to downtown Fukuoka. Don’t you love those cute ducks telling you to stay away from the road works?

We plan to have lunch here, the Hakata Canal City, just a 15-minute stroll from Hakata Station. This is a major attraction in Fukuoka, a massive shopping and leisure complex.

There is indeed a canal within this well-presented precinct, complete with dancing water spouts. The Naka river flows along its western edge as it heads for the harbour just 2.5km away.

Fish is of course highly-regarded here, being a coastal city. Nothing beats grilled fish and rice on a cold day.

The Canal City is a good place to kill time, but really there’s nothing much else to explore in Fukuoka, so we soon find ourselves on the train back to Kokura. Of course the train also serves fliers, and I notice the airport code for Fukuoka — FUK. Now my wish is to fly FUK-SIN-HEL in one go! Maybe one fine day … 😀


Our Kyushu journey ends here as we leave Kokura to return to Tokyo.





The Old Quarter of Porto, Northern Portugal

Portugal > Porto

May 2014

About 320km north of the capital Lisbon lies Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. Located on the Douro river estuary, it was founded by the Romans in the 4th century BC. Being a Roman outpost, it carried the name ‘Portus Cale’ which is said to be the origin of the name ‘Portugal’. The Muslim Moors invaded it in 711, but were chased away by armies of King Alfonso III in 868. Porto was the northernmost point in Portugal the Moors’ empire extended to.

Porto, meaning ‘port’ in Portuguese, became a key port in the 14th-15th century, and thanks to Prince Henry the Navigator, the Portuguese ‘Age of Discovery’ was initiated from here. Prince Henry himself was thought to have been born in Porto, based on the fact that he was baptised here.

Porto is also the home of the famous port-wine, produced in the fertile Douro valley located upstream of the river.

In this short visit to Porto, I take a stroll from the modern port-wine Gaia area of Porto and cross the Douro river, via the Luis I Bridge. This brings me to Ribeira, the old quarter of Porto, with buildings from the 15th century, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here facades covered with azulejos tiles (introduced by the Moors in the 8th century) look spectacular in late afternoon light. Looking a bit decrepit, but notable nevertheless.

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The Home of the Komodo Dragons

Indonesia > Komodo National Park

September 2014

We finally make it to the home of the awesome Komodo Dragons. We fly from Denpasar DPS to Labuanbajo LBJ, located at the western tip of Flores island in central Indonesia. The 90-min flight from Bali is memorable with the sights of menacing, but enchanting, active volcanoes along the way.

From the airport we go straight to Labuanbajo harbour where our boat is ready to take us on a spectacular 2.5 hour ride to Komodo National Park, located on Rinca Island. Excellent weather coupled with calm sea make it a truly enjoyable boat-ride with freshly-cooked lunch served onboard. The scenery along the way is simply fantastic.

On Rinca, the Dragons themselves do not disappoint us. Being so close to one of the most fascinating and fearsome creatures on earth is a very memorable experience. The island of Rinca itself is paradise for nature-lovers.

Definitely a very worthy journey to Komodo Dragon country!


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(For the trip to Komodo National Park, we used the services of Mr Ignas Suradin,,



Bali, Island of the Gods

Indonesia > Bali

September 2014

We do a quick one-day tour of northern Bali, while en route to Komodo National Park (500km to the east, near Flores island). Renting a car, we make quick stops at the icons of Bali — Pura Besakih or Mother Temple of Besakih, Kintamani with its picturesque (but dangerous) volcano Batur and lake, and finally sunset at the ever-romantic Pura Tanah Lot.

Pura Besakih is Bali’s largest and holiest temple complex, said to be constructed as early as the 8th century. The epicentre of Balinese Hinduism, it’s a must for visitors. Set 1000m up the slope of active volcano Agung, which last erupted 1963 (killing 17,000 people), it is a very culturally pleasant place to visit. The only drawback is the existence of a horde of dodgey ‘guides’. You can engage them — some are nice and very knowledgeable, but after haggling for a reasonable price. The 1963 eruption of Agung almost destroyed the complex, but the lava flowed away from the temples at the last minute, thus enhancing the holiness of the site.

Kintamani is a very touristy spot, where people normally stop for overpriced lunches, but it has a splendid vista of the majestic Batur, another active volcano which last erupted in 2000, and its beautiful lake. The black solidified lava of this eruption can be seen from the Kintamani eateries. The whole area is actually inside a huge caldera of a much larger eruption which took place a long, long time ago.

The Pura at Tanah Lot is truly magical, but you need to be there at high tide in order to experience the illusion of a ‘floating temple’. In any case, sunset is also a much sought-after event at Tanah Lot.


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