From all my research sources, there was a unanimous response against venturing into Jakarta for sightseeing between flights. There was nothing to see. Traffic is bad and I would miss my flight. Jams can happen at any time and I could be stuck for hours. Don't even think of going into town with only 6 hours between flights. I ignored them all reluctantly and tried my luck.
Old Batavia was deserted as residents fled out of town for the long weekend. This also meant museums here closed half day early.
Yes, there were chaotic and dirty street scenes as well. Walking along these stretches was quite unbearable.
The primary purpose of my Indonesia trip was this city. 2 temples give good reason why a trip to Yogyakarta is worth it. Borobudur is a Buddhist temple from the 8-9th centuries, which contrast against today's Muslim-dominated Indonesia. Many tourists come to watch sunrise, which requires setting off just after 3am. I opted for a more humane morning call. The temple still looked great under blue skies.
Not sure how much has been restored, but the level of detail matches up to Angkor Wat, albeit not as overwhelming as its Cambodian counterparts.
There aren't too many railings or guards but the way the temple is built means it is hard to fall off the side and injure yourself.
The other star attraction is nearer to town. Prambanan has many temples and is in a less organized state after earthquakes, volcanoes, and politics ravaged over the centuries.
The tourist crowds were not too overwhelming but I got the sense that foreigners are increasingly taking notice of Indonesia's heritage.
There is even a tourist train taking visitors to the further sites. Admission charges are steep but food and hotels are a bargain to offset.
The moment I stepped off the plane in Denpasar, I was back in an overtouristed "paradise". The care hire was more expensive and decent food became hard to get. Nevertheless, I made it quite far to Besakih Temple. Nicely-situated along the hillsides, this temple is famous for its aggressive touts. A few angry exchanges later, I was only partially gouged and explored on my own in relative peace.
Back in the city, I got a friendly taxi driver to take me to a few sights before my flight home. The sun was brilliant. Summer is dry season in Indonesia, which is opposite to other parts of Southeast Asia.
But I still enjoy the chaotic markets or historic temples much more than these urban sights.
Korea's public markets are interesting with its street food featuring a unique, more innovative flavour.
Surrounded by ocean on 3 sides, there is plenty of fresh seafood and prices won't break your wallet either. Abalone is one of my favourites.
Ginseng is also a great Korean export.
Kimchi comes in many different varieties. A nice meal would include many small dishes of different kimchi ranging from sour to super spicy.
I believe these are rice cakes. I have had some of these before; they taste generally bland although pair up with a cup of tea quite nicely.
Dongdaemun has seen profound change with a Zaha Hadid structure that lights up at night. Looks quite impressive but I was too focused on shopping for bargain clothes next door.
Sydney has a great quality of life, warm winters, but very expensive housing. In my continuous quest for querky attractions, I caught this vintage double decker bus for the city's newest museum. Dedicated to buses, I was quite impressed although disappointed it was only open every other Sunday.
There were plenty more vintage buses in the old tramshed.
One of the more interesting exhibits is the war-time "austerity" bus, which was camouflaged, had slits on its headlights to minimize its presence, and sheet windows to prevent injury if they shatter in a bombing.
Australia has quite a lot of natural sights worth seeing. Even in Sydney, La Perouse gives you a taste of what Mother Nature can do to the land.
However, I would be priced out from having my own seaview residence.
Sydney's farmers / weekend markets have a very different vibe from Seoul. They are less congested and feature many unique items you can't find in supermarkets. Gluten-free signs were everywhere, too.
The best way to say goodbye is to see the city from the air.
The weather in Melbourne was expectedly much worse than Sydney. It was cold and wet. This city felt a lot different from Sydney - it seemed more cosmopolitan, yet not as busy.
In many cities, a graffiti-laden street would be stigmatized and people would fear venturing into it at night. However, Melbourne has been able to turn around that perception and make it into a tourist attraction even.
New Zealand - South Island
Since I was around the southern hemisphere, I thought it'd be interesting to hop across the Tasman to see a bit of New Zealand while I'm in Australia. You ought to rent a car in this part of the world and explore the natural beauty by yourself. The roads are narrow but there is minimal traffic. I spaced out my driving as much as possible and took 3.5 days to go from Christchurch, down the West Coast, to Queenstown.
However, the mountains were quite spaced out so the drive wasn't as spectacular as through the Canadian Rockies.
Arthurs Pass gets lots of precipitation due to prevailing winds bringing moisture onshore from the ocean. Perhaps that's why there was so much moss. I had to rush through this section of mountains so not to get caught up in the anticipated flooding later in the day.
New Zealand is a great place to admire and explore the outdoors. After walking through dense vegetation in the morning, I saw the sun peek out along the coast as I examined these rock formations north of Greymouth.
I have visited glaciers in Canada before, but never experienced a glacier amidst a tropical rainforest. Franz Josef has a trail that offers a good 1.5-hour exercise opportunity and lovely views.
I believe the rocks I was walking on lay on top of the glacier itself.
The infamous glacial blue shone as the sun peeked out once again. The helicopter tour company advised it was clear up at the top but low clouds kept their fleet grounded for the day.
I had much better luck the next morning. My helicopter tour took off successfully for the Fox Glacier.
My first helicopter ride was surprisingly smooth and there were only a few slight bumps as we hovered above the mountain-tops.
When I researched my driving route, I came across a popular itinerary along mostly flat lands to Lake Tekapo, riding the helicopter from Mount Cook on the other side of these mountains, then continuing to Queenstown. I eventually picked the West Coast route, which was longer but seemed to offer more variety in scenery. I believe that's Tekapo on the other side?
Many tours include a snow landing for selfies. I enjoyed the views during our slow landing more than walking around on the hardened snow though.
The pilot was also fair to alternate the front-row seats so everyone gets a chance around the small cabin. They had to weigh us to make sure the helicopter is balanced though.
After a 40-minute time of my life, I wasn't satisfied and went for a walk to the terminal face to see this beauty from the ground.
The recurring theme along the West Coast is the unique co-existence between rainforests and the moving glacier.
Further down the coast, I enjoyed an affordable lunch featuring a local specialty - whitefish!
Afterwards, I went crazy photographing the various forests, waterfalls, and sandfly hotspots.
But to be honest, the waterfalls were a bit of a let-down.
Glacial run-off also has a very unique blue colour just like the frozen form.
The sun had started to set on this late winter day as I approached the lakes near Wanaka. The scenery changed drastically from the prior few hours of driving. I budgeted 6-7 hours for the drive from Fox to Wanaka, anticipating lots of photo stops and short walks. I just needed to get to my hotel before the skies got dark.
Beautiful weather continued on the next day as I hiked up Diamond Lake. I was worried at first that the hike would drain my energy away and I wouldn't have much left to drive to Queenstown. Actually, I had thought of skipping Wanaka altogether but fellow travelers' advice suggested otherwise.
The hike was surprisingly easy with many sloped uphill sections and not too many stairs.
Queenstown was the end of my glorious drive. I picked a hotel slightly out of town to be away from the noisy party-goers. I did not expect the view from my window to be this nice!
Even if you don't wake up seeing the lake, you can still take the cable car for a lovely aerial view of the town.
To avoid having my rental get stuck on the highway, I joined a cheaper but still expensive bus tour to Milford Sound. A crazy snowstorm arrived the night before, which closed the highway even as I boarded the bus tour. The driver expected the road to re-open in the morning, so we could still make the journey.
The weather did clear up as we headed south.
Once past Te Anau, the scenery along the Milford Highway turned spectacular. Traffic was sparse once again and we made several photo stops along the way.
But Mother Nature is powerful and works in unexpected ways. A tree fall stopped our journey so close to our cruise. We could not reach Milford Sound today.
I imagined NZ to be a land of the sheep, but it actually took some hard searching to find sheep farms. I suppose milk cows are a more valuable commodity these days.
Flush with cash from my tour refund, I got a rental car and drove east and north to close the Christchurch to Queenstown loop. I budgeted I could only get to Pukaki today and it would be a long day on the road. First stop was the Crown Range Road's lookout, which had nearly 0 visibility a few days earlier when I drove in the other way.
Lake Dunstan had a good reflection on the snow-capped mountains. The blue skies held for most of my stay in Queenstown and I was very, very grateful.
When I left Queenstown in the morning, there was an ice warning for the highway through the Lindis Pass. But with warmer temperatures and ample sun, I opted not to get snow chains and I was right. The roads were clear but there was still ample snow.
With such a drastic change in scenery, it certainly was not a boring drive!
I arrived at Lake Pukaki in the early afternoon. The glacial runoff was quite incredible. The lake looked eeringly radioactive.
The next morning, I sqqueezed a drive to Glenorchy before my rental period was up. This "paradise" had beautiful lake and mountains views. Similar to the other roads I have driven on across the South Island, there were barely any cars around. I guess the other tourists haven't waken up yet.
New Zealand - Auckland
I added Auckland at the end of my South Island adventure to position for my flight back to Australia. This is not the place to admire natural beauty compared to what I had experienced the week earlier. It was just another city, but had American sprawl written all over it.
Forgotten on the international tourist's itinerary, Fuzhou is close enough to Hong Kong for a long weekend getaway. The city is building up quite nicely, although the subway network is still very small. Give it a few more years and it will be much easier to get around.
Although near the ocean, the city is actually a bit inland along a river. I suspect the murkey water is due to the typhoon that passed by a few days ago.
Meanwhile, historic mansions have been refurbished and now charge an admission to keep the crowds out. That worked very well.
How is it like to live next to an active volcano? Kagoshima has a beautifully-named but deadly neighbour.
Volcanic eruptions are a reality but authorities put a cute face to this persistent threat.
Remnants from past seismic activity are easily visible along the waterfront walk. Kagoshima doesn't have a big or tall skyline and the city looks quite a distance away from here.
In this part of Japan, chicken sashimi is a specialty. I found this in a supermarket but was not brave enough to try.
Deep in the mountains is this town steeped in mythology and temples. Modern urban life seems to have disappeared long ago. Not all of Japan is a hyper-dense Tokyo.
But getting here is not an easy ride. It is an urban bus with uncomfortable seats for a 1.5 hour journey from the JR station.
Miyazaki was once Japan's tropical paradise, but domestic tourism has waned from its heydays. I didn't encounter that many tourists here either, which was weird because the coastline and rock formations were very interesting.
Then I found another temple in a cave.
Even the shopping arcade and its side streets were quiet during the afternoon. Seems southern Kyushu is a really sleepy part of the country.
Having been to Tokyo so many times before, I wanted to head back to a few old spots to see how the city has changed. This particular spot near Shibuya had great views of Shinjuku and Shinagawa. All for free!!!
Is this Amsterdam? No. It is Tokyo station - freshly renovated.
Brrr .. it is cold. Toronto doesn't always get a white Christmas, but seems 2016 won't be a green Christmas at all. I landed in -10C weather and it was only marginally warmer when I decided to head out 2 days later.
Walking from Yorkville to Casa Loma was not an easy task in this weather!
In this sort of weather, I opted to stay indoors. Spadina House was the residence of a prominent Toronto bourgeois family before becoming a museum. Many family heirlooms remain, all the way down to small Christmas cards from an era long gone.
The museum team asked manufacturers to reproduce labels of their foods back then. These are not actual items left over from decades ago.
Toronto has seen a lot of in-fill development downtown. However, there is still a lot of low-density housing in the heart of the city. Why not intensify these lands rather than have suburban sprawl get further and further away? The Portlands area is still a barren wasteland, and they wanted to redevelop it for the 2008 Summer Olympics bid!
Toronto also has a graffiti alley, perhaps taking some inspiration from Melbourne. It wasn't so well executed as I didn't feel very safe or clean walking around in there.