Sunday, June 28, 2009

SIP network and memories 2004-2008

Courtesy call on Suzhou Mayor Yan Li Nov
From industrial to tourism, Singapore- Suzhou Tourism Cooperation sealed in 2004

The strong partnership bwtween STB and Suzhou top leaders visiting Singapore 2005

From tourism to educatuion. speaking at Singapore Suzhou education form 2007
SIPAC new chief Ma and Neo Chian at Singapore Flyer 2008

Extended wing to Wuxi Education and Tourism from 2005 till now

Beautiful Wuxi Garden of Fame

Toasting with Wuxi Pasty Secretary Yang (former Suzhou Mayor) om tourism and education collaboration 2006

From Suzhou and Wuxi, crossed over to the north Jilin. Courtesy call on Jilin Province Party Secretary Wang Min (former Suzhou PS) in April 2008

Visit to Suzhou and Jinji Lake cruise Nov 2008

Jiangsu Party Secretry Liang Baohua and Minister Khaw + Singapore/SIP gang Nov 2008

Happy faces with champenge at Singapore Flyer Nov 2008

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Suzhou Industrial Park

The making of Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP)

1st site inspection in cold snowy spring with our CEO Neo Chian in March 1998

wow, time flies. Just a blink of eyes, Suzhou Industrial Park is already 15 years old. Recalled when I joined SIP project, it was some 10 years ago, how time flies without notices. The learning and experiences acquired were very valuable and unforgettable!! The most important asset is the friendship established between the Singapore and Suzhou officials and people.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pictures worth more than a thousand words

See more of the photos taken at Siem Reap

The amazing Angkor Thom sandstorms

Within Angkor Wat

Pajero that bringing us around

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Phnom Penh - my first impression

1. On 14 May afternoon, I am off to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia via Mekong Express @ US$11 for single trip with complimentary mineral water and snacks. It was quite a comfortable 6 hours drive with a 20-min stop at mid way. I bumped into a British lady who has been teaching in Phnom Penh for a few months and she advised me not to miss the Amok at Frizz café during my stay in Phnom Penh. The coach arrived in Phnom Penh at 7 pm and the hotel sent their own tuk-tuk motorcycle to pick me up. I stay in Paragon Hotel, recommended by E8ightroom Guesthouse. It is a very popular budget hotel of 50 rooms located at Sisowath Quay facing Mekong River, the bustling riverfront area with many economic hotels, pubs, restaurants and shops. The counter staff by the name of Roh, is a very friendly and hardworking young man who kindly gave me a discounted room rate @US15 per night. As I am new to Phnom Penh and it was already way passed dinner time, and just wanted to quickly have a bite and rest after traveling whole day, so I went next door for the nice Indochine food recommended by the hotel staff, and it turned out to be excellent with cosy ambience.

2. I have been given a comprehensive guide book of Phnom Penh before leaving Siem Reap, hence I mapped out the tour route for the next 3 days – important historical and cultural attractions, social attractions in the city area, and outlying ones.

3. As the weather is quite humid and hot, I started a little late for the first day and wanted to first visit the Royal Palace but am told that it only opens at 2pm because of King’s birthday. However, I accidentally walked into the compound of Wat Ounalom and happened to witness and join the birthday celebrations and blessing ceremony for the Cambodia Minister for Commerce who is a well-respectable official according to his staff at the site. Many Commerce officials are there to celebrate the birthday with him. So, that is the bonus.

4. I then proceeded to the famous boutique and souvenir street 240. There is quite a good mix of fashion, restaurant, café and accessories outlets along the entire street (not too long) with quite a lot of falangs and some of the shops are also operated by them with Cambodian service staff, very enterprising foreign lady bosses. Surprisingly, it is not that crowded as I expected, and the sales staff are courteous, patient and polite, it makes shopping enjoyable.

5. I am particularly interested in the quality quilts made by the Mekong Quilts which has a wide range of very lovely hand-crafted bed covers, home accessories, gifts and decorative items for home. Bought a simple classic design queen size quilt to do my minimum to this non-profit organization which aims to provide employment and increase family incomes for the women who have created every single item in the store. Then strolled down the lane and found some very nice Cambodia scarf, interesting accessories and unique Japanese top at special discounted rate

6. Met up with friend Lav Heng for lunch at Frizz. We have good discussion over Cambodia social/economic and travel trade performance during the current recession. Cambodia economy is doing much better than decade ago, and the people are hardworking and eager to learn new things. The hotel staff and tuk-tuk drivers whom I met are all taking night classes to learn English or business administration. Tuition fees are not cheaper but they all know that this is the only way which they can have better after acquiring the skills and knowledge. The middle income group of people aged below 40, mostly own cars especially the second hand Japanese car Lexus (about S$20k). The new ones are owned by bosses.

7. Visit to the Royal Palace, National Museum, Silver Pagoda, Independence Monument, Street 240 and Art Street 178 are a must-do things. This 178 street is quite an interesting street where all kinds of art carvings can be found here, and the end of this street actually linked up all the way to the riverfront area where you can find a mix of ethnic and modern fashions plus café in the vicinity.

8. Got a good tuk-tuk motorcycle @US$4 brought me around the city, streets 178, 240, 278, quayside, the famous Russian markets, Mao Zetong boulevard etc, interesting, speedy and enjoyable journey on a motorbyte, an experience which can never be found in Singapore. Happened to walk into a good massage outlet Sawasdee (reommended by a American who just enjoyed his massage) @ street 57, US$8 per hour for Thai massage. And they also run a nice boutique hotel next door at reasonable rate but the location is not as centralized as Paragon.

9. The Soriya Shopping Complex (not much of appeal to modern shoppers) can give it a miss. Central Market is must go, but it is under retrofitting, hopefully it can get done fast. The temporary huts are too crowded and hot for comfort. Have a good taste of the Cambodian-style local coffee shop with nice beef or seafood noodles soups and coffee at street 188 and met a helpful Chinese speaking Cambodian lady Chun Ai, her hospitality and the setting and operation of the coffee shop reminds us of our social setting in the 70s. Russian market is also a place not to be missed, plenty of goods from slippers to tailoring, DVD, cooking pot to souvenirs etc, whatever things u name it, they have it. When thirsty, remember to pick up a bottle of the “Thai” icy orange juice (very tasty and nice) at nearby drinks stall.

10. The 3rd day, we hired a tuk-tuk @US15 to visit the Choeung Ek killing field and S21 facility which the Khmer Rouge used to imprison and interrogate its victims. The volunteered guide told us that other than the one we were visiting, there were some 388 killing fields scattered throughout the country under the ultra communist Khner Rough led by Pol Pot from Apr 1975 to Jan 1979, but not all have been exhumed. At this killing field, some 20 000 people were brutally murdered and buried.11. S21, a former school with about 8 buildings, was converted to become a prison and interrogation centre for "people who needed to be re- educated". Here, you can see the entrance to the facility. The signboard gave the dos and donts for prisoners when they were captured here for torture.

12. It was a very sorry and eerie experience visiting the 2 sites. This historical event just reinforced the importance of having the right leaders to lead the country, a small group of people deciding on the destiny of millions and millions of people. One bad decision could be so disastrous, dramatic and painful for the entire generation and beyond. A bad taste we and Indian tourists experienced at the S21 was that the guide service there is controlled by a few lady guides who pick and choose their customers and asked for rocket-high fee per person (higher than our admission ticket) without even giving a professional and adequate guiding service. This incident spoilt the awesome impression we have on Cambodia.

13. We have some difficulties finding a good Chinese restaurant for our dinner as none of the tuk-tuk drivers could recommend one, at last we settled for one near Art street, where we followed Jim Roger’s advice to speak to the chef to order our food, and the restaurant chef actually attended to us attentively.

14. Overall, we have a good and enjoyable time in Phnom Penh. It is always good to have some regrets, and mine is not having more time spent at the quayside area, Russian market and miss Sihanouk Ville, Kep etc, so I promise to visit Cambodia againJ

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sincereity and appreciation

One of the best things I enjoyed staying in Ei8htrooms Guesthouse is that you would get to know most of their service staff including their contracted drivers and tour guides. Also you would feel like at home here as the entire atmosphere is warm and casual, this was especially so when I was goggling in the lobby and the owner friend just came over to switch on lamp for me, and offered to tackle the wireless problem I faced with my notebook, while our travel mates were upstairs busy washing clothes and tidying up their belongings. This is really like a BIG family setting under one roof:-)

Since we were already quite familiar with one another, so after visiting Beng Mealea, we went back to the guesthouse and invited the tuk-tuk driver Heang and guide Sokha to join us for dinner just to show our appreciation of their good service. After sampling the Khmer cuisine, Fish Amok and BBQ chicken etc, Heang was very thankful of our kindness and spoke sincerely that his tuk-tuk ride is complimentary. All feel good, that is friendship and we pay him graciously. The next day, the service staff Simet who bought the coach ticket for me to go Phnon Penh, joked with me that if he knows earlier, he would stay back for overtime so as not to miss the chance of joining us for dinner, what a waste, should have waited for us to come homeJ

The mist memorable thing is the EI8HT Guesthouse manager Elfi even sent our leftover parcel to us the next day at Phnom Penh via their good partnership service with Mekong Express Coach Co and i picked it up from the coach station via the complimentary scooter service by the Paragon Hotel service staff.

Very sweet Cambodians and excellent customer service!
We have alot to learn from them.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Exploring Siem Reap 暹粒

1.The next day, in order to maximize the time we have in hand, we decided just to engage the same tour guide and drive ourselves to travel north about 70 km out of Siem Reap city to explore other key temples like Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen, Kbal Spean, River of the thousand Lingas and Beng Mealea.

2. After a simple breakfast and also filling up the tank for the Pajero, we first went to a nearby hotel to buy admission ticket for Phnom Kulen, then heading to see the beautiful pink temple Banteay Srei "the Citadel of women (women place)". It is an exquisite miniature pink sandstone fairy palace of many delicate beautiful carvings in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest. It was built at a time when the Khmer Empire was gaining significant power and territory in 967 by a Hindu Brahman counselor under powerful king Rajendravarman and Jayavarman V. Visitors can see some of the finest classical Khmer art, walls densely covered with some of the prettiest, deep and intricate carving of any Angkorian temples. It is really worth the extra efforts to travel out of the city about 38 km to visit this reputable pretty Pink Temple - especially for ladies since it is called the Women Place and in the ancient time, only high ranking lady officials were allowed to visit this temple.

3. Our next destination is Phnom Kulen to see the famous River of the Thousand Linga, located about 50 km from Siem Reap including 20 km of rough drive up the mountain. As vehicles are only allowed to drive up before 12 pm, so we have to time ourselves to leave sufficient time to drive from Benteay Srei to Phnom Kulen. Phnom Kulen is well known as a sacred place of the Khmer people and the main attractions of this resort are the river of the thousand linga (representative of the god Shiva who is one of the 3 primary gods of the Hindu trinity), waterfall and the temple of the reclining Buddha. This is the place where the 500-year “Age of Angkor” began. It is the mountain on which Jayavarman II initiated the royal “god of the king” linga cult in 802 AD, declaring a unified and independent Khmer Empire under a single ruler and beginning what would later known as the Angkor period. Visit to Phnom Kulen required a separate entrance fee of US$20 per person, plus car toll charge.

4。 You can see a lot of very delicate carvings of linga on the river bed, small to large. The locals say water flows over the linga is holy and in ancient time kings would come every year to bath in the water for 3 days to be blessed and could become great rulers; for commoners, also do the same just to hope for more babies. The water is really crystal clear, clean and cold, so we took off our shoes and enjoy the holy water for good luck. Thereafter, we visited the giant reclining Buddha “wrapping” around a huge tree. In recent year, the resort has become a place for worship, as well as a historical and cultural spot for local and tourists. We spent the entire morning at these places till lunch.

5。 We took a little longer to get to our final stop Beng Mealea for the day due to rain and held up by the fallen branches blocking the road (few locals pull their resources together and used parang to chop off the branches) when coming down from Phnom Kulen. Beng Mealea, located 6.5 km from Phnom Kulen and some 63 km east from Siem Reap city. It is a sprawling jungle temple covering over 1 sq km. It is largely overrun by vegetation and less touristy. There were less than 10 visitors (including 2 Chinese from mainland China) when we were there, giving it an adventurous and lost temple feel. Trees growing from the broken towers and galleries offer some of the best “tree in temple” shots aside from Ta Prohm. Constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style under the same king that built Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea preceded and may have served as a prototyped of sorts for Angkor Wat. Though there are some lintel and doorway carvings, there are no bas-reliefs and the carvings are relatively sparse. Visit to the temple needs an extra US$5 entrance fee. Believe it would be a great place to visit once the collapsed towers and walls are restored.

6. It stared to drizzle when we left Beng Mealea, and we were indeed lucky in the sense that it only poured when we arrived at our guesthouse.

7. Before visiting Siem Reap, I cant imagine Angkor Wat, the many temples and sites can be so impressive and so stunningly nice and beautiful and historically and culturally rich. All the Kings especially J7 and S2 were so foresightedly smart and brilliant.....the culture and history left behind are so enriching and greater than any other attractions:-) To visit one of the 7 wonders of the world, I am thankful to the timing, opportunity and company 天时地利人和.