Hanging out with Kangaroos and Koalas at Cleland Wildlife Park

One of the biggest reasons I came to Australia was to experience its unique wildlife parks and see some of the native animals here.  Whenever I go to a new country, I try to do some volunteer work with animals or donate to a sanctuary because I truly care about their well-being.  Unfortunately Japan’s zoos are quite cramped, and I do not have as many options to volunteer for animal programs here as I do in other countries.  That is why I was delighted to discover Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide, because it is one of the the two places in Australia where you can hold a Koala (the other being in Sydney).

What I liked the most about Cleland Wildlife Park was that it isn’t a zoo; it’s an animal sanctuary.  That means the animals are preserved in a natural enclosure, but are free to roam over acres of land.  Visitors are free to approach them with animal pellets purchased for $3 at the park and interact with them.  I had heard rumors that kangaroos in the wild can be quite territorial, but was surprised to learn that the ones here are extremely friendly!  They act a lot like huge hopping dogs when you approach them with food and are very soft to pet.

In addition to kangaroos, I also learned about wallabies, which belong to the kangaroo family, but are smaller and more timid.  You can also spot them by the slightly darker color of the fur.  I tried to approach a few, but they were adorably shy.

The Koala encounters are the most popular exhibit here.  Since we came to the park on a Monday, we fortunately had no problem being able to see one.  Meet Brownie the koala introduced in the video below:

I was happy to see that the koalas seemed to be well taken care of, and the zookeeper was very enthusiastic about her job.  She placed Brownie in a tree and fed her so we could pet and hold her briefly.  It was an extremely pleasant encounter, and I was so happy that I made the trip here!

After snapping many photos, we decided to walk around the bird sanctuary.  On the way there we saw Dingos, which are like wild Shiba Inu dogs in Australia.  We also saw a wombat that was lazily sleeping (I wished we could trade lives for a day), and a number of cockatoos roaming around.  I was surprised to see how large the park truly was.  It was extremely easy to spend at least 2-3 hours roaming around, because the experience is truly relaxing.

To get to Cleland Wildlife Park from central Adelaide, you will need to take 2-3 trams to get to Mt. Lofty, then you can easily enter the park and see a beautiful view of the city.  You can also use Uber to get there easily, but be wary of the park’s closure time.  We actually got locked in the park while riding our Uber because it was just past 5pm and the gate had closed, so we had to call a park ranger to let us out!

The entrance fee is $30 for one adult, which I think is well-worth the price.  For information regarding the Koala encounters, please see the official website.

Not far from Cleland Wildlife Park is a German Village called Hahndorf, so I recommend going there if you have time after.  We stopped by for drinks with a friend, but there are also a number of things you can experience during the day such as strawberry picking and goat-petting.   The possibilities are truly endless in the wilderness of Australia.

Adventures in Adelaide (Southern Australia)

Since a huge part of why I traveled to Australia was to see wildlife reserves and nature, my friend and I decided to fly to Adelaide for 4 days from Melbourne since this is the place where he grew up.  Like Perth, Adelaide is considered to be one of the smaller and more remote cities of Australia, but it actually has a number of unique attractions worth seeing.  Not only is it one of the two places in the country where you can hold koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park, but it also has a yearly event called the Fringe with a number of theater and festive events.  Though my time here was very short compared to Melbourne, Adelaide left a huge impression on me and I hope to visit here again in the future!

After landing, the first thing I noticed about the city was the beautiful trees and architecture of the houses.  Though the spring season had just begun, the temperature here was much warmer than it was in Melbourne.  We were staying with a friend who conveniently lived near the airport so it was fortunately convenient to get around by using Uber and the trams.  Since the weather was in our favor we decided to go to Glenelg Beach and soak up the sun for a while.  This beach is perhaps one of the most popular because it is near Jetty Square that is filled with shops and boutiques.  I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere here and managed to relax a lot.  It was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself.

All of the food we had here was absolutely amazing.  I had a delicious chai latte sprinkled with cocoa powder at a cafe called Cibo, which I highly recommend.  Though I currently reside in Japan, I was curious to try the sushi here so we decided to eat at the conveyor belt sushi chain Kintaro.  Surprisingly, their sashimi selection was quite tasteful, and I enjoyed the heaping amount of sauce they put on my avocado crab sushi.  Next up were the Japanese Wasabi Doritos we found at Coles Supermarkets.  They were almost overpowering, but worth it for the meme factor.

We spent a lot of our time here catching up with friends, watching anime, drinking at home, and relaxing, but we were still able to see a lot of the city in the time that we spent here.  My friend went through his anime figure collection and found his Rei Ayanami piece that was actually the top of a pachinko machine in Japan, so it was definitely worth the trip.  One of my favorite landmarks here were the silver balls, or “gintama” as you would say in Japanese:

Apparently they are quite a popular meetup spot in central Adelaide–kind of of like a miniature version of the bean in Chicago.  We also visited an anime store called Shin Tokyo which surprisingly had quite a good selection of goods (way better than where I grew up in Michigan), and hilariously I found stuffed kangaroo balls at a souvenir shop nearby.  There was also something mysterious for sale for $15.  This city seemed to be full of humorous content for some reason:

Another awesome place I highly recommend checking out is called MOD.  This is a futuristic museum with interactive exhibits that will help you discover “hedonism”, or the pursuit of happiness.  They had various happiness simulators here; including one that gave you believable compliments to boost your confidence, and another that had classic games like Solitaire and Minesweeper that would auto-win the game for you with just the press of a button (but it seemed like a fair game at first).  They also had surveys regarding what makes the ideal workplace, and we found some interesting results (see the picture of the coffee cups for reference).

I jokingly called this museum the teamLab of Adelaide, because some of the exhibits have similar concepts with lighting and projected images.  I was actually really impressed with the technology they used for their giant globe that you could spin and interact with.  You could create your own character using touch screens to live out various scenarios through the Symbiosville simulation.  In this exhibit, you will learn through trial and error how to keep you and the people around you happy.  I think this is a vital skill in life.

In my next blog entry, I will talk about my experience hanging out with kangaroos, koalas, and other wildlife in Adelaide.  I hope that more people will make the journey out to this city, because it truly is an interesting place!

Exploring Aesthetic Art Galleries in Melbourne

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Upside-down kanji has never looked better in this florescent lighting.

While traveling on my spontaneous two week trip to Australia, I decided to peruse the National Gallery of Victory (NGV) in central Melbourne to see some aesthetic works of art.  Needless to say with their large collection of traditional paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and pottery, I was not disappointed by their selection.  Most of the exhibitions here are completely free to enter.  Only the rotating featured exhibit has an entrance fee.  Since it was one related to Asia (where I currently reside), I decided to skip it and see the other permanent parts of gallery instead.  Most of them were pretty awe-inspiring with pieces of art from all around the world:

The first room we entered had European oil canvas paintings that I found to be quite thought-provoking.  Some of the art were beautiful portraits of woman and landscapes, but others depicted quite sad themes like war and death.  I really liked how the portraits were juxtaposed on the bright red wall–I had to walk around this room several times so I could fully let the context of it all set in.

In the connecting hallways were displays of pottery from various centuries (I was especially fond of the vase with booty painted on it), sculptures, a rocking chair, and other interesting works; like a horse with a lamp on its head.  On the top floor is a beautiful stained glass window that illuminates the performance hall.  They also had some really derpy paintings of animals, and one wall of art depicted a hint of bestiality, but it was discrete and as tasteful as possible.

My favorite exhibit was definitely the neon upside-down kanji room.  It only exemplifies the difficulty of learning kanji as a westerner:

The final room we entered had shapes made completely out of pages from books which gave them a unique texture.  There was also the “Ship of Time” exhibit you could walk through to find the inner peace depicted in Zhuangzi’s parable.  Once again it was a lot to take in at once, but I managed to successfully cross over:

Overall this was probably the best free museum I have stumbled upon in my travels.  I was impressed with all of the diversity it had to offer, and despite my initial jetlag I had a lot of fun reading about the exhibits.  Be sure to check out the NGV if you ever are in Melbourne!  There is also the Eureka Skydeck nearby where you can see a beautiful view of the the city.

A Reflective Day at Sky Mirror Beach (Malaysia)

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Feeling enchanted at Sky Mirror Beach, Kuala Selangor.

In Malaysia, there is a magical beach that will display a perfect image of your reflection in the water during certain times of the day due to the low tide.  Kuala Selangor Beach, better known as Sky Mirror Beach, is a natural phenomena that attracts many creative photographers and those who wish to see this rare occurrence.

Though the official website states that you can only see this twice a month during the full moon and new moon phases, you can actually see it daily with the assistance of lighting.  At times the beach is completely submerged underwater and appears uncharted, which is why it is required that you book a tour to go to Sky Mirror Beach.  The beach is quite remote and requires a speedboat trip to reach it, but once there you can take in all of its rare beauty!

I booked my tour through Veltra, and I found the tour to be overall satisfactory.  Though I road the speedboat with a group of people, I had my own private driver to the pier that was included in the price.  He picked me up right from my hostel and got me there early so I could relax for a bit.  Once arriving at the beach, they will also help you take pictures with optimal lighting.  I brought my portable tripod, but they had light boxes set up on the beach already.  You are free to walk around and explore the beach on your own too.  Though it’s not really ideal for swimming, there are a lot of interesting sea snails and tiny crabs you can see (and they’re harmless).

Overall, most tour packages are about $100 to see this beach, but I think the experience is worth it.  The trip includes snacks, water, and transportation to an extremely rare area of the country from central Kaula Lumpur, so I think it’s justified.  I’m not sure where else in the world I can see a magical beach like this, so I’m happy that I took this opportunity!

Exploring the Remote Beaches of Mersing (Malaysia)

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Chasing after Malaysian skies in my Orient shirt.

During my aesthetic adventures in Singapore, I decided to take a side trip to Malaysia via bus and see some of its beautiful remote beaches.  This meant waking up before 6:30am and riding a 6 hour bus from central Singapore to Mersing, but the experience I had made it worth it!  The bus was air-conditioned, and getting through customs early in the morning meant we didn’t have to wait as long.  Singapore’s Sentosa Island has a number of gorgeous beaches, but the ones in Mersing have the essence of unspoiled beauty.

I decided to book a $28 bus through Easy Book online to get to Mersing, Malaysia, and then took a private boat tour through Let’s Go Island Tours for 450 Ringgit to see the islands.  This price was actually a bit cheaper than what I paid for private boat tours in Thailand, and includes some of the same activities like scuba diving and sightseeing.  If you get to Mersing early enough, you can take a group boat tour for a much cheaper price.  Since I was going to central Malaysia later that night and didn’t have a lot of time, I opted for a private tour.

The private boat I rode was only myself and the captain, so it was quite the adventure!  A light storm was approaching so the waves made the boat a bit rocky, but the captain expertly navigated the waters.  Our first destination was Lang Tengah Island, where I stopped for Pina Coladas and got to see the Batu Batu Resort area.  It was quite beautiful, but the beachfront was actually very small and the weather conditions made it difficult for swimming.  However, I still enjoyed walking around and seeing the beach huts and palm trees.  I even saw a baby lizard!

After spending about an hour here, the captain took me to another beach at Besar Island behind the resort area that was completely private.  It looked like something out of a movie or anime, and I had it all to myself!

Swimming here was definitely the experience of a lifetime.  You can see in the third picture that the sky is dark because the storm was approaching, but I fortunately had over 2 hours to swim and explore this beach.  The tour was extremely laid back and I could choose where I wanted to be.  I was so happy to spend some time alone (besides the captain) on this island!

The interesting thing about Mersing is boats don’t always leave exactly on time; the boat companies all pay close attention to the tide and then set the departure time.  Due to this factor, I would recommend staying 2-3 days on these islands so you have enough time to see them.  I was able to see a lot on my private tour, but I wished I could have additionally seen Tioman or Rawa Island, which are extremely popular to stay at.

When it started to rain, we headed back to the Mersing Harbor where I waited for my bus to Kuala Lumpur.  This was yet another 6 hours bus ride that I booked through RedBus for $15, but I ended up having it all to myself!  I don’t recommend booking 2 buses in one day because it’s a lot of travel and it’s nicer to stay on an island in Mersing, but I was on a tight schedule.  If I come back here again, I will be sure to take more time in this area.

In the end, the driver dropped me off right at my hostel and I got to see a lot of Malaysia!  We went from the border of Singapore, all the way up to Kuala Lumpur.  The scenery went from monkeys on the side of the road to bright flashing lights in the center of the city.  It felt great to be in a foreign world once again!

Exploring Singapore: From the Utopian Center to the Graffiti Streets

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The brave Merlion Statue is a symbol of good luck in Singapore.

Singapore is a vibrant and and multicultural country off the coast of Malaysia with a gorgeous bay, beautiful gardens, and picturesque beaches on its southern resort island, Sentosa.  Similar to Hong Kong, the island capital Pulau Ujong is highly condensed with shopping districts and bars which means you can easily travel to a lot of destinations on foot.  Though it is somewhat expensive to live here due to the cost of fuel and electricity and lack of natural reserves, there are many backpacker hostels and cheap transport options (buses, Grab, and the MTR) that are readily available.  I would recommend staying 2-3 days here to see the major attractions.  You do not need any special visa to enter Singapore for the purpose of travel, and almost everyone in this country speaks very good English.

What fascinates me about this country is the center of the city is really futuristic and looks liked something out of a Utopian society, but the suburbs (where I stayed at in Spacepod) have a huge Turkish and Indian population, so all the temples and shops look like structures from another planet.  Each part of the city has extremely intricate architecture everywhere you look.  There are clear influences of Japanese culture here too; you can tell by the way some foods are prepared and the interior decor of certain places.  When traveling here you’ll truly find a fascinating blend of cultures!

Here are the four main areas of Singapore that I recommend exploring, and I will be writing a guide to Sentosa Island as well.

Worldly Temples

From my hostel, I decided to walk towards the City Square Mall to the public transit and stop by the nearby temples.  I saw a variety of Hindu and Buddhist temples including Sri Srinivasa, Leong San, and Sakya Muni Buddha.  It was surreal to see so many different worldly temples in such close proximity together!  They were absolutely beautiful and only required a small donation to go fully inside.

Since I went here during the obon season where people believe their ancestors’ souls return to Earth, there were a lot of ceremonies and decorations around.  Anyone is welcome to enter the temples as long as they follow the dress code.  For those wearing short sleeves or dresses, there are usually cloths available for cheap rental so you can cover yourself up appropriately before you go inside.

Singapore’s Chinatown, which you can reach by the MTR, also has a number of Chinese temples worth seeing.  I recommend checking some of them out because they don’t take that much time to see.

Haji Lane

After seeing the temples, I decided to continue walking south to Singapore’s Hipster Street: Haji Lane.  This neighborhood is full of beautiful graffiti murals, shopping boutiques, as well as restaurants and bars popular for day drinking.  This is definitely an exciting place to come and mingle!  I stopped at Pita Bakery for some delicious bread and hummus, then walked to Singapore’s popular outdoor art gallery: Gelam Gallery.  There were so many gorgeous hand-painted and graffiti-sprayed original works of art there that I felt as if I had entered a wonderland of psychedelic colors.  I recommend walking though all of the little streets and back alleys because you’ll never know what you’ll find!

Sultan Mosque

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At the end of Haji Lane is the Sultan Mosque, which was originally home of Singapore’s first sultan.  Its gold roof gleams beautifully in the sunny weather and looks almost tropical facing the palm trees!  There are visitation hours where you can enter and go inside the glass domes that are a unique part of Muslim architecture.  There are also a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants around for those who are interested in trying some local food.  This was my first time seeing a mosque and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about a new culture.

The Merlion

The Merlion is a half-mermaid, half-lion mascot that watches over Singapore and is said to bring good luck!  The head of the Merlion represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay.  Its four teeth represent the four main ethnic groups that reside in Singapore: Malay, Chinese, Indian & Eurasian.  The Merlion just may be my favorite mascot in the world because I love how much symbolism was put into its design.

I rode the MTR from the Sultan Mosque to reach Merlion Park.  From Merlion Park, you can get a beautiful picture with the Merlion jetting water out of its mouth, and also eat Merlion ice cream from the shop nearby!

There is also a Merlion Observatory Statue you can see on Sentosa Island which I will be writing about in my next article.

Gardens by the Bay

When the sun finally set, I decided to go out again and see Singapore’s famous gardens illuminated at night.  Gardens by the Bay was designed by professional landscapers and engineers boasting over 100 gardens housed with state of the art technology.  My favorite garden was the Supertree Grove, where you can see the giant trees with dazzling lights that Singapore is famous for.  There is also a Skyway available so you can see a great view of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the surrounding area.  This area is quite large, so I recommend giving yourself at least an hour and a half to see everything.

Gardens by the Bay is located near the Merlion and stays open from 5am – 2am.  You can easily access them by riding the MTR.  The entrance price is $28 at the door, but you can get cheaper prices online or by asking most hostels.

As you can see, Singapore is influenced by many different cultures and is definitely worth traveling to for this unique experience.  I was happy I started with the historic temples and ended with the futuristic gardens, because it really gave me the chance to see everything.

For more information on Singapore’s nightlife, please see my Favorite Bars in Singapore article.

Lavender Fields Forever, Alpacas, and the Blue Pond!

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Lavender Fields Forever taken at Farm Tomita in Furano, Japan.

There’s nothing quite like backpacking through flower farms and eating lavender ice cream in the countryside of Japan.  During this time of year (late June – August), Hokkaido’s flowers are in full bloom and many people flock to Furano and Biei to enjoy the view.  There are a number of farms you can visit by taking the Lilac Express from Sapporo Station, and each of them have unique attractions and food!

I first started at Farm Tomita which is just walking distance from Lavender Farm Station (what a cute name)!  This is one of the most famous farms due to its large variety of flora, melon farm, and delicious lavender-flavored food.  The fields here are very large and you can easily spend over an hour here.  I highly recommend trying the tiny slices of lavender cheesecake and hiking to the top of the hill for a unforgettable view.  Here is a map of other lavender farms that you can visit in the area.

Afterwards I decided to take the express train from Lavender Farm Station to Biei Station and take a sightseeing bus to see the Blue Pond.  This miraculous pond was formed by aluminum and sulfur mixing in with the water during a landslide.  Groundwater washing in from the nearby Shirahige Falls and Shirogane Hot Spring also played a role in helping it obtain its color.  What makes it amazing is that trees are still growing from the bottom of it.  The color of the pond slightly changes over the course of the year and it has become an extremely popular tourist attraction.  It was a cloudy summer day when I arrived, so I was able to capture a wonderful blue hill:

Unbeknownst to me, the sightseeing bus next stopped at a flower farm called Shikisai-no-oka, where you can rent vehicles to ride through the fields and also see alpacas!  I was absolutely exhausted from backpacking, so I spent the majority of my time with the alpacas.  They were fluffy and adorable–definitely a sight for sore eyes!

Overall, Furano and Biei make for a wonderful day trip in Hokkaido!  They are fairly secluded areas in a valley of mountains so this trip was the perfect escape from the city.  These areas are quite crowded during the summer seasons by tourists who come to see the flowers, so be sure to come early and “be careful about saliva”.