Now something a little bit different – My travel gear

Reviews

It’s official. The rainy season arrived in Singapore. This week I’ve been trying to finish a post about Chinatown, mainly night shots taken with the x100, but the weather didn’t let me go out to the streets. I know, weather shouldn’t be an excuse when it comes to photography but hey, we all have our weaknesses 🙂

So I decided to do something a bit different. Actually it´s the first time that I do something like this but it makes sense. A photo travel blog should talk about traveling and that includes photography gear.

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Fujifilm X100 

The Fuji x100 became my number one choice camera for traveling. Sometimes, if it’s a short trip, the only camera that I take in my backpack.  And there are a few reasons why. First the portability, good image quality in a small package, second the fact that it is easily replaced in case of damage – this one I have I got on a second-hand online deal for a fraction of the price that I would pay for a new DSLR – and this allows me to focus exclusively on the photography rather on the possibility of damaging the camera, and finally because of the focal length, the 35 mm is arguably the most versatile and useful focal length especially for those who, like me, don’t have zoom lenses. And yes, this little camera just looks…incredible!

 

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The Fuji x100 became my number one choice camera when it comes to traveling.

 

 

 

Fujifilm XT2 + Fujinon 35 mm F2

The Fuji XT2 is a high-end Interchangeable camera that I use for more specific situations when I’m traveling, such as difficult weather conditions – its weather sealed – or if I want to do some portraits or more dramatic landscape with the use of a wide-angle lens. It’s an amazing camera, fast and responsive in every light situation and always delivers excellent quality images but it is also heavier and much more expensive than a smaller point and shoot.

The Fujinon 35 mm F2 is simply one of my favourite lenses. I truly admire everything that this lens offers. Sharpness, size, the lens design and my favourite focal length.  In most situations this lens is all that I need! And again, for traveling, it has just the perfect size and weight.

 

 

Samyang 12 mm F2

 

First thing – this is a manual focus lens – but this fact alone makes this lens an immediate great choice for travel photography. Why? Because a super wide-angle 12 mm f2 (18 mm equivalent) in such a small and light package can only be possible if the lens is manual. And it pays off when it cames to traveling. Though there are better lenses in terms of image quality it is almost impossible to beat Samyang´s price, weight and size. And with a 12 mm you can literally include all that you want inside the frame making this lens extremely useful for landscape.

 

 

 

 

Tripod and the small stuff

A tripod is always that element that I want to leave behind when I’m traveling. No matter how good the quality is, it’s a burden to take along but you end up regretting if you don’t.

Finally the small stuff. An SD card holder makes it easier to organise your memory cards, a USB pen or an external drive to download your files and one my favourites, a Iphone data transfer device that can be used any time to upload images from your phone to the cloud or a social media stream.

 

 

 

PULAU UBIN

Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Pulau Ubin is an island located in the North-East area of Singapore with an estimated population of thirty-eight people and a total area of 1,020-hectare. The official National Parks website which ‘Pulau Ubin’ is part of, describes the island as a ‘journey back in time’ where you´re able to observe Singapore last villages or ‘Kampong’. I’m not entirely sure how accurate this is, what I do know is that Pulau Ubin offers something that no other part of Singapore does.

I arrived at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal very early, just in time for the first boat of the day. Departures are based on the number of people present, there is no official time-table. The boat leaves when it has 12 people. A ticket costs three Singapore dollars one way, if there isn’t enough people you have the option of paying for the remaining seats.

 

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There aren’t many options available once you arrive at the island – either you walk or you rent a bike. The second option is the most obvious one. Just after the disembarking port you will find half a dozen rental stores with different types of bicycles. The rental process is very simple, no documents or signatures needed, only cash and off you go. Before you decide to go, just do a quick ‘pre-trip’ inspection of your bicycle. It can make all the difference. Unfortunately I skipped the inspection and took a bicycle with the most uncomfortable seat that I can remember. The scenery did however made my lower back pains, worth it. Beautiful light, the most enjoyable bird singing and a real sense of proximity with nature.

 

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Chek Jawa is probably one of the highlights of Pulau Ubin. It’s a preserved area with rich biodiversity. You have to hike since cycling is not allowed in this part of the island. But the hiking can be quite pleasant due to the constant scenery change –  dense coastal forest, mangroves,  coral rubble and sandy beach can all be seen during the hour and a half hike.

 

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Just before I went back to the Jetty point I stopped at the The Wei Tuo Fa Gong Temple. It looks more like a small farm converted into a Worship place. Its full of buddhist and chinese paraphernalia and around five people doing some sort maintenance. There are also two ponds filled with turtles and huge lizards (Water monitor lizards, I think).

The temple itself is somehow underwhelming with some garbage lying around, especially near the pounds, and has a ‘bizarre’ atmosphere. At least when I visited on an early Tuesday morning.

 

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I left Pulau Ubin just around lunch time after seven hours of cycling and hiking. If you want to visit Pulau Ubin keep in mind that this is, above everything else, a natural park destination and not exactly a sample of the old Singapore. As a natural park it can be exciting (and challenging) but as cultural destination a little bit underwhelming.

Some final tips:

. Bring your mosquito patch, in fact bring all the mosquito repellent you can find.

. Test your bicycle before you pay for it.

. Bring snacks and water. During the week most of the road food stalls are closed.

. Bring a light rain jacket. I was lucky (or not) to visit the island on a sunny day.

. Use sunscreen and a hat

. Bring cash. Not sure if there is any ATM available.

 

 

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Arriving at Changi Point Ferry Station

 


Fujifilm X-T2

Fujinon 35mm F2


 

光明山 (Bright Hill)

Bishan, Singapore

This week I went to visit a place that is rather unknown to a lot of people in Singapore, the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (KMSPKS). Located in the North-East region, the KMSPKS is the largest Buddhist Monastery in the Lion City. It covers more than seventy-four thousand square meters, the equivalent of almost eleven football pitches!

It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t come up in most of the city guides especially because of its size and characteristics. Just as an example, I opened the two touristic guides that I have at home about Singapore – a Rough Guide from 2016 and a Lonely Planet from 2013 – and none of them make any reference to KMSPKS Monastery.

The fact that it is not well-known and promoted as a tourist attraction contributes to the atmosphere here.

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The KMSPKS Monastery has several different halls and buildings, all of them very distinct and with different purposes. You can read more about it on their website. But one of the most impressive buildings is the Hall of No Form. It’s a massive meditation hall that houses a Giant Buddha made of bronze with almost fourteen meters tall.

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The Hall of No Form

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The evening gathering 

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Singapore is densely populated, finding a place like this is always good, it tends to slow things down a little, it makes you stop to take everything in. I know that Monasteries, Temples or other sacred places are not exactly the typical weekend afternoon destination, but it is worth the trip if you’re only free on the weekend, they’re places of worship, seclusion and mostly quiet, so regardless of your religion, you´re sure to find some calmness from a visit to the KMSPKS Monastery.


光明山 (Bright Hill)

Fujifilm X-T2

Fujinon 35mm F2

Samyang 12mm F2


Bangkok Wide

travel

Before every travel I have this uncontrollable habit of doing extensive amount of research about my destination. It is somehow an obsessive behaviour that can eventually spoil the entire trip. The discovery factor, that sense of exploration and seeing things for the first time, is no longer there and as a consequence the trip becomes a fact-check rather than a sensorial journey. And still, I often do it. But not this time.

 

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Bangkok Train

30 minutes ride from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) to Phaya Thai train station

 

I had less than forty-eight hours to see Bangkok, an impossible task knowing that this is one of the biggest cities in Asia with an estimated population of over eight million people, it has an unpredictable tropical climate – though you can predict that it´s going to be hot – and a chaotic traffic. So I packed light, a small backpack, a camera and a travel book.

 

Chinatown

Chinatown.

The whole area is a feast to the senses. Endless narrow streets that form an intricate maze,  shoppers selling things that have no apparent meaning or utility, the intense smell of durian – typical Thai fruit – mixed with the smoke produced by the heavy traffic, motorbikes that drive through pedestrian passages with the utmost normality. “It´s chaos, good chaos. I wanted to stay and live here, at least for a while,  at least more than just two hours.”  But when you travel you know that you need to let it go.

 

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The Grand Palace.

The most popular touristic site in town and yet I didn´t see it. Why? You need long pants, as a sign of respect, to get inside the palace and obviously I didn’t have any of those. I heard someone saying that it was possible to get in with a borrowed pair at the main door but once I got there, and looked inside, I saw thousands of people. I mean, it seemed as though all the tourists in Bangkok were gathered there at that specific moment. So I took it as a sign and decided not to go. It might sound weird but I had a great time just seating and observing people passing in front of those naked walls, and, of course, taking some shots.

 

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After seeing The Grand Palace, at least the top of it, I headed south along the Rop Krung channel, checked the flower market which was practically closed and took a boat to the west bank of the Chao Phraya river and from there walked another couple of hours untill I realized that I was completely lost. I was exhausted by then. Its hot in Bangkok, very hot, and it was time to find my way back to the hotel for a cold shower.

 

Chao Phraya River

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2nd (and last) day.

Bangkok had me as soon as I landed. It’s one of those places that you can tell  that you´re going to get something special from it. I was feeling ‘complete’ just from the experience I had on the first day but still I was lucky enough to get a second one. I choose a spot by the river (Shangri-la hotel) and walked up the Silom Road with no specific destination in mind.

 

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Bangkok has several bridges and ‘fly-overs’ that allows to observe the traffic. I know, it’s not something that everyone appreciates or enjoys doing but from a photography point of view it gives a cool perspective to shoot.

 

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My last shot in Bangkok from the Ratchaprarop Train station

 

After a brief stop in a random mall – there are plenty of those in Bangkok – for a meal and aircon, I went for my final stretch of walking. Around forty minutes from Ratchaprasong Junction to Ratchaprarop train station . My last forty minutes in Bangkok streets. It’s hard to identify what makes this experience so pleasant and fulfilling. There are many different answers and in most of the cases they are all true. I travel with a camera around my neck and the way I see things through the camera usually defines the whole experience. But Bangkok…well Bangkok is more than all of the different answers you can think of and surely more than all the images you can print in the heart of your camera. My wife travels frequently to Bangkok for business and she often tells me that she feels an overwhelming but great sense of energy when she is there. And I guess that there is no better way to describe it. Bangkok is energy, a lot of it, that surrounds you and affects you every second of the day.

 

Street scene

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Bangkok Wide

Fuji X-T2

Samyang 12mm F2


 

 

 

Hari Raya and the Arab St.

Kampong Glam, Singapore

One of my favorite neighbourhoods in Singapore is a district that many refer to as Arab Street. It is unclear whether this is the official district name, or if it is just a popular name given due to its characteristics, but what seems to be more consensual is that the area belongs to a wider historical district called Kampong Glam. This place, also refered to as the Muslim Quarter, hosts one of the most iconic buildings in Singapore, the Sultan Mosque, and is an important destination for Singaporean Muslims during the Ramadan period.

And because the Hari Raya Puasa is approaching – that’s how the Malays refer to Eid,  the end of Ramadan and fasting – I decided to go back there, again, and take some shots.

 

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Arab Street is more than just a Muslim quarter or a historical site, its tradition and contemporaneity packed in a beautiful, well-preserved neighborhood, right in the heart of Singapore. The whole area is not too big, you should be able to cover it within a couple of hours, maybe less, in time to catch an early dinner at one of the trendy eateries. You could however spend more time there if you allow yourself to absorb the detail – Haji Lane is a good example. A tiny road with huge character, a lane in the Muslim quarter with an unexpected vibe and livelihood.

 

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If photography is your thing, and you want to know a little bit more about the history of the camera, there’s a vintage camera museum to the north of Arab Street – corner of Jln Kledek and Victoria Street – the Vintage Camera Museum. The museum opened very recently. It´s a “documentary on the evolution of cameras and its journey “, a cool place worth the ten dollars that they charge for the tour, but if you don’t have the time or the interest in the subject or even the money to spend at least go to checkout the exterior of the museum. The house itself is built in the shape of a camera and the entry of the museum is made through a passage depicting a lens!

 

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Hari Raya and the Arab St.

Fujifilm X-T2

Fujinon 35mm F2


Tekka Centre

Little India, Singapore

When I first landed in Singapore at the beginning of 2017, the two things that stood out the most were the weather and the cost of living, both equally daunting. My first impressions were that most things cost double the price, even triple sometimes. Some will argue that quality of life is excellent, economy is doing well, wages are better than most of the countries and I get that, but if you are coming from a country like South Africa, paying ten dollars for four apples is something that takes time to digest…literally.

 

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One of the main entrances of the Market

 

Tekka Market is situated on the edge of Little India (west side) along Rochor Canal. It is a fifteen minutes walk from where I live, five minutes or less if I take a bus. It quickly became one of my reference points in Singapore. It is somehow illustrative of the Singaporean ethnic diversity and a good example of how that diversity can work together under the same roof.  And above all it is cheaper than the average supermarket.

On the first floor you´ll find mainly Indian costumes shops and several traditional tailors but you can also find some Buddhist and Taoist paraphernalia.

This time I got there just a little bit to early.

 

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The Main floor of the center is where you can find all the fresh products. Fresh fruit and vegetables,  fish and meat. The meat section is probably the most ‘difficult’ one for those who are not used to buy in traditional wet markets. The meat is prepared in a typical butcher block, inside the butcher’s shop or in some cases just outside the shop on the narrow corridors.  The process is very ‘near and visual’ and the odour intense, but that’s just how it’s done.

On the other hand the fish section is very appealing – except for the wet floor – with a great variety of seafood. All sorts of prawns, gigantic crabs, sea bass, tuna and squid just to mention a few.

And finally the fruit and vegetables area, and this is probably why I often go to Tekka Market. The price of the fruit and vegetables but specially the vegetables is much lower than the ones you find in other generic markets.  So if you live in the vicinity, trust me – it is worth the visit.

 

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On the main floor you can also find a hawker centre. I’m really not sure how Tekka ranks among all the numerous Singaporean hawker food centres but I can say this. Its hot, busy, almost chaotic, the options are endless and some of the stalls have long queues and that usually is a good indicator for me. I must confess that regarding to food I often play it safe and once I find  that safety I stick to it for a while. So I haven’t tried much yet, but I hope that soon I will be able to tell you more about this.

 

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The Tekka Centre is a local that I learned to appreciate over time for its diversity and traditional characteristics. It was the first open door that I found to the local Singaporean culture and that for me is priceless. So don’t think that I just go there because its cheap. I mean…well… you know what I mean.

The Tekka center opens its doors at 6.30 am (the main floor) and you can visit till 9 pm – Fish and meat stalls close around noon. It’s easy to get there. Little India MRT station is just in front of the centre and there are also several buses available. It´s a great starting point if you´re just visiting Little India.

 

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Tekka Center

Fujifilm X-T2

Fujinon 35mm f2