The Windmills of Rizal

Renewable energy. No I haven’t become an environmentalist, but it’s nice to see clean sources of energy gaining ground in the country. The windmills of Bangui, Ilocos Norte have been around for quite some time. I saw them back in 2005, if I remember right. I was afraid windpower was going to be a one off thing, but I’m glad to see that a decade later, it was not to be.

Rising from the lower peaks of the Sierra Madre are the windmills of Pilillia, Rizal. Standing like white flowers on a backdrop of mountains and sky, the windmills have become an attraction in themselves, much like the ones in Bangui were, only these ones are closer to the big city.

On a good day, a visit to the windmills present a taste of fresh air and blue skies free from smog. And as a bonus, you can view the vast expanse of Laguna de Bay, and the silhouette of the city you temporarily left behind, at a distance. At just two hours away from Manila, it’s a perfect roadtrip destination, and a cure to urban boredom.

*Photos taken May 2016

Siem Reap

A Cambodian style Tuktuk

Having been engaged in some bit of moutaineering in my collage days, I am familiar with the term “base came”. Apart from just being the lowest camp, base camp is where the party plans the climb up. Assessments of the weather, provisions, logistics, security, and other risks inherent with venturing into the wilderness are all made here. And upon completion of the descent, base camp is where the partying takes place. Food is carefully rationed during the climb, but once base camp is reached, all remaining food and booze are wiped out with no regard. Base camp is a serious place before a climb, but there will be nothing but fun there after.

Visiting the temples of Angkor in Cambodia requires some planning too, though not as rigorous as going up a mountain. And at the end of a day long tour, everyone will be thirsting for an ice cold drink. When visiting Angkor, your base camp is Siem Reap. The place is serious business in the morning, but it’s all fun and eating and drinking in the evening. It may be a medium sized town (it’s not even a city), but “sleepy” is hardly ever a word you could associate with Seam Riep. From the airport, to the temples, to the hotels, resturants and bars, there’s almost always a flurry of activity somewhere. 

As most people are out “Tomb Raider-ing” during the day, it’s in the evening that Siem Reap is in its most vibrant. The town is still devoid of malls and large commecial establishments, so most of the shopping is done at the night market (below). From souvenirs, to cheap clothing, to duty free items, to counterfiet watches, you can find them all here.


Right next to the Night Market is Pub Street. This is where you find many expats, especially westerners who like to bask in the warm evening air, hanging out. What is most unusual about pub street is the proliferation of small, mobile cocktail bars, such as below. These motorcycle-pulled carts park by the streetside to sell shots of liquor. Add some funky neon lighting, and put some plastic stools out infront, then you have an instant outdoor bar.


At the edge of Pub Street is an alley lined with restaurants and cafes. Imaginatively called “The Alley” (below), it’s a rather quiet corner with a Bohemian feel to it. If you’ve been in Cambodia long enough and would like to have a rest from Indo-Chinese cuisine, this is a good place to get some Western food.


Though quite obviously touristy, restaurants serving dinner buffet and cultural shows are still very popular among visitors. The Koulen restaurant, right on the town’s main street, is a good place to spend an evening in. Food is good, though the place is almost always packed to the brim so be prepared for long queues at the buffet tables. A reservation is also very much recommended, which your hotel or tour guide should have no problem doing for you. The highlight to an evening here is the dancing of the Apsara, Cambodia’s traditional dance.


Among South East Asian countries, in recent times, Cambodia had the unfortunate distinction of being the one at war for the longest time. From suffering the spill-over of the Vietnam War, to the terror of the Khmer Rouge, to the invasion by Vietnam, it seems war made a home on their land. But even before the recent troubles, the Khmers, as they were then known, had a troubled past. Being sandwiched between two influential neighbours, Siam (Thailand) and Vietnam, whose relationship with each other swung back and forth from cordial to confrontational did not help, and indeed some say repeated intervention by both neighbours led to the decline of the ancient Khmer empire.

As such, the scars of war is embedded deep in the Cambodian psyche, and war museums like this one in Siem Reap (there are several all over the country) tell as much of their story as the temples do. Though they are in no way aesthetically comparable to the well funded museums of the west, they tell a very rich story. And here, stories are not just printed on walls, they are told by people who lived through the horrors.


And of course a visit to a place is not complete without tasting local cuisine, and given there’s dearth of western chains in Siem Reap, you cannot avoid local cuisine. Khmer food is surprisingly simple. Being a neighbour of culinary giants Thailand and Vietnam, I half expected their elaborate cooking, but to my surprise, I find Khmer food more similar to Southern Chinese, with simple cooking methods highlighting the fresh ingredients. They do borrow from their neighbours too, like the use of currys and coconut milk, and even some dishes like the Tom Yum Soup and the Fresh Spring Rolls. Fish is their primary source of protien (very healthy!) and their national dish is the Fish Amok, fillets of fish in curry and coconut milk. Other notable dishes are the Lok Lak (a sauteed beef dish) and their own version of the steamed fish.


Fish Amok


Beef Lok Lak


Fresh Spring Rolls


Tom Yum Soup


Steamed Fish


Sour Soup


Sauteed Squid


*Photos taken March 2016

Angkor…the Big Circuit


So what do you do after one whole day of seeing temples in Siem Reap? See more temples on another day! One writer described temples in Seam Reap as something like a Chinese lauriat…they don’t stop coming even after you’ve had enough.

This time we took the “big circuit” tour, after we took the short one a couple of days prior. This took us through the outer ring of temples in Angkor. The big circuit would normally start at Angkor Wat and the Bayon, but since we had been there before, we bypassed them and went to the first temple north of the walls of Angkor Thom, the Preah Kahn (photos above and below). Another single level temple, the Preah Khan looks in a way quite similar to Ta Prohm which we visited before, save for the tree roots crawling on temple walls. But I’m no temple connoisseur, so I’m sure there’s plenty of unique things here for a trained archeological eye. And the good thing is unlike Ta Prohm, this one doesn’t get as crowded.


Next up is Neak Pean, the temple in the middle of a man-made lake. Unique among the temples of Angkor, the Neak Pean does not show so much vertical structures, and instead features pools surrounding a single central tower. It is said that it was made so that people with illness can get cured by bathing on its pools. Though not as structurally prominent as the other temples in Angkor, it makes up for it with the beauty of its surroundings, including the long, scenic walk across the lake to the island.


Going further along, we reach Ta Som. Similar in construction to Ta Prohm and Preah Kahn, but smaller, this temple is even more isolated and draws much less visitors. Looking at it from the map, this is the farthest point from central Siem Reap in the Big Circuit. Diminutive compared to its neighbors but nevertheless rich in bas relief, the Ta Som’s highlight is a tree whose roots have embraced the eastern gate.

Heading back down to the south, the route passes by the East Baray, the dried up eastern reservoir of ancient Angkor. In the middle of the East Baray is the East Mebon. By now the Baray is completely covered by vegetation and a road even runs across its bed, but back when it still had water, the East Mebon was a man-made temple-island, similar to Neak Pean but larger in scale.


Further south of East Mebon is Pre Rup. Almost similar in construction to the East Mebon, the Pre Rup appears red, as both it and the East Mebon were constructed of Laterite, unlike the rest of Angkor’s temples like the Angkor Wat, which were made of Sandstone. Both the Pre Rup and the East Mebon were constructed at an earlier period in the Khmer Empire, and predated both the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. You could also see it in the way these two “twin” temples were constructed, as they had much less detail than the younger temples. Laterite is also a softer rock, and was used by Khmer builders before they gained enough proficieny to work on the harder Sandstone.


The last stop is Beantey Kdei, the next door neighbor of Ta Prohm. Almost a look-a-like of the latter, the Beantey Kdie was also deliberately left in a state of “semi-ruin”, although there’s no significant vegetation growing on it. What it does have however are towers held together by rope. And another thing to note is that while tourists generally consider the temples around Siem Reap as “attractions”, to Cambodian Buddhists they are active, functioning houses of prayer, as shown on a photo below.


Though not officially part of the Big Circuit, we added Pnohm Bakheng to our itinerary that day. Sitting on the top of a hill, the highest point in the surroundings of Siem Reap, this temple is a popular destination during the sunset hours. Though not as visually grand as the other temples of Angkor, it nevertheless holds a unique title – it is said to be the very first temple there, and predated all the other temples in the area. The walk to the top of the hill is a good exercise, but it’s also possible to ride an elephant to the top for a bit more thrill. The place though gets a very heavy influx of visitors, and due to its more compact size, you could feel more constricted there than even in Angkor Wat

Photos taken March 2016.

Angkor…Short Circuit


It was our first day in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and we chose to hire a van (through our hotel’s front desk) to take us through a Short Circuit tour. No, there was no electrical faulty wiring around Siem Reap. Short Circuit is what tour operators call the inner ring of temples of the ancient city of Angkor, the capital of the once powerful Khmer Empire. Cambodia is a hot and humid place, and couple that with the absence of public transport within Angkor itself (which I agree with), then it’s best to contract a ride for the tour, unless you like to take a bicycle to the woods (fun), or walk for miles (not fun). You can take a ubiquitous tuk-tuk for an al-fresco, wind-in-your-face feel, or ask for a car or van and driver from the hotel if you’d like the luxury of air conditioning.

Our first stop was the South Gate of Angkor Thom, the walled city. Being the link between the Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, it is the gate most used by tourists, and is therefore the subject of most restoration efforts. The ancient Khmer experienced back and forth shifts between Buddhism and Hinduism, and this is immediately noticeable at the gate. At the top are the four faces of the Buddha facing in each direction, and at the bridge you see a line of Hindu Devas.


Going past the gate and further along is the Bayon (photos below). Being the main temple of Ankor Thom, it sits right smack at the center of the ancient city. Though nowhere as large as the Angkor Wat, or even the other ancient South-East Asian temples like Indonesia’s Borobudur, it looks rather unique compared to them. Bayon’s silhouette is what I would call an “organized chaos”. It is the youngest of the three temples mentioned here, and it departs from the smooth lines of the other two, and is instead composed of a series of towers of varying heights, giving an impression of a sort of “man-made canyon”, rather than a mountain which other large temples would suggest. Still, similar to the other grand temples of this corner of the world, the interior contains intricate details, from the stories carved in stone to the decors in its passageways.

Be warned that the Bayon is one of the most heavily visited temples in Angkor, perhaps next only to the Angkor Wat, so taking a photo with not too many people around takes some patience and foresight, but it’s not a hopeless endeavor (at least while we were there – it was a Wednesday). I would also suggest being ever mindful of the people taking pictures around, so as not to invade their frames. We only earn the respect that we give.


Not too far to the north of the Bayon is another temple, the Baphoun (photos below). A little bit larger, and older than the Bayon, the Baphoun looks a lot more conventional. It comes in the form of a wide, low pyramid, a shape commonly found among old civilizations, from Asia to Egypt to South America, though this one is pretty well decorated and detailed for a pyramid. I read somewhere that the Baphoun was the inspiration for the game “Temple Run”, though I don’t have proof so I would treat it as hearsay, but it wouldn’t seem too far off if it were true. Being less structurally stable than the others though, access is restricted to anyone under the age of twelve.


Next door to the Baphoun, again to the north, is the Royal Palace complex. Most of the palace was allegedly made in wood, so there’s virtually nothing left of it except the entrance gates and the temple in the middle called the Phimeanakas. Again the temple is shaped like a pyramid, but much smaller as I believe it was only used by the royalty.


Right outside the Royal Palace complex are a couple of terraces lined with intricate stone carvings, the Terrace of the Elephants, and the Terrace of the Leper King (photos below). The former was named, contemporarily, after the elephants carved in it (elephant cavalry were the “armored divisions” of ancient Asian armies), and the latter was named after a Hindu god whose statue stood here before, and who looked liked a leper to western explorers (the Khmers did not actually have a monarch afflicted with leprosy, as far as historians are concerned). It is said that it is from these terraces (which face an open field) where the Khmer king stood to view his army on parade.


Just outside Angkor Thom, to the East, is a small temple called Chau Say Thevoda (photo below). It’s the first of many “lesser temples” in our tour. Now I’m no expert in archeology, and I call them “lesser” simply because they are single level structures, with little vertical prominence, and in no way denotes their religious or cultural significance.


After a brief stop for lunch we came upon Ta Prohm (below). If you’ve seen photos of temples being embraced by tree roots, most likely it was taken from somewhere in Ta Prohm. Though a single level temple like the one above, and therefore not really visually prominent, it is nonetheless one of Angkor’s most photographed temples, its main allure being the way nature has sort of partially reclaimed it. It was also popularized by the movie Tomb Raider.


On the road back to central Siem Reap, our last stop was the grandest of the temples of Angkor, the Angkor Wat (photos below). Surrounded by a wide moat and an enclosure as big as a small town, the towers of the Angkor Wat dominate over the neighboring woods like medieval sky scrapers. Holding the record as the world’s largest religious monument, the temple projects a strong sense of majesty and power, which I have to admit my photography could not convey enough. It must have looked jaw dropping to any visitor of the Khmer Empire back then.

Be warned that the walkway from the road to the temple is long, open and unshaded, so it is best to visit early in the morning, or late in the afternoon.


* Photos taken March 2016

Sunrise in Angkor


Until a few weeks ago I was watching castles in the British Isles. Those tough, hardy structures made of solid rock symbolized power in Europe, centuries ago when kings and nobles held power over the land, and fought each other quite often. Made to withstand sieges and medieval artillery, but not so much the ravages of time, castles, in various states of repair or disrepair, were a sight to behold

But now I’m back in Asia, and here – with the notable exception of Japan – castle building never really caught on as a fad. That’s not to say Asians couldn’t build, for there are structures here just as grand or even more so. Except that the grand structures here were not built to withstand war and heavy weapons. Rather, they were made for prayer, to reach out to the heavens.

Temples can be found throughout the continent, from as far east as Java and Bali in Indonesia, to as far west as the Greco-Roman inspired temples in the Mediterranean coast. From as high as the plateau of Tibet, to as low as the Irrawady River basin in Myanmar. Yet none are perhaps more popular (and more heavily visited) than the grand temples of the ancient city of Angkor, deep in the heart of Cambodia.

And there is perhaps no more recognizable feature of a temple, than the towers of the Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument and the crown jewel of Angkor. These towers, whose silhouette also serves as the national symbol of the Kingdom of Cambodia, has graced many movies, TV shows, magazines, games, beer cans and what have you. In fact if you don’t recognize the silhouette of Angkor Wat I would have to ask you what planet you’ve been staying at all these years.

And here in Angkor (the whole place is part of what is now the province of Siem Reap, but Angkor just sounds so much more majestic), there is no better time to see the towers of the Angkor Wat, than when the sun rises from behind them.


People waiting for the sunrise at Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat, through the morning haze



*Photos taken March 2016

And We’ll Never Be Royals…in Windsor


“And we’ll never be Royals. It don’t run in our blood. That kind of luxe just ain’t for us”, so says the kiwi singer Lorde.

Windsor castle is one of the very few ones that are both open to the public, and still functions as what castles should be – royal residences. It is a weekend home for the Queen, and it’s still used for hosting banquets for VIPs, like other heads of state. When not in official use, parts of the castle are open to the public, and it’s quite interesting as a visitor to walk the same floors that the Queen and her guests walk on during official events.

Rising at the highest point of the town of Windsor,  the Windsor Castle has an imposing, but also elegant presence. The site is of strategic military significance, and the castle was made to withstand sieges, but it does not look all war-like. From the color of its walls, to the many nicely shaped windows, you could see that it’s a house – a gigantic one at that – fit for a queen. But you haven’t seen Windsor until you’ve been inside the castle – and I guarantee you that seeing the state rooms inside is worth every mile and every penny of your journey. Inside the castle are many adjoining rooms, some of which are still in official use, and some just retained for historical signifance. These include the previous kings’ and queens’ bedrooms, their studies, closets, changing rooms, etc. And then there are those gigantic rooms where the Queen hosts dinners, or where members of the royal family stay occasionally. The artwork on these rooms, from the painted cielings to the portraits and busts of important people, are breathtaking to say the least. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside, so I will leave it to Google and your imagination to see what’s in it.

A walk inside Windsor castle is perhaps the closest thing ordinary mortals like us would ever get to feeling what it is to be part of the the Queen’s family, for “we’ll never be royals”.

The towns of Windsor and Eton

The castle sits majestically atop the town of Windsor and its next door neighbour, Eton. The two towns are just separated by the River Thames, upstream from London. Both are  quite good examples of old English towns, and a stroll around their narrow streets are a good way to feel what life in England used to be like. Being just an hour (or less) north of London, a trip to the towns is a good way to experience the English countryside, if you have limited time.


The Eton Collage

Eton’s most notable resident is, perhaps, not man, but a school. The Eton college, an all boys school and one of England’s most exclusive, educated no less than 19 former British prime ministers, and counts Princes William and Harry as former students, along with several other royals and heads of state from other countries. 

*Photos Taken January 2016

The Fairy Tale Town of Conwy


We’ve all heard of fairy tales when we were kids. The stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Beauty and the Beast, and many others. They were stories of princesses, princes, kings, queens, dragons, witches, castles and little old towns around them. As a child I’ve seen almost every Disney fairy tale animated movie from our school’s audio-visual room, which turns into a free movie house during lunch break, and from those movies I’ve always pictured medieval towns as walled villages with a castle somewhere inside. I’ve always pictured it in my mind in a “cartoonish” way, where white walls and bright orange roofs make the town stand out.

And then, I saw Conwy, a small town in North Wales that had exactly what the fairy tale towns had, minus the princesses, princes, and certainly no dragons nor witches. Conwy is a walled town set along the banks of a river, and in the foot of the mountains of the Snowdonia region, Wales’ most famous national park. Enclosed within the walls of Conwy is a small town that looked like the setting of the fight between Belle, Gaston and the Beast. Walking along the town’s very narrow roads felt like walking in the centuries past when everything moved by push carts and horses, and people’s daily clothing looked funny or shabby by current standards. And on one corner of the town lies the castle, a mandatory element of every fairy tale. Built during the 13th century, the castle has an imposing presence over the town, and it is relatively intact, considering it’s eight centuries old.

Though it’s walls are not white, and the castle is an old ruin – nothing like a princess’ castle in Disneyland – the beautiful little town of Conwy has all the magical elements, that make a fairy tale.

*Photos taken February 2016

Random Wanderings, in London


Three months after I started my assignment here in London, and I’m now here sitting on the train to Heathrow airport for my flight home, typing away on my iPad and using the complementary wifi. It’s been what I would call, a “bitter-sweet” experience. I was away from my family for 3 months and missed Christmas and New Year at home. There were those late nights for video calls with my son, and on few occasions I fell asleep while in the middle of a call. It was winter the whole time I was here, and sometimes it felt like the cold bit not only skin but also bone, especially on the walks between home and office in the mornings and evenings.

Yet it has been a fun time as well. I managed to go around the UK, as much as a busy schedule would permit. There was the new year trip to beautiful Edinbrugh, Scotland, a weekend on Belfast and the breathtaking northern Irish coast, and then I got drenched in Wales and ate black pudding. I managed to accomplish one of the things I wanted to do while here – visit the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales). I managed to see Stonehenge, see the city with unusual name – Bath, wander around the towns of Windsor and Eton, and saw what punting in Cambridge was all about.

But most of all, I managed to see more of London this time around. It’s the most cosmopolitan place I’ve ever been to. Some parts of it feel like genuine England, while others are like East Asia, or the Middle East. People of all colors, varying heights, varying builds, walk the same packed sidewalks, and ride the same packed trains. Parts of the city are immaculately clean, while some downright dingy. Sometimes you wonder if you’re still in you Europe, and in other times you are reminded that you are in Europe. But one thing is clear – London is an experience like no other.

And before I disembark from this train, let me just show you a few of the pictures I’ve taken, from my random wanderings in London.






What are you doing in Wales, in this weather?


A colleague and I arrived in Wales, soaking wet. It was one of those days that would have been the perfect time to go out and explore, but the weather didn’t agree. We got off the train at Llandudno station to a driving rain, the kind you normally associate with the tropical monsoon. And then there was the gale force wind with the temperature of an ice bucket. We might as well have taken an ice bucket challenge, it would have felt the same.

With heads bowed from the wind and hands deep in our coats pockets to look for whatever warmth there is left, we walked the few hundred meters from the train station to our guesthouse. And as we arrived at the front door, we rang the bell and were met by a smiling old lady who promptly greeted us with the words “Oh my, what are you doing in Wales in this kind of weather?”. Yeah, what in the world were we doing indeed.

Llandudno is a  seaside town in the northern end of Wales, one of the four constituent countries of the United Kingdom. Bordered by the sea in the north, the mountains of Wales on the south and a rocky coastal hill called “The Great Orme”in the west, Llandudno lies on beautiful, god-given spot. The north shore of the town is a long gracefully arching coastline with whitish sand called the North Parade, and it would have been a postcard worthy scene on any other day, except the one when we were there. The view from the Great Orme would also have been perfect, I would imagine, on less rainy and misty days.

Still, despite the weather, Llandudno was worth the three hour train ride from London. It is a charming, laid back town where life seems to be very different from the perpetual rush that is London.

Llandudno, and the Great Orme


The North Parade


We stayed for a night at the Glenavon Guest House in Llandudno, and I would have to say it was one of my most pleasant overnight stays. The guest house is owned and managed by an old couple who kept the whole place very cozy and clean. And then there was the breakfast – a plateful of wonderful Full English Breakfast prepared with tender loving care in their kitchen. No rain is hard enough, and no weather is bad enough, for that breakfast.


* Photos taken February 2016.

Anglaagan, Is Turning Six

Yours Truly, the author

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh I believe, in yesterday.

Six years ago, in the first week of March, I started writing articles here. I named my site Ang Laagan (Visayan for “The Wanderlust”), to denote my penchant for travel, and my roots in Davao City, Philippines, where Visayan is the most widely spoken Filipino dialect. Six years, but it only feels like yesterday.

I started Ang Laagan because I wanted to show my experiences, to whoever bothers to read. I believe each of us has something to share, about our experiences, the happenings in our lives, and how they shape who we are. I simply chose Ang Laagan as my medium.

Despite being a site about personal travel experiences, I made it a point not to post pictures of myself here. Why? Because this site isn’t about me. Rather, it’s about the things that I see, feel, and taste as I go around doing what I like doing best. But I’m going to make an exception this time, as I post a photo of me crossing the most ordinary yet most famous crosswalk ever (expertly taken by a gracious colleague and friend). Forty years before I started Ang Laagan, a photographer took a few pictures of the Beatles along this crosswalk a few steps from their studio. One of those was made an album cover, and the rest is history.

It has been terribly busy for me lately, as each year gets busier and busier at work. I have been able to write less, I must admit, but that still has not drowned out my passion to escape and go to other worlds, whenever I can. Life will always be hectic, busy, impatient, but we shouldn’t let the world drown out what we are. Let’s just take life for what it is, the good, the bad, and make it better. Cheers!

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better“.

*Photos taken February 2016

Belfast…The Devil’s Own, No More

The Belfast City Hall

I remember the 1997 movie, “The Devil’s Own”. Brad Pitt played a Catholic Irishman from Belfast. He was an IRA (Irish Republican Army) assassin, who was sent to the United States to buy and ship weapons home, where the troubles between Catholics and Protestants raged on for years. Opposite him was Harrison Ford, a New York cop who played a gracious host to Brad Pitt’s character, not knowing of his true identity. However as no secret remains hidden forever, Ford’s character’s suspicions of his Irish guest’s identity grew over time. And before the movie ends, they face each other with who they truly are. Both Pitt’s and Ford’s characters believed they are doing the right thing, based on their own moral code. The former was just fighting for his hometown that is being torn apart by internal conflict, and the latter was just a cop upholding the law, as his job requires him to.

Since then the words “Belfast”, the IRA, and the struggles of Northern Ireland, was eternally stamped in my consciousness. The tension in Pitt’s character, for me exemplified the tension that was being felt in Northern Ireland at that time. He was a murderer in Belfast, but when he got to New York, he was just an ordinary man, like you and me. Belfast in those years, and the preceding three decades, was the most dangerous place in Europe. Conflict between the two sides of the divide frequently raged through bullets and flying petrol bombs in the streets. Both sides felt threatened by the other, and both believed they were doing the right thing by taking the fight to the streets and protecting their neighborhoods. Most of the fighters on either side, I believe, were good men who just got sucked into the conflict that was upon them. Put them in another part of the world, and they might be doing else, something more peaceful.

Thankfully the year after the movie, in 1998, a peace agreement was signed between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, ending an undeclared civil war that raged on for three decades. Peace was given a chance to build a nest in Belfast, at last. Present day Belfast still bears the visible scars of that conflict, but has moved on, at great pace. The Belfast we landed on in 2016 was no longer the Belfast Brad Pitt’s character came from in 1997.

Present day Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, looks like any other small European capital city. It has a very beautiful city hall, a main shopping street with the latest brands, and an extensive bus transport network. And there’s the one thing the people of Belfast are most proud about, their new hotels. Prior to 1998 they had none at all, because no tourist with a right mind wanted to go there. It is also now very peaceful. In fact I would be more nervous walking alone at night in London, than in Belfast.


Royal Ave and Donegall Place, Belfast’s main shopping street


Belfast’s Parliament house


Typical Belfast Neighbourhoods


Still, even though Belfast has has been at peace for the last 17 years, reminders of its troubled past can still be found, especially in the western side where most of the fighting occurred. There are still walls that divide the Catholic and Protestant areas, and the communities around them are not yet comfortable enough to bring them down. Murals drawn by the various groups that fought during the troubles are still around, alongside memorials of those who perished during the fighting. All these serve as reminders of the past that the people want to learn from, but not live in. As a Northern Irish saying goes, “Look with one eye to the past, and you are wise. Look with both eyes to the past, and you’re a fool”.


*Photos taken February 2016.

Fish-eyed, in Cambridge

Fair blue skies, on the way to Cambridge

I bought a new fish-eye lens for my camera mid-day this Sunday. It was just one of those fancy body caps made by Olympus that double as manual lenses. It’s got glass in the middle, yeah, but it’s got no auto-focus and not even aperture control, so it’s perpetually stuck at f8.0. But before you say bummer, let me say that it only set me back 75 quid. How else can I mount a fish-eye in a system camera for 75 quid? I’ll let go of autofocus anytime, for 75 quid. This is back to basics photography, only with an unusual perspective.

So with fingers itching and eager to play with the new “toy”, I decided to take it for a field test. And the target? Cambridge. Just 1 hour away from London, it was within easy reach. It was a perfect day for taking some snaps too. The sky was blue – a rarity in England – and so I didn’t let the chance pass. And so I bought myself a round trip ticket for 16 quid, and hopped on the next train from Kings Cross. Neat. 

Cambridge, so called as it sits on the banks of the river cam, is known the world over as the A-list university town. It houses some of the world’s best schools, and any CV indicating one is a graduate from any of the universities here would make that piece of paper heavier than the paperweight sitting on top of it.

Yet Cambridge has more to offer, than just the weight of the diplomas that come from it. It looks very pretty, a postcard perfect sample of an old English town. Old buildings line the streets in the town center, blending in perfectly with the impressive architecture of the schools around it. And then there’s the river Cam, meandering calmly at the backs of the universities. One of the highlights for visitors in Cambridge is “punting” – rafting along the river Cam with a boatman, much like the Venetian gondolas, but the boatmen here don’t sing.

And how about the field test? The cheap little lens did not disappoint…in fact it was very, very far from any possibility of disappointing me. I had so much fun with it, in fact I don’t recall having this much fun taking pictures before. It’s my first fish-eye lens, and the ability to use the fish-eye perspective thrilled me to the core. Add to that the weather that stayed cooperative throughout, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


“Punting”, their local term for rafting, in the river Cam


Hogwarts? No, Queen’s College


 * Photos taken February 2016

Far and Away…the Coasts of Northern Ireland

The ruins of Dunluce Castle, in Northern Ireland

I used to like listening to the songs of Enya during my younger years. Her songs were otherworldly and her voice ethereal. Her music tickled the imagination with scenes of beautiful landscapes, of places more fit for angels than men. For years I drew pictures in mind whenever I listened to her, and I did that quite a lot back then, wondering if such lands exist. But now I wonder no more. Enya was Irish, I found the place that her music painted in my mind…it’s Ireland.

Taking a quick break from the hustle of London, I and a few others flew to Northern Ireland, and we might as well have just flown to another planet. The Irish countryside is a completely different world from the big city. The scenery was astounding, and the isolation even more so. As we toured through the farmlands of the county of Antrim, I never felt that isolated in a long time. The only time I felt that much alone was driving through the deserts of Nevada, but In Ireland the scenery was completely different. It was lush green farms and rolling hills as far as the eyes could see, or until the mist meets the horizon.

Going through the countryside of Northern Ireland, we went all the way to the north coast, and the picture where the land meets the sea is even more breathtaking. White cliffs dropping into the surf below, coastal hills that slope toward the shore, windswept grasslands, craggy rocks and beautiful islands off coast…it’s like the brushstrokes ofmother nature. No wonder Enya makes such ethereal music. How could you not, if you come from a place that looks like it’s half way to heaven.

It’s quite rare for me to post an article about a place a mere day after I saw it, but this I will make an exception. The countryside of Ireland is that much pretty. Far and away, it is a very beautiful place.


One of the highlights in the north coast is the Giants Causeway, a curious formation of volcanic rocks that look like a set of hexagonal poles driven into the sea. It is a unique attraction not to be missed, for nowhere else in Earth, as far as I know, did Mother Nature shape rocks this way.


*Photos taken February 2016.

A City Called Bath


Bath – it’s a most unusual name for a city. In places far from England, people might give you a terrified stare if you declare in the open “I haven’t been to Bath in a year !”. But what is this city called Bath, and why does it have a bit of a funny name? I’m South East Asian, and I’m used to places in England ending in “Chester/cester”, “bury” or “shire”, but Bath? Not quite so. Or maybe I’m the fool who was the last one to know.

Anyhow, I just learned about Bath quite recently and thankfully I did, for it’s a visit not to be missed. Bath, despite its funny name, is an elegant beauty. It’s the sort of city you’ll wish to shrink and put in a snow globe. Situated in a picturesque valley in the southern tip of the of the Cotswolds, the city’s undulating terrain, narrow cobbled streets, beautiful gardens, rows upon rows of pretty Georgian buildings, and the lush green hills that surround it, make Bath look like a painting painted by God himself.


The center of Bath, historically and geographically, is the Roman Baths. Bath was founded by the Romans as “Acquae Sulis”, who built the city around Britain’s one and only hot spring. They built an extensive complex of recreational baths, as well as a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, and it became one of the most important cities in Roman Britain. As the Romans pulled out of Britian when their empire declined, Acquae Sulis was left to ruin, but parts of it survived, including the baths. Despite the age and ravages of time, the baths lived on to remind us of the golden era of Roman engineering. And what is even more amazing is knowing that the Romans got something like this built in faraway Britannia, one of most isolated corners of their empire.


Right beside the Roman Baths is the beautiful Bath Abbey. Built with a very decorative Gothic design, it’s hard to miss the abbey when going around central Bath, as it stands apart from the rest of the city’s Georgian simplicity. The external detail and beautiful buttresses make it one of the most attractive churches I’ve seen.


Bath is not a big city by any means. It has local population of only over eighty-thousand, but it does get very crowded with tourists as I’ve seen first hand. And why wouldn’t it be? It is indeed a beautiful city worth traveling thousands of miles for. It’s the kind of place where even just walking aimlessly around, is an attraction in itself.

 * Photos taken January 2016

Stoned…in Wiltshire


Rising out of the wide Salisbury plains is a curious set of large stones, probably the oldest monument of human civil engineering. The Stonehenge, as it is known today, is probably the oldest example of man trying to build some form of a robust, vertical structure. A Stone Age skyscraper. Composed of two main rings, a circular outer one and a horseshoe shaped inner one, at first it may look like just a bunch of flat stones stood upright, with some placed on top. However upon a closer look, one would see that the Neolithic (Late Stone Age) builders of Stonehenge knew a thing or two about architecture and mathematics. The curvature of the stones forming the rings suggest they were shaped not by coincedence, but rather by design. Some vertical stones that have lost their lintels (the horizontal stones at the top), show that the stones have joints resembling the ball and socket, to hold them together. Clearly the Stone Age engineers of Stonehenge knew what they we doing, and did it well.

The purpose of why the Stonehenge was built has been debated for centuries, and that debate will not end soon. There are burial mounds all over the vicinity, so maybe it’s a resting place and monument for important people. The stones accurately align with the positions of the sunrise in each season, so maybe it’s a calendar, or a prehistoric sundial. Maybe it’s place for seasonal ceremonies. Maybe it’s a tribe’s showcase and bragging right to say that they are the most advanced in pre-historic Britannia. Maybe it’s all of the above, or none of the above. Whatever it is, it shows man’s intrinsic ability to use technology and do grand things.

But please, none of that “alien” cr@p. Let’s give credit to the human race’s capacity for greatness, even back in the Stone Age. If some modern humans still think like Stone Age men, then who’s to say that some Stone Age men can’t think like modern humans?


*Photos taken January 2016.