Taipei – Standard Chartered Marathon 2015

It was a cold, windy 5 o’clock in the morning with a drizzle plunging the already chilly Taipei pre-spring temperature to around 10 degrees. I missed the warmth of my hotel bed and chided myself for being gungho to take part in a marathon while on vacation.

Then again, I’ve been to Taipei a couple of times and seen most of the attractions so I figured that the next best way to experience one of my favourite Asian cities is to become one with the locals in the nation’s favourite sport — running. In 2012, there were only close to a hundred running events in Taiwan. Today, more than 300 marathons happen year-round in the country! This is one holiday where my luggage packed on the kilos but not me.

Starting of point of the Taipei Standard Chartered Marathon 2015 was in front of the Presidential Office Building. I was fighting goosebumps from the cold but unbelievably, some of the runners were clad in just a singlet and short shorts (see the couple in blue tank-top and black shorts behind me). I shiver for them.

I signed up for the 8km run. It’s not an eye-popping distance but for someone with asthma, a bad knee and who runs as often as the moon is blue, this felt like I’m going on a mission to Mars. I began training a month prior to the marathon but due to a couple of long-haul travels, I was never able to complete 8km during my practice sessions. I seriously doubted I could reach the finish point without being delivered on a stretcher.

Flag off and my heartbeat was synchronised with the pulse of the Taiwanese. I’m no longer a tourist.

In most marathons, anything under 10km is considered a fun run but the Taipei participants were very serious during the 8km run. I felt delinquent skiving off to make frequent photo stops.

When breathing became laborious and my knees started to tingle and the temptation to just stop running and walk the rest of the distance was strong, I looked to the blind and paraplegic participants for strength. If they can do it, so can I!

I’m terrible at taking selfies but can’t resist snapping a memento of this rare scene in the middle of a Taipei highway with a horde behind me.

One of the great things about running an overseas marathon is you get to act like it’s your grandfather’s road in a foreign country.

I wasn’t the only one running a marathon. It was a snap-a-thon for my handphone too. Love the photo opportunities 🙂

The adrenaline of the masses was fuel to complete the marathon.

Finally reached the finishing point at Da-Jia Riverside Park. I didn’t think I could complete the marathon unscathed since I haven’t ran such a long distance in a long time but I made it! Having so many ‘companions’ on the route really helped made completing the run much easier.

8km conquered! I actually didn’t feel the distance because of the cold and the freshness in scenery of a foreign route. Felt great after the run knowing I’ll return home fitter! This is definitely a holiday off the beaten track 🙂

This post has been made possible by CTC Travel (Singapore) who can help plan and realise a sporting vacation in Taiwan.

Rustic Serendipity at Pengerang

Spontaneity ruled Good Friday 2013 as Siow Har or I made an unplanned trip to Pengerang. It was 3 years ago (also on Good Friday) that we first discovered the Malaysian coastal town famous for its lobster dishes and had wanted to revisit ever since.

Although we’ve been to Pengerang before, what we intended to do this time round bordered on madness. We wanted to cycle from Sungai Rengit (the chief township in Pengerang) to Desaru, which is 30km away, and back. Total distance : 60km.

The distance we decided to cover may be a yawn to seasoned cyclists but for leisure paddlers like us who don’t own a bike and cycled only when the moon turned blue, 60km is a killer.

But we did it anyway without worrying thinking too much into or understanding fully what that amount of cycling can do to us. We learnt the hard (and long) way that long-distance cycling is not something to be spontaneous about but requires careful research, more so than regular holiday sightseeing.

Packed for an adventure of the unexpected. Our Pengerang trip began with an hour’s bumboat ride from Singapore Changi Point Ferry Terminal to Tanjung Pengelih Ferry Terminal. The bumboat’s retro imprints felt like time had stood still.

We didn’t reach our destination, missing by about another 5-6km, but it was a personal feat nonetheless. Our return cycling tour covered a total distance of about 50km and we took 7 hours due to the many photo stops we made along the way.

That’s the great thing about being the masters of our own journey, we had control over when to stop and were able to explore many places off the usual tourist track. And also discovered parts of our bodies we never knew existed if not for the strains and cramps we endured under such an extreme physical expedition.

I will post up more info, tips and details about the experience later over at Explore Life Lah!. For now, this post will capture snapshots from the rustic-scenic ride and beautiful encounters along the way!

Leaping with energy on reaching Sungai Rengit, the chief township of Pengerang, This photo was taken in front of a small sea-facing Chinese temple off the main road.

Rode warrior! Golden wheat fields and an unbroken chain of balmy coconut trees accompanied our ride on the right while to the left, sand quarrying had defaced mother nature.

Small girl with big bag against a long road and monster trucks. I take my hats off to Siow Har who completed the rigorous trip carrying a backpack that could’ve easily weighed 10kg. We were given a lot of dust facials as cars and industrial vehicles whipped up clouds of smog as they passed us by.

Saw 2 abandoned godowns and decided to check them out. Glad we did because the aura of neglect made for a splendid bask on camera.

Relishing a chance to get upclose with the padi fields carpeting Pergerang’s countryside.

Siow Har fell off her bike and while we checked for injuries (thankfully it was just a bruise), we also surveyed the surrounding burnt field and saw these dandelions ready to seed. I’ve never seen a dandelion in the wild before.

Statuesque trees lined our route with numerous picturesque moments.

Every so often while travelling in a car or coach, such beautiful sceneries sweep past in the blink of an eye. Riding a bike, I am able to savour nature at my own pace and retain its beauty in my SD card.

When we first rode past this scene, it was high tide. On our way back, the waters have receded and revealed a web of mangroves that led to a single treeling rising above the waves.

Took a rest stop at Punggai Beach and hiding in the shade to cool off my badly burnt knees and shin. My chicken legs are proof that I hardly cycle.

We didn’t reach the more popular and touristy Desaru Beach but we found our spot on the quieter Punggai Beach about 15km away. It is not about settling for the next best thing, but appreciating where we’ve arrived at for getting anywhere required a lot of effort. Often, we’re too focused on arriving at our goal and missed being grateful for the minor successes along the way.

There were 3 things against us on the road trip – the scorching sun, state of mind and our bodies. The heat was relentless and coming face-to-face with a long winding road that stretches endlessly into the horizon was a test on determination. I’ve wanted to turn back a couple of times but pressed on. Not looking ahead and just focusing on my front wheel helped keep the mind from being overwhelmed. But alas, the body has its limits. Our legs were cramping so badly, especially after conquering a slope, to the point that I can feel every part of my leg muscles. Thank goodness we had Tiger Balm!

This was the last point we got to before turning back. Desaru should be under 10km away but it was already 4pm and we were worried that our ride back may coincide with nightfall. We didn’t want to risk being roadkill as the country roads lacked street lamps. After this shot, we cycled the 24km back to Sungai Rengit. *Pant*

Pointing to where we cycled to on a map at Tanjung Pengelih Ferry Terminal. Sungai Rengit is at the lower tip of the light green map and Desaru is where the figure of a swimmer is above my finger.

It had been one tough ride from Sungai Rengit but an awesome adventure! Will definitely attempt it again and make it to Desaru the next time!

Related Post : Pengerang – A Cycling Tour from Sugai Rengit to Desaru

Legend Of The Seas – LOTS to Do!

What stories does the Legend of the Seas (LOTS) behold? Join me on a nautical exploration onboard this 70-tonne cruise ship!

The last time I took a cruise holiday was when wavy perms and baggy pants were in vogue; and Enya’s Orinoco Flow urged all to “sail away, sail away”, bringing about a revival of the Celtic voice in New Age anthems. Point is, that’s a long time ago. My cruise memory dates so far back, it has become somewhat of a personal legend where I have a consciousness about it, but I cannot prove it happened because there are no details for recall or photos of my encounter.

So when I’m invited to join a bloggers’ contingent on a half-day tour of the Legend of the Seas cruise liner, I wasted no time in signing up. And here are my first impressions of the ship on this very short visit…

LOTS to Explore!

When I first saw the cruiser, I was wow-ed by the size of it. But it is still considered a baby compared to the biggest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet – the soon-to-be launched Oasis of the Seas which weighs in at 220 tonnes. If LOTS is already so massive, I can’t imagine the size of its new sibling.

The Romans call him Neptune, the Greeks revere him as Poseidon. No magical seafaring legend would be complete without the likeness of him.

Owned by the multiple award-winning cruise operator, Royal Caribbean International, LOTS sailed its maiden voyage in 1995 and has gone through refurbishment recently.

LOTS of class in terms of decor and furnishings. The ship's interior is an interesting blend of grand European fashion, Renaissance art, and contemporary fixtures.

If you ‘smell’ something fishy about my camera angles, that’s because I’m using my new fisheye lens which I bought to coincide with this half-day excursion. Been wanting to get a fisheye lens for the longest time and this is the perfect excuse to get it despite the chagrin of my dieting pockets. I hope it’ll turn out to be a worhtwhile investment.

This is the central axis that runs through various deck levels of the ship.

According to the ship’s cross-section plan, there’re a total of 11 decks that house a myriad of activity areas for children, youths, adults and the whole family. Facilities include various lounges, dining rooms, a casino, library, day spa and fitness centre, solarium, theatre, shopping arcade, and sporting nodes on the sun deck. More about the ship’s highlights here.

LOTS to Chill…

This is the first time I’m meeting so many bloggers on a face-to-face basis. There were more than 50 of us! I really enjoyed the fellowship and opportunity to learn from many of them in that short time. They were so friendly and helpful, it felt as if this wasn’t the first time we met.

The Anchors Aweigh Lounge is where one can relax to live jazz music or hold a private function in a spacious, yet cozy setting.

Before the tour started, all of us gathered for a briefing at the Anchors Aweigh Lounge. Even though the lounge wasn’t operating, I can imagine sitting in the cushy emerald couches, sipping a cocktail and just relaxing to the sounds of smooth jazz.

LOTS to Shop!

One of the things that surprises onboard was a mini shopping ‘district’. It’s a district because there weren’t just one or two shops but a collection of shops selling all kinds of stuff from clothes to skincare products to souvenirs to my favourite… booze!

Shopaholics can go wild at the shopping arcade where there's a price match guarantee. If you can find the same item on land at a cheaper price, they'll match it.

Prices onboard the ship are in US dollars and there’s even an ATM machine for cash withdrawals. However, a cashless system is in place where expenditures onboard are charged to a tap card (called SeaPass) issued to every passenger. The expenses are consolidated and charged to the credit card or settled in cash upon disembarkation.

LOTS to Contemplate

For the bookworms, there’s a well-stocked library offering various genres ranging from popular novels to biographies, children’s books, periodicals, and self-help titles. Looking at the bas reliefs of literary intellects surrounding the library, I already feel so smart without even touching a book!

There are no fools in knowledge or no knowledge in fools?

Can you imagine sitting on the large leather sofa with an interesting read, your favourite music plugged into the ears, drinking wine and see a different scenery each time you look up from the book and let your imagination be projected onto the seawater?

LOTS of Comforts

Having watched enough of seafaring disaster movies, I’m convinced that living quarters aboard all ships are the same. They are crammed, claustrophobic pigeon holes. That has always been my impression, so since I have a dislike for confined spaces the size of all the seven seas added together, going for a cruise vacation was never enticing.

But having seen the different rooms that hoi pollois like me can afford, their roominess ain’t too bad. They weren’t the sardine jackets in my head. The room comes with attached bathroom, sofa seating area and a small television.

The cabin rooms were not as small as I imagined them to be and looks very comfortable. Pretty girl not included.

There are also oceanview rooms where you can wake up to dancing waves outside your window and rooms with a balcony to sit and just let your thoughts unwind over the vast expanse of sea and sky. The prices for the various room types are listed on Royal Caribbean‘s website, but as a rough guage, it costs about S$500+ per person for a 3 nights’ cruise around Malaysia.

You can also choose different routes that can last between three to nine days around Asia. The cruise will make stops at key ports around the region and you can take land tours to explore the area.

With ultra posh decor and interior furnishings, the Royal Suite would tease even Neptune out of the waters.

Although the rooms were in the midst of being prepared and tidied, I could see that when done, the common cabins would be clean, decent and good enough for a comfortable stay. But if you print money for a living, then it’s definitely worth splurging on the luxurious oceanic suites. The most grand of them all is of course the Royal Suite which comes with a piano in the living room! Imagine your darling playing the piano and crooning Titanic’s love theme ‘My Heart Will Go On’… *choi!*

LOTS of Fun!

The swimming pool could be considered the crown jewel of every cruise liner and the one on LOTS sits like a gleaming aquamarine under the glorious sun.

Apart from the pool and outdoor jacuzzis, the sun deck also comes fitted with a jogging track, mini golf course, floor games and get this, a rock climbing wall! It must feel awesome to be on top of the wall and looking out to the ocean at such a high point.

I can sooooo see myself baking on the open deck for hours and lazing the hours away, never mind that the UV rays causes skin damage and premature aging. No point having youthful looks but no youthful activities!

This visit to LOTS is an event organised by and amongst the bloggers who did the half day tour and blog about it, 10 will be chosen to go on a 5 days 4 nights Isle of Southeast Asia Cruise. If you see more posts about the cruise in upcoming weeks, you know I’d made it. Else, I hope this post gave you a good idea of what’s it like to enjoy a holiday aboard LOTS.

LOTS to Eat!

But of course, the facilities, the rooms and the sun deck are just mere enablers to experiencing the greatest part about LOTS. It’s the service. It is excellent beyond words and the place to truly taste it is at the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room.

Mutton's tastier than this lamb shank I had. The meat slides right off and retains the nice mutton flavour that is simply baa-arvellous.

Don’t get me wrong, the staff at all the other sections be it our tour guide James or the many housekeepers I came across were all courteous and very ready to greet with a smile, but it was at the dining room that I had the immense pleasure of experiencing the full extent of it.

I think the service was more delicious than the food although I did enjoy every bite of my lamb shank. The eating experience was well seasoned with a service standard that’s 5-star to say the least. Other than the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room, there are a couple more eating outlets and a buffet-style restaurant. The buffet spread had as many choices as there are creatures in the sea.

I hope this blog has given you a useful glimpse into the Legend of the Seas should you consider a cruise vacation. I would like to thank the organisers for this opportunity to add a new experience to my memory, and this time, I have photos and a record of it.

Take a break from land tours. Why not take a vacation at the oldest manifestation of nature… the sea? Have a great flow… 🙂

For more photos of the outing, please click here.

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