29 October 2014

Knock Knock Knock : A Travel Horror Tale

Asia is a continent rich with cultural taboos, myths, legends and superstitions that permeate every aspect of life. Never open an umbrella in the house in case you unleash a spirit indoors, red must be worn during Chinese New Year for auspiciousness, do not eat with a pair of mismatched chopsticks or your life will be full of odds, poking a set of chopsticks into a bowl of rice will invite hungry ghosts to your dinner table, you can hex your enemy by hitting a photo of him with a slipper (打小人)... the list of supernatural beliefs and practices scroll like the Great Wall of China.

And when it comes to travelling, a whole baggage full of dos and don'ts apply. Amongst these 'spiritual rules' to be observed during travel, one stands out as the most commonly followed and practiced... that of knocking the door of one's hotel room three times before opening it and entering the room for the first time. This simple 'ritual' is performed to announce your arrival so that spirit/s in the room, if any, are not startled and offended by your intrusion of their space.

The origin of this popular practice is hard to trace but it could have its roots in the 1800s during the height of triad feuds in Shanghai. Hotel murders of gang members were rife, and in-room suicides were a more convenient way to go. Faced with the dread of cleaning up rooms where death occurred, chambermaids took to knocking on the doors to inform lingering spirits of their presence so that they may be left alone to do their housekeeping duties in peace. Over time, this Taoist tradition rubbed off on travellers and became an essential part of ensuring a safe stay overseas.

Quite a lot of friends I've travelled with practice this knocking ritual. As for me, I never believed in all that hocus pocus and secretly roll my eyes while scoffing my friends' superstitious behaviour. Do they need to knock on the closet and fridge doors before opening them too? What if the spirit was out when we checked into the room only to return and find us sleeping in its bed?

I ascribe to the logic that if you believe something exists, it will manifest. Be it in physical form or in one's imagination. So if you don't believe that ghosts haunt a room, then there won't be any spook dwelling inside.

But I soon found out, not believing in something doesn't mean it is not there...

During a solo cycling trip to one of Malaysia's eastern beach resorts in Johor, I checked into a resortel that felt as tired as my legs after a day on the pedal. As usual, I can't wait to drop off my pannier bag, get out of my sweat-soaked cycling gears, take a hot shower and recuperate.

I opened the door to my room, like I always do, without knocking first.

The frills-free room with mismatched furnishings and tacky dressing up was as basic as the rest of the resortel. A minimal effort at maintaining the fixtures was evident but I was glad to have a queen-sized bed all to myself.

All washed up and just as I was ready to tucker in for the night, I heard three knocks on the door. It's almost midnight. Who could it be?

I opened the door but no one was outside. Thinking that my exhausted mind must've imagined the knock, I got back into bed but before I could lay my head down, the knocks came again. Flustered that some kid may be pranking my room, I shot out of bed to open the door hoping to surprise the prankster but again, the corridor leading to my room was empty. "Nasty bugger with quick feet," I thought to myself.

So I ran out of my room to try and catch whoever was disturbing my sleep.

As I ran down the corridor and turned the corner, I saw what looked like a girl crawling down a stairway at the opposite block.

I was stunned by the unnatural way of her movements but thought that perhaps she was sick or hurt and needed help.

I raced down from the second floor that my unit was on and started towards the opposite block but when I turned back, there she was on the linkway of my block heading in the direction of my room!

A flash of fear gripped me. "Something's not right," I told myself, thinking that a couple of thieves must be in cahoots to lure me out of my room in order to rob me.

So I decided to run back to my room but as soon as I stepped onto the ground floor's corridor, a figure crept out... and it's the same girl!

With my heart at my throat, I shot past her to continue down the corridor while thinking to myself that the resortel could use some major renovations. Or at least have a paint job and change the awful colours of those out of place neon borders that outline the corners.

My dash back to the room was cut short when a hand suddenly appeared on the wall. It was a left hand. "No ring on the fourth finger, she must be single,"

As the hand slowly walked the wall towards me, adrenalin found my legs again and I started down the corridor of disastrous colours.

Out of the corner of my eye, I don't remember seeing a body attached to that hand.

Finally, I came to the stairway that leads to the second level and a harrowing sight greeted me... bad graffiti!

At a time when Penang's wall doodles by
Ernest Zacharevic had raised graffiti into an artform, surely the "Stop Running" message can be less of those blood-written horror movie cliches and be communicated in a more artistic form.

Oh, and there was that creepy leg. Confirm got athlete's foot.

Totally terrified by the unnatural encounters by now, I decided to take another flight of stairs next to this to get to the upper floor.

But when I reached the second level, a headless figure stood in my path. Feeling faint from the shock, my eyes grew blurry as I collapsed onto the ground.

The figure started to float towards me. I shut my eyes and recited the Lord's Prayer... then Hail Marys... then the Heart Sutra... then the Kamasutra.

When I opened my eyes again, the figure had disappeared and I tumbled back into my room.

Sleep was fitful that night. I kept having the feeling that someone was watching me.

Here's another travel don't... when travelling alone, ask for a single bed and not a queen or king-sized bed as the unoccupied side is an invitation for something to sleep next to you. If you have to sleep on a double bed, remove the pillow from the unoccupied side so that the bed is only meant for one person.

The next morning, I couldn't wait to get out of the hotel. After a quick shower, I was about to put on my facial toner, eye cream, rejuvenating serum, skin repairing complex, hydrating moisturiser, and sunblock when a message appeared on the mirror... "Waiting for you".

Delay No More... I rushed out of the room.

Checking out at the reception I asked the staff if they've seen a skinny lady with short hair at night and reluctantly, he related the story of a girl murdered in Room 301 49 days ago. Her head, left hand and one of her legs were severed and never found. She was killed while waiting for her boyfriend to meet her at the room. The killer has yet to be identified.

Since that night, I now perform the full rituals when checking in to a hotel that goes beyond just knocking on the door, but announcing the number of days I'll be staying when in the room, flushing the toilet to get rid of bad luck, covering the mirrors at night, placing my shoes in opposite directions away from the bed, Strewing belongings on empty chairs and seats, and removing the other pillow if I'm sleeping alone on a huge bed.

We may choose not to believe in things we don't see but that doesn't mean the unseen forces don't exist. As the saying goes... better be safe than sorry!

Okay, apart from the ritual of knocking and other superstitious practices, the story in this post is purely FICTIONAL and FABRICATED in the spirit of Halloween with a travel theme.

The photos were shot with my mobile phone on location at Bayu Balau Beach Resort at Tanjung Balau and Sin Hin Hotel at Sungai Rengit (Pengerang). My gratitude to Hoh Siow Har for being a sport to crazy pose for the photos because we were bored with nothing better to do at the resort but to bring a travel myth to life.

Happy Halloween and safe travels ya all! :o)

28 October 2014

Australia (NSW) - Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains

Date of Accomodation : 19 - 20 September 2014

Our crib for the night at Blue Mountains was Fairmont Resort, a luxe pad by Accor under its upscale MGallery Collection. Perched by the edge of a mountain plateau of Leura Village's upper grounds, the resort's prime seat amongst nature's landscaping masterpiece is that kind of place that makes the heart sing.

Classic townhouse-type roofing of Fairmont Resort incite a restive note of country living in the mountains.

The touch of winter sculptured a picturesque silhouette out of the trees that lined the driveway to Fairmont Resort.

Checking in to warm, country bliss. The view at the lobby leads to a peek of the mountainous region beyond.

A night at Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains range from S$230 to the upwards of S$400 depending on season, room type and breakfast inclusion.

Welcome to my room!

The first thing that struck me about my room is the s     p     a     c     e     .

There are many ways to chill in the room and aromatic bath aides made from pure essential oils are a perfect accompaniment to enjoy a sensory escapade high up in the mountains. Sleep came easily after a warm soak in the tub and when I woke up, this scene greeted me...

View from my room's window as the first light of dawn awakened the mountains.

Nature has the best way of saying "Good morning!"

5:44am... Golden hues before the Blue Mountains reclaim the colour of its namesake.

My room faced the mountains at the back of the resort while the actual sunrise is at the opposite side of the resort where the entrance is located. Best location to welcome the sky eye is by the pond next to the swimming pools.

Same sunrise shot with different devices. The photo above was snapped with a DSLR while this pic was taken with my mobile phone. Such differences how they 'see' the light'!

The pool waters were very tempting to dip in but the passing winter gripped this morning at 12 degrees, I donned jeans and warmers to explore the resort at daybreak so jumping into the blue in trunks was a no-no.

View of pool-facing units at Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains where the sunrise can be seen.

The umbrellas turneth a hotel into a resort.

View of Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains' accommodation wing reflected on a pond within the resortel's premises. I think the pond is manmade.

Next to the pool is a gym and heated indoor swimming pool.

The pool's a good size for some serious laps with a heated jacuzzi at the end to bubble tension away.

I can't get enough of the wintry branches that weave photographic poetry.

A stamp-sized suburb lies within the neighbourhood of Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains and I was delighted by how well maintained and manicured the surrounding lodges and landscapes are.

A striking lorikeet I came across whilte wandering a nearby street of Fairmont Resort. To see this feathered beauty in Singapore, I would have to go to Jurong Bird Park but these birds are commonly spotted here.

Another abundant resident at the Blue Mountains is the Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo. Saw a bunch of them grazing an open field at a residential enclave next to the resort.

The field where I saw the cockatoos while the sun turned it into its shadowy canvas.

After a walkabout of Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains and its surrounding, I settled in for a sumptuous breakfast with a delicious view of the tablelands behind me This is the place to feed the eyes and the appetite!
This post has been made possible by Destination New South Wales in partnership with CTC Travel.

25 October 2014

Australia (NSW) - Scenic World Blue Mountains Australia

Date of Exploration : 19 September 2014

Unfolding itself across 11,400 km² of Sydney's western inland, the Blue Mountains is roughly 16 times the size of Singapore, which makes it a mammoth feat to experience all of that nature in a single day. So for a comprehensive adventure in the mountains, we came to Scenic World Blue Mountains to get an all-in-one glimpse of the region's geographical features, forestry, history and even some heart-stopping thrills!

Panoramic view of the Blue Mountains from a lookout point at Scenic World.
Scenic World is like a Happy Meal where you get a taste of the mountains' buffet of naturescape in bite-size. From jaw-dropping views of the mountainous region to digging into its past as a coal mining hotspot to nature walk, Scenic World tops off these breathtaking escapades for the senses with a 3-mode transportation system that links one experience to another. The 3 transportation modes are known as the Scenic Skyway, Scenic Railway, and Scenic Cableway. Yeah, you get the drift... the sights they pass through are really scenic!

Entrance to Scenic World... a gateway to sample what the Blue Mountains have to offer in summary. We visited at almost closing time so the place was relief of hordes of tourists.
This is my second visit to Scenic World, the first being in 2012 where I took a one-day tour package that brought me to Featherdale Wildlife Park, Scenic World and Jenolan Caves for about A$120 (inclusive of lunch).

As our visit was pretty late, we had the benefit of being the last few tourists there and that's a good thing when it came to the rides... we got the cable car cabin all to ourselves and front row seats on one of the rides!

We went on the popular route that loops the rides with the sights that goes like this...

1) Taking a return Scenic Skyway ride from the entrance that glides across a valley with a hovering view of Katoomba Falls

2) After the Scenic Skyway, boarded the thrilling Scenic Railway to the Scenic Walkway that's lined with Blue Mountains' coal mining history and cuts through a section of the ancient forest

3) Following the trek is the Scenic Cableway that ascends the steep face of a cliff back to the starting point at the entrance

Scenic Skyway Across Jamison Valley with Iconic Views

Gliding 270m above the ancient gorge known as Jamison Valley, the Scenic Skyway opens a moving window to iconic sights of the Blue Mountains that included the Katoomba Falls, Three Sisters and Mount Solitary.

Taxi in the air... the original cable car system was built in 1958 and reconstructed in 2004 into the Scenic Skyway today.
I'm happy as a clam for having the Scenic Skyway capsule all to ourselves! The central aisle is fitted with a glass bottom so you can watch the valley scroll by beneath your feet.

Katoomba Falls... A three-tired waterfall cascading at an estimated 244m. 'Katoomba' means "shining falling water" or "water tumbling over hill" in the native Aboriginal language.
Scenic Railway Ride That Raises The Heart Rate 

After the Scenic Skyway, we got our adrenalin revved up with a steep down slope slide on the Scenic Railway. Built in 1882 as part of a network of tramlines used to haul coal and kerosene / oil shale from mines in the valley below, the railway is converted into a hair-raising ride for visitors.

The first passengers to ride the coal carriages were a group of exhausted bushwalkers in the 1920s. This could very well be the ancestor of modern-day roller-coasters!

Touted as the world's steepest cable-drive passenger funicular railway at a 52-degree incline, this is one thrill ride not to be missed at Scenic World. It clocks a speed of 4m per second, enough to drain blood from those who dare ride it.

To up the scream factor, seats on the Scenic Railway can be elevated according to your lung capacity to shriek. We went for the Cliffhanger and I wouldn't be surprised if the staff thought there's a little girl on the ride.

FRONT. ROW. SEATS.! Plunging down a nerve on the face of a mountain through enclosed tunnels and forest bed, the Railway ride felt like a journey back in time.
Scenic Walkway Through Industrial And Natural History

Disembarking from the Scenic Railway, we arrived at the Scenic Walkway that consists of a 2.4km elevated boardwalk meandering through former coal mining sites and the Blue Mountains' ancient rainforest.

Coal mining began in the area in 1878 with up to 40 mines at its industrial peak. Those chunks of black rock in the coal skip of this cast-iron diorama are actual pieces of the fossil fuel mined here.

The mines were subsequently closed to preserve the mountains with the last mine ceasing operations in the late 1930s.

Passing the mines, we stepped onto an elevated boardwalk that cuts through the prehistoric forestry of the mountains. Be prepared for sightings of lyebirds, a ground-dwelling avian species native to Australia.

These birds have a remarkable ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds in their environment and our guide told us that he once heard one that sounded like a jackhammer! The male lyebirds are also known for the beautiful plumage of their long and showy tail feathers. We saw a lyebird rummaging through the forest floor during our walk but it disappeared before I could get a shot.

The rainforests of Blue Mountains are believed to be at least 470 million years old with towering tree ferns like this completing that Jurassic aura.

Scenic Cableway to the Roof of Sydney

The final segment of our Scenic World experience of Blue Mountains is a ride up Jamison Valley in the Scenic Cableway. Added during the turn of the millennium, the aerial fish tank offers a stupendous 360-degree view of the surroundings as well as a chance to get closer to the jagged sandstone cliffs and peaks. It felt like I'm a flag slowly being raised and seeing further and more of this World Heritage site the higher I went.

The Scenic Cableway ferries passengers on both the ascend from the valley floor to the top and descend from the escarpment back to this lower point of the 545m journey.

View of Mount Solitary as the Scenic Cableway climbed the heights. In the foreground is Jamison Valley cloaked with lilly pilly, possumwood, cedar wattle, pepper bush, tree fern, grey myrtle and eucalypt.
Three Sisters at Echo Point

One of the key sights at Scenic World is a vantage view of the famous Three Sisters rock formations at Echo Point overlooking Jamison Valley.

An aboriginal legend has it that three sisters from the Katoomba tribe fell in love with three men from a neighbouring tribe but marriage was forbidden between the two tribes according to tribal laws. Unhappy with the laws, the three men sought to abduct the sisters by force and a tribal war ensued.

To protect the sisters, an elder turned them into three rock boulders with the intention of returning them into human form after the battle. Unfortunately, the elder was killed during the war and no one knew how to reverse the spell. And so the three sisters stand forever entombed as watchful guardians from the valley.

The truth about the Three Sisters is that they were caused by the erosion of soft sandstone by wind and water.

Meet the sisters... Meehni (922m), Wimlah (918m), and Gunnedoo (906m). There seem to be a 4th 'sister' dwarfed on the extreme right. Child of Gunnedoo perhaps?

The essential shot with the Three Sisters at Scenic World Blue Mountains.

Like my first visit, my second trip to Scenic World Blue Mountains was over in about an hour. If you are not in a herded tour and have time on your side, you can take the rides multiple times and explore more of the walking tracks at Echo Point and Jamison Valley.

For a break from Sydney's cityscape and beaches, Blue Mountains definitely offer a serene and tranquil getaway to clear the mind and renew one's awe of nature. And Scenic World contains the essence to see and experience more of the Blue Mountains.

Scenic World Blue Mountains Australia

Address : Corner Violet Street & Cliff Drive, Katoomba NSW 2780, Australia
Phone : +61 2 4780 0200
Email : info@scenicworld.com.au
Website : www.scenicworld.com.au

Opening Hours : 9:00am - 5:00pm daily
Ticket Prices : A$35 (Adult); A$18 (Child); A$88 (Family); A$32 (Concession)

This post has been made possible by Destination New South Wales in partnership with CTC Travel

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