Saturday, 21 January 2017

Boracay: White Beach

 White Beach: Station 1

We are in Boracay for our son's wedding and staying in a hotel which backs on to its famous White Beach. Boracay is a small island (about seven kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide at the narrowest point) shaped like a classic dog bone. It is off the north-western coast of the large island of Panay.

The White Beach extends for about four kilometers up the west side of the island and is divided into three "stations" or sections: Station 1, where we are staying is the quietest and perhaps most upmarket, Station 2 is the centre of tourism and Station 3 is more basic. This post describes a short walk to the end of White Beach. A feature of Station 1 is that bars, hotels and restaurants back directly onto the beach - the main road is directly behind them.

We set out early in the morning when the beach is uncrowded, although the beach vendors are already trying to sell you hats, selfie sticks and waterproof bags. An outrigger boat used for trips to Ariel Point, a well-known diving rock is moored offshore. The picture below was taken on another day when the tide was out to illustrate the beautiful gradations of colour at low water.

A bit further along the beach the occasional boat is waiting by the water line.

Soon we reach an isolated rocky projection into the sea. It is hard to understand what it is doing there. On the landward side there is a small statue of the Virgin Mary which attracts a stream of visitors: the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country.

Further on, out to sea a little way, we see the first of many people on a paddle board. It looks so elegant and effortless, but later we will see beginners trying mightily just to stand up, let alone paddle - most are unable to.

The beach has become wider now and larger hotels begin to predominate. There are more trees too.

Gradually we approach the end: it is much less developed and there are fewer people.

At the end a narrow rocky path leads round the headland to Dinwid Beach, where the wedding will take place and we see a new butterfly species, the only one we will see on Boracay:  it is a curiously-named Great Egg-fly.

We walk back along the beach, which gets gradually more crowded as the day wears on. By 5 pm it is really quite busy, being used as the main thoroughfare for pedestrians heading to and from the other Stations. It is much preferable to walking along the road which is busy with tul-tuks, motorbikes and minibuses.

Later the sunset begins. There are lovely views of the sailboats which seem to have their base in Station 3.

And straight out to sea, passing sailboats add interest to the astonishingly beautiful sunsets.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Conditions: Seemingly always sunny.

Rating: 5 stars. A great bewach.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Singapore: Marina Bay and the Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Having completed our walk around the wonderful Gardens by the Bay, we decided we just had to experience the Singapore Flyer. It is Singapore's answer to the London Eye, which when erected in 1999 was the world's tallest Ferris Wheel. The flyer overtook the Star of Nanchang which had eclipsed the London Eye, but was in turn beaten by the High Roller in Las Vegas. The wheel initially rotated in a counter-clockwise direction when viewed from Marina Centre, but on 4 August 2008 this was reversed on the advice of Feng shui masters (thank you Wikipedia).

As we approached the Singapore River, it became clear that the Flyer sat on top of a three storey building, which presumably helped its claims to be tallest.

The river is crossed by two massive highways, but as we headed along the bank we spotted a footbridge on their far side. This turned out to be the wonderful Helix Bridge completed in 2010 (seen more clearly in an aerial photo later on).

As we walked across there was a fine view across the reservoir to the wonderful Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay (but what a clumsy name!), which we had first seen on our walk around the Colonial District.

As we got further across, there was a great view back towards the extraordinary ArtScience Museum, 2011, by Moshe Safdie. It resembles a lotus flower.

Just beyond it are the towers of the Central Business District (CBD).

On the other side we made our way through the levels and corridors of the Singapore Flyer building - designed presumably to handle great queues of people. Happily, it was not busy so we were soon joining a nearly empty pod.

There was soon as great view out to sea where an astonishing number of ships were moored.

There was a great view down over Esplanade: Theatres on the Bay, with the Colonial District and endless skyscrapers behind. The real Singapore!

Further up, the Art Science Museum and the CBD dominated the view. The current dock area can be seen to the left of the CBD and it is planned for them to be moved to accommodate its expansion.

Finally, there was a great view of the Helix Bridge.

Conditions: hot, humid and quite cloudy. The typical weather we have experienced during our visit.

Distance: perhaps a mile from Gardens by the Bay.

Rating: 5 stars. A great experience, definitely best done at the end of our stay because we understood more about what we were seeing. It made me want to visit the London Eye.

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay

The Super Trees

Gardens by the Bay is number 1 out of 786 things to do in Singapore according to Tripadvisor and so it seemed the perfect thing to do on our last full day. The Gardens were built on reclaimed land next  to the Marina Reservoir and opened in 2012. According to Singapore's Infopedia, "the Gardens were conceptualised in 2003 as a key component of the government’s City in a Garden vision, which evolved from Singapore’s reputation as a Garden City". Singapore is quite green, there are trees and bushes everywhere, but it is also heavily urbanised (it is the third most densely populated country after Macao and Monaco), so this is a truly inspiring concept.

We walked from the Bayfront MRT station and emerged onto the Dragonfly Bridge over the Dragonfly Lake. To the left there was a fine view towards the Singapore Flyer, three of the Supertrees (of which more shortly) and the Flower Dome.

We made our way to the main Supertree grove and this was our first view, including the inviting walkway.

At the grove your attention is drawn upwards to these astonishing structures. "The tallest steel-framed concrete structure [i.e. Supertree] standing at 50 m and the shortest at 25 m. Each Supertree is covered with nearly 163,000 plants of more than 200 species and varieties, including bromeliads, orchids and tropical flowering climbers. The Supertrees, inspired by the giant trees of the rainforest, also function as exhaust vents for the conservatories and as dining spaces, and 11 of them have environmentally-friendly features such as solar panels and water harvesters" (from

This is the view from the start of the elevated walkway.

And these are some of the thousands of plants growing up the structure.

Here is the Marina Bands Sands hotel, an extraordinary structure, which appears to be three towers with a ship on top. Apparently there is an infinity pool up there.

There were some great views downwards as well. It's rare to be able to look down into a palm!

After the excitement of the astonishing Supertrees we headed towards the south end of the Gardens where I had read there was a butterfly garden, passing ion the way Marc Quinn's sculpture Planet, which depicts his 7 month old son.

We reached the end of the Dragonfly Lake ...

... and located the Butterfly Garden, where I quickly spotted a Blue Glassy Tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris).

Soon there was also a male Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya) ...

... and a female. Female dimorphism is quite common, but it seems rare for the alternate form to be equally beautiful.

Another first was a Tawny Coster (Acraea terpsicore

 But perhaps the most striking of all was this Peacock Pansy (Junonia almana) seen near the entrance on the way out.

Conditions: cloudy at first, becoming brighter.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: 5 stars. Memorable! A really great experience - and some lovely butterflies.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Singapore: Botanic Gardens and Butterfly Trail

Bourgainvillea House

As many as 320 butterflies can be (or, at least, have been) seen in Singapore. There is a list here. There is also a fantastic blog on the Butterflies of Singapore. Today's mission was to see as many of them as possible. We decided to walk across the Botanic Gardens and then do part of the Nature Society of Singapore's Butterfly Trail.

The Botanic Garden was founded in 1859 and has the unusual distinction of being a Unesco World Heritage Site. As I was busy looking out for butterflies, I didn't take many pictures of the Gardens, and we didn't really do them justice. They were however clearly delightful.
We set out from the main entrance, right by the Botanic Gardens MRT station, passing the Bourgainvillea House and immediately seeing one or two Plain Tigers (Danaus chrysippus alcippoides). This is a species that can be seen in many places in the world: Asia, Africa and even parts of Europe. The sub-species seen in Singapore and other parts of Asia has white patches on the upper and lower hind wings.

I had read that Common Birdwings may be seen near the so-called Evolution Garden, so we made a point of heading in that direction We didn't actually see any, but the Evolution Garden was sufficiently interesting to make up for it. The inspired idea was a series of plantings along a spiral trail which progressive traced the evolution of plants from mosses and liverworts, ferns, club- and spike-mosses and horsetails, cycads and then flowers. The route is described here.

Here are some architectural petrified trees near the entrance.

And this is the cycad section.

A few butterflies could be glimpsed, but not identified, even less photographed.

We reached the admin offices and café, and, perhaps inevitably, things looked up on the butterfly front. My first capture was this Chocolate Pansy (Junonia hedonia ida).

This was quickly followed by the fritillary-like Common Leopard (Phalanta phalantha phalantha).

I also managed a picture of a common butterfly we had already noticed in hedgerows in the city: the Chocolate Grass Yellow (Eurema sarisodalis).

Also there was this spectacular Dragonfly.

We continued on our way passing a rain forest zone on the left and a large tree-lined valley on the right. As we neared the far exit, we saw this wonderful sight in a grassy area. I thought at first it was a type of ant-eater, but it turns out to be a Malayan Water Monitor (Varanus salvator). This is one of the world's largest lizards - this one was about 1.5m long, but they can apparently reach over 3m.

As we were leaving the garden through an area of woodland I spotted this Malayan Viscount (Tanaecia pelea pelea).

We now followed Napier Road and Tanglin Road to reach the butterfly garden at Nassim Green off Tanglin Road. It was a nice garden with a range of plants - but nowhere to sit - and there was sadly nothing going on at first. However, when the sun came out a few butterflies made themselves known including a Banded Swallowtail (Papilio demolion), which unfortunately did not want to be photographed.

I did however see the unusually named Rustic (Cupha erymanthis lotis) ...

... as well as more Chocolate Pansies and some Common Grass Yellows.

Soon after this, the expected thunderstorm began and kept us trapped in a cafe for an hour and half. Once it had finished I visited another butterfly garden at the other end of Orchard Road, at Stamford Green. I saw a couple of Plain Tigers, but it was still drizzling and nothing else appeared.

Finally, on returning to our hotel I was delighted to spot this Plains Cupid (or Cycad Blue) (Chilades pandava) just outside.

It is extremely impressive that efforts have been made to create butterfly gardens in such an urbanised environment, and we had already noticed that some common butterflies e.g. the Grass Yellows can be seen all over the place, but we felt that there were some signs that the initial enthusiasm might be wearing off.

Conditions: hot, mainly cloudy and humid, giving way a tropical thunderstorm.

Distance: 3 or 4 miles.

Rating: four stars. Very interesting and enjoyable. I was a bit disappointed not to see more butterflies.