Tag Archives: Park

Koningsdag (King’s Day) in Amsterdam

Our penultimate day in Amsterdam was the 27th of April, which is the Dutch National Holiday called Koningsdag or King’s Day and marks a day of public celebration for the King’s birthday. The centre of Amsterdam is closed to traffic and trams, and almost all of the locals swap their bicycles for orange clothes – it’s bright, fun, crowded and noisy – we loved it!

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

The Dutch know how to have a good time, and everywhere we went people were really enjoying the citywide festival spirit

Why orange? Because King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and the Dutch Royal family is of the House of Orange-Nassau!

We started with the nearby Sarphatipark, which was full of entrepreneurial kids running all manner of car-boot-like jumble-sale stands, orange tarpaulins strewn with used toys and worn clothes, others with homemade cakes and some really inventive ones like a whack-an-orange, living statues and the Human Fruit Machine.. from what we discern the latter involved three kids with their heads in cardboard boxes, that each held up a piece of fruit after you paid them!

Sarphatipark, King's Day, Amsterdam

The busy Sarphatipark, full of locals with their kids enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere. Selling their unwanted belongings was definitely secondary!

Sarphatipark collage, King's Day, Amsterdam

We loved the inventiveness and thought that had gone into some of the wackier stalls, not to mention the bright orange cupcakes! Clockwise from top-left: The first stall we saw in Sarphatipark – get kitted out if you aren’t already!; Those homemade bright orange cupcakes, yum!; Throw a wet sponge at other people’s kids – I imagine that’s easily their parents favourite game of the day!; Fantastic orange headgear like this furry-edged Stetson!

There are some restrictions on what people can sell, anything with meat in it must be from a licensed restaurant to avoid upset stomachs, and alcohol can only be sold from licensed premises though we never had to walk more than a few steps to find a beer!

EDM street stage, King's Day, Amsterdam

Loud music is everywhere from buskers, residents pointing their stereos into the street, and proper public stages with massive stacks of speakers – it must be easy to find work as a DJ in the Netherlands on King’s Day!

As we walked through the streets from square to square, and canal to canal, the soundtrack to the day was eclectic – electronic dance was the most common from the bars and large public music stages, but walking past people’s houses we heard jazz, 80’s pop, reggae, classical, funk, and even a Christmas tune!

Dam Square, King's Day, Amsterdam

Dam Square: the centre of the city was taken over by a compact fun-fair, including a ferris wheel, spinning chairs, a catapult pod and an array of the usual skill games like shooting ranges, dart boards and the claw

Boat drinks, King's Day, Amsterdam

King’s Day boat drinks. I used the ‘Spot Colour’ feature of my camera to pick out the orange and I really liked the results!

There’s also a one-way system in force on some of the canals because long-boat parties are the place to be seen on King’s Day in Amsterdam. Each one had a bar, a DJ, a shower-curtain hoop toilet and a lively complement who remembered to duck under all of the low bridges!

Celebrating with the locals and tourists alike was the perfect farewell to one of our favourite cities of the trip, Bedankt, Amsterdam!

Chasing cherry blossom in Japan

Cherry blossom (sakura) is a big thing in Japan. Its beauty is celebrated with ‘hanami’ or cherry blossom viewing parties with family and friends held in parks, shrines and temples across the country. The blossoms are such an integral part of Japanese culture that they even feature on the 100 yen coin! We knew that by arriving in Japan in the second week of April we had a chance of catching the blooming time but when we checked the forecast (yes there is such a thing) from Singapore it looked as if we would be too late for everywhere except the far north which we weren’t planning to visit at the start of our trip. Our search for the sakura was reminiscent of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Too hot…

We arrived in Nagoya, in the centre of the southern coast of Honshu, Japan’s main island, and although there were a few flowers left we were about a week too late.

20140424-172754.jpgThis cherry tree lined path near Nagoya Castle must have looked stunning in full bloom

20140505-084151.jpgThere were a few late blooming trees like this well placed one near the main tower of Nagoya Castle

Too cold…

Our next destination was Takayama in the mountains north of Nagoya. Aha we thought, a higher altitude might mean later blossoming, and indeed it did except that this time we were too early!

20140424-173329.jpgIt had been very cold in Takayama for the week preceding our visit and the flowers hadn’t quite woken up although they were tantalisingly close

Just right…

From Takayama we travelled north-west to Kanazawa on the northern coast of Honshu. We were expecting the situation here to be similar to Nagoya but as the train moved down from the mountains we started to notice cherry trees in full bloom and hope started to grow. At last our timing was good, we spent a couple of hours wandering through the Kenroku-en garden admiring the many trees.

20140424-174759.jpgBeautiful, almost sculptural cherry tree in Kanazawa Castle Park

20140424-174806.jpgCherry trees lining a stream in Kenrokuen Garden

20140424-174816.jpgBlossom close up


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We weren’t sure what to expect from Kuala Lumpur before our visit, but we both ended up loving it. It’s a relatively small city and the central area is more or less walkable supplemented by an easily navigated public transport system, the traffic was more orderly than we’ve seen since Hong Kong (I’d say it was a legacy of British colonialism but now we’ve seen the chaos of Bangladesh’s streets my theory is completely overthrown!), and it was full of interesting and varied sights – more than enough to keep us going for a week at our leisurely pace, but unfortunately we only had three days. The only down-side was the extreme heat and humidity (it’s not even the hot season yet) but that just meant lots of stops for cool drinks and occasional breaks in air-conditioned shopping malls to cool down.

20140311-201442.jpgWe love KL!

Petronas Towers

The iconic image of Kuala Lumpur is the Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest twin towers at 452m high, and for a time (from 1998 to 2004) the world’s tallest buildings. They were designed to incorporate features of Islamic architecture, for example the cross-sections of the tower are based on a Rub el Hizb, the eight-pointed star, with additional circular sectors to allow for more interior space. Another influence can be seen in the pinnacle spires which echo the design of a mosque’s minaret.

20140311-201512.jpgThe iconic Petronas Towers

We always like to climb towers for the view wherever we go, from Riga to Yekaterinburg to Hong Kong on this trip, and when we visited Croatia in 2012 it felt like we climbed a church bell tower practically every day! The Petronas Towers can only be visited by guided tour at specific time slots with tickets for each day going on sale first thing in the morning and selling out quite quickly. Having joined the queue at 7.20am, more than an hour before the ticket office opened, we managed to secure tickets for the 9.15am time slot.

The tour began with a safety briefing projected onto smoke (I was so interested in how it worked that I forgot to listen to the emergency procedure…) before we boarded the lift to the Skybridge at floor 41. The Skybridge connects the two towers but is not connected to them. It is designed to slide in and out so that it doesn’t fracture when the towers sway.

20140311-201543.jpgAndrew playing with the smoke before the safety briefing began, inside the Skybridge, looking down the tower from the Skybridge

Finally we boarded the lift again to whizz up to the observation deck on floor 86 (the total number of floors is 88). The lift moves incredibly quickly (between 3.5 and 6.0 m/s) with the executive lifts taking just 90 seconds to travel from the basement to the top floor. Even in the tours lift we could see the floor counter going up at roughly one floor per second.

20140311-201602.jpgLooking down at another Kuala Lumpur landmark, the KL Tower, from the observation deck

Chinatown and KL architecture

Another popular thing to do in KL is to walk around its Chinatown. We had picked up a city map from our hostel which was helpfully marked with a couple of walking tours and information about some of the historic buildings so we spent a couple of half days wandering around and enjoying the varied architecture – everything from a traditional Chinese clan house to a Hindu temple to British colonial buildings to a hundred year old Mughal style mosque where we were given a guided tour by a very friendly volunteer and I was required to wear a not very fetching purple robe complete with hood… Many of the shopfronts in Chinatown are now below street level and the doors have been reversed so that they open inwards. This is because over the years more and more utilities have been laid under the roads thus raising its level and leaving the buildings below.

20140311-201631.jpgDecoration on Chan She Shu Yuen Chinese clan house, entrance gate of Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple, traditional shopfronts in Chinatown

20140311-201712.jpgMasjid Jamek, Mughal style mosque window, inside the main prayer hall in the cover-all purple robe

20140311-201739.jpgKL architecture (clockwise from top left): I loved the Islamic influences in this new skyscraper, the Dayabumi Complex, Malaysian flag and clock tower of Sultan Abdul Samad building, the old Central Market is now full of handicrafts shops, the Art Deco style Bank Bumiputra Building was originally built to house the offices of Radio Malaya

Botanic Gardens and Bird Park

On our final day we planned to do the final walking tour on our map which highlighted various points of interest in and around the Perdena Botanic Gardens, but we quickly became very lost and even after finding a plan of the park we couldn’t match the landmarks to those on the map. So we gave it up as a bad job and spent the rest of the day in KL Bird Park, SE Asia’s largest covered aviary, where it was difficult not to take hundreds of photos of the hornbills, egrets, parrots and other exotic birds!

20140311-201954.jpgPerdena Botanic Gardens

20140311-202047.jpgA small selection of the birds we saw at KL Bird Park (left to right, top to bottom): Scarlet Ibis, Superb Starling, Cattle Egret, Palm Cockatoo, Great Hornbill, Greater Flamingo, Spot-billed Pelican, Peacock, Sun Conure


Although we only spent three days in Malaysia we did our best to try a good sample of the local cuisine. I was surprised to find out that satay comes from Malaysia and not Thailand as I’d always thought, and we had a fabulous dinner at a street restaurant where we chose our skewers to be barbecued and then doused everything in delicious peanut sauce. A bizarre local specialty is Cham, or Hainan tea, a mix of 40% coffee and 60% tea – I wouldn’t recommend it… On a more pleasant note, for lunch on our second day we ate at a South Indian restaurant in an Indian section of the city and our huge and delicious meal was served on banana leaves.

20140311-202150.jpgJulie with an Indian lunch served on banana leaves, trying to decide which skewers to choose at the satay stand, a kind of peanut filled waffle which we tried for an afternoon snack

Moving on

Arriving at the airport by the airport express train from Sentral station we were surprised to find that our flight wasn’t on the departures board. After checking with the information desk, it seems that our airline had changed the flight time by 8 hours but hadn’t thought to communicate that fact to us (OK, I’ll name and shame them, it was Biman Bangladesh)… Fortunately we were able to book seats on another flight at a similar time to our original one and we arrived in Dhaka on time for a month of exploring Bangladesh but with Malaysia firmly on our list of countries to revisit.

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park, Chiang Mai

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek, Chiang Mai

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park, Chiang Mai

Royal Flora Ratchaphruek is a huge outdoor park on the western outskirts of Chiang Mai. Originally built for a flower festival and exposition to celebrate the King’s 60th accession to the throne and 80th birthday back in 2006, it’s open all year round and now hosts an annual flower festival from December until February. We hired a scooter and got there reasonably early, but even with a full day of leisurely walking around (and taking plenty of pictures..) we think we saw about two-thirds of it. Did I mention it was huge?

Map of the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park, Chiang Mai

Map of the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park, Chiang Mai

We started off with the Corporate Gardens, not quite sure what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised by their diversity and the effort that had gone into making them informative and interactive. We especially liked the groundwater department garden..

Julie and I pumping water by hand in the Department of Groundwater Resources garden

Julie and I pumping water by hand in the Department of Groundwater Resources garden

And of the other corporate gardens, we also liked the palm tree loop – as much for the palm trees as the water assault course it turned out to be – the sprinklers were on and we both got a little bit wet!

Palm tree garden collage

The palm tree garden, aka the ‘water park’

The ‘New Theory Agriculture’ area was fun because it had a pig pen, chickens and a wormery, but as all of the information was in Thai we didn’t really understand the ‘New Theory’ part – it just looked like rural Thailand to us: rice fields, animal pens and vegetable gardens!

Pigs at the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park

Pigs at the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park

Next up was the Orchid Park. Wow.

Orchid Park sign, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park

Welcome to the Orchid Park. You’ll be spending some time here..

There were so many orchids, and they were all so beautiful that we spent a lot of time looking and taking photographs..

Orchids, Orchids, Orchids..

Orchids, Orchids, Orchids..

As well as the outside Orchid Park, there is a building which was housing a special exhibit of tulips grown in Thailand, and included a variety named in honour of the King.

Tulip collage

Tulips, Tulips, Tulips..

There was also another room full of orchids, and an exhibition upstairs on Dr Rapee Sacrick, who is known as the “Founder and Father of orchids” in Thailand. Behind the exhibition halls we found yet another outdoor area of orchids, this time the specimens on display were entrants in an orchid competition.

The contestant plants were lined up by sub-species, and the prize-winning plants had rosettes hanging from them. What struck me most was the sheer variety – style, colour and size – I hadn’t fully appreciated the heterogeneity. We took a lot more photographs..

Prize-winning orchid collage

Prize-winning orchids

Us in the orchid garden

Us in the orchid garden

The park’s central promenade leads to the focal point of the entire park and its main attraction, the Royal Pavillion. Built like a ‘wihan’ (meeting hall) of a Thai Wat, the pavilion is exquisitely decorated. Inside are murals of King Bhumibol travelling through northern Thailand, typically pointing at a map with a camera around his neck!

Us in front of the Royal Pavilion, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park

Us with the Royal Pavilion in the background

Collage of the Royal Pavilion, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Park, Chiang Mai

The beautiful Royal Pavilion

After a little more wandering, we found the Shaded Paradise – a covered tropical garden with an elevated walkway that puts you up in the tree tops. I really like tropical gardens because the humidity carries the smell of earth and breathing that air feels clean to me, it feels purifying. Tropical gardens also tend to contain carnivorous plants such as Tropical Pitchers or Venus Flytraps, and I love that plants eat animals..

Collage of plants in the Shaded Paradise

Tree-top walkway; Carnivorous Tropical Pitchers and dark red leaves

Julie with a fellow photographer and Andrew ordering a beer stein

Julie with a fellow photographer and Andrew ordering a beer stein. There were lots of these painted statues outside the Shaded Paradise garden, each one different

As we worked our way back towards the exit, we found a series of country-sponsored gardens – The Netherlands, Canada, India, and Singapore to name a few. Sadly, we didn’t see one for the UK..

Japanese garden, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek park

The peaceful Japanese garden

We really enjoyed our day at the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek park, and for all we took our time, we still think there’s easily a days worth of things to see and do.

Julie and I on the seesaw, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek park

Julie and I on the seesaw, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek park