Category Archives: On two wheels

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
– Ernest Hemingway

On two wheels in Rishiri Island

5 August 2013

I have been waking up rather early on this trip, i.e. 4-5am, simply because the sun rises earlier here. It feels great to have a leisurely long day stretched out ahead of me, with little rush and hurry. Caught the ferry again. This time, I was treated to a Russian performing troupe that was promoting Sakhalin Island in neighbouring Russia.

Reached Rishiri island around 8-ish. Immediately on arrival, the sound of what felt like a million cicadas chirping inundates – mother nature is shouting out a loud warm welcome. Found a nice campsite 1km from the coast to set up my tent against the backdrop of dandelion patches and Mount Rishiri. There was only one other person in the campsite at that time. In the name of testing my sleeping ground, I lazed around a bit. It was still early.


The only shady patch at that time. Although still early in the day, the sun was already out in full force.

I walked down the hill to look for a bike to rent. It is a little disturbing to see seniors walking in the MIDDLE of the road.


After picking up a bike – there weren’t really many choices – off I was on two wheels around the northern coast of the island. It took me a while to find the dedicated bike path, although riding on the roads was fine since traffic is sparse. Along the way, a siren went off. I half-wondered whether a tsunami was happening. Not sure. Kept on pedalling.

What a great dedicated bike path! I love it!!! It runs for about 20km along the northern coast of the island. The bike path meanders through windswept meadows and flower fields, rolling up and down the coastline, with Rebun island (where I was the day before) in the distance. And then the path turns inland in the direction of Mount Rishiri which has a visible patch of snow; it looks a bit like Mount Fuji. Most of the time, I was the only cyclist, passing by the odd one or two other who yelled out “Konichiwa!“. Konichiwa to you too sir!

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Alone on these wide dedicated bike paths.

Had these wide dedicated bike paths mostly to myself.


Mount Rishiri in the background.

As I approached Kutsugata, the area seemed more industrialised. I missed the rolling hills and decided to turn back in the direction of Oshidomari. Had a simple picnic lunch by the coast.

The cycling path on the northern coast of Rishiri Island.

The cycling path on the northern coast of Rishiri Island.

Near Oshidomari, the bike path turns into the forest area, running behind the campsite where I had pitched. I decided to pop by the campsite to get some water. And also to check if my tent might have been blown away – I don’t have tent pegs. Plus the tent was a little bit crooked as I had broken a tent pole.

It turns out more people have come by to pitch their tents. Some even had large dining tents with tables and chairs! Suddenly my tent feels very small – well actually it is, I have to lie diagonally to fit in it. A conspiracy of noisy ravens were gathered around my little tent. My heart sank! Will I have to put up with these squawking birds the whole night?

Decided to worry about this later and continued cycling up to the lookout point. The skies are a little bit overcast now and I really wanted to complete the route before night fall. Going up the hill was tough, especially on the 25kg bike in an upright position. I miss my bike at home!

Nonetheless, this stretch uphill is beautiful, in a very different way from the route earlier today. Surrounded by alpine trees, spruce and firs, the smell of the forest, fluttering butterflies and chirping cicadas.

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Finally I reached the bridge, overlooking the port and a plunging gorge, surrounded by the lush forest. Interestingly, this bridge is only accessible by bike and on foot. I find it very unique that within tens of minutes of riding from the coast, one can be surrounded by an alpine environment.



By now Mount Rishiri is hidden behind clouds.


The port at Oshidomari.

Turned back to town to return the bike. Bought some beer from the Joyful Shop with Liquor (that is its actual name, I am not kidding) and then headed off to the onsen that is conveniently located opposite the camp site. Although the temperatures in Rishiri were actually very good in the low 20s, I had wondered why would anyone take a hot bath in the middle of summer. But after a whole day of rolling up and down the coast in the sun, a good scrub and a hot bath was a real treat. This particular one had an outdoor onsen, surrounded by pine trees. All for only 500 yen. I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. More about onsens in another post.

Went back to my little tent. The ravens were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they went to bed. Only the sounds of the forest floated through the cool night’s air. I laid down, closed my eyes and reflected on the magnificent day I had.


Yellow Saraca

Cycled past some yellow saraca trees on Sunday. The yellow flowers grow like fans encircling the old tree trunk.



Apparently the scientific name of this tree is saraca thaipingensis and is native to Peninsula Malaysia: see footnote. Native? That little piece of information piqued my interest. Many “naturalised” plants are so commonplace and vastly reproduced in this part of the world that one wouldn’t have thought they were originally foreign and non-native: the frangipani and bougainvillea that are so ubiquitous in Singapore and Malaysia today came from the Americas; other “foreign” plants like rubber and palm oil have taken such a strong hold in this region out of sheer might of industrialist will, but they originally came from Brazil and West Africa. Globalisation existed long before the term was coined. Coincidentally I recently had a chat with a landscape architect. It is not surprising to learn that Singapore tries to bring in interesting exotic variants but that doesn’t mean the same results can be achieved here, in a different environment. The distinct vibrant colours of the frangipanis of Bali island can’t be replicated here, probably because of the lack of fertile volcanic soil. Maybe making the most of what works well best in one’s own native environment is the way to go.

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Apart from being native to this part of the world, here are other fun facts about the yellow saraca:

1. The saraca is unusual in that the flowers grow out of the tree trunks and branches rather than the leaf axil.

2. It belongs to the legume family (scientifically known as fabaceae/leguminosae), i.e. it grows pods.

3. The tree, thaipingensis, is named after Taiping town in Perak.

4. It’s been said that its roots can be used to make the handle of parang(machete). I am not too sure if this is true. The roots seem wasteful to extract from a tree this size.

5. The chinese name for it (无忧树) which some have translated as “sorrow-less” tree; “free from worries” is likely to be a more proximate translation. The name is probably a distant derivation from the mystical associations with its Indian cousin, the saraca asoca species.

Footnote: from Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research

Saraca thaipingensis


This medium sized, evergreen tree with a wide-spreading crown grows to a height of 7 m or more. Leaves are simple pinnate, large, with up to 8 pairs of opposite, 20-40 x 6-12 cm leaflets but without a terminal one. Young leaves are cream-coloured, hanging limply in tassels for a few days before they stiffen and turn green. Flowers 1-2 cm across, faintly fragrant, in dense bunches that arise from the trunk and main branches. They are light pinkish yellow turning deep yellow with a dark crimson eye spot which darkens to blood-red. Most of the flowers in a cluster are functionally male, the others bisexual. Pods are large, 30-45 x 6-10 cm, thin, flat and leathery. They turn purple with maturity, splitting into two coiled halves to expose the flat, black seeds.


Native to Peninsular Malaysia, cultivated in a number of tropical countries.

Sunday bike ride

As clichéd as bright blue skies and cotton ball clouds are, I couldn’t help but snapped some photos this morning. There hasn’t been clear blue skies for several weekends!

Had a very enjoyable ride this morning.


Near Sungai Serangoon Kechil


Punggol Serangoon Reservoir


At Kampung Buangkok

Morning solitude & water lilies

The haze has cleared quite a bit and the light drizzle provided a brief respite from the heat. What a great morning for a ride! It was rather late in the morning but the roads were still relatively quiet. Had the roads almost all to myself with just a few monkeys. Perhaps less people came out due to the rain.

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Came across a water lily pond in the park.

I wondered if Monet was just feeling restless with a paintbrush. Or, is there something inherently uplifting about fleeting blooms and infinitely changing lights.

Coconut trees and kampung charms

If there’s a day trip out of Singapore that I’ve always raved about, it’s a cycling trip in Pengerang, Malaysia. You could also extend the trip all the way up to Desaru along the east coast, charging like a speed monster, or cruising languorously (i.e. with the spirit of a champion at the speed of a tortoise) like we did some time back with a stay over at Desaru and returning via another route. Even if you are not keen on a long ride, a short fun cycling trip to Sungai Renggit would satisfy all lusts for riding down a quiet road with coconut trees swaying to the caresses of sea breeze on one side, and enchanting kampung charms on the other.

Found this draft post on our last trip to Pengerang last October – how time flies! The jetty in Malaysia, Tanjung Pengelih, is just a short bumboat ride from Changi Village. However the boat ride seems to take just a bit longer each trip as the boat goes round the ever-expanding Pulau Tekong, the result of land reclaimation. Singapore’s Pulau Tekong was, at the time of my last trip, actually within sight from Malaysia’s Tanjung Pengelih, even for short-sighted me!


Departing by boat from Changi Village which is not far from the airport.

Pengerang occupies a corner in Malayan WWII history, where the British troops readied their defences in preparation for a Japanese attack via Singapore. Eventually, that was all for nought since it’s now famously known that the Japanese surprised everyone by invading Malaya via the north of the Peninsula.


Remnants of parts of the south-facing Pengerang battery.

A villager once told me that a massacre happened at a bridge near the old jetty during the Japanese occupation. The old jetty has been substituted by a new jetty which also houses the Malaysia Immigration checkpoint. Still, it doesn’t appear to see much traffic.


The new Tanjung Pengelih jetty.


From Tanjung Pengelih, we unloaded our bicycles and rode to Sungai Renggit, about 15km from the jetty. After lunch we returned the same way, sprinting into mini cycling races with children; young energy wins. Took detours into the small roads towards the seaside, at times surrounded by only lalangs taller than an adult, or flanked by coconut trees. Cycling in the spotted shadows of lanky coconut trees is inexplicably comforting. I encourage everyone to do it.

In the fishing villages lining the southern shore, modest wooden houses sit proud on well-manicured lawns with well-trimmed hibiscus shrubs. A chance conversation with a Pengerang resident the day before revealed that a lot of these land have been acquired by the government for an integrated petroleum complex and many villagers are just waiting to be relocated to newly built housing estates a few bays to the east. This trip took place one week after the Himpunan Hijau “green shirt” protest at Pengerang. Had I known I’d have been there a week earlier! If not for lofty ideals, then out of pure sentimentality for these coconut trees, languid villages and the makcik‘s stall and her delicious homemade kuih-muih. The shoreline seemed more eroded on each trip. With the industrial development that has been on-going for a while further east at Teluk Ramunia, the pollution to the sea was already evident with more and more dead fishes being washed ashore. Given the Malaysian government’s infamous efficiencies, I doubt the multi-billion ringgit petroleum complex will be up any time soon. Still I shudder to think what these developments would do to this idyllic area, its environment and its residents.


Campaign flags were up in advance of the General Elections, which eventually only took place 7 months later.

I don’t know how many more cycling trips we can do in Pengerang. But perhaps it’s time to visit again. Soon. Maybe September. Anyone care to join me? Before my favourite day trip out of Singapore is no longer a possibility.

Wordless April


Upper Peirce Reservoir

Time passes by fast. The month of April is about to end. And although I have travelled nowhere, the mind has wandered to a million places and back. There has simply been too much distractions – both internal and external. It’s funny how superfluous the mind can be, when it can simply economise and be present in the moment.

Joys of a sunny day


Although it has been raining these few days, the weekend past was sunny and smouldering. Years ago you would have heard me complaining about the heat. These days, I take it as another great opportunity to go out for a ride. By the way, cycling generates a lot of flying-into-the-wind sensations, and helps take the edge off the heat. Weekends spent outdoors is sheer bliss. So what if I have a lot of uneven tan lines. It just makes for a more ‘interesting’ look in a dress (I can see some of my girl friends rolling their eyes). Ok this post is just to say don’t laugh at that friend of yours with the odd tan lines.