Stephen Young


Krabi / Railay Beach, Thailand

Yesterday I returned from Railay Beach in Thailand... possibly the best trip I've been on this term. We spent 6 days rock climbing, scuba diving, enjoying the beaches and meeting some cool local Thai people. Phil convinced me about two weeks ago to come climbing with him in Thailand, and proceeded to start me on a rigorous training program to get my skills up to speed (he's basically an expert... and I hadn't done it in years). We spent a few weeks in Singapore climbing at indoor gyms and outdoor articfical walls and then off to Thailand!

Krabi area is in south / central part of Thailand, just about the troubled regions in the far south, and includes famous destinations like Ko Phi Phi, Phuket, and the climbing areas at Railay and Ton Sai Beach. We stayed on Railey East Beach, the slightly cheaper side of the main beach area. The beaches are located on a peninsula which can only be accessed by "longtail boats" which ferry people back and forth between Krabi Town and the beaches. Phil and I arrived Tuesday night around 6PM on the mainland and took a longtail over. We explored for ahile and eventually found a pleasant budget hostel called "Rapela" with outdoor bungalows for 400baht ($18).

The next morning we got an early start on climbing, catching the morning shade from 7-10AM before stopping for breakfast. The first few days of climbing left me really tired and drained all over, especially since most of the climbing sites require a pretty serious hike just to get there. People from all over the world converge on this place to test their skills on the climbing wall. We met tons of people from Canada, US, Austria, England, New Zealand, and more. By the 4th and 5th day I started to adjust to the muscle soreness and really enjoy the challenge.

On Thursday Cat and Bernice arrived from Singapore and joined us in the same hostel. For the next few days they explored the island while Phil and I continued to climb . We met up for some good Thai food, breakfast, lunch and dinner.

On Saturday we took a break to go scuba diving. Phil, Bernice and Cat had all dived before on their trip to Vietnam last month, so I was the onloy beginner. Visibility on the dive wasn't great but it was still wicked to swim and float with the fish and coral reef. Seems like everyone accept me has done an official diving course, which certifies you to dive without a special intro course and at a reduced fee. Maybe I'll do one in Canada... supposedly the great lakes have good shipwreck sites to see!

That night Phil and I indulged in classic Thai massages - painful but relaxing. Funny to note, while Drew and I were travelling China we were often be offered masages while waking the street, but never even considered taking one. But these massages were usually sketchy... and often being profered by taxi drivers who promised to find us a "nice girl" for a "massage". In Krabi it was much more legitimate and very inexpensive at 200baht ($8). Later we also enjoyed a Thai boxing match and fireshow at the local bar/restaurant. We decided it was probably staged, but it was still pretty entertaining to watch. Thai boxing is similar to kickboxing and enjoys extreme popularity as a national sport.

Overall the area was amazing! Although full of tourists, the locals were still very friendly and helpful. Prices were high but not as bad as I feared and the atmosphere was very chill. Definitely one of the best trip I've had so far!

Unfortunately, my time in Singapore is coming to an end - with barely 3 weeks left. Only one last trip to go, one design project and exams! Better get back to work!



A Singaporean House and Dinner with Wine!

This week I had the pleasure of visiting an actual Singaporean home belonging to Professor Beng Huat who teaches sociology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and is a friend of my Aunt on my father's side.

They met while studying environmental science at York University in Toronto and my Aunt Andrea introduced us by email before I left for Singapore. Beng kindly invited both myself and Francie Gow for dinner. Francie is another friend of my aunt's who is studying law at McGill in Montreal and on currently on exchange at NUS. She works as a translator for the federal government, very exciting stuff especially as she is now studying law.

The invitation for dinner came as a welcome surprise and was my first and likely only visit to a Singaporean house. Singapore's dense population lives almost entirely in high-rise apartments, which are commonly subsidized by the government to reduce cost of living. Beng's house was an architectural wonder, including a small pond freely flowing from the outdoor patio area into the living room - and primarily ventilated by windows, doors and open walls which is especially uncommon in the air conditioned paradise of Singapore.

Dinner was as wonderful as the house, including fish, tofu, broccoli, braised beef and a wonderful South African wine! The first wine I've had since coming to Singapore and welcome treat! At dinner we met Beng's wife Evelyn who lived and studied in Toronto before returning to Singapore with Beng. Dinner conversation was fantastic, although I couldn't keep up with Beng's wide knowledge of current events, Singaporean and Canadian politics and general wit. Francie shared her photos of her recent trip to Cambodia and Angkor Wat where she stayed with friends from Canada who now live in Cambodia. She has been carefully selecting her travel destinations to make use of friends and family who'll provide that insider's perspective. A great idea!

The evening was extremely pleasant, leaving me satisfied, full and happy. Certainly a change of pace from campus life and food!

In other news.... after so many recommendations I've decided to visit the famous Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia. These temples were left from the powerful Angkor kingdom which ruled over much of South East Asia hundreds of years ago. They're supposed to rival the Egyptian pyramids as archetectirual wonders of the world!

That's all for now! Thanks for reading and I'll be writing another post soon enough recounting our adventures in southern China after leaving Hong Kong.

Take care!


China trip part 1 - Hong Kong

It's been almost a week since Andrew and I returned from our grand tour southern China and Hong Kong. By combining NTU's Chinese New Year and reading week break we were able to spend fully 20 days traveling! Here's a quick recap of our first stage in Hong Kong.

We left on Feb 13, flying from Singapore to Macau and arriving in the early morning on Feb 14. For some reason, I'd scheduled a phone interview for a summer co-op job for the night we arrived. So right after arriving we taxied to the nearest 7/11 where I picked up a local SIM card and promptly had an interview with TD Securities in Toronto. Certainly one of the strangest experiences ever... sitting on the streets in Macau just after 2AM talking on a cellphone to a banker back home in Toronto. The interview went so/so, with the noise and sleep deprivation, however I got a chance to speak to someone else the next day using Skype and that went much better and landed me a job for the summer! Finally I can stop worrying about co-op.

Anyway, back to Macau... after the interview we realized the ferries to Hong Kong didn't start running until 6AM and we had some time to kill. So, of course we decided to explore the mass of casinos all over the small island of Macau. Macau is essentially the Las Vegas of Asia. One of the only places in China allowed to have casinos, and a former porteguese colony with an interesting economic and naval history. It was colonzed by Portugeuse in the 1600s along with several other key trading ports in India (Goa) and Malaysia (Mellaca). It remained under Portugeuse control until 1974.

We spent about 3 hours in the infamous "Sands" casino, while away our time and money at the cheapest slot machinese we could find. Sands is actually owned by an american company "The Las Vegas Macau Corporation" and claims to be the world's largest casino with 740 table games, more than any other single casino in the world.

After Macau we ferried over to Hong Kong Island, where we spent 6 days including the famous Chinese New Year celebrations. We stayed in Kownloon "the suberb" just north of Hong Kong Island. Our various hostels/guesthouses ranged in quality from very poor... to reasonable, and were certainly are most expensive accomodation for the trip. We explored Hong Kong extensively, including the surrounding islands of Lantau and the New Territories. In Lantau we passed by popular "Hong Kong Disney Land" - although didn't stop for a tour. We visited the famous large Buddha sculpture which claims to be the world's largest in bronze. We also visited most of the neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island, including the popular Lan Kwai Fong entertainment area which is mainly populated by expats and tourists. Overall the development in Hong Kong was amazing. The city skyline was amazing to look at, easily overwhelming Toronto cityscape. On Sunday there was an impressive parade, with the streets of Kowloon becoming absolutely and completely full of people trying to find a good place to watch. Floats in the parage ranged from highly commercial advertisements for companies like Cathay Pacific to tradition Chinese dancing and costumes. The next day we met up with Annie (a classmate from Waterloo who is studying in Singapore at NUS). We visited a popular temple in the New Territories area of Hong Kong. Here we met Annie's older sister who is doing her PhD in Hong Kong, and Annie's grandmother who invited us to join them for a family dinner outing that night! What a rare treat! Drew and I had secretly hoped we would find a family willing to include us in their festivities, but we hadn't really expected. Between the family, Drew, me and Annie's sister's fiance, there were about 15 people all eating out a traditional Chinese restaurant. The food was amazing, but the family atmosphere was even better!

The next day we left for Shenzhen, the mainland China city which borders Hong Kong. More to come about this in my next post!

I've also uploaded a full album of Hong Kong /Macau pictures to Google's new PicasaWeb service. Check it out at:



Thailand... China soon to come!

Hello All! Sorry for the lack of updates over the past few weeks. I've been busy with a number of things, including finding a co-op job for the summer, traveling to Thailand, and most recently traveling through southern China and Hong Kong.

Since it's been such a while, I'm going do a quick recap of everything I've been up to in the two weeks leading up to my China trip and then write another post about China itself.

Hmm...where to start.... I guess I should describe our trip to Thailand. After much debating about what to do on the weekend of February 1st, Andrew and I decided to travel by bus all the way from Singapore, through Malaysia and into southern Thailand to attend the much-popular "Full Moon Party" monthly festival on Ko Pha Ngan island. In retrospect this probably wasn't the smartest idea as this part of Thailand is facing serious unrest and threat of civil war from religious minorites seeking an indepent state. Nonetheless, our journey was peaceful enough, albeit extremely tiring. It totaled over 30 hours each way and included: 12 hour bus to Malaysian/Thailand border, 8 hour train ride to Hat Yai in southern Thailand, 6 hour minibus ride to Surat Thani on the east coast of Thailand, and finally an overnight ferry to the destination island. All in we left Wednesday evening around 5PM and arrived Friday morning around 8AM.

As for the island itself, it is (or rather was) a beautiful green haven, sparsely populated by pleasant and laidback locals. Unfortunately the monthly full moon party has transformed the southern half of the small island (less than 1/2 the size of Singapore) into a massive tourist trap. Electric motor bikes are rented everywhere, most beaches are host to nightly parties and come evening time you're more likely to see a white skinned foreigner than a Thai local.

Friday morning Drew and I decided to rent a pair of small motor bikes to venture further inland in search of accomodation. After exploring the island for a few hours we located a group of small bungalows about 15 minutes from the ferry dock where the rest of our friends were staying. For about $14CDN we booked a small house in a peaceful pleasant location - and promptly settled in for an afternoon nap. Around 8PM we managed to pull ourselves out of bed and took a sensely dangerous motorbike trip into town near the main beach for the evening's festivities. The main beach called Hat Rin, is adorned with every type of commercial item for the wanting young tourist in search of a grand old party. Shops line the street vending sand buckets full of beer and other drinks. Restaurant serve pizza, pasta and various other western dishes - while playing Friends, Seinfeld and Family Guy. Real authenticity!

The party was certainly an interesting experience. If you can imagine... a massive nightclub, set on a beach and attended by over 5000 people from around the world. We explored on our own for a few hours, slowly taking in the sites and stopping off for food and a pretty good pan fried pizza. Later we bumped into the other NTU exchange students and spent the rest of the night with them and eventually made it back home around 6AM.

The next morning, slightly after 4PM, we checked out of our bungalow and returned to the ferry area. On the way we had to return our rented scooters, and this turned out to be quite an ordeal. We'd managed to slightly scratch one of the bikes on some gravel near our bungalow and the lady who rented them to use refused to return our passports unless we paid nearly $500CDN in so called damages. We spent almost 2 hours negotiating with her, asking locals what to do, and generally complaining before agree to pay her a reduced fee.

After that we got on the night ferry bound for Surat Thani and began our long journey home. Over all we traveled nearly 60 hours and spent nearly the equivalent of plane fare despite traveling by bus. Perhaps we got to see a little more of Thailand along the way, but nothing to justify the time. At least we can say we did it... and that's what counts.

That's all for now! Off to bed... and I promise to write about China in the next day or two.



Singapore - Getting Adjusted

As of yesterday I have been in Singapore for two weeks; it's been a mix of tropical excitement, school administration and sunburns. After arriving from Tokyo I met up with Andrew D'Souza and taxied over my school (Nanyang Technological University) on the far west side of Singapore island - from one end to the other it's about a 45min trip. We spent the next week or so we moved into residence, met roommates, and spent ohh so much effort trying to get classes, schedules and credits sorted out. My roommate (who has actually just moved) out is a local Chinese Singaporean who studies electronics engineering. Most of the other exchange students are paired with exchange roommates, but I figured I see what it was like living with someone else. I was a bit nervous, but he turned out to be a really nice guy, and although he's moving back home (hopefully not because of me...) I think since I was living with a local student it's helped me to meet other local students who live nearby.
Singapore, a country barely the size of Toronto, is easy enough to travel through and site see. In our two weeks here, Bernice, Drew, Phil and I have seen most of the recommended places on the island, except for Sentosa - a man made beach just off Singapore's "coast". We tried to make take a trip down but it was raining. Food is generally fantastically inexpensive - in our canteen on campus an average meal costs about $2.50 Singapore dollars ($1CDN = $1.3SGD) and is a reasonable portion. Once you venture off campus everything gets a little more expensive, but it depends on the neighborhood.

Last Thursday our hall (residence) organized a trip out to a local nightclub called Ministry and Sound. It was a good time, starting off with a fashion show of all things. Generally speaking I'm the tallest person anywhere I go... but there are certainly exceptions. Drinks at bars and clubs are incredible expensive, ranging from $8 - $15 for a glass, especially when compared to food. I think the idea is to feed the population, but keep the sober : )

This past weekend the UW NTU SYDE team (me, Phil, Bernice, Drew) plus Cat (a civil engineering at NUS) went on a weekend trip to Malaysia. We bused up from Singapore, crossing the bridge which connects the two countries. Malaysia stretches north from Singapore meeting up with Thailand above. Our first stop was in a southern city called Melaka - a classical port town which was the centre of a trading hub during the days of England's East Indian Trading Company. The city was a nice introduction to a nice country. We walked through most of the city, which seemed to be quite a popular tourist area. We visited one interesting themed museum full of everything the Malaysia custom officials have confiscated from people smuggling over the border.
The next day we left Melaka in search of a nearby beach town called Tanjung Kling. Apparently in the high season (non-rainy season) it is a popular tourist destination, full of beachside resorts and eateries. This weekend we had the whole place to ourselves - plus the pleasant, laid back locals who spend the hot afternoons relaxing around town.
The beaches, although virtually empty, we very pleasant and we enjoyed a sunset like no other I've seen. The next day we headed off for Kuala Lumpur (the capital city of Malaysia). Malaysia is an interesting blend of old and modern, with palm trees and villages bordering new age skyscrapers and a booming economy.
Particularly impressive are the Petronas Towers - the tallest twin towers in the world. We tried to get a tour on the skylink connecting them on te 42nd floor, but tickets were sold out.
Sunday night we went out for dinner (on what happened to be my birthday!) at a very nice Chinese restaurant. The service, food and atmosphere was fantastic... and all for a cost less than $10 per person - definitely our most expensive meal. Afterwards we boarded a bus back for Singapore, arriving around 4AM and spent two hours learning to play majong and waiting for the subway to start running.

That's all for now! Next weekend promises to be another exciting trip somewhere (and a long weekend... since we have no classes on friday!).