Originally, our plan was to stay at a beach side resort, bring our SUPs and explore. I’d just booked the long weekend trip in a hurry, and promptly forgot about it.
As the date drew closer though, I thought to do a bit more research, and found that in Phuket, Phang Nga was the premier bay to go to for kayaking. We could bring our SUPs, but it seemed more trouble than it was worth, and I didn’t have time to dig into the logistics and area maps etc. So, I defaulted back to our original plan from April 2020 before Covid shut everything down: going with Paddle Asia.
They have trip dates advertised on their site, but none fit our schedule. Happily though, the owner, Dave, was more than happy to accommodate, pairing us up with another guide, Mr Har, who, along with our own long tail boat, would guide us around the bay.
If you don’t love crowds, and love being in the outdoors, highly, highly recommend kayaking in Phang Nga Bay. Unlike overrun Krabi and Phi Phi Islands, we had the entire bay to ourselves, save the occasional fishing boats that we passed by. Granted, because we’re in the bay, the waters aren’t as clear as Krabi or Phi Phi, but during this period of the year, whale sharks do venture into the bay to feed. Alas, we didn’t spot any. Haha.
We’d booked a 2-day kayak tour, and at the end of day 1, our long tail boat picked us up to drop us off at a local resort on Phang Nga. It was basic, but had a hot shower and a comfortable bed, all we needed. We strolled 8 minutes along the bay front at sunset to a shack serving up cold beer and satisfying Thai food for dinner.
The winds had picked up overnight when we awoke, and we could see white caps on the water. No matter, the captain charted a new course, bringing us to a group of islands on the leeward side that we could explore, including a couple fun caves.
We had a blast, and kayaking in Phang Nga Bay again certainly is on our list of to-dos; hopefully we can find another long weekend in the new year!
It’s hard to pick a highlight from our two week trip to Greece. But the day we had the most fun was undoubtedly when our last full day in Santorini, where, after a week of strong winds, the wind finally died down and the clouds dissipated such that we were able to get out onto the water for a leisurely kayak exploration of the black and white beaches of Santorini.
Our guide for the the kayak trip, Kalliopi, runs the tour on her own as a small family operation, similar to Laura at Sydney by Kayak when she started. Like Laura, she places a lot of emphasis on the lux customer experience. We were served freshly made cups of espresso when we arrived, and kitted with cute backpacks loaded with a gourmet picnic set, including cute bottles of olive oil and oregano so we could season to taste our chilled cucumber, tomato and feta cheese salad. Post paddle, as we waited for our rides back to our accommodations, we relaxed with a glass of her family’s delicious Rose.
But more than the service, the kayaking was incredible. I’d asked, on the off chance that we had the option to when I booked, if we could use single kayaks instead of the standard doubles. Kalliopi acquiesced easily after ascertaining that we were regular paddlers, but it was only we arrived that she confessed that this was the first time she’d given guests the use of her single kayaks. Indeed, she only had two single kayaks, reserved for herself and an assistant guide, but I guess we’d also lucked out because there happened to be two young kids on the trip, so she made the executive decision to let Jeff and I paddle her singles while she and Nicolas, an assistant guide, each took a child. In a single, Jeff and I enjoyed the flexibility of exploring the little nooks and crannies while snapping lots of pictures of the other haha.
The scenery was gorgeous. As at Milos, where we spent another beautiful (if occasionally rainy) day paddling, the soaring cliffs we paddled past was ever changing, with striations of lava rock, pumice, sandstone, red rock lined with iron, and rock tinged green with copper. There were dozens of little sea caves that we paddled by and sometimes popped into as well, including a super fun L-shaped tunnel that we squeezed through. The water was a startling aquamarine and clear, where the bottom didn’t drop off, we could see the huge boulders and schools of tiny fish darting around.
When we stopped for lunch, Jeff and I pulled on our snorkels and plunged into the brisk waters for an invigorating swim. It was glorious how calm and clear the waters were, and I daydreamed about staying by the Agean seas for an extended period of time, so I could enjoy daily swims like these.
But otherwise, the rest of our time in Greece was just as eventful.
Although the forecasted gale-force winds led us to cut our planned 3 days kayaking in Milos short, we were still able to enjoy a fun day on the water with Sea Kayak Milos. It was a little too cold for a cheeky little swim, but it was great exploring the sea caves in our cosy group of consisting of one other guest A (who lives in Switzerland and kayaks on her own in an Oru too) and our guide Dario, an Italian who has spent the past three summers guiding Milos.
Since we’d shortened our stay on Milos, we rebooked to go to Santorini earlier by ferry, and this turned out to be an excellent decision firstly because we added a stay at Pyrgos, a quiet hilltop town set away from the more crowded (yes, even in October, which is supposedly the shoulder season) coastal towns from Fira to Oia. Secondly, it also gave us time to visit the ancient cities of Akrotiri and Thera. As a fun bonus, instead of a car, we rented an ATV to get around, and it was a blast revving up the many switchbacks that led up to Thera.
On Santorini, we also did the stunning Fira to Oia walk, which we likened to the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney on steroids.
We also spent a day cruising and walking up to summit of the volcano, and lunched on the nearby island of Thirassia, where we had a cold but beautiful little swim by the beach.
And I’m glad we tacked on a few days at the start of our trip, driving inland to Delphi and Meteora. In Delphi, we visited the seat of the temple of Apollo, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, which we spent a morning hiking down to, past an ancient aqueduct and sprawling olive groves.
In Meteora, it was as if we’d stepped into the set of Game of Thrones, where incredible monasteries perched on top of soaring boulders – but of course it’s art getting inspiration from real life. These Eastern Orthodox monasteries date back to the 14th century, and of the 24 that were originally built, only 6 remain today, overseen by an ever diminishing group of aging monks and nuns – only 50 left. It’s also a climbing mecca, and we gawped with envy at the tiny speck of climbers inching their way up the steep rock faces.
Of course, we kept a couple days to explore Athens, or more accurately, the area surrounding the Parthenon. Everyone else had told us not to spend too much time in the city as it is a dump, but honestly we had fun wandering around – visiting the Acropolis Museum which houses the statues and friezes from the Acropolis, to climbing the hill to visit the famous site just after sunrise, to the various ruins that lie in the shadow of the Acropolis. We had fantastic and cheap meals in Athens too, and pre-dinner drinks in cute little bars.
It was a great two weeks. We reckon, just the right amount of adventure and relaxation. And now that we’ve a taste of kayaking in the stunning Agean waters, we’re already plotting a return, eyeing this time the Northern Sporades island of Skopelos!
Before we moved from Sydney in 2018, we’d toyed with the idea of getting a short term rental up by the beach, say Manly, for a couple of months, where we could could indulge in early morning swims or paddles. We never did make that work then (although we couldn’t complain, since where we lived in Waverton, we had access to a private jetty from which was a short paddle to the Opera House!). But this trip, we decided to make Manly our base, and found a cute Airbnb that had a gorgeous view of Manly and Shelly Beach.
In the mornings, we enjoyed strolls along the beach, marveling at the crowds of active folks already out jogging, playing beach volleyball, surfing and swimming. We lead a super sedentary lifestyle in Singapore by comparison.
Our goal was to relax, and get in as much water time as possible. We made it out to Spit Bridge twice, to get in some quality kayaking time, as we’d signed up for a 50km circumnavigation by kayak around Manhattan in New York City end May (yay for travel again). It was fun to paddle the old routes, out to Balmoral and around Middle Harbour – brought back memories of my training for the Murray Marathon. I haven’t used a Euro-blade paddle in far too long though, having gotten used to my Greenland paddle, and so suffered from numb hands pretty much the full 3-4 hours we were on the water. 😦
But since we’d lugged our paddle boards all the way from Singapore, we also made sure we got plenty of use out of them. We went out for a couple paddles in the North Harbour, in front of the Manly ferry terminal, and explored all the little coves and beaches. We were very tempted to paddle across to Balmoral and Watsons Bay, and even to the entrance of the Gap, the last of which we’d not even broached by kayak before… but we’re not the most confident of SUP boarders yet, and didn’t want to take unnecessary risks. Next time! But we did bring our boards to the Manly beach-side on a day when the surf looked much smaller than usual, and had a blast trying to catch small waves at the break point just outside Shelly Beach. Goals for next time too – surfing on SUPs!
We also got in a few swims from Manly to Shelly. The water temperature was a cool but comfortable 21+ degrees. Most days, the rains and surf rendered the water silty, so visibility was not the greatest. But we did have one beautiful day on Sunday when the sun was out in full blast, the winds calm, and the surf small, when the ocean looked like a beautiful swimming pool. We spotted baby dusky whaler sharks, tons of fishes, blue groupers and rays.
We had friends come out to Manly to hang with us a few different days, which was tons of fun. Our last evening though, we decided to venture back downtown to meet up with friends, and enjoyed riding the ferry at dusk back to Circular Quay. That sight never gets old!
Australia was one of the second wave of countries to announce their re-opening to travelers back in November last year. Immediately, we booked tickets. We quickly found out though, that that plan was a soft launch, just for Singapore citizens, and did not include expats residing in Singapore (like Jeff). Then, Omicron hit, and while borders remained opened, travelers now had to do a mandatory 3 day quarantine at their place of residence before they were allowed to leave. In the end, we shelved those plans, and contented to staying in Singapore for the holidays.
Happily, we’re over that hump now (and hopefully it’s firmly in the rearview mirror). With borders re-opened – this time fully – we used the last of our carry over vacation days from last year to revisit what we regard as our second home.
We’d come in right before the ANZ long weekend, perfect to plan a weekend getaway with some friends. The Monday before though, after obsessively following the weather forecast, over a Zoom call, we reluctantly changed our plans to camp at Mungo Brush up in Myall Lakes, given the gloomy 8mm of rain projections every day of the long weekend. Happily, Dani found alternatives out west, and we easily swapped out our plans to explore Cudgegong River, west of Mudgee.
It was so, so, so lovely to be back on the water with these kayaking mates. This time, Jeff and I brought our standup paddle boards instead of kayaks, and Dani brought along her racing SUP for us to play around with (along with her trusty Elliot kayak and Oru Coast). We had the most marvellous afternoon paddling around together on Saturday afternoon, just like old times, before we returned to prepare a delicious hot pot meal and to lounge by our campfire and admire the stars and milky way overhead. Just like old times.
It’s always a special treat when one travels with friends who love to cook! For Sunday brekkie, we made french toast with fresh berries and mascarpone with vanilla and maple syrup. SO GOOD. Washed down with fresh moka pot coffee – we were nicely set up for a long day’s paddle!
The day’s paddle started off lovely. Though it was mostly cloudy, the winds were low and so made for a nice leisurely paddle to our lunch spot, a tiny brushy island on which we found a small clearing. Delicious build-your-own wrap lunch of roast chicken, pickled daikons, cucumbers, tomatoes, rocket, ham, and tuscan mix. Mm.
The wind picked up just as we finished lunch though, and sent white caps spraying in whichever direction. Initially, we’d entertained continuing up the river to explore, but very quickly decided with the strong headwinds, that it was more prudent to start turning back. What a mad struggle – especially for me, a semi-novice stand up paddle boarder! The winds were pushing us backwards at least 3 km/hr, and I’m on average just clocking in 4 km/hr on my board. Lol. After at least 45 minutes of full out paddling, I looked back and we were barely 1 km away from our lunch spot. Gah. Looking at the time, I decided that if we wanted any chance of returning before sunset, I had to get a tow assist.
Enter Garry! He gamely pulled me behind his kayak for a good 7km. And though the sun finally came out right at the end, and the winds died down, I was too spent from trying to hold my own end of the tow to volunteer to unhitch from his kayak. Huge kudos to Jeff for pushing through on Dani’s racing board, badly skinning the tops of his toes kneeling through the wind in the process.
We were pretty wiped out by our 17 km paddle – no thanks to the epic winds coming back – and woke up sore the next morning, but it was a beautiful sunny and calm day on Monday that a bunch of us simply had to take the crafts out for a last spin. We ventured up to what we thought was a cove at the end of lake, but it turned out to be a fun little creek that we could meander up for quite a distance, alongside curious cows.
To end off the trip, and to take further advantage of the beautiful sunny weather, we stopped by Lowe Wines in Mudgee for a bit of cheeky tasting, and walked away with four bottles. Just couldn’t resist.
Another amazing Aussie bush weekend for the books! So grateful for the lovely company as well. Our hearts are full.
Back in September 2021, we traisped around the Bavarian countryside for over a week, following in the footsteps of King Ludwig II along his eponymous trail. It was the first time in 18 months since we ventured overseas, probably the longest we’d stayed in one country.
It felt refreshing, in every sense of the word. We got a glimpse of what truly living with the epidemic was like: masks on with vaccination checks for indoor dining and museums, but otherwise people were free to roam about the streets in the open without masks and in big friendly groups.
Almost as soon as the Singapore government had announced opening up Germany as a pilot vaccinated travel lane, we’d jumped upon it. We picked the King Ludwig trail in Germany, sold by the descriptions of languid afternoons post walks lounging in outdoor beer gardens, and a visit to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle.
Here’s just a pictorial recollection of our trip, as told through shots taken from the phone (lol I’ve lost the mojo for photography).
151km later (or 145km if you were a more experienced / efficient paddler and didn’t zig-zag like we did), we did it: a circumnavigation of Singapore and 28 of her islands, to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. As of this moment (donations close end September), we’ve raised north of $30k, including pledges from our sponsors!
We are deeply grateful to have been included in this expedition. Conceived by our friend Shirley only just a short couple of months ago, it’s astonishing how she and a core group supported by Sea Ops, managed to push through all the naysayers and endless regulatory red tape to put together an event that was professionally run: We had the coast guards and maritime port authority vessels helping manage traffic at crucial junctures of our journey; we had fellow kayaking enthusiasts volunteering their time to help with logistics on land and photography; teammates helping patch the 35-year old kayaks Sea Ops had given a second life; companies stepping in to sponsor or match our donations; and a generous donor at the end who sponsored our delicious seafood dinner at our end point at SAF Yacht Club. Really huge hats off.
We also feel extremely privileged to have been introduced into this community of kayaking enthusiasts in Singapore – there are so many folks in the group that have vast and deep experiences to share. We learnt a lot paddling with them these past four days: How to lead an expedition; how to help out as port, starboard, and stern sweepers; how to read the winds and tides and plan our trips around these; that even if the tide is against us, it’s possible to find lines of localised eddies that are in our direction of travel. That this was a community organised event made it all the more special, as we weren’t just participants, but all teammates working in concert.
That last point was a lesson that didn’t really resonate till right before the event started. Initially, I’d wondered why we couldn’t procure newer and more sea-worthy kayaks for use, instead of having us macgyver modifications to the boats: sourcing and sawing off PVC pipes for use as footrests, removing seats (and then paddling with the exposed screws jutting out of the floor), drilling holes in the kayaks to attach rivets and decklines, and endless patching of holes and cracks in these old boats. But a lot of the folks didn’t complain, but just got down to doing what needed to be done. They weren’t running this as a professional charity event, but really as a ragtag team of enthusiasts to raise funds for a charity. I think, at the end of the day, that it made the event that much more meaningful.
And it was really beautiful to see how we all started to work together as a team by the end of the four days. We appreciated the debriefs we held each day, where everyone had the to chance to reflect on the day’s expedition. Everyone internalised the feedback, such that by the end, we were paddling in tight formation, and helped looked out for one another especially during the storms.
We also learnt that our bodies can take the distances and the long hours on the water, and that we can comfortably keep pace with the more experienced kayakers. We made sure to stretch religiously after each day, and refuelled with delicious hot meals my mum sent over each night – steak, salmon, and juicy roast chicken with hearty portions of salad. Though our bodies, especially shoulders and upper back, felt sore, we never hit a wall where we just had to stop. In fact, two days later, as I write this, I feel charged to go for another round… and gauging from the chat in our WhatsApp group, the consensus is pretty much the same! We definitely feel more seasoned and comfortable as kayakers now, able to tackle the varied conditions on the water, and able to appreciate a bit more what the kayak-authors write about of their expeditions.
Day 1– Shortest, but not the easiest day
Route: Kranji Dam to Raffles Marina, distance: 21 km
Island of Bajau
We did not backtrack to the Woodlands Causeway in the end, because it proved too much of a hassle to negotiate permissions from the coast guard. That led to our shaving 6km off the pre-planned route, though the strong headwinds and chop made up for the energy we might have saved. What would have usually taken us 3.5 hours to cover took 5.5 hours.
We had a representative from the Children Cancer Foundation see us off at the start. Mr Khoo Siew Chiow, Singapore’s premier adventurer, also came and gave us some words of encouragement and helped us carry our kayaks down the rocks.
The start of the paddle was glorious: we kayaked past Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve, where sea eagles soared overhead, and egrets and herons eyed us watchfully from the water edge. Some in the group even passed by a 2m long crocodile, though we only saw its startled dive down by the time we heard their excited yells.
We paddled to the drumbeat of the army live firing practice, stretching from Surimbun all the way up to the Tuas causeway to Malaysia
Not so much of a highlight: fighting the aforementioned wind and chop. That was draining!
Route: Raffles Marina to Sentosa; distance: 49 km
Island of Bukom
This was a long day, made longer by the fact that we’d been mentally prepared to paddle 42km based on our pre-departure briefing, but with added islands enroute, we ended up paddling 49km.
It started excitingly enough though: a 5am push off in the dark. With currents assisting, we flew down the south western edge of Singapore, and passed Tuas at sunrise. We also got to surf some big waves when we made the crossing to Jurong Island, which was mighty fun. Major props to Sea Ops for coordinating with the coast guard to help manage traffic in the busy channel!
The paddle in between the islands of Sudong, Bukom and Semakau saw many of us flag though. We’d been on the water for 6 hours by that point, and were starting to get hungry. The sun came out overhead in full force, and the protection of the islands meant that we had no waves, no surf, and no wind to distract ourselves with. By the time we hit Pulau Hantu, our lunch point, everyone was exhausted. While some sought the shade, some of us just soaked in the sun-warmed water, where we rehydrated and scarfed down lunch.
Happily, at least we’d covered the bulk of the distance by then, though it was a tiring stretch back to Sentosa from the Southern Islands, where we had to fight a strong drift to the southwest. Some folks decided to camp overnight at Sea Ops’ facility on Sentosa; Jeff and I elected to head back home for the comfort of our own bed.
Route: Sentosa to East Coast; distance: 31 km
St John Island
We got lucky with the weather and made it to our end point at Constant Wind in beautiful conditions.
It was a super fun 31km day. We set off just after 6am from Tanjong Beach in Sentosa, and paddled to the Southern Islands for a gorgeous sunrise. The Maritime Port of Authority vessel accompanied us for the crossing towards the Tanjong Pagar Terminal, the beautiful skyline of the central business district in front of us the whole way.
Though we were supposedly against the current along the long East Coast stretch, the downwind created lots of lovely waves for us to surf back on. Compared to the prior two days, day 3 felt like a breeze! We ended 1.5 hours ahead of schedule, and felt like we still had a full store of energy.
Day 4 – The Longest Day
Route: East Coast to SAF Yacht Club; distance: 51 km
Punggol Timor Island
West Punggol Island
Long in terms of both time and distance. 12 hours on the water, and 51km.
Technically, we launched by 6am, but actually floated in the bay for 45 minutes waiting for our safety boat to show up.
We finally pushed off at 645am, but within 15 minutes, the thunderstorm that we had seen billowing and thundering in the distance caught up to us. Given that we had the huge traverse around the Changi Naval Base ahead, we beached up to wait for the visibility to improve a tad before setting back off.
It rained most of the day. But since we were wet already, we actually didn’t mind and found it quite refreshing and fun, especially since the currents were light. It was a bit of a relief from the scorching sun the previous three days, and the early morning light filtered through the clouds made the whole seascape very surreal.
And then, it seemed that we were suddenly almost at the finish line. With 15km to go as we crossed over to Coney Island from Pulau Ubin, we alternately felt excited at the prospect of stretching out and checking off this big adventure, to feeling wistful already that the expedition was almost at the end.
But a last surprise was in store when we pulled up to SAF Yacht Club! We’d been diligently tracking and recording the islands that we’d passed on our route, and the official from the Singapore Book of Records was waiting for us at the finish line to award us with certificates for the largest island hopping kayaking expedition around Singapore! We’d covered 28 islands in our journey. 🙂
It’s been a super fun ride. So grateful to have been a part of this expedition, especially in a time when we’re still stuck on Singapore unable to go anywhere else. And the charity drive continues through the end of the month too. Hopefully we can hit our stretch goal of $40,000!
We got in three training days this weekend. A dawn paddle around Ubin on Thursday, a paddle to Yishun Dam on Sunday, and a paddle to Changi Village and Coney Island on Monday. 20+km per trip. Feeling stronger and faster that’s for sure!
The round Ubin trip felt leisurely, for the weather was mild, the water glassy, and the currents on our side. A far cry from the whiteout conditions we met the week before!
On Sunday, we joined the expedition group for a training paddle to Yishun Dam, where Singapore’s Last Fishing Village is. A hodepodge of blue plastic barrels, zinc sheeting, and wooden stakes tied together to form a series of floating platforms, juxtaposed against the modern buildings in the background.
Monday morning, National Day, we got up for another early morning paddle. The tide was the lowest we’ve seen. Just past Api Api River, the waters were so shallow that we got stuck near the blue buoy barriers, about 100m from shore. We had to carry the kayak over the barrier in order to continue to Changi Village.
The hawker center at Changi Village was bustling, never mind that safe distancing measures were still place, such that we had to check in to enter the hawker, and could only buy food for takeaway but not dine in. No matter. I bought two packets of nasi lemak and lime juice, and brought it back to the beach for a leisurely breakfast.
At Coney Island, we watched the fighter jets zoom past in formation, then the slower chinooks bearing the Singapore flag fly past. It’s a lovely gesture, these helicopters, going around the island with the flag, since we don’t have a proper parade this year due to the heightened measures.
We’ve been training for a 4-day 150km round Singapore island paddle at the end of August, to raise money for the Children Cancer Foundation.
Some in our group have taken the trainings very to heart, organising epic 50+k days on the water! We joined the group for a 40km paddle last week, and had really sore bums for a few days afterwards.
Consequently, we weren’t in the least tempted to join the group for a 58km paddle on Sunday, preferring to wait until we’d managed to properly equip the old kayaks we’d be using with proper foot rests. Instead, we decided on our own mini-by-comparison training paddle, a 21km loop around Pulau Ubin.
What started out as a beautiful sunrise and then flat glassy waters turned into a crazy storm.
The winds picked up as we approached the back north-west half of Ubin, such that the last hour was a full on battle against increasing winds and waves. We’d looked forward to finally getting current assistance when we rounded the island, but hit the full brunt of the storm then. Beached up with a skittish wild boar to wait out the worst of the whiteout conditions, given that we could barely make out the ships passing in the channel, never mind Pasir Ris on the other side.
So, training done. 21km in not our fastest time, but it was epic.
We’re not massive fitness people, truth be told. We exercise more to explore, than to work out. Which is why I give massive kudos to folks who can, week after week, put in miles on their kayaks and bicycles. We lose motivation after a while if we don’t get a change in scenery. 😂
This past Sunday though, we decided to try a new cycle route: from Pasir Ris to Marina Barrage, through the Ponggol-Hougang-Kallang park connector.
We set off at 5am, in the hopes of making it to town to see the sunrise. It was lovely pedaling in the dark, through quiet streets. It was cool out too – as cool as it can get in Singapore anyway – and drizzly half the section. We rode past neighborhoods we’d never visited before, and bumped into my coworker who was also out getting his cycling fix in. We hit the northern end of the Singapore river – more canal, really – and followed its curves until the lit Singapore Flyer came into view.
The sky was getting light by then. But with the low clouds, we weren’t going to get any color. No matter. It was still a lovely ride past the Indoor Stadium and across the Marina Barrage to where the glass structures of the cloud forest and flower domes were. We rode past dozens of collegian dragon boaters warming up by the riverside before they hit the water, past joggers and other cyclists who were also getting early morning starts.
When we hit the front of Marina Bay Sands, it was decision time. Back the same route, or up through East Coast Park and through the Bedok Reservoir, or should we just hug the coast and take the long way home?
Our legs felt strong, and we didn’t particularly fancy riding back along busy sidewalks that doubled up as bike paths, so we opted for the scenic route, stopping first by the MacDonalds along the park to escape the rain and sate our rumbling stomachs.
Fun route back. Brought back memories of a couple decades ago, when as teenagers with tons more energy, we’d take the same coastal ride from Pasir Ris, starting at midnight, then returning only at sunrise, stopping at different 24-hour coffee shops to refuel and shoot the breeze. Haha.