Singapore, or ‘Singa Pura’ in Sanskrit, means Lion City.
Now that’s a majestic name for a city, wouldn’t you say?
On this trip to Singapore, I explored everything this city had to offer. I was there for 5 days, got little sleep, and tried to pack as many activities as possible in the short amount of time I was there.
My travel buddy was a good girlfriend, Miss Chinese Toronto 2016, and we travelled to Singapore to attend the wedding of our other pageant friend, Miss Chinatown Singapore 2016. We all met during the Miss Chinese International Pageant 2017 in Hong Kong, where I represented the Vancouver title.
The direct flight from Changsha, Hunan, took 4 hours. A few hours after boarding the plane, I was in paradise!
Day 1 & 2
I hit up Kampong Glam for Indonesian food and Teh Tarik, Orchard Street and Dover Street Market Singapore for some window shopping, and checked out the National Gallery of Singapore. Have a look at all the random friends I met along the way!
We started the day off with a traditional Singaporean breakfast in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood, and walked around Tiong Bahru Market. The day continued at Marina Bay and Merlion Park with some breathtaking views. For dinner, we met the bride and groom for Chinese-Singaporean food at Two Chefs. Ever heard of milk powder ribs? Take a look below!
There’s nothing like beginning the day off by the pool. The big event of the day was Lovelle and Garrick’s wedding at Sofitel Hotel and Resort on Sentosa Island. Then, the celebration continued at Marina Bay with drinks to end the night. Congrats to the bride and groom!
My last day in Singapore 😦
I checked out the Singapore Art Science Museum and Gardens By The Bay, and had some delicious Bak Kuk Teh for dinner with a new friend. Hear my final thoughts on my entire trip at the end of the video:
In 2018, I explored a lot of places in Asia ( China, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong), and out of all those places, Singapore was definitely one of the highlights.
Two years ago, I came across Caño Cristales on a random Facebook video from Business Insider. I was blown away by the natural colours in this river, and even more excited that it was located in my birthplace of Colombia.
So without a doubt, on this trip to Colombia, Caño Cristales was at the top of my list.
Caño Cristales, also known as the “river of five colours,” is a Colombian river located in the Serrania de la Macarena National Park. From June to November of each year, the river becomes a spectacle of vibrant colours from the aquatic plants that grow beneath the water.
Getting to Caño Cristales was a journey in itself. We travelled by air from Bogota to La Macarena (flight time 1h20), got on a boat, jumped on a 4×4, then reached the inside of the park by foot.
Fun Fact: Our luggage had not arrived from our initial Vancouver to Bogota flight yet…
So we were literally travelling to La Macarena with what we had on hand. An extra T-shirt, a lightweight jacket, toothbrush, contact solution, and pair of underwear was all I carried. Thankfully, in the town of La Macarena, I managed to buy a swimsuit and a pair of cheap hiking boots.
Back in the mid-2000’s, this place wasn’t the most tourist-friendly. There was guerilla activity (yes, guerilla) that made this area inaccessible and dangerous. However, the Colombian military took back control a few years ago, and La Macarena is now considered safe.
For precaution, there’s still a military presence in La Macarena. Here is a photo of a few Colombian military friends we saw on the way:
When we arrived at the hacienda (our home for the next two evenings), we were welcomed by a talking parrot and the smell of fresh-made arepas con queso (corn flour flatbread with cheese).
As you can see from the photos, this was no five star hotel.
This rustic home was owned and operated by Armando and his family. Armando and his nephew Mario were our tour guides, while the aunt took care of everyone’s meals. We were warmly welcomed into their home, and little did we know that by the end of the trip, we would all become great friends.
Tired from the day’s travel, we unloaded our things and headed to the nearest river for a quick swim before dinner.
There’s no better authentic rural experience than waking up to roosters at 4:30am in the morning. Thanks to them, I was right on time for the 5:00am sunrise hike.
Imagine this: You are seated on a rock and hear nothing but the sound of water trickling and rushing through the rocks. You look up at the sky, and watch it slowly open up to reveal the sun. You watch the tranquil mountains, as you inhale the purest air imaginable.
Everything is still, yet everything is flowing.
And that my friends, sums up the most memorable sunrise hike I’ve done in my entire life (so far).
After a hearty breakfast of arepas, scrambled eggs, and tinto (black coffee), we headed out on a hike to see the official Caño Cristales.
Have you ever seen anything this amazing in your life before? I was completely blown away. I literally kept repeating “que belleza” (what a beauty) while furiously snapping as many pictures as possible.
Making our way upstream, we also found other amazing treasures that the nature here had in store for us.
Finally, we ended the hike in a part of the river where we were permitted to swim.
On this day we actually got pretty sunburnt. We weren’t allowed to wear sunscreen, lotion, deodorant, nor insect repellent when entering the water. This is done to protect the river and the aquatic plants from the chemicals in those products.
While my mother (who is Chinese) would highly disapprove if she knew I went two days in the blazing sun the without sunscreen, the chance to swim in the river was something I was not going to pass up.
This morning we went on the last sunrise hike before leaving Caño Cristales.
I honestly never realized how much happiness nature could bring me until I came here.
Growing up in the city and being a pageant girl, I honestly did not care that: I hadn’t properly showered in 3 days, had been wearing the same clothes for the last 3 days, had no wifi to go on Instagram, and was not getting enough beauty sleep.
This trip made me realize that being able to experience the beauty of nature with incredible people was one of the most amazing gifts I could ever ask for.
So I speak from the heart when I tell you that if you ever plan on travelling to Colombia, please visit Caño Cristales.
Tips for Travelling to Caño Cristales:
A yellow fever vaccine is required. You may be asked for proof that you have this vaccine before you board your plane.
If you’re planning on swimming, don’t wear sunscreen, lotion, insect repellent, deodorant, etc.
Bring all your swimming essentials: swimsuit, goggles, and waterproof shoes
For the hikes, bring a good pair of hiking shoes, lightweight clothing, and a hat
Bring a reusable water bottle as plastic bottles are not allowed inside the park
Lastly, don’t go crazy searching up pictures of Caño Cristales before arriving. Let the nature do the talking. A lot of the pictures on Google and tourism sites are edited to make the colours of the water appear more vibrant and vivid.
More to Know about Caño Cristales:
Serrania de la Macarena National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas of Colombia. This is where three ecosystems meet: Amazon rainforest, Andes mountain range, and savannah plains of the East Llanos.
With more than 500 species of birds, 100 species of reptiles, and over 2,000 species of plants, this protected national park has all the best that nature has to offer.
While tourism is developing quite rapidly, only 200 tourists are allowed inside the Macarena National Park per day to conserve the area. Reservations must be made a few months in advance. We made our trip reservation through Colombia Oculta.
So we were extremely lucky and a huge shout out to my dad for booking this trip! Gracias papi.
“Colombia, tierra querida,” I exhale as the plane lands at El Dorado International Airport. 18 hours and 6,753 km later, I have finally arrived in the motherland.
Our first stop was the capital city of Bogotá. Bustling with people and cars, this big city is the economic and cultural centre of Colombia.
After sitting on an airplane for more than 10 hours, a bike tour was the perfect way to begin an adventure around the city.
So we got on bikes, put on helmets, and began pedalling.
In just a few hours, my knowledge of Bogota expanded tremendously. This concrete jungle filled with traffic, street vendors, never-ending construction, colonial architecture, and graffiti was beyond mesmerizing.
Mike, our bike tour guide, was so passionate about his work. As a social activist, he spoke about some deep issues I was not expecting to hear on a bike tour.
Identity, or the struggle of identity, was one of the topics that captivated me. A large number of factors, including Spanish colonization, oppression of Indigenous peoples, European influence, and the diversity in each region, have created an identity crisis for Colombians.
So how do Colombians deal with this? By embracing their differences. The history of welcoming ethnic diversity within the Colombian population has made the country home to a wide range of cultural expressions. And while some ideologies between Colombians are certainly not the same (I’m talking politics here), there’s a strong urgency for peace.
Violence and government corruption continue to be pressing issues, yet there’s a movement and an energy from the people that can not be ignored. The Colombian people don’t just want peace, they demand it.
This urgency for peace is something that has united all Colombians; They believe they will achieve it one day.
Which artist does the best job of celebrating the bodacious, full curves of a Colombian woman?
If you’re thinking of a Latin reggaeton artist, that’s not what I was going for.
The correct answer is Fernando Botero (also known as the most famous artist and sculptor from Colombia).
In the Museo Botero, we had the chance to see Botero’s paintings and sculptures. The art museum itself was charming, contained Botero’s personal art collection, and admission was free.
Botero donated more than 200 artworks to this museum so that the Colombian public could enjoy it for free. This really impressed me because it demonstrates that the art scene in Colombia is highly appreciated and meant to engage the public.
Art is for everyone to celebrate. And whether you see Botero’s art as unique, satirical, or downright hilarious, this art museum was worth the visit.
Out of the chubby naked women, chubby fruit, and chubby animals, my favourite paintings were the Mona Lisa and El Ladron (the thief).
This next place I visited had a “goldmine of information.”
Museo del Oro, South America’s most famous gold museum, features 55,000 pieces of gold from pre-Hispanic cultures. This place was literally dripping in gold!
Before coming to the Museo de Oro, I thought gold was just used as a way to show off your wealth. I was expecting to see gold jewelry and big golden ornaments dating to the Spanish colonial times. But boy, was I wrong.
The gold artifacts in each exhibition were not for decorative purposes. In fact, they were archeological artifacts that taught us the history and societal norms of pre-Hispanic cultures.
To pre-Hispanic cultures, gold was not a symbol of material wealth. To them, gold was a sacred metal that received the Sun’s energy. Gold was a source of fertility, and was used in religious offerings.
For example, tunjos (gold offerings) were thrown into the Laguna de Guatavita (Guatavita Lake) by Muisca chiefs between 600 and 1600 CE. One of these tunjos was the Balsa Muisca, also known as the El Dorado Raft. This tunjo gave birth to the legend of El Dorado.
While it might sound crazy how throwing gold into a lake will bring fertility to anyone, I was impressed to see this museum celebrate, preserve, and exhibit the culture and history of Indigenous Colombian cultures.
My next destination is Caño Cristales. As I sip my cafe con leche, I imagine what this river of five colours will be like. My expectations are high, since it’s considered to be “the most beautiful river in the world.”
Ready to leave the city, I reflect my final thoughts on Bogota. To be honest, this is definitely not a city you fall in love with right away.
Just like me, you will probably lose your patience in the traffic jams.
You will probably feel a tiny bit suffocated by all the people in the city centre.
You will probably notice that the air quality is not amazing.
You will probably complain about how cold it is.
And yes, you better watch your personal belongings when walking on the street.
Bogota is a huge, sprawling mass of metropolis. So there’s a reason why things are the way they are. My advice? Don’t let those little things take away from your experience, because Bogota is where you’ll find a perfect blend of urban life, history, art, and culture.