Can't travel? Live vicariously lor: Urbex edition

PHOTO: Screenshot/YouTube/CoralFish12g

In this Live Vicariously series, we’ll visit some of the world’s top places as seen through the eyes of other travellers and help you plan for future holidays like a true kan cheong Singaporean.

It’s been almost six months since travel grounded to a halt. Six long months during which everything has been both unfamiliar and all too familiar - our routines have been disrupted, yet we remain, day after day, in surroundings we can’t change.

I don’t know about you, but after all this time spent WFH and staying in as much as possible, what I really miss as a traveller is that feeling of discovering something new; of experiencing a completely different landscape; of getting butterflies in my stomach when I’m about to explore the unknown.

Until we can get out again though, there’s no better way to spark that feeling than with a bit of urban exploration - and the best way to do it could just be from your cushy computer chair.

About Urban exploration

If you haven’t heard about this growing movement (just call it urbex) it’s all about investigating man-made structures that are off the beaten path - think abandoned malls or derelict amusement parks in forgotten locations.

Urbex is said to have been started by a San Francisco counterculture group called the Suicide Club in the 1970s. Now, with Covid-19 stopping most journeys around the world, urbexers are combing their hometowns even more actively for new adventures, and there are over 8 million #urbex hashtags on Instagram.

But in case you imagine this to be about a bunch of juvenile delinquents breaking and entering, think again.

The community is all about experiential learning, and many enjoy capturing the forgotten and the past in photos and videos, which they often share online, so this is an awesome way to see things you would never have come across on a regular trip.

It also lives by an ethos that a lot of us plebeian travellers would do well to follow: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”

Here are three videos by some of the world’s best urban explorers that will transport you to sights you never thought you’d see.

1. Fukushima supermarket

Everyone loves going to supermarkets in Japan, right? But you’ve probably never been to one like this. Watch Dutch filmmaker Bob Thissen and his friend Frederick Sempels as they wander through an abandoned supermarket in Fukushima, six years after the nuclear incident.

From cigarettes in cobwebbed cases to bento boxes half-devoured by rats, their coverage of the place is both achingly sad and eerie. Tip: The video is in Dutch, so turn on the YouTube subtitles to get the most out of it. And watch Thissen’s other fascinating urbex videos on his channel, Exploring the Unbeaten Path.

2. Bangkok fish mall

Bangkok is a shopping paradise to many Singaporeans. But no matter how advanced a shopaholic you are, this is one mall you’re not likely to have visited...well, unless you’re in the market for a koi fish or two.

The Thai capital’s New World Mall was abandoned in 1997 and a fire in 1999 tore off the roof. Left without cover, the mall got flooded by rainwater and mosquitoes and other insects started to breed, so the Thais introduced fish to the water to eat the insects.

This created a creepy urban aquarium that became so popular with urban explorers, the fish was recently removed so people wouldn’t be encouraged to visit the crumbling place. It’s still worth a look though, so check it out in this video by aquarium expert George Mavrakis of the YouTube channel CoralFish12g.

3. Wales Mines

Mining was a significant source of income for Wales from the 1800s to the early 1900s. Since then though, thousands of mines have been abandoned, creating a massive underground labyrinth for urbexers to discover.

In this video, you can follow YouTuber Neil Ansell as he clambers through three of Wales’ abandoned mines and among other things, comes across a set of wheels that seems to be moving on its own and an underground lagoon.

Want to start exploring on your own here until you can travel again? Singapore has its own urbex group called Urban Explorers of Singapore, which has been exploring the country for the past 20 years. Check them out here for inspiration, and remember to stay safe on your explorations!

This article was first published in Wonderwall.sg.