Walking (and walking and walking) around Singapore

We landed in Singapore yesterday and were eager to get to seeing the city after our later than planned arrival, so we dumped our bags at the hotel and set off for Arab Street. When the British governed the area, Raffles set the neighborhood aside for the Muslim residents of the area and it retained that culture through today.

There is a lot of fun street art, street shipping, and street food to enjoy there now.

After some late lunch we set off for the Singapore flyer, a giant ferris wheel that overlooks the city, straight, and bay. It is so late and moves so slowly that we each had to do a double take to make sure it was actually open and moving before we got there.

The views were great despite the clouds and rain and we had a blast enjoying the 20+ minute ride.

We went from there to attempt to get a drink on top of the Marina Bay sands hotel (the one in the picture above that looks like a boat on three towers), but the bar was closed due to the rain so we audibled to some window shopping in a very fancy mall land being mesmerized but a giant multi touch screen on the floor running some incredible animations.

The first had some fish that swam around and gathered around people who weren’t moving (the parents) but scattered from the people chasing them (the children). There second was a gorgeous animation that has vines tracing after the feet of people on the screen with explosions of flowers at set times. There combination of the static parents with the manic motions of the children while the animation ran was very beautiful to watch. It was also some impressive computing running the thing as there was really only a small but if frame rate dropping at only a few times.

We closed out night one with some more hawker food and a visit to the merlion.

On day two we did a bit more window shopping on Orchard street… Sadly no luxury car stores set up this time.

On our way there, we saw an interesting church billboard that the mouse’s lawyers might be interested in…

A wander through Chinatown led to my enjoying some Chinese hamburgers with duck meat, before we set off for the Marina Bay gardens. The gardens are a large park on reclaimed land with some artwork, some fake trees, and a few indoor botanical parks. They made for a delightful walk in the oddly not rainy weather.

The baby sculpture was weird. He was just floating there. And when the real life son of the artist becomes a teenager, it might be awkward if he ever goes on a date in the park.

We closed out our day with a successful attempt at a cocktail on the roof of the hotel before a nice celebratory dinner of chili and pepper crab (which was just as good as I remembered it being). (White pepper crab not pictured because we were a already eating chili crab when it arrived and we were too messy to touch our phones)

It has been an amazing month of travel. We have both learned so much and will leave this trip changed for the better, but I guess it is time to go back to real life until the next one.

When the alarm went off this morning, it meant that 24 hours later, we’d be walking in our front door. This 14.5 hour flight from Singapore to SFO is gonna hurt, but it is worth it.

Now where to next…

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A Kuala Lumpur encore

Allison and I keep making our way south as we get closer to the end of our trip with the last two days having been spent in Kuala Lumpur.

I came through here for a very quick stop in 2013 that involved a lot of eating and a lot of walking… And the last two days involved a lot of eating a lot of walking.

After some dim sum breakfast, we took a short train ride out of town to visit the Batu Cave, a giant cave with some Hindu shrines inside.

The shrines were colorful, as most Hindu places of worship are, and the cave was enormous. As with most places in Asia that are on the edge of a city, there were a lot of monkeys around looking for humans stupid enough to feed them or steal food from. One of the monkeys even got a taste of human blood on that day as one tourist got a bit stupid with his taunting a monkey with food. A quick growl and a few chomps later, the tourist earned a trip to get a bunch of stitches and multiple shots at the nearest hospital.

Retuning to the city, we headed to the KL bird park, one of the largest open air aviaries in the world. There are so many birds there that eventually you get tired of some of them. “Ugh, enough of you peacocks. I’m over you.”

There were some great hornbills to see, which was nice after we saw the one flying in Langkawi. Also, Allison was hilarious to watch as she kept playing with her camera and finding all of the birds beautiful. She would feel bad for a second about taking a 37th picture of a particular bird and say “ok, I’m done, let’s keep moving,” and then half a step later when seeing a new bird “oooooh” and pulling her camera out again.

We also had a lot of fun when a woman feeding some birds got a little spooked when some more came over and I said to her husband “I mean, it is right to be scared… They are basically dinosaurs.” He laughed, she did not.

We then came to the national mosque and someone was not feeling having to cover up while watching men not have to change what they were wearing…

We both agreed that part of the beauty of the mosque was that it was so simple and not ornate. Don’t get me wrong, it is fancy and they spent a lot of making it look nice, but there isn’t an over the top feeling of “how could a religion spend so much on a house of worship for the people when they are spending the same people’s money?”

After the mosque we walked through Chinatown and did some shopping before heading to Jalan Alor for some open air dining.

Jalan Alor is the hawker center street with dozens of small restaurants and street food. It is an amazing place to get some incredible food. The salt and pepper squid was some of the best calamari I’ve ever had.

On day two, it was some more walking to visit the KL tower, Petronas Towers, and the fancy shopping area of Bukit Bintang (which houses one of the best mall food courts in the world).

There mall food court is in the basement of the Lot 10 mall and came to be as a result of a local billionaire inviting his favorite hawker chefs from around Asia to open up second stalls in his mall. It is a place to eat great street food from all over the continent… In a mall. We enjoyed our first bowl of cendol for dessert… Which is kinda like a shaved ice with coconut milk and spices and noodles and palm sugar and sweetened red beans and it is great.

We spent the rest of the afternoon dividing our time between a bar (we found microbrews…beers with flavor!) and Allison found some incredible clothing deals for herself when she took advantage of a sale and the tourist sales tax refund.

A final dinner on Jalan Alor to wrap up two very busy days and we are off to Singapore today (though a little later than planned because of a fat finger mistake with the plane ticket purchase that I didn’t see until today… Always read the confirmations!!!) (Like I didn’t do)

Street art, street food, and rain in George Town

A very short flight from Langkawi (less than 20 minutes in the air) put us on the island of Penang for our visit to George Town.

George Town is famous for being a culinary mixing pot with a lot of colonial architectural history and some very cool street art.

Our plan for our time here was simple… Walk around, eat things, and look at stuff. No big hikes, no beach lounging, no nothing but walking and eating.

And we did well…

We also took a bit of an air-conditioning break in an upside down museum that was hilarious in how they moved us from room to room with detailed instructions on how to pose everywhere. In the moment it was weird and funny, but the photos did turn out well later.

Some other notes about our time here… We visited a temple on a hill overlooking the city and it was quite beautiful and the views were great. In the main temple hall there was a wishing tree with prayer ribbons to purchase and hang.

There were many options for wishes… Family safety, health, business success… But two of the options didn’t have any ribbons left because they were the most popular, 1. Success in everything and 2. Being together forever. I would love to see the gender demographic breakdown of who picked each of those.

This was also the first place we started getting rain. Not Seattle rain, but real rain rain. The kind that you have to yell over because it comes down in a roar. It was kinda nice listening to the thunderstorms roll through each evening, but getting to the airport tonight was quite a fun trick with the skies open and draining themselves. Looking at the weather for the next few days, we are likely to keep experiencing more and more rain as we go south… And then probably continuing when we get home.

Lastly, here is a picture of Bruce Lee kicking a cat and the mural in our hotel that was painted by the father of the owner. On to Kuala Lumpur.

To the peak!

After a very sunny day to close out Ko Lipe on Saturday (I learned that 3 layers of sunscreen is not always enough layers of sunscreen in the tropics), we got to experience the very crazy logistics of the boat ride to Langkawi, Malaysia.

Our boat was set to depart at 10:30, so we had to check in, surrender our passport, and get our ticket at 8. Then at 9:30 we got our passport back to only give it to immigration and have them keep it. Then we waited around for an hour until the boat arrived. There isn’t a pier on the island so the boat just anchored up a couple hundred yards offshore and the passengers incoming transferred 6 at a time to longtail boats to come to the shore. After all 60ish passengers were unloaded, 4 boats full of luggage was moved to the shore and then it was our turn to stand in line on the beach under the sun and board longtail boats 6 at a time with our bags to move to the ferry.

One everyone got on the ferry, we set off and a man walked around with a pile of passports and just shouted out countries and then give that pile to the first person to raise their hands. Thankfully, we were the only Americans so it made that part easy.

A short while later we arrived in Langkawi, Malaysia. A country I have been to before, but not an area I have been to in that country. The first thing one notices is that Malaysia is far cleaner than Thailand and has a bit nicer infrastructure. The second thing one notices is that it is far more developed and a busier more resort filled place than we spent our last week in.

We anticipated this and didn’t really plan on doing much beach time here… Instead we were going to eat (Malaysian food is incredible) and go for a hike.

Last night we got the eating part with a visit to a night market in town. We wandered around from stall to stall having satay, crab balls, lamb hot pocket type things, and some ginger snap donuts. Oh my god, the donuts. These things blew my mind. They were ginger and rice flour and the flavor and texture and changing texture as you ate them…I had to go back for more. They were amazing.

Today we went for a hike to climb up one of the oldest mountains in Southeast Asia, Gunung Machinchang. It is the second highest point on the island and it is a workout to get to the top.

You start by climbing a whole mess of steps to get to something called the seven wells waterfalls pools. A collection of water holes in some rocks than people swim in. They were… Nice. They were fine but there is a reason they weren’t that crowded and there’s no admission price.

After the pools, it is a two hour trek through the jungle that very quickly gets steep enough that you have to pull yourself up ropes.

We were sweating buckets as we hiked up, and the view was worth the effort… We could even see Ko Lipe.

If you look on that other tall peak, you can see the cable car that is another option to get to the top for a nice view.

We hoped to see a great hornbill or two, but didn’t until the very end while waiting for our cab. Most importantly for Allison, we didn’t see any snakes.

On to the island of Penang for a visit to the city of George Town tomorrow.

Lingering on Ko Lipe

As expected, we pulled the trigger on using our flex day in our travel plans to stay on Ko Lipe until Sunday. Allison is more than a little enamored with this place…and it is easy to understand why…

Two full days of diving for me… Some incredible corals, lots of nudibranches, many colorful shrimps, crabs, a random lobster, a massive school of barracuda, and did I mention the coral? The reefs here might be some of the healthiest I’ve ever seen. So many colors and so much life on them. The only drawback of that health is that it is spawning season for the coral, so the visibility is a bit rough.

Because we stayed the extra day here, Allison decided to go for scuba certification. As of the end of today, she will have finished half of her open water certification! She’ll still have some theory, 2 confined water dives, and 2 open water dives left to do later either in Seattle or somewhere else, but she gets full credit for the work and dives she has done here.

She actually got to do her “pool” dives on the beach!

We also had an interesting conversation last night at dinner about how Allison now understands what I mean when I say that vacations don’t really start until you hit the 2 week mark. There is a mental shift and feeling that takes over around the 12-14 day mark of traveling. The first 6-8 days are full of adrenaline and excitement; someone during days 8-11 you come down from the adrenaline and get tired… There is a bit of a travel wall during those days, but once you get through it and get to day 12-14 you hit a rhythm/relaxation/feeling of just being where you are that isn’t like any feeling you can get during those first 11ish days. One way I remember a hostel owner in Panama describing it over our 4th glass of rum was the difference between being on holiday and traveling. The feeling of traveling is one that I crave. It is a feeling that hits reset buttons I otherwise have no idea how to access. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to “traveling” more than a few times in my life. And earlier this week, right around new year’s, we got there. I’m so happy we are lucky enough to have had an additional 2 weeks after that point to enjoy the ride and soak this feeling up.

Tomorrow we don’t have much planned… Might just get a few fresh fruit shakes, swim around a bit, and read on the beach.

Ko Lipe: the second of 4 consecutive island stops

My scuba diving yesterday was fantastic. Great visibility, lots and lots of fish, the first time I’ve seen a giant moray eel swimming freely in the water, so many barracuda, and a nice relaxing time in the water. Plus, now I have re-completed my deep water certification and I have that paperwork scanned and saved in the cloud so I can’t ever forget it again. It is a bit of a shame I’m so bad at logging my dives… I’d be close to the minimum requirement to go for divemaster certification.

Today we got on a speedboat for the 3+ hour journey to Ko Lipe.

Three straight hours of this view while listening to 3 outboard motors run at full throttle and bouncing around the open ocean… Vacation!

Ko Lipe is a small island in Tarutao national park in the very southern part of Thailand’s waters before crossing the border to Malaysia. It is a lot smaller than Koh Lanta, has some great diving nearby, and some very clear water and beaches. It is quite developed, but the size of the island makes it much more approachable than Lanta (which had this weird paradoxical feeling of being both very large and trapping… In that it wasn’t easy to go from section to section and you just ended up staying in the immediate area around your hotel when there was so much island to explore).

There is a nice “walking” street in the middle of the island with shops and restaurants… And a plethora of tuk tuks crowding the people trying to walk around.

(It is never this open… We got lucky because 1 hour later it was impossible to move around)

We are going to be parked here for the next few days before crossing the border over the water to Malaysia and another island. I’m going to be doing a couple more days of diving and Allison is even going to give it a try tomorrow with an intro to scuba dive! Because we have a flex day still in our plans, and the weather in Singapore is going to make it difficult to tourist there (but it won’t be raining in the chili crab restaurant!), we may end up extending our time here by another day… But we have time to figure that out.

Happy New Year!

After a 2.5 his boat ride yesterday, Allison and I got to Koh Lanta and set about taking care of some things for my scuba diving tomorrow and our onward transportation so that we could relax and enjoy the island.

Not a bad view from our balcony, eh?

We spent some time walking around the beach and seeing what we could find for New year’s plans before selling in for some dinner. (Side note… We have had a green papaya salad for dinner every single night on this trip save one night where we had had a banana leaf flower salad)

We never did actually make it to the beach bars we scoped out though… The tide came in and made a stream on the beach a little bit deeper than we wanted to deal with. This turned out to be an amazing bonus though as we set up camp with a few beers and watched dozens of people come to the steam and attempt to cross only to fail again and again and again, with only a few exceptions.

The first people we saw cross had a girl in her swimsuit under her clothes, so she just took her clothes off and held them above her head while the water got chest deep in her. The two guys with her took their shirts and boxers off, tucked their shirts up above their heads and went through. The first of them sadly dropped his underwear in the water, but he made up for it by snapping a photo with the flash on of his buddy just as he came out of the water.

After those three, it was probably 50 people who approached, tried, and when the water got past mid though level, gave up. They tried different areas of the steam. They tried going out into the ocean to find a sand bar. But they didn’t want to try to walk the 50 yards up to the road and around and back down to the beach. They all tried multiple times. Our favorites were the tall guys with women in fancy new years get ups. The guys would try again and again to prove something, but if they made it with the water at their waist, how was the girl in the dress who was 6″ shorter going to make it?

Finally a group came along as the tide was starting to go out and a woman in a very small skirt didn’t even pause. She was going to get to a party, damnit. She kicked her shoes off and went for it. Her skirt definitely got wet, but oh well. This meant the guys in the group had to make it, but she wasn’t done yet! She walked back across in the ocean and found a slightly (very slightly) shallower path and nearly drug her girlfriends with her back toward the parties.

As it got closer to midnight, the people living out Oregon trail minigames started to slow down, so we bought a floating lantern to set off. This went…poorly. Right as we were getting ready to let it go, a first of wind came up and flushed the hot air out before it could get going… So our first attempt crashed into the sea. We think we might have had the first failure in our section of the beach, but we were definitely not the last. Many of them just went 10 feet and into the water or caught fire 5 seconds into their journey.

Take two went much better (in spite of a pack of local children attempting to help in the most chaotic way possible) and we watched the lantern head out as midnight hit and the beach blew up in fireworks (some of them exploding right on the beach).

The rest of the night was definitely a memory made as we battled a seemingly ineffective mosquito net and not wanting to cover up in a blanket because it was warm along with music and fireworks and motorcycles used by people going home.

Overall we had a great and very memorable new years, and hopefully our upgraded mosquito net helps us catch up on sleep tonight.

For the rest of the day we are going to expire a bit further south on the island and see what fun we can find there.

Scuba diving tomorrow. Finally.