Marina Bay Sands Hotel
After being in the Philippines for a week and enduring the most wretched airport facilities in Asia, we arrived in the cleanest country in the world (or at least the cleanest in Southeast Asia) - Singapore! I've never been so happy to be in a first world country. Not that Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines weren't amazing, but I was just looking forward to not seeing massive cockroaches on a regular basis. Singapore is a very modern, small city-state south of Malaysia and above Indonesia. It's an incredibly wealthy state with a high GDP and third highest per capita income in the world. Unlike previous countries we were at, it is extremely clean, urbanized and developed.
We arrived at our "cheap" hotel, which was near $100 and considered cheap compared to the other hotels (such as the Marina Bay Sands - pictured above - which would easily be around $400 a night). Oh yeah - no more third world countries means no more $25 [clean] hotels, unfortunately.
Our time in Singapore was short and consisted mainly of walking around the Marina - which is where their main big city area is. It's also where the famous Singapore Flyer is - AKA the biggest/tallest ferris wheel in the world. This actually wasn't a traditional ferris wheel, which was slightly disappointing, but more of a giant room that rotates around the wheel very slowly. You walk through basically a little science museum for a floor or two until you board the giant rotating room and the next 30 minutes are spent looking out the glass walls to the entire country of Singapore (this country is TINY.) It's 165 meters tall and may or may not have been worth the $30 it cost, but we really couldn't go to Singapore without going on it.
View from the top
We walked miles around the city and came across a super modern outdoor theater on the water with a live band playing, a ginormous mall with a "Bellagio" type water show next to the bay, the unique Gardens by the Bay and an amazing art museum where we saw a photography exhibit featuring "Magnum Photos", whose mission is to "chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities." We spent a few hours here and saw various photographers' collections - ranging from photos of the urban, dark side of Tokyo, to portraits of people in desolate places in Poland.
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That crazy white building behind us is the Art Science Center
At night, the city is beautiful and there are tons of restaurants and bars to go to. We were semi-conned into eating at a seafood restaurant right on the river (one thing that's the same as the other countries in Southeast Asia - people are very pushy) but the two free drinks each made it worth it. We ended up deciding to go to Malaysia early, due to the costliness of Singapore and the lack of money that we had after 4 weeks of traveling. Singapore was just too expensive for us.
Helix Bridge from one side of the bay to the other
We left Singapore around 11pm and boarded a bus that would take around 5 hours to drive to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We found this bus online and it cost around $25 - there are tons of different buses online ranging from standard "charter" buses (which we took - seats reclined far back and made it comfortable enough to sleep the entire time) to buses/trains with rooms that people can sleep in beds in. Those ones weren't too much more but we weren't too fussed over a 5-6 hour bus ride.
After getting woken up twice in the middle of the night to walk through customs with our passports and luggage, we arrived at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur at around 5am to take a cab to our lovely 5 star hotel. The Le Meriden cost less than our cheap hotel in Singapore, which by the way, had the SMALLEST room I've ever been in in my life. The only thing that fit in it was a queen bed. No joke.
Anyway, 6am was too early to check in so we worked out at the gym and enjoyed the ginormous pool, jacuzzi and waterslide outside until our room was ready. We were back in the glorious inexpensive part of Southeast Asia so this meant lots of room service slash food getting delivered to us. Not gonna lie, we were pretty exhausted from traveling and did NOT mind just lounging around our hotel for a couple days doing absolutely nothing :).
KL probably had the worst weather throughout the trip but we didn't mind watching lightning storms from our room with a view like this. You can see the city through the fog in the back.
We still did attempt to check out the culture and luckily, we were located right outside the city next to the train station. The first mistake I made was my choice of attire. I didn't know that Malaysia had a HUGE Muslim population but I definitely figured that out instantly after boarding the train and having dozens of FULLY clothed women stare at me wearing a summer dress. Whoops. I definitely attempted to be more modest after that experience.
Nate and I went on a walking tour of the city to become a bit more familiar with the culture, which I absolutely would recommend. It's called the "I Love Malaysia Heritage Walk" and we went around the whole city and our guide showed us different landmarks and gave us a brief history for 90 minutes. There are different tour options and we just did the free Heritage Walk (limited spots so reserve beforehand!).
(left) Merdeka Square & the Sultan Abdul Saman Building on the left. (right) Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
We walked around their Chinatown and the Central Market and did some good shopping at their street markets and ate delicious local food - stingray and a claypot dish with rice and chicken. We shopped more after eating and in an attempt to buy a cheap DVD to watch at the hotel that night, we literally almost got Taken. Yes, Taken. We were on the main street of Chinatown shopping around and this guy asked if we wanted to buy some DVDs. Nate said yes and so this Asian guy leads us to these shops down an alleyway (not even a secluded alleyway - there were still a bunch of other shops there) and into his "shop". He wanted us to get at least 10 movies and we weren't down so we turn to leave and the entrance where we came in was now a wall. It was one of those little garage places where they can pull down the door and so they locked us in and kept saying that "customs" was outside so they had to close the door (AKA their van was driving up to kidnap us in). Nate argued with them and started trying to unlock the door himself until they finally let us out (where customs was NOT). Sketch.
Shopping in Chinatown
Waiting for our stingray & claypot dish to be made!
There were a couple amazing temples we saw as well. One, we accidentally stumbled across while venturing to Chinatown, called the Sri Mahamariamman. This temple was built in 1873 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. We also went to the Batu Caves, which were limestone caves that had hindu temples built inside - you just had to climb the ridiculously tall staircase to get inside. Malaysia is extremely hot and humid, just like the rest of Southeast Asia, so this was an incredibly daunting task. It was somewhat worth it when we got inside. This temple is pretty trashed because it's super touristy. Still pretty cool, regardless.
Temple & entrance to the Batu Caves
Temple inside the limestone caves
Top Things to do in Singapore & KL, Malaysia:
If you're looking for....
- Malaysia Heritage Walks - amazing volunteer guides who love their country & give great walking tours
- ArtScience Museum in Singapore (they had a crazy lego exhibit that was opening a week after we were there. We were suuuper bummed we missed it and are determined to go back to Singapore specifically for this exhibit)
- Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur has amazing local food
- Singapore Marina - great nightlife & tons of bars & restaurants
- Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
- Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur if you want most name brand stores. Huge, GORGEOUS shopping mall but the prices are about the same as, if not more, than America.
- Chinatown & the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur - right next to each other. Tons of cheap shopping along the street markets in China town where you can get ANYTHING. Lots of souvenir & novelty type shops in the Central Market
- Shops at the Marina Bay Sands - just like a Vegas hotel with a river running through it, every designer store imaginable, live music and a casino
- Singapore Marina - amazing views of the city on the waterfront, such as the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel. I'm sure this hotel wouldn't have a terrible view either from its infinity pool on the roof. Walking around the entire bay has incredible views as well.
- Singapore Flyer - panoramic views of the entire city.
- Malaysia temples - Sri Mahamariamman & Batu Caves temples
- Petronas Twin Towers, KL - didn't get the most amazing view of these buildings because it was raining but pictures I've seen look awesome.
Goodbye Asia, until next time:)
Our week in the Philippines didn't exactly start out as planned - as in it was COMPLETE disaster. Remember how we talked about our Flying Mishaps
- which can be summed up to "you get what you pay for"? Well this is where one of our budget airlines SCREWED us.Original Plan
: Fly into Clark, take an 8ish hour bus ride at 10pm to Banaue where we would arrive at the beautiful rice terraces
early morning where we would spend the day. Then take the same bus back that night where we would get back to Clark the next morning and then fly to Boracay - AKA paradise. Well our flight got changed to 3 hours later, causing us to miss that bus so instead, we decided to just take a flight early the next morning from Clark - Boracay. Meaning we would be spending the night at the airport.
We've already had PLENTY of experience sleeping at airports so we weren't too fussed over this. Unfortunately, this was an airport like no other, thus far. Only international flyers were able to be inside the airport (which did NOT include us since we had a layover in Clark) so we were stuck outside. With cockroaches and dozens of other humungous bugs EVERYWHERE. And I'm talking GIANT FLYING
cockroaches. We were going to take turns sleeping (we didn't want to get robbed) and as exhausted as I was, there was no way I was sleeping with cockroaches creeping around every corner in the hot humid weather. Yes, it was the middle of the night. No, this didn't mean the humidity wasn't 80%.
So after 8 hours of terrified exhaustion, we finally board the plane to take a 45 minute flight to Kalibo, where we then waited for a bus to take us 2 more hours to a dock where we boarded a "bunka" boat. This 15 minute boat ride finally landed us in Boracay! And the 15+ hours of traveling was worth it to get to paradise.
White Beach, Boracay had THE most BEAUTIFUL white sand and clear (yet incredibly turquoise) perfect-temperatured water I have ever been in, in my LIFE. And this is including Fiji and Thailand. Yes, it was probably the most humid place we had been so far, but that just meant more time spent in the water, which was probably around 80 degrees.
We were halfway through our trip and probably spent the majority of our money, so this was just an excuse to be completely lazy and lay on the beach all day, which we definitely did. I was completely content with going for a morning swim, laying on the beach drinking $1 happy hour cocktails, napping under the sun, going for another swim and then watching the sunset.
After a few days of this, we did decide to partake in a few activities - with a bit of coercion from the dozens of guys harassing you on the streets. We booked a sailing trip around the islands followed by horseback riding at sunset at about $40 a person. A few Filipinos came on the sailboat with us and we cruised around for a few hours and ended up riding right into a storm. It poured on us for a good 20 minutes and then literally cleared up within 5 right after. We also snorkeled a bit but the rough waters and lack of fins made it a bit difficult.
Snorkeling with Marlon & Nemo (if you look reeeal hard, you can find them!)
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Our semi-sketch boat with tarp sails
Horseback riding later was a lot different than I expected it to be. I thought we would arrive at some ranch and we would just be riding through big fields. After taking a little "tuk tuk" (their little baby cabs) to the stable, we arrived at a dirty farm with a few kids manning the horses. Without so much as a brief introductory (I've never been horseback riding before), we were jumping on our horses and were on our way. Instead of riding through fields, we actually rode down the street and then into what I guess were the neighborhoods. The streets had sporadic housing which was basically just a small shack with an entire family living inside every half kilometer or so. And I'm talking, 8 by 8 feet HOUSES with families of 5 living in them. Clothes lines were connected from houses to trees and little kids were running around everywhere. People were sleeping in the dirt under trees with babies wrapped in their arms. I felt like an asshole riding around on a horse because all of the kids would come chase after us a few dozen yards when we would ride past them.
I did notice a lot of families cooking and having big get togethers at the larger houses I saw. There would be heaps of people gathered outside these houses drinking and celebrating birthdays and such. But these were rare. Poverty was the majority of what we saw.
They were absolutely INSANE drivers
Leaving the stable!
The rest of our trip was spent wandering through the shops, lazing around on the beach even more, finding authentic Filipino food (most of the food on the touristy island of Boracay was BBQ and seafood kind of food), eating, finding happy hours and playing pool. Which are all some of my favorite past times so I was completely satisfied.
Boracay may not have been the most exciting destination we went to, but it was still an amazing experience. Extremely eye-opening for sure. Maybe I'm a little biased because it's my "homeland" but I just couldn't believe the poverty there. And this is at the most touristy place in the Philippines. I can't even imagine what the REALLY poor places are like. There are about 94 million people in the Philippines and of those, 70% are living in poverty. That's almost 70 million people possibly living in the dirt, not knowing when their next meal is going to be.
I definitely want to come back to the Philippines and stay a lot longer. Boracay was gorgeous but I'd want to get a more authentic Filipino experience. Although, there really was nothing better than being able to walk 100 feet to the beach, wear nothing but a swim suit, be able to go dive in the ocean at any point in the day or night and choose from the happy hours as cheap as 30 pesos a beer (which is less than a dollar). The people are so nice and hospitable, there are tons of shops, bars and restaurants, and the view didn't suck either :)
Oooh Thailand. This is the main place where I figured I would get Taken but I'm still alive! (And haven't been sold to an Asian prostitution ring!)
Thailand was amazing. Some of the most beautiful, perfect beaches I have ever been to. We arrived at our $25 hotel and since Nate is the one that made all the reservations, I was relatively terrified to see our hotel, expecting a filthy hostel with bathrooms I wouldn't go anywhere near and dirty sheets. Simpletel Hotel at Karon Beach in Phuket was the BEST deal EVER. Super clean, very basic and overall just simple - hence the name. Karon Beach was exactly what I wanted in terms of where I wanted to be in the touristy island of Phuket. Our hotel was 2-3 blocks from the beach and the streets were lined with vendors, shops, restaurants and bars.
We decided to take two separate boat trips to see the other islands. The first day we were off to the famous James Bond Island at Phang Nga Bay. The tour company we went through - Rattanachol Canoeing - was AWESOME! The friendliest staff, amazing tour, great food, on time - pretty much just perfect. We went to a bunch of different islands and lagoons including Hong Island, Panak Island, Khao Ping Kan, Panyee Island and James Bond Island. We went to pristine beaches, saw amazing lagoons and had lunch at a restaurant on this floating village. It's a large Muslim community where about 1000 people live - all on the water. They generate their own power and everything, although it looked a little sketch.
James Bond Island
We also did canoeing at Talu Island which was unexpectedly fascinating. We canoed through massive caves and tiny caves where we had to lay down in our canoes completely to get through. Our guide was awesome (and was selling hash to other canoe guides during our tour) and showed us the best spots around the lagoons. The water is only a few meters deep and during low tide, is only mud. The salt water eats away at all the limestone lagoons so it creates all the crazy caves and formations.
The last stop of the tour were the Ice Cream Caves. We docked the boat and walked into the cave and were greeted by hundreds of creepy, screeching bats. The limestone cave had crazy looking formations from water dripping into it, creating ginormous ice cream looking statues.
Ice Cream Caves
Canoeing at Talu Island
Pretty much a perfect day. Gorgeous beaches and amazing limestone islands. James Bond Island was actually pretty small, but is famous for being in the movie and so it was pretty crowded. There were caves right next to it that were pretty cool also. There was a section where a huge wall of limestone tipped over and fell onto the cave next to it, so it's perfectly diagonal against it. Obviously pictures would do it better justice, but still won't even compare to how beautiful everything was in real life.
So if you ever come to Thailand and do a trip to Phang-Nga Bay, DEFINITELY go through Rattanchol Canoeing. I don't think they have a website but all the tour shops have their pamphlets. They did an amazing job and were the most genuinely nice people. They went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time, always offered to take pictures for us and continuously gave us amazing facts about what we were seeing.
The next day we toured the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced pee-pee islands). This tour wasn't the most amazing but it was still fun seeing more islands. Most of the tour, we were only viewing the islands from the speed boat but it was still spectacular, regardless. The sea sickness tablets I took unfortunately made me very drowsy (when they say just take 1, don't take 2) so I slept a lot of the boat ride. Whoops. But I still got to enjoy some snorkeling, swimming and good sight seeing. Maya Beach was one of the main destinations we were after and was probably the most beautiful beach I've seen yet. However, the hundreds of tourists kinda ruined it. Not that it wasn't still amazing, but it's hard to really enjoy and absorb how gorgeous it is when there are a hundred people crowding the sand. Which was the softest, whitest sand I've ever seen, by the way.
These two tours were quite similar, except for the fact that the Phang-Nga Bay tour was waaaay better. Basically, if you had to choose, obviously choose this one. You pretty much see everything you would see during the Phi Phi Islands tour.
The rest of our Phuket time was spent walking around the town, laying on the beach (& letting off floating lanterns for Alex<3) and going to the bars. Our last night we saw some awesome fire throwers where Nate ended up in a chair while he did his fire-throwing-ness around him to eventually light a cigarette in his mouth. Yes, homeboy spun his fire chains around Nate's face close enough for him to light his cigarette on the fire. I was obviously terrified, although Nate claims it "wasn't scary" (liar).
The next day we were off to Bangkok. We only had one full day here and I HAD to go to the Tiger Temple and Floating Market. Easily the worst tour group I've ever been on (we arranged it through "Pick Me Easy" tours or something - www.pickmeeasy.com
). Horrible from the extremely late pickup due to a car accident, leading to everything else running late which meant less time at each place and the worst, rudest tour guide I've ever met that didn't communicate to us at all. But other than the actual tour & guides, the places we went to were great.
Our first stop was at the Damnern Saduak floating market. Probably a much better concept than it actually was, but still pretty cool. We floated down in a canoe and realized this meant we were actually trapped at each place our canoe driver stopped at so we couldn't as easily get away from the crazy vendors trying to sell us ugly bracelets. And then there was the heat. I felt like I was about to have a heat stroke when we were caught in a boat traffic jam and didn't move for 10 minutes. However, this all was nothing an ice cold beer couldn't easily fix so we were happy campers. It was a fun experience but I wouldn't pay more than the 150 BAHT (aka $5) it cost.
Afterwards we went to the Bridge Over the River Kwai. We had no idea what it was about until a fellow tourist explained: the bridge was built by Asian laborers and was designed to bring WWII POWs to Burma to the death camps. The Japanese designed it and thousands of British people, Aussies and other Allied POWs died during the project. They also made a novel & a movie about it.
The rest of the night we enjoyed our AMAZING hotel room - Oriental Residence. Easily the nicest hotel I've EVER stayed at. We were exhausted from all the touring and I'm a sucker for room service, so we mostly relaxed. Until deciding at midnight that we were in Bangkok so we HAD to go out. Not the craziest city I've ever been to, but still fun. We weren't dressed for clubs but we went to a ton of different bars - like the little bus bars they had on the side of the road that opened up to a bar and had stools on the side - and drank til 4am. We try not to be old and boring every now and then.
Thailand definitely treated us well. I even was getting used to the millions of HUGE cockroaches everywhere. Well, maybe just getting a little less scared of them.
We'll be back Thailand!
Our first stop of our South East Asia trip landed us in Bali, Indonesia! We arrived at our BEAUTIFUL villa in Seminyak and immediately jumped in the pool - coming from the freezing New Zealand weather to hot, humid tropics was quite the drastic change. We spent the day walking around Seminyak where there were tons of shopping and restaurants. Food is ridiculously cheap in Bali so we treated ourselves to fine dining restaurants almost every night (ex: a salmon dish that would probably cost at least $35 in Melbourne cost $7 here). Salons are also ridiculously cheap so we spent that night getting 1 hour full body massages at $8 each + a mani pedi (which would be my nightly routine if I lived here!)
We went white water rafting on the Telaga Waja River the next morning and rafted through luscious, green rice terraces and jungles down a class 4 river. The river was super shallow so we actually just spent most of the time crashing into the walls of the river and trying to get unstuck between boulders, which was still super fun. We went off one waterfall that was about 10 feet tall which was relatively exciting but it was def the best $25 ever spent! (This tour included transportation to and from the river 2 hours away, lunch, and all the gear. Love how cheap this place is).
The next day was spent surfing and relaxing at Kuta Beach. I tried to catch some of the bigger waves with Nate and suffered a few minor injuries in result. But I'm perfectly happy with surfing the baby waves:). The surf here was pretty good and the water was crazy warm. Definitely no need for a wet suit or even a towel since the sun immediately dries you off.
One of the DOZENS of Balinese women trying to sell us everything from bracelets to massages.
We hired a driver the next morning to drive us around to villages and the rice terraces. You can haggle almost anything so we got the price down to $40 total for a private driver all day to bring us wherever we wanted.
We stopped at Batubalan Temple and he guided us around and told us about their traditions. Then we went to Mas Village to see their famous wood carving shops. Everything is hand carved and it was amazing to see how much detail goes into everything.
After buying some souvenirs, we went to the Tegalalong Rice Terraces which were beautiful. We stopped at the Monkey Forest on the way back home and after paying the 50 cent entry fee, were greeted by dozens and dozens of monkeys just hanging out everywhere. We bought bananas and those smart little buggers were instantly after us. We had to hide them in Nate's pockets and they still would climb on his leg and try to grab them out. If we sat down and held the banana up, they would climb on our heads and grab the banana out of our hands. We did that a few times until the monkeys started fighting over the bananas pretty much on top of us, which was pretty terrifying.
I definitely want to come back to this country. (Minus the mosquitos that literally ate me alive) The people are super nice and friendly. It's not too touristy to where it's obnoxious. Kuta beach was really nice. It's a really fun beach town with a lot of markets and pubs, although the vendors are absolutely relentless. We got swarmed on the beach for a solid 15 minutes and were surrounded by people trying to sell us bracelets, henna tattoos, hats, shirts and a million other things.
Overall, a great start to our trip:)
Election time. The time when my Facebook newsfeed is full of everyone's opinions, people saying they don't want to see everyone's opinions & of course the many pretentious posts about people thinking they're better than everybody else because they may know a little bit more about what's going on. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about getting educated, especially about things that affect us all directly on a daily basis. But no, I don't really want to read your arrogant posts about you saying everyone else is an idiot for not having your same views.
But hey, I guess I'd rather have my newsfeed full of opinionated people that are at least watching the news every now and then (although unfortunately that probably includes Fox News half the time) than people going on about ridiculously idiotic reality tv shows like The Bachelor. Yes, political (& definitely sports) talk/rants > reality tv gossip BY FAR (funny how a person usually will fall under only one of those categories).
People always go on about how they "wish they could filter their newsfeed" or how they're sick of people blowing up their Facebook about a certain sports game and so on and so forth. Why don't you just get off Facebook maybe? Obviously I am one of the millions that are unable and unwilling to delete my Facebook, but I am also not bitching about how much I hate it. Perhaps I am right now, I suppose, but at least it's not on Facebook exactly? The reason I like blogging is that people have more of a choice whether or not they want to read what I have to say. Granted, we all have always had this choice but Mark Zuckerburg somehow convinced us otherwise. But you know what I mean. It's not deliberately in everyone's faces.
So my actual intention of this post - before I started ranting about how annoying people are - is to say that we are all actually very blessed to be able to have different opinions. We are lucky to be living in a country where we are able to contribute to the laws that are passed and the people who ultimately represent us. A lot of people think that the electoral college is stupid and that it doesn't give us a real vote or that there's no point in voting because it won't make a difference. But if everyone thought that way, then it would make a HUGE difference. Not all of us live in Ohio, but there IS more to voting than just voting for president. (And imagine what a nightmare it would be if every democrat in California decided that their vote didn't matter.)
We will all never agree on everything, especially on who we think is fit to be president, but that's the beauty of our country - that we're perfectly entitled and have a right to our opinions.
I've been traveling around Southeast Asia and have never felt so blessed to be an American. You don't realize how lucky you are until you're walking around third world countries and see the mass amounts of poverty. Until you see dozens of families sleeping in the dirt with infants cradled in their arms. And then you go back to your hotel room when it starts pouring down rain and you have no idea how that family manages storms like that on a regular basis without shelter.
In America a lot of people won't give money to homeless people mainly because they'll probably just spend it on booze. Some people say that they put themselves there because of drinking or drugs. Don't get me wrong, I usually have the same opinions. But I've never seen poverty like the Philippines. Where you know that they didn't choose the life they have. There wasn't a choice - that's just life.
We are all so lucky to live in a country where we have so many rights and freedoms. A country that fights to keep the poverty level and unemployment rate down. It might seem silly to compare The United Stated to third world countries, but the point is that we're lucky. That's all. People in a lot of these countries know nothing about the kind of freedom we are privileged to have.
So I try to consider that more before I open my mouth and argue about a stupid "NObama" post. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter how idiotic or ignorantly they may display it. At least they have an opinion.