Monday, May 30, 2011

Transported to the future in Singapore

Country #4, Singapore.

A couple months before I left on my trip I got a friend request on Facebook from a Melody (my last name is case you didn't know). I accepted the request and got to know a family member, technically related as my dad's cousin, but family is family. Also,  come to find out, Allen lives in Singapore with his wife and children. What a strange coincidence, no?!

So I had made it one of my goals to reach the southern town of Singapore on the Malay peninsula. I headed here after staying in the cool and temperate Cameron Highlands. Heading into the city which is an island about 25 miles long 15 miles wide (I think), I got quite the culture shock! First of all I was on an actual highway, just like one at home. As I snaked through the city around sunset I started passing downtown and enormous skyscrapers, the modernity of it was just astounding after spending the last 2 1/2 months in much less developed (what is the p.c. term nowadays?) countries like Laos.
I met Allen and his wonderful family including his wife Isabelle, from France, and their three children. They were more than generous, and gave me my own room, the nicest room so far on this trip! Being in Singapore can be related to be home, although I think in some aspects it was much more developed than home, as well as the obvious financial wealth. Singaporeans have lots of money, and they want to spend it.

Spent the days doing a wide variety of things and getting to know eachother and enjoy the company. Some of the highlights included going to the Night Safari Zoo in Singapore. Apparently we were destined to be the stars of this night. First, we were watching a fire breathing show and they needed a 'big strong man' volunteer, and guess who got picked... We all had a good laugh watching Allen on stage with fire being blown around him and he being asked to roar and flex his muscles. What luck. After the fire show we headed down to the Creatures of the Night show where they brought out a whole variety of night creatures including a wolf, otters, and tarzirs. When they asked for a brave young boy to be a volunteer out of the 150 people there, I thought no way, but their son got chosen and was able to be up close and personal with the tarzirs. Lastly the show had 'apparently' lost an animal. After searching a few places they came over to right where we were sitting and asked to see in the area below our feet where there was an underground box. They opened it up and to my surprise at least, there was a 10 foot anaconda just chillin. !!!! Eeeewwwwww. The rest of the night we spent on the safari exploring and seeing a whole bunch of animals in their natural like environments and when they are most active (because during the day it is way too hot!).

We also did some hiking in the reserve on Singapore island which was a really really nice day. We walked down Orchard St.- what seems like the biggest most outlandish shopping area I've ever been too. There were 3 Louis Vutton stores in a matter of 1/3 mile, and the amazing thing about all these stores and shops (which included Starbucks) was that they were all full, even mid-afternoon, they were all full. We went to Sentosa Island, their slogan; "The World's Most Desirable Address." We had some great meals, and this part was a special treat for me after 2 1/2 months of eating oily street food and noodle soup, which I love, don't get me wrong, but it was nice to change it up. And I got to experience a bit of French cuisine, and I liked it, a lot! We toured downtown Singapore which is full of important business buildings, shopping, ridiculous law signs, eating, architectural amazements, camera monitoring, and trash bins! ( I posted many pictures on Facebook)

We did many things and our days were full. I very much enjoyed my stay there and am thankful to Allen and Isabelle for showing me such a great and generous time, they really were too kind!!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thailand- freedom of speech?

""Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws that mandate a jail term of three to 15 years for any person who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent""

Thailand to Singapore, and the inbetween

After leaving Thailand, knowing the next time I return will be mid June for my flight home, I venture on. Country #3 (I know, it feels like much more), MALAYSIA.
There were things that were shaping up to make this experience great;
- Number 3 of anything is usually lucky
- It was my first Muslim country to visit ever
- Malaysia is known for it's cultural crossroads, which should provide interesting sightseeing, good eats, and an understanding environment
- Malaysia was enroute to Singapore, where I was ready to meet some new family!
- Malaysia's interior contains the Cameron Highlands, supposed to have a cool climate, and if I sweat one more day in my clothes I think they'll fall apart.

So...with my spirits high, I cross over into Malaysia and head to Penang. I only had a limited amount of time allotted for Malaysia and Singapore because I had booked a flight May 19th from Kuala Lumpur to Phonm Penh, Cambodia. So I had to be picky, and narrowed my choices for Malaysia down to two. The first stop Penang. I chose this place for own reason and one reason alone, to eat. Penang is an island, and was a great port town when the British were colonizing and pushing their culture on everybody. That means that many different cultures migrated here, the three main cultures being Indian, Chinese, and Malay. These cultures which are very different in their customs have been able to live peacefully on this island while still prospering with their business and maintaining their culture. The peace was evident when I started walking down one of the main roads known as Harmony Rd. In a matter of a half a mile, maybe less, I first passed an Indian temple, followed shortly by a Chinese shrine and shop house, which was right next to a Christian church. All three full of people. It may not sound like much, but to me it seemed like Tolerance. This history of the island and in particular the main town of Georgetown is complex and I won't pretend to write like I know all about it because I don't and I only spent a couple of days there. What I did start to understand in that couple of days was one of the best parts of traveling, food.

Ask any traveler and they know, food is wonderful. Food gives pleasure but also gives gas. It brings people together to talk and share and laugh, and also brings diarrhea. It can be comforting and it can be intimidating. And it comes in all shapes and forms.

Some of the possibilities of things to eat in Georgetown included; Koi thiaw (Chinese dish) a dish based around a large flat noodle and turns into a soup like consistency or can be served regular. 3 out of 5 stars. Laksa (Malay dish) based around some shredded meat and is mostly a soup and contains noodles. It also has a really potent taste, I didn't enjoy it that much. 2 out of 5 stars. Naci Lemak (Malay dish) I didn't get to try this one, but heard it was good. Quie (Malay) Malay word for sweets, and it contains a whole variety from Jellies to pastries. 4 out of 5 stars. Roti Chani (Indian) not usually sweet and typically served with a dipping sauce. It is a flat bread. 4 out of 5 stars. Banana leaf meals (Indian) usually in the afternoons the Indian restaurants offer a compilation meal served on a banana leaf. You can sometimes choose what main things you get on the leaf (i.e. which meat) but it usually contains about 7-10 items and is a great way to try many different things, plus your eating off a leaf! 5 out of 5 stars. Tea Tarik (Indian) a drink, tea with milk, but something about the way they prepare it, they pour it in and out of a glass like 5 times. I got it every time! These are just the food items I can remember, and unfortunately I could only eat so much, but I enjoyed all of it- Thank you Georgetown!

From Penang, I headed to my second destination in Malaysia, the Cameron Highlands. This is high up in the interior of Malaysia and has one of the coolest climates around.   I want to be cold!!! I headed to the small town (really small) of Tanah Rata, tucked away in the mountains. I stayed at a really cool guesthouse/lodge and met quite a few people that I really enjoyed, which led me to stay here longer than intended. This region is known for two things, strawberries and tea. Yes and Yes. We all went for a hike one of the days to a nearby mountain of 6,666 ft ( :-/ ) that you hiked through moss forests to reach. It was a nice couple of hours hiking through the jungle, and although the top was covered with clouds it was still really nice. On the way down, we first stopped at a strawberry farm and met the farmers, held a baby goat and had amazing strawberry popsicles. It was really cool to see rows and rows of strawberries, which I've loved ever since I was a little girl, just ask my Nana- I'll take all the strawberries. These ones in the mountains were also the most fresh and delicious tasting strawberries I've ever had. We continued on down the mountain and walked through a tea plantation. Although I didn't learn what the process of making tea is, it was a beautiful sight, all the young tea plants, bright green and rolling all the way into the distance. After admiring the fields we hitched a ride on the back of a recycle truck and went back into town.

But my time was up and I booked a bus ticket to Kuala Lumpur and then transferred on the bus to Singapore, headed to see family....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Southern Thailand

 So now that I'm back in Thailand traveling on my own again, I decided it was time to see the much talked about Southern Thailand.

Southern Thailand is known for it's beautiful beaches, friendly people, great diving and snorkeling, good food, limestone formations and plenty of other things.

I started off by going to Hua Hin, which is just about 4 hours south of Bangkok. This is more of a vacationing spot for the city dwellers of Bangkok and less a backpackers haven, for example the royal family has a vacation beach house here. But I wanted to see it regardless. Luckily, I met a French lady on the train, Magalie, and got to chatting and found out that she lives in Hua Hin with her long time boyfriend, David, from South Africa. He is teaching there at Webster University and they have been livin gin Hua Hin for 2 years. She was kind enough to invite me to their home and give me a place to stay. This resulted in me staying here much longer than most backpackers would stay in Hua Hin. They were so nice, we spent the days going to the beaches, hanging out with their Thai friends, other foreign teachers, riding bikes, eating seafood, noodle soup and other yummy cuisine, and just hanging out . They were so lovely and it was a nice thing for me to be in a home and be able to relax in one place for a bit. Plus their puppy, named 'Puppy' was just to adorable with it's cone on her head from her recent neutering!

After thanking them for letting me crash at their place and for showing me around Hua Hin, I got a over night bus ticket to arrive in Phuket (pronounced Foo-ket , in case you were wondering!) I chose to go to Phuket because my good friend Jenna who is in the Navy was going to be in port there and we go the chance to meet up. How cool right, a friend since middle school and we are meeting up on two very different kind of Thailand!! Once there, I met up with Jenna and was introduced to her friends, and from there the Navy 'In port' adventure began. Quite a different pace from my normal travel style, Jenna and her friends had about 48 hours to enjoy Phuket and Thailand, and they were aware that definitely ISN'T enough!! We ended up walking around the town, trying some cuisine, trying the beer, going to get them custom tailored suits (a very popular thing for people to do when they come to SE Asia because it is so much cheaper), and that was just the first day. We ended up spoiling ourselves some more, and Jenna was kind enough to spoil me (THANK YOU JENNA!!!). That night we went out on the town of Phuket, which basically meant the one pedestrian street full of bars, parties, restaurants, and many many other things. The next day was spent relaxing and recuperating and getting Thai massages. The 48 hours we spent together in port were definitely memorable, and I had a great time seeing my friend while traveling abroad. Cheers to more stories chica!

After the whirlwind pace of Phuket, I once again headed off by myself south toward Krabi. I stayed on the remote beach of Rai Leh, which was accessible only by boat although it was on the main land. This beach was absolutely gorgeous and a great place to walk up and down the beach and watch the avid rockclimbers scale the 100's of feet cliffs on the beach. The limestone formed cliffs here are just surreal to look at, and make for an unforgettable and unique beach scene. I was running short of days for my visa, and only had two full days to enjoy Rai Leh. My fullest day I spent on an excursion, which was a blast! We started off by heading on the boat to Bamboo beach, a white sand beach a few miles off the coast. We got to swim and check out the local huts on the beach and see the tsunami evacuation route. From there, we headed to a Pirate cave (!) yes used previously by pirates or just people looking to hide out, and monkey bay. After that to Maya Beach. Maya beach is where they filmed the Hollywood movie "The Beach" made off the popular travelers book. I read the book at the beginning of this trip and I thought this island was quite a good fit, beautiful crystal blue waters, white sands, a small cove, jungle-inland etc... it was gorgeous, packed with tourists, but gorgeous. From there we headed to the popular island of Koh Phi Phi, iconic Southern Thailand. I know I keep repeating myself, but this beach was gorgeous too! Plus I had random groups of Asian tourist come and ask to take pics with me on their camera, and then on mine. Offshore of Phi Phi, we did our first snorkel spot. I LOVE snorkeling, it is so awesome. It also helps when the visibility is about 20 feet in every direction, and I felt like I was diving in the movie 'Finding Nemo.' I saw a puffer fish, anemones, the black and white 'scarfish', huge schools of fish that ate bread and anything else you threw them, coral beds, and much much more. I was the first one in the water and the last one out both times, it was just too pretty!! From Phi Phi we headed back to Krabi and Rai Leh beach, at about 4pm, plenty of time to swim and lounge at the Rai Leh beach until I got to see the repetitively spectacular sunsets! Ahhhh, I see why people get stuck in the South of Thailand and never leave...but I had to be going.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Going to the movies in Bangkok

Going to the movies is an EVENT. 

I was in Bangkok a couple of days after Brad left straightening and extending my visa so that I could stay in Thailand. I decided why not go and entertain myself in the nicer part of Bangkok, known as Siam Square. This is the ritzy rich clean part of Bangkok where you can find shopping, nice hotels, and expensive restaurants. Obviously not some place I was hanging out... 
So I headed over that way via subway and headed to the malls. In the city the malls also contain the movie theaters, usually on the top floor. First of all, Asians do malls WAY better than any malls I've seen in the states (maybe minus Mall of America in Minneapolis). On the 7th floor of this mall I found a full size theater showing all the latest movies- including THOR! So let me walk you through this...

First step; approach the counter and you are greeted with the 'Wai,' the traditional Thai or Southeast asian greeting where they form the prayer like symbol with their hands and slightly bow. You then look at the screen facing you and it shows a map of all the seats in the theatre. There are about 4 different price zones for the same theatre movie. The prices differ on how close to the front or middle you are, and also there are the VIP seats in the back of the theatre. So I didn't know what this theatre looked like, I thought maybe I would be transported like in Star Trek, it seemed so fancy. So I chose a seat and bought a popcorn (American day!) and headed toward the entrance. 

Second step; You are greeted with another Wai by the lady checking your ticket for the entrance. After she verifies you are allowed to enter, you head up the escalator to what is now the 8th floor. The 8th floor includes another concession stand and two main halls for the theatres. 

Third step; You figure out which hall you are in and proceed. It was tough to proceed while I was passing the concession stand because here they have Diet Coke and three different flavors of popcorn!! First, salt and butter. Second; Plain. Third: Caramel Kettle. DANGER! Once you reach your hall and try and push the caramel popcorn out of your mind so that you don't contract diabetes in the next 2 hours, you reach another greeter. This greeter gives you the Wai sign (again!), and finally rips the stub off your ticket! (I think.... I'm Home freeeeeeeeee!!!!) 

Fourth step; I find my theatre entrance, walk in the door, and then walk through the red velvet drape and finally, finally reach the theatre for Thor. I'm all kinds of excited now, ready to sit back and enjoy this movie. I start  looking down the aisles at the lit up signs....A....B....C....D........... I'm in J 4.......and I look up from the aisle and what do I see.... Reclining extra wide cushioned cream leathered seats. .... I think I've reached heaven.

The seats at Bangkok's movie theatre...maybe similar to the entrance of Heaven. 
Yes, oh yes. 
And here are the VIP seats...

Fifth step: As I'm stumbling, mouth agape at the amazing seats in front of me, I reach J 4 and practically fall into my seat (of course I didn't spill the popcorn or Diet coke, that'd be sinful!) But I sit my butt on nice cream leather and laugh at the experience this has already become. I sat my coke in the cup holder and started munching on the popcorn. 

Sixth step; The movie starts and the previews get through, and the 'Turn off your cell phone' message shows, and then an all-to-familiar song comes on. Is it what I think it is?.... Oh YES it is! The Thai national anthem starts playing and a slideshow of the current King of Thailand starts playing. Oh wait...everybody is standing up, I better too! I stand up and watch as pictures and videos of the King's entire lifespan play on the movie theatre screen. They play the entire national anthem and finish with a message something along the lines of, The King is the greatest, Done so much etc... etc... WOW people, I only know Democracy, and we sure as hell don't show Obama's pictures before each movie. How different is this?? hahahah I'm just busting up, this is the most different movie I've ever been to. 

Seventh step; I watch the entire movie of Thor and enjoyed the heck out of it, and my popcorn, and Diet coke. And like any good backpacker does in a foreign country, I movie hopped and then watched Fast & the Furious 5. 


Sunday, May 8, 2011


Alright alright, I know it has been awhile, but sometimes you just get busy when you are traveling around.

After LAOS, I headed back into Thailand to meet up with Brad. He flew in on April 17th and was here for a week. We definitely enjoyed our week together, although I would of preferred it to be longer (of course) I was happy to see him for a week. You'll be jealous to know that most European countries get about 6 weeks of paid vacation a year, and are much more lenient on leaving work for extended periods of time and still having a job. I know I'm jealous! But, within the week that we were together we spent a couple of days in the big city of Bangkok. Exploring the Grand Palace and lovely architecture, eating yummy food from restaurants and street stalls, walking the entertaining street of Khao San Rd. - "The Backpackers Ghetto", going out and dancing and partying it up, then more eating, frequenting 7-11 of course because they are everywhere, and lots of walking around and seeing the culture and enjoying eachothers company.
But after we'd had enough of the city, we headed east toward Cambodia by bus and ferry to reach the tropical island of Koh Chang. (Chang = Elephant (in Thai)) We had a scary taxi ride in with some new found friends from Britain, and found a nice bungalow in the small village of Lonely Beach. We spent quite a few days relaxing here on the jungle clad island and swimming around in it's aqua marine blue waters and white sand and beautiful sunsets. (See facebook pics) We also did a fair amount of trying the local cuisine like Pad Thai, Thai curries, fruit shakes, ginger chicken, seafood, etc... and going out at night and meeting fun people and hanging out. Two of the adventure highlights were one; going the the treetop adventure park. Here Brad did ziplinning, rope swings, shaky bridges, and a whole assortment of 'George of the Jungle' like activities. He was like a kid in a candy store. Especially on the 400 feet zipline over the jungle canopy! Second of our adventures was riding elephants at the elephant sanctuary. We had an amazing time with our elephant named Rambo. We rode through the jungle and headed to a stream/pond where we got to bath with Rambo and sit ontop of him and have him splash us and throw water all over us. It was a fantastic experience!!! They really are huge amazing creatures, and it really reminds you how different you are from these types of animals. Plus we got to drive Rambo back! Check off the bucket list!
The week that Brad visited was a fantastic part of my vacation and I had a wonderful time with him being out here.