So many rules….Singapore

Crossing into Singapore from Malaysia was as organized as you might imagine for such a strict country. Everything was very well labeled with signs in English and 2-3 other languages. We took a public bus across the border, for a mere 70 cents and ended up being dropped off 2 blocks from our hostel in Little India (after about an hour). None of this we knew when we boarded the first bus. We were just hoping to get into the country without hauling our bags too far. While they did detain the tourists in front of me for a “routine check” and then took my index finger prints, it didn’t involve any scams as far as we could tell. A far cry from some of our other border crossings. And cheap!

We had a full day and a half before meeting back up with our New Orleans friends. We took full advantage of our 3 days in Singapore and quickly mastered the public transit system (though it was easy as everything is clearly marked). Our first stop was to Mustafa Center, a giant store that is open 24 hours and sells just about everything (except Goldfish – the crackers – they might have real ones, we didn’t get to every section). Little India, where we stayed, is amazing. The buildings are low and the flurry of activity is fun to watch. Not to mention the food!

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Neighborhood below skyscrapers
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Colorful Little India
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Arab St area
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Street scene
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Hindu Temple

Then we headed over to Arab St, another smaller district, with loads of character and people. These little pockets of Singapore were our favorite part. While the skyscrapers may be impressive with good views, they lack the culture and bustle of the older neighborhoods.

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Mosque

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Buddhist Temple
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Singing at the temple
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Statues galore
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& lanterns galore
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& more lanterns

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We then got caught in the rain near Raffles Plaza, and took refuge in a mall before venturing back underground and through a maze of tunnels towards Chinatown. Chinatown is a bit more touristy than Little India or Arab St. There is a huge Buddhist temple holding a Buddha tooth relic, where I donned a sarong and we spent most of an hour exploring the museum, relics and wax figurines.

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Ominous sign

An old friend of Riki’s lives in Singapore and we arranged to meet her that evening. First, we headed to the Ion Sky and had a free view from the 56th floor. Despite the lingering clouds, we had an amazing 360 degree view of Singapore, complete with labeled windows, of course.

Ion

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View from 56 floors up

From there we were able to walk to Riki’s friend’s place, where we met her new baby and husband while catching up and learning about the ex-pat life in Singapore. A great intro to the giant city.

Day 2 began slowly, as our bunk mates had kept us awake with their snoring. Usually, its cheaper for us to have a double room, but accommodation in Singapore is more expensive than everywhere else we’ve been, so dorms it was. The place was nice, but a bit strange, as many of the other guests were staying for very long periods – up to 4 months for an Indian doctor doing some research. Another guy was almost twice our age – a business man from Pakistan who was staying for a month. Thought the two were friends, until the Indian guy found out he was Pakistani. Not exactly who we’re used to meeting in dorms. We booked our next adventure (or thought we did) and then exchanged some Thai Baht and Indonesian rupiah into Singapore dollars. We still have some Laos Kip and Nepalese rupees, but nobody would exchange them.

That afternoon, we met up with our friends and walked back to the Arab St area and then to the riverfront. We saw the famous Merlion (get it?), Durian inspired buildings and the giant Sands building – with its boat top over three skyscrapers.

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Merlion tourists
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Sculpture over the water

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Lotus shaped Museum and Sands on the left
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No eating drumsticks while sitting

Then we walked to the Gardens by the Bay, where they have huge greenhouses and giant metal lit up trees. The greenhouses cost over $20 to go in, so we opted just to wander the outdoor free gardens, which were themed and then ate at a hawker center along the water.

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Boat building
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Gardens by the Bay “Trees”

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No skateboarding over bicycles
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Fancy mall with boat rides inside
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Reflections over lotus pond
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No reflections
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Lotus inspired museum
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Boat inspired building

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The culmination of the evening was a spectacular (and free) light show over the water. It was so good in fact, that we watched it from the other side the following evening. Basically, they spray water to form giant fans and then project lasers, images and movies across them. But that’s not all. They also play music, blow bubbles, and shoot huge flames of fire up over the water. I could have done without the fire – it was hot on our faces and all I could think of was the fuel leaking into the water. The rest however, was mesmerizing.  Click below to see a video (not mine).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I-ZKd0QGyg

Our final day, we joined back up with our friends at the botanical gardens and spent two hours exploring the various habitats. We discovered that Frangipani is a type of plumeria, which makes a lot of sense, but never occurred to us having seen it everywhere.
We then had lunch in Holland Village, which is packed with restaurants and bars and probably a popular place at night. We ordered a tower of beer for the 7 of us before heading back to their hotel for a break by the pool.

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Selfie

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Plumeria
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Orchids
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More orchids

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When the heat dissipated a bit, we took the public transit back to Chinatown and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It is a fascinating place, even if I don’t believe the tiny blue beads on display are actually bits of Buddha’s brain.

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More statues

Sadly, we said goodbye to our friends, as they had a 2 am flight back to the States. It was so great to be with people who already know you and don’t ask the standard backpacker questions – How long are you traveling for? Where have you been? When do you go home? Often times, not even getting to names until the end. It was a great change of pace.

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Lasers
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Camera fun

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We had a flight the following evening, but had heard great things about the Singapore airport and all the things to do there. We arrived 4 hours early, dropped our bags off and went exploring. We were not disappointed. We found a sunflower garden, gaming center and movie theater – all free. There’s even a pool and spa – not free. My parents even received an e-postcard complete with goofy picture of us. The 4 hours flew by and then we were off to Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia/North Borneo.

Lots of visitors, invited and not….Tioman Island, Malaysia

After a four hour bus ride from the west coast of Malaysia to the east coast, we bought boat tickets for the next ferry to Tioman Island. We still had a few hours to spare and we spent them buying supplies and enjoying the air-conditioning and free wifi at the local KFC (perhaps my first KFC encounter ever). We eventually boarded the ferry, after a chaotic check-in and completely confusing process (no queueing here). We spent the next two hours in the frigid boat hold, so cold the windows were completely fogged on the outside.

Luckily, the end justifies the means, and we arrived on Salang Beach just before dark. Having called ahead, we found our beach front bungalow to be simple, but just our style. This being the “party beach” we were at the end and it was pretty quiet.

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Napping on our porch

We spent the next few days before our friends arrived reading, swimming and relaxing in the hammocks along the sand. Cats are everywhere on the island, and our place had particularly friendly and well cared for kittens. Great fun watching them attempt to climb palm trees and run around in the sand (aka giant litter box). We also glimpsed a giant black squirrel, which I have been hunting since Penang and some monkeys clamoring along the shoreline.

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The elusive giant black squirrel
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Hiding in the tree
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Giant black squirrel about the same size as the cats on our beach

We hung out with some people from our hotel and went to a “party” where Riki sang Taylor Swift with some German girls. The party scene was pretty low-key, though on the weekend, people from Singapore flocked to the island. And so did our friends.

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Our beach
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Sunset
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High tide
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Salang beach
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Rocks on the Beach
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Salang Beach
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Rocks on the Beach

We were delighted to meet up with our New Orleans friends, this being the first time we’ve had visitors, though really we were crashing their family vacation. Same, same. Tioman Island is duty-free, so the alcohol and chocolate are relatively cheap. Duty-free makes it sound fancy, but I don’t think there was even an ATM on our beach, there was no cell service and wifi was only available in a few spots. Rustic, right?

We went on a snorkeling trip with our friends, and 20 other tourists. On a boat made for 12 (there was a sign). We made a few stops and saw some beautiful coral. And lots of colorful fish. I managed not to get burnt, courtesy of snorkeling in my t-shirt, though if I were like most on our boat, I could have just worn a life jacket for sun protection.

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Tioman from the boat
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Drawing out the clownfish

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Clownfish

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Anemone and clown fish

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Parrotfish

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Swarming the bread
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Riki showing off

For lunch, we stopped at a white sand beach, where we were discarded while the captain drove off to fix the engine. Shortly after our arrival, three giant monitor lizards must have smelled our food and came to harass us from the forest. They must get fed here regularly, as they were not afraid of us and our guide threw chicken bones and sausage at them. Same guide who was feeding the fish loaves of bread. It’s not something I like to see. I’d rather the wildlife stay wild.

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White sand beach
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Riki & Co.

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Monitor lizard a bit too close for comfort
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Monitor lizard getting friendly
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Lunch spot
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Coming out of the forest

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Looks a bit like the proboscis monkey (pictures to come)

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The next day we all boarded the ferry back to Mersing, where we caught the bus to Singapore and the others went back west for a day before meeting up with us again.

A melting pot….Malacca, Malaysia

It took us way more than the 7 hours we were told to get from Penang to Malacca. More like 10. But the seats were big and we had plenty of NPR podcasts. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the bus station, the last local bus had already left and we had to take a taxi to our hostel. We encountered one of the best run hostels on our trip. They thought of everything – library, large kitchen, lots of information provided, and even light breakfast (see Hotels List page for info). Such a contrast to the last few months.

Although it was late, we had been sitting all day on a bus and decided to check out the night market on Jonker St. It was completely packed with people and even had a stage set up for karaoke – a big draw apparently.

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Tea Time
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Really love their flashing lights here
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Karaoke stage
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Jonker St Weekend Night Market
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Crazy Frozen pedicabs
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….And at night. (Hello Kitty and any number of other kids character also made appearances)

Malacca, or Melaka is a UNESCO site with loads of historic buildings and diverse cuisine. So on our first day, we went to the movies. I know, classy, but it was raining. Pouring really. And first we stopped at the free Customs Museum – which was really just a collection of illegal items collected over the years – including bottles of ordinary alcohol and “pornographic” Bali statues (prudently clothed in scarves). Avengers 2 was showing, in English and we sat in a giant auditorium for a few hours waiting for the weather to clear. Much cheaper than the States, though the concessions selection was limited to caramel popcorn.

After, we walked in the stifling post-rain humidity up to St. Paul’s Hill, a Portuguese church with a Dutch graveyard. One thing that makes Malaysia so interesting is the combination of so many influences. There is a large number of Chinese descendents, as well as Indian, and even a smaller Portuguese population. Most importantly, of course, that means great food. We haven’t eaten so well in ages (besides Penang). Fried rice has been far too long our staple of choice. Now its naan and noodles.

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Finger food, and lots of it
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Contrast between giant shopping malls and old gate
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For some reason they painted a whole section of town brick red to “preserve it”
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St Pauls on the Hill
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On the hill
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St Pauls
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This photo is crooked, but so is this church.  It leans way right.

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We spent a lot of time just wandering around the small, colonial streets. The buildings have loads of character, which makes for great photos (and lots of them). We even visited a free architecture museum, which had wonderful models of different building styles and way more text than we could bring ourselves to absorb.

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Incense is probably my least favorite part of Asia, and these are massive!

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Big monitor lizard basking in a sliver of shade under the boardwalk

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Set back from the street but in rough shape
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Set back as well, but restored.  There were a few of these along tiny streets, which made for a cool contrast from the buildings that practically take over the sidewalk.

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Nice riverwalk
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Sound/Look familiar Texas people? Riki was messing with photo settings this night.

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We probably spent more time here than most people, but as I like to say, “all we have is time.” Though, it’s no longer true. We have a flight booked at the end of June to return to Europe, so our Asia trip is coming to an end.

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Cool floor patterns

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We then booked another bus across the country to Mersing, the gateway of Tioman Island, to meet up with some friends and spend a few days in the sun (or shade).

For the love of naan….George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Malaysia has figured out buses. Three seats across, almost fully reclining, AND no people sitting in the aisle. Yes, they are a bit more expensive. So that was our 6 hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to George Town, Malaysia. We listened to NPR podcasts and even managed to doze off. Did I mention the highways are smooth and not windy? Amazing.

George Town is located in Penang, on an island on the west coast of Malaysia. It is the second largest city in Malaysia and is a UNESCO World heritage site. And it has amazing food. It was founded in 1786 by a trader for the British East India Company and grew as a prominent trading post. Its historic center has small streets, many museums, and great architecture.

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Cool roofs
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Nice juxtaposition of buildings
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Remains of the old fort
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City Hall
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National Museum

Our first day, we ventured out in the rain and toured the National Museum, where we saw comparisons between the different cultures inhabiting the island. It is incredible how this country became mixture of Malays, Indians, Chinese and even Europeans. And they seem to get along pretty well, relatively.

We immediately discovered great food, not that it is hard in George Town. Tons of little stalls form around clusters of tables, for a variety of cheap eats all in one spot. We feasted mostly on Indian food, as their naan was really good, but also tried a fishy soup and pork dumplings.

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Street art
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More street art

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Chinese temple
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Making friends
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Steam buns proofing? on the sidewalk
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Making more friends

We took the public bus out to the Botanical Gardens one day. While it was great that the gardens were free, it was obvious why. None of the plant houses were open and the rainforest walk we did was a bit run down. We did see some monkeys and came across a startled monitor lizard. Having been told the bus would run every 45 minutes back to town, we were surprised to see it leaving 15 minutes ahead of when it should have, according to our first bus driver. Which meant we had to walk to another bus stop. And this is where Malaysia is steps ahead of the countries we have visited. We pulled out the smart phone, found the bus’s website, complete with map, and walked 20 minutes to another bus route. Like I said in the last post, its like being back in civilization. You don’t get the local interaction though, pantomiming with some nice guy to figure out another way home (which is something we’ve gotten good at).

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Iguanadon / Monitor Lizard
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Orchid
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Monkey walking upright
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Hold me!

We made it back fine, and ate at our new favorite Indian place – we went every day and I got the same thing, despite trying to order something else. Except the last day, when they miraculously had the Tikka Masala I had been asking for all week.

BAG UPDATE: Christmas hit again, and I retired my $20 Saigon knockoff backpack for a slightly smaller, higher quality $60 no-name one. My former bag had lost some buckles and the attachments for the back straps were slowly but surely breaking one by one. I removed my New Orleans patch and emptied the various pockets, finding a few forgotten items in the process. Riki’s 30 year old bag still presses on. Lowe Alpine should hire us for a commercial.

On our last day, we took the public bus about an hour out to Penang National Park. It was muggy and extremely hot, but we trekked about 2 hours across the park to see the turtle sanctuary. There were loads of newborn turtles and three older, white skinned ones. It was cool to see them so close, but a bit strange as they were captive. Not at all like seeing them while diving in the wild. But knowing they would be released when large enough helped. Only about 1 in 1,000 baby turtles here make it to maturity, which is anywhere from 20-50 years. Many don’t even make it off the shore. So helping them out until they are a bit bigger seems like a good alternative. Even though they have to live in a blue plastic wading pool for awhile.

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White skinned turtle
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Couple days old turtle

We trekked back and came across a couple of monkeys and a few monitor lizards (formerly known as Iguanadons). We took the air-conditioned bus back to town, which felt good to start, but we were so sweaty that we were shivering by the time we reached George Town.

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Beach monkey
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Bigger iguanadon / monitor lizard

Riki was able to get some night shots in George Town, despite the erratic rain. Its a very picturesque place, so if it hadn’t rained so much, there would be more than the 500+ pictures we now have.

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A change of pace….Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was like returning to civilization for us. Don’t take that as we missed civilization, it was just a whole different experience than we were used to. For example, there were signs (in English, but the fact that they had signs is the significant part) that very easily led us to a waiting bus to the center of town. No haggling with taxis trying to take advantage, just plain signs. And then we got on a monorail! And it was easy.

From the monorail, we had a good view of the buildings and streets as we zipped by. It was bustling with people, cars and buses. And not in a chaotic fashion. People (some) were obeying stoplights and even some cars stopping for pedestrians (not all, but some).

And then we discovered ‘mall culture.’ Kuala Lumpur or KL if you are a cool kid, is jam-packed with shopping. Huge buildings, full of everything you’d ever need (or not need) to buy. We took a walking tour of the Chow Kit neighborhood near our hostel the first day and then a train to the Petronas Towers, where we met up with an old friend of Riki’s from middle school.

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Petronas Towers
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KL Tower

We went up to a helipad that had a great view of the city, despite the rain and then had a multi-course dinner at a popular place. The sun doesn’t set until after 7 pm because of funny time zone lines and I think that creates a different timetable for people here. Restaurants stay open very late and we found that many stores don’t even open until noon. Completely the opposite of every other country we have visited in Asia.

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Petronas Towers from the bottom (which is a mall)
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Proof we were here
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From the helipad
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Sunset from the helipad – bit cloudy
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Petronas Towers from the helipad

Because of trading, Malaysia is a mix of many cultures.  The British were here, so were the Dutch.  There are many Chinese and Indian descendants, as well as some Portuguese.  English is widely spoken, though Mandarin and Tamil (from southern India and Sri Lanka) is also taught in government schools.  Islam is the predominant religion, but Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism have significant followings as well.  Makes for a quite a melting pot.

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KL is the capital and most populous city in Malaysia. And it shows. Despite being a public holiday weekend, there were tons of people out and about. We were told many had gone away for the long weekend. Kuala Lumpur is not a very old city and thus doesn’t have the historic architecture like in other parts of the country. It is mostly towering glass buildings with bright lights and metal protrusions.  But it also has some smaller scale attractions near Chinatown – which we stumbled upon mostly by accident.

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Crazy incense
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Hindu temple in Chinatown

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Street art

The next day was a shopping day, pretty much like Christmas in May for us. Having worn the same pair of shoes everyday since August, Riki’s soles were to a point where it was dangerous to walk on wet surfaces. After meandering through a few malls we found a good athletic shoe store and Riki bought a new pair. I also found a pair, hoping to alleviate the blisters I’ve been nursing since we first hit Bangkok in September. We even managed to get Riki a new watchband. Like I said, Christmas.

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So many escalators
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Big net in case you fall
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Delicious Chinese BBQ lunch at the mall
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I forgot to mention the seven story rollercoaster we stumbled upon.  Inside a mall.  There was also archery and numerous other rides.

Riki’s friend had invited us to Sunday dinner with her family and we were splendidly treated to an amazing home-cooked meal. There was wine and a couple of British dishes that I will have to eat again (including sticky toffee date cake). We had a great time catching up and hearing about ex-pat views of KL.

A bit overwhelmed by the size and noise of the city, we booked a bus for the 6 hour trip north to Georgetown, Penang, a city known for its UNESCO status and wonderful food. Can’t wait.

A cremation in Ubud….Bali, Indonesia

Having had some less than enjoyable experiences on the island of Flores, we booked a flight for the next day to Bali. Initially, we had decided to skip Bali, because it is full of tourists and always will be – especially since the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ book/movie. We were very pleasantly surprised and found Ubud to be less crowded than expected (though it is the low season).

After a quick flight and a one hour shuttle from the airport, we arrived in Ubud, an artsy town in the center of the island. We spent the next week exploring the middle of the island, never even glimpsing the beach (except from the air). We had our first hot shower in weeks. It is incredible how a little bit of comfort can change the way you experience a place. Having stayed in some very seedy places, we are used to having very basic accommodations. Ubud is packed with affordable homestays that include hot breakfast, wifi and hot water. Ours also had a balcony with great view of the surrounding volcanoes, where we spent many afternoons waiting out the daily thunderstorms.

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Volcano in the distance

Bali is predominately Hindu, so the culture is completely different from all the other islands in Indonesia we have visited. The houses in Ubud all have ornate entrances to beautiful hidden gardens. On the front steps, before every meal, offerings are made with little woven  boxes of flowers, incense and a variety of other small goodies. Ubud has numerous art galleries and restaurants. The traditional art is unique to the island and we went to an art museum which showed different styles.

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Typical offering
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Lots of offerings
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Art
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Making an offering

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Riki has started taking pictures of bugs (ok, he’s been doing this for a few months, but this is the first time in awhile that he has chosen all the pictures – so it makes the cut)
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Orchid?
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Pretty typical house entrance

One day we went on a walk through the rice terraces, got lost, as we inevitably do and ended up in a construction site. The scenery is incredible, lush green rice stalks scattered with palm trees.

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Ducks
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Not lost yet

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Good idea – see how high you can jump on a small, slippery trail on the edge of a tall drop off

 

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Not to be outdone…

 

Having developed some ear issues while diving, I was able to find an English speaking doctor who gave me some drops to try. Unfortunately, all they caused an excruciating headache, which confirmed the scratch I had on my ear drum. So no diving for awhile. Hence, our inland adventure.

We hired a taxi for the day and went to see some temples around Ubud. We also stopped at the Tegalalang rice terraces and a chocolate factory in the largest bamboo structure (in the world?). We also stopped in a village known for its paintings, but we were far from able to afford the fabulous pieces they had to offer.

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Tegalalang rice terraces

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Aren’t we a handsome couple?
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Mostly bamboo structure – unfortunately they seem to have a drainage issue
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Gunung Kawi Temple
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Gunung Kawi temple
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Tirta Empul – holy spring

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On one of our last days, we came across a large white bull in the street. After asking numerous people, we deduced that a priest had died and the cremation ceremony was happening that afternoon. Just our luck. We went off to lunch and returned with our sarongs and sashes to parade from the town to the Monkey Forest, where the cremation was to take place.

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Putting rice on their foreheads
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Scary masked man
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Waiting

The parade was an amazing spectacle, men carrying the giant white bull were running in circles and there was music and drumming. People were lined up along the road, just like a Mardi Gras parade. And it was a happy affair. There was another group of guys carrying the body, which we didn’t realize was the body. It just looked like a really ornate throne.

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Throne
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Spinning the bull around in the middle of the street

Upon reaching the Monkey Forest, we followed the crowd and watched as offerings were made and the body was put inside the giant bull. And then they fired up the gas and burned the whole bull. (We asked about taking pictures and were told it was fine.)

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Preparing to remove the white shrouded body from the coffin and place him in the bull.
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Blessing the body
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Burning the bull with the body inside
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Monkeys watching

At one point, a neighboring tree got a little singed and was doused by the nearby firemen. Riki got a little wet from that.

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Spraying down the trees

We watched for awhile, until the body dropped into the fire pit and the bull’s head fell off. Then we headed into the Monkey Forest to find some monkeys, which wasn’t hard. They were everywhere and tourists were taunting them with bananas left and right. Having heard that these guys were aggressive, we wanted nothing to do with feeding them and merely watched from afar. Except then Riki got ambushed by three monkeys, one of which managed to pull out an empty tissue wrapper from his pocket and another stole his water bottle from his backpack. I was cackling away and taking photos of his misery.

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Three monkeys jumped Riki and stole his empty tissue package and an almost empty water bottle.
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Otherwise they were quite photogenic
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And even cute…
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Except when attacking other tourists

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Sad to leave, but having run out of time on our visa, we headed back to the airport for our flight back over the equator to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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Our newest acquisition

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Floating leaves

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Sarongs

Villages & Volcanoes….Flores, Indonesia West to East

A gorgeous specimen of a mini-bus arrived at our hotel in Labuan Bajo, Flores to take us east to Ruteng. And that’s not sarcasm. We will forever be ruined by this bus – leather captain’s chairs, a/c, not crowded at all, for only about $8. During our 4 hour trip, we researched our destination only to find out that there wasn’t much happening there. We confirmed this when we arrived and took a walk during the 3 hour layover until the next bus left. There is one main road across Flores and we had planned to stop at a few towns across the way to break up a long, arduous minibus trip to the volcano we wished to climb. Luckily, there was room on the next bus, though it was not as nice as our first trip, we made it to Bajawa the same day.

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Here we discovered a bit more action and even some options for hotels, though they were slim pickings. Our room ended up having mold so thick on the walls that it caused shadows. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover it until the next morning, when the sun came out and Riki’s nose was already forecasting its existence.

We arranged for two motorbike drivers to take us around the area for about $12 for the whole day. Don’t worry, this included helmets and we even stopped when the rain got so bad we couldn’t see.

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Piglets when we stopped for inclement weather

First, we climbed Wawo Mudo, a volcano that is less than 15 years old. At the top are a few lakes and a nice view, if the clouds clear out, which they didn’t. The hike up was nice though and our guides gathered a bunch of passion fruits for us to try, which was new for me.

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Passion fruit

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Nature’s umbrella

Our next stops were at three villages nearby, Luba, Bena and Gurusina. They are a couple hundred years old and very close to each other. They are mostly intact for tourists, but we were the only ones there at the time and judging from the guestbook, not that many people make it up the winding roads to see them and pay the small donation that’s required.  Flores is largely Catholic, but this has mixed with animist religions in these areas.

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The villages all have icons that represent the clans – the grandmother and grandfather versions. The grandmothers have little shrine houses and the grandfathers have umbrella-like huts. There were also small houses and totems on the crest of the main roofs. Very picturesque. Only a few hundred people live in them now, but during certain festivals, people come from all over to celebrate.

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Lorens, one of our guides in front of one of the shrines
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Boy with tire and stick
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Puppies!

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Our last stop was a hot spring, that mixes with a cold stream. You can sit in the middle of these two and find your perfect temperature, which I did for about an hour, before we headed back to Bajawa.

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Downriver of hot springs
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See the steam?
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Mt Inerie in the distance

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We had intended to head further east to Ende, but came to the same conclusion as in Ruteng. Just keep going. Despite possibly the worst mini-bus trip yet, we decided to stay on the bus a few more hours to make it to Moni, the location of Mt. Kelimutu and our reason for trekking across Flores to begin with.

The bus was awful – the exhaust pipe was just behind the driver, so everything blew back into the bus. The seats were too small (or we were too big, but I don’t think so) and we were crammed in with 30 other people on an 18 seat bus, not including a yapping puppy and the two live chickens hanging in the back window, flapping and pecking along. Oh, and all the ladies were puking. The one next to me had a hard time getting it in the bag.

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Our Halleluya bus. Note the LIVE chickens hanging on the back and the pile of luggage on top. There were also no less than three guys up there for most of the journey as well.
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In case you can’t quite make these out: Anatomy of a Flores bus: 4-5 guys hanging out the open door. Small children stacked on womens’ laps (2 infants in this case). Multiple puking ladies – some missing. Pseudo-spongebob window hangings. Center rearview mirror says: Woman…?? And then a telephone number. About three square feet of visibility through the front windshield. Multiple air fresheners do nothing for exhaust. Fold down TV – luckily not on. Yapping puppy. Boxes and boxes and bags and bags.  For SEVEN HOURS.

 

So we were happy to arrive in Moni and find a hotel with hot water and a nice lady, who brought us tea and explained about the town and how to get up the mountain. But she turned out to be a con lady – trying to charge us for hot water when she knew it didn’t work (per another couple staying in the same homestay) and then trying to sell us everything from an over-priced meal to weavings to a private driver – all for way more than they should be. Really, the only thing that bothered us was the hot water. We hadn’t had a hot shower in weeks, and after the terrible bus ride, that’s all I wanted.

But we were set to make the most of it, as Mt. Kelimutu was something we were very much looking forward to climbing, the next morning, before dawn. So we spent that afternoon looking for a local hot spring with some of the few other tourists in town, finally succeeded after some local assistance. It turned out to be more of a warm stream and we interrupted a man taking a bath. But it wasn’t cold, so that was nice.

Our trip up Mt. Kelimutu began at 4:30 the next morning with a motorbike ride 40 minutes up the mountain. There is a crazy $10+ fee (almost $20 on Sundays) to get into the park (this apparently has not been good for business according to a guide we met). But we paid and continued hiking up in the dark (except for the light of Riki’s phone, as both of our flashlights were out of batteries). At the top are three lakes that change colors at random intervals. Currently, they are turquoise, reddish-brown and green. The sunrise was beautiful and the sky was almost completely clear. There were only 20 or so other people, not including the locals selling coffee, tea and anything else they could carry up the mountain. We were some of the last to leave, waiting until the sun actually hit the lakes before descending the mountain.

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Pre-sunrise
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Sunrise
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A bit cold

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As is the case most places we have been, maps are not so great. We had intended to take a trail down the mountain for an easy 2.5 hour trek. Well it turned into over 3 hours and it was not so nice. We could see little, as the trail was mostly enclosed in bushes and the few villages we went through were little more than metal huts and oinking pigs. Oh, and we got lost – per usual.

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Old school selfie
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Followed by a dog
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Flores is largely Catholic

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Eventually, we made it back to our homestay, had a decent enough breakfast and proceeded to wait by the side of the road for the next bus to pass through headed to Maumere, which it did, after about an hour. Maumere has an airport and our plan was to catch a flight back to Bali. We had initially thought to skip Bali, but after the week we had on Flores, we were convinced that it would be nice to do something easy for once. We could have tried to go back west, the way we came, but there was a landslide and the road was only open for an hour and a half, so we would have had to wait until the next day – at our dreary homestay with our con lady host.

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Made friends while waiting for the bus. All the dogs just lay in the streets – sometimes moving for cars, but mostly not.

We arrived in Maumere after a much better bus trip and proceeded to one of three hotels we had read about. Riki somehow managed to offend the hostess at the first hotel by asking if the a/c worked, while I was out checking on the other hotel next door owned by the same people. This resulted in the lady being very upset and contributing to our feeling of needing to get out of Flores asap. That and there was no hot water, towels or toilet paper provided. We did get a TV with an English channel and sheets splattered with mosquito blood. And a Disney-themed cabinet. This was the VIP room. We’re not travel divas. Our standards are pretty low, but this takes the cake. We immediately got on the phone and booked a flight to Bali for the next morning.

In hindsight, which is always 20/20, we should have started with Mt. Kelimutu and finished up with the Komodo dragons, to end on the highest note.