Tuesday, July 29

Bangkok, Thailand

(see map) - mike: The glaciers of Patagonia and walled cities of Croatia have been replaced by the Wats (temples) of Thailand. On our first day we ran a watathon to see four of Bangkok's 300+. There is so much eye candy at these places it was hard to decide where to point the camera.

Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) at the Grand Palace:

Wat Pho's Reclining Buddha (half a football field long):

Across the river at Wat Aron.

Wat Benchamabophit:

The Thai people love their king. His picture is everywhere (the queen's as well to a lesser extent). The sides of buildings, calendars, inside most restaurants and businesses. Plus, there are stores dedicated to selling royal family paraphernalia. Including life size cardboard cutouts of the king and queen. We've been told the family's role is similar to that of Britain's.

We did fall head first into a notorious tourist trap, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Lonely planet suggests arriving early to appreciate it. I interprete early as being ten years ago. It was a gong show. We expected to see Thai people purchasing fruits and veggies from wooden canoes with some tourist watching intently from the sideline. In reality it was a traffic jam of tourist loaded canoes crashing into one another trying to buy souvenirs. We had our camera ready for the occasional fruit and chicken satay boat.

No horses or ox here, the beast of burden is the elephant. Carrying royalty and timber is a thing of the past so they've been retooled for tourism. Once over the fear of falling off, I enjoyed the ride. Trin felt bad for him(her?). Turns out elephant riding is hotly debated due to on how cruelly (some say) the elephants are treated while being trained for the job.

One night we checked out Bangkok's Chinatown, the liveliest one we've visited thus far. The restaurants and food stalls spill out on the sidewalks. A majority of the them advertise bird's nest and shark fin soup. There was even one shop with a jar full of dried sea horses. I was feeling tough and ordered Tom Yum Goong soup "medium spicy." Six slurps later I was sweating profusely. Trin said I managed to look pale and red at the same time.

Saturday, July 26

Singapore #2

(see map) - trin: We had an afternoon and evening back in Singapore. So, we took in the sights we had missed on the first round. Mainly, Raffles Hotel and the river front area.

This time around, we splurged on a nice hotel but we still ate at the food hawkers. Why mess with a good thing? The facilities are clean and the food is tasty.

Raffles Hotel. We couldn't go inside the lobby due to our flip flops/slippers. But, we did visit the Long Bar, the birth place of the Singapore Sling, and the hotel museum.

From there we strolled down to the Singapore River.

That evening we walked up to Clarke Quay the main bar and restaurant area.

Performing Arts center and Singapore Flyer in the distance. Any Singaporean will tell you it is the largest in the world. Bigger than the London Eye or Eye on Malaysia.

Singapore's iconic Merlion, half lion half fish.

It was Friday night so Clarke Quay was crowded and the people watching was good.

We ordered a small pitcher of Carlsberg (they didn't have Tiger) and when the bill came Mike was shocked. Pitcher of beer in Singapore = $35US

Redang Island, Malaysia

(see map) - trin: Everyone on the backpacker trail seems to hit three spots: Cameron Highlands, Taman Negara and the Perhentain Islands. We chose to break from convention and visit Redang Island for two reasons. One, Ngiew and Vanessa, a nice Malaysian couple we meet in Peru recommended it. Two, Lonely Planet said, "it is considered one of the best dive spots in the world thanks to its ancient coral gardens and good visibility."

Getting there was kind of a pain and required bus, taxi and boat but a day later we made it.

trash day redang island

We arrived on trash day. All of the resorts use tractors to bring the trash to the shore/curb. A garbage boat/truck comes along the beach and collects the piles.

Since we don't have an underwater case for our camera, we don't have many photos for Redang Island. There is not much to do except dive, snorkel and eat.

scube tank redang island beach

The dive shop required that we set up and breakdown our equipment for each dive. We hadn't done that since becoming certified. It was a little nerve racking on the first dive. We were looking over and cheating off our neightbors.

trin mango juice at coral resort

Fresh mango juice after a morning dive. Yummy.

redang island beach

Hanging out on the beach

coral redang resort bar

Planning for Thailand

Based on Lonley Planet's descritiption of the diving, we had high expectations. We thought it was great but not as good as Menjangan Island off Bali.

We did do a solo shore dive which was a fun confidence builder. It was our first since becoming certified. We saw two sharks or one shark two times. Plus, lots of corals and reef fish.

boat taxi to redang airport

Time to leave already. Taking the boat to the airport.

redang island airport

Instead of spending two days on the bus, we flew from the island's small airport back to Singapore. It is the smallest airport we have seen yet.

Thursday, July 24

Taman Negara National Park, Malaysia

(see map) - mike: Taman Negara is comprised of a huge rain forest in central Malaysia. Our home base was the rustic town of Kuala Tahan which sits just across a milk chocolate brown river from the park. The visit got off to a rough start when we discovered the hotel misplaced our reservation. As we scrambled around town trying to find an alternate it seemed the last room had been taken just seconds before our arrival. We became a bit worried as darkness neared.

taman negara kuala tahan river canoe

Based on a lukewarm lead we hired a long narrow canoe and journeyed upriver to a series of huts smack dab in the jungle. Fortunately they had space and we slept protected by a mosquito net and surrounded by the surprisingly loud jungle sounds.

taman negara rambutan fruit

Our breakfast included unlimited rambutan fruit. The spiny exterior is easily pulled apart to reveal a white flesh which tastes like a grape. After eating our fill we set out to the park's canopy walk which consists of traveling on a series of rope bridges strung between trees ~100 feet in the air. This quarter mile journey was a highlight of the visit.

taman negara canopy walk

taman negara canopy walk

taman negara canopy walk

We finished off the day with a several hour sweaty hike. Though there are exotic animals here like rhinos, leopards and elephants, we didn't see anything. Supposedly they are rarely spotted. We met another couple who did a several day trek and were happy to see a day old elephant footprint. The best animal sighting is achieved at night by camping out in rustic tree houses (called hides) built above natural salt licks. We didn't set aside time to do this but it sounded like a cool experience.

taman negara trek hike

taman negara trek hike

Tarzan could go wild here swinging around on vines.

The following day we cruised up river to visit an indigenous tribe. Rustic living to the extreme. The tribe generally stays in one area for around six months due to either food sources (i.e. monkey) being exhausted or a tribe member's death. This area has roughly 80 inhabitants. Over 1000 members are spread in groups across the preserve.

taman negara canoe ride

taman negara tribe

taman negara tribe blowgun

Monkeys, squirrels, and birds are shot with a poison tipped dart from a blowgun. I failed miserably on two attempts to shoot a stuffed animal. The tribesmen can shoot very precisely at 60 feet.

Monday, July 21

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

(see map) - trin: We arrived in Tanah Rata, the tourist base for the Cameron Highlands, in the mid-afternoon. After checking in we headed to the local clinic. Mike got a blister on his toe back in Gili which had refused to heal in the tropical climate. By the time we arrived, it was really infected. Luckily, the owner of our hostel was also the town doctor. The exam, first aid supplies and antibiotics cost only $20US.

The following day we took the Countryside Tour. It included visits to a butterfly farm, tea plantation, rose & flower collection, honey farm, strawberry farm and the local Buddhist temple.

First stop was the butterfly farm that also featured other local insects and reptiles.

cameron highlands malaysia grasshopper

Grasshopper - Can you believe it's face really looks like this?

cameron highlands malaysia butterfly

Butterfly feeding

cameron highlands malaysia green eyed gecko

Green eyed geckos

The highland's main attraction is the tea plantations. The geometric patterns on area's hillsides produce over five million cups of tea a day.

cameron highlands boh tea plantation

cameron highlands boh tea plantation

BOH is the leading tea producer in Malaysia. At their plantation we toured the factory and learned all about the process of making tea.

cameron highlands boh tea plantation

Tea Time

cameron highlands dahlia

A dahlia at the flower farm. One of my favorites.

cameron highlands temple

Tiled walls at the Buddhist temple

After the tour we decided to try Tanah Rata's specialty, the Steam Boat. It is similar to the Chinese Hot Pot. The nice lady who ran the restaurant gave us a quick tutorial on how to cook the food in the steaming broths. Once we got the hang of it, it was pretty good.

cameron highlands steamboat

Um... what was that? At first we were over cooking things a bit.

That afternoon Mike and Florent (half of the French couple we met on the tour) hit the local golf course. This was daring considering it had poured every afternoon since arriving in Malaysia.

cameron highlands golf

They got lucky and were able to finish fifteen holes.

The next day we hiked through a rain forest and down into a neighboring agricultural valley.

cameron highlands hike 9A trail

At the end of the hike we were walking through someones asparagus field.

cameron highlands butterfly

Here I am at my dorkiest. So of course, Mike wants it documented. In my defense - I was wearing rain gear over the shorts and dark socks and never thought I would need to take it off but it was hot down in the valley. So, what the heck?