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The Beach in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Our vacation from our vacation. :)

sunny 29 °C
View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

Well we did it! We are proud of our accomplishment. We spent a whole month by the beach in Mui Ne, Vietnam, lounging underneath the sun, relaxing and loving life. It was hard at times but we managed to get through it. ;)
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Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Before we headed to Mui Ne, we went to Ho Chi Minh City for a few days because Thanh had to apply for a new passport as her's was full, and I needed to get our computer fixed because it had been hijacked by a nasty virus it had picked up in Hanoi. The good news is that while the passport application was a little bit of a hassle and expensive, but a new one was ready in less than a week. The bad news is that the computer virus was too strong and too advanced for my computer to be saved so it had to be reformatted and Windows had to be reinstalled. Luckily we had backed up most of our pictures on Thanh's IPod, but not the latest ones from Laos and Cambodia. All in all, we lost around 2000 pictures and over 3000 songs to the virus (and an incompetent CPU technician)! Needless to say, we were bummed out for the next few days. :(
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The positive out of all this was that we got to see a new side of HCMC and visit places we hadn't seen before (we were just here March '09). We also got to hang out with our new American friends for a couple of nights, Beth and Pierce, whom met on our bus ride from Phnom Phen (they helped cheer us up from all our lost pictures).
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Mui Ne

After we took care of business in HCMC, it was time for us to take a vacation from our vacation....

Officially the beach wasn't in Mui Ne but in Phant-Tiet-Mui Ne since it is located in between the cities of Thanh Thiet and Mui Ne. Thanh and I rented a small, serviced apartment there at a place called Shades. Now this place was cool. Very cool. Shades was situated on the beach and the place was super modern and stylish, and kinda looked like something you might find in Miami (it's not like I have ever been to Miami but I imagine there are cool places like this in South Beach).
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So what did we do for a whole month? Well, not a whole lot. At least nothing stressful. We slept in and had breakfast by the sea every morning. Our apartment had a small kitchen and we often made ourselves lunch and supper. We would go to the local market and grocery store to buy our produce and meats. We had satellite TV and enjoyed discovering some new TV shows like Psych, which we watched everyday at 5pm while eating pre-supper snacks. I'd say we averaged around 3 hours a day working on our suntans, usually between late mornings and mid-afternoons. There were only four days in the whole month where I didn't go for a swim in the ocean. Thanh probably went for a dip every second day.
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We did take a little guided tour of the area; the Fairy Stream, Fishing Villlage, and both the White and Red Sand Dunes.

The Fairy Stream was pretty cool. The stream is quite shallow and warm, and we got to walk on its soft, sandy floor. It was very comfortable and pleasing on the feet.
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We didn't get to enter a Fishing Village (there is no Fishing Village but dozens of fishing boats anchored at sea) but we took pictures of the vessels from a cliff. Here Thanh befriended some local girls who loved her and gave her a free souvenir just because she was spoke Vietnamese.
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The White and Red Sand Dunes were pretty cool, especially the white ones. I have yet to go to the Sahara Desert, but I imagine it is something similar. It was quite windy there and some gusts of wind would sandblast you. We got back to our apartment we had sand everywhere including inside our clothes and ears!
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Twice we rented ourselves a motorbike for the day. It cost us $10 plus gas, per day (a rip off!). We used it to wander around the area a bit and also to go to the market and grocery store in Phan Thiet. Although I am a very experienced automobile driver, I had never used a motorbike before and I was a little nervous to drive one the first time. We had seen several motorbike accidents throughout Vietnam and I didn't want to be involved in one. The problem not only lies in the fact that everywhere there are pedestrians, bicycles, children playing, and animals running all over the streets, but the Vietnamese are wreck-less and do not abide to normal road rules on their motorbikes. They see no problem in driving through red lights at intersections or going against traffic. Simply put, they are crazy and very dangerous! (I have to admit that I also burned two red lights. As they say, “when in Rome...”). Anyways, the experience was awesome and I would love to do it again some day, but in a country where people have a little more respect for the laws.
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Near the end of our stay, Thanh's friend Merryn (from Montreal) came to join us and spent Christmas with us. Merryn had been travelling throughout S.E.A. (Thailand & Cambodia) and came to spend her final week by the beach. So far, Thanh and I had travelled alone and having another person join us changed the dynamic a little bit, but for the better. Speaking of Christmas, we went all out! For supper we had lobster, tiger prawns, scallops, and one big grilled fish, which I got to fish myself out of an aquarium. It was quite a satisfying holiday feast and our bill came out to a whopping 1,020,000 Vietnamese Dong.....which is only $57 Canadian! LOL!
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Here are various observations/experiences:

- Sometimes the local city bus doesn't stop for foreigners and just drives right by the bus stop like you didn't exist.

- The sea water in Mui Ne was very comfortable (I'm guessing the temperature was around 25C) and looked clean, but unfortunately and too often you would find garbage floating around you, like used coconuts, watermelon shells, and plastic bags. One morning I actually found a full pig washed up on shore in front of Shades. That was both weird and gross!

- Like all tourists traps, Mui Ne's prices were inflated, and the people take advantage of it. Even though Thanh fully speaks Vietnamese and we knew what the “real” prices were, the locals rarely ever gave us a break.

- Most restaurants in Mui Ne had the same menu and there was very little variety. The food isn't bad but it's may be some of the most ordinary in all of Vietnam. The menus are very much designed for “western” tastes. Thank God we had a kitchen!

- While inside the Co-Op supermarket, it wouldn't be unusual for a local (who is shopping themselves) to ask me/beg for money. Some of them really think we are walking ATMs.

- Three quarters of the Mui Ne tourists are from Russia and many establishments are Russian owned. I found them a little creepy and weird, especially since they always stuck to themselves and hardly socialized with other tourists.

- Phan Thiet is famous for it's fish sauce and once and a while you get a whiff of its pungent smell.
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So that's it from Vietnam. Our next stop is Malaysia! Neither of us have never been there before and have no idea what to expect.

See you soon & GO HABS GO!!!

Mark & Thanh

Posted by malmn 08:32 Archived in Vietnam Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur: Not what we expected, that's a good thing!

KL is cool and fantastic mixture of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures in a pretty modern city.

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View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

After a whole month lounging on the beaches of Mui Ne it was a little hard returning to the nomadic lifestyle of a backpacker but we needed to move on with our RTW trip. After an overnight stop in Ho Chi Minh City for some last Vietnamese food and Bia Hoi (draft beer), we (Merryn, Mark and myself) took our AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the next morning.
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Our KL taxi driver couldn’t find our hotel, lost his patience, and kicked us out of his taxi even though we’ve already pre-paid the full fair at an official airport taxi kiosk. Because of this we had to search up and down the Jalan Pudu (Pudu Street) with our heavy bags in the excruciating heat for about 15 long minutes before we finally found the place. After settling in and enjoying the air conditioning, we went out to explore our surroundings.

Our first impression of Kuala Lumpur is not quite what we expected and that's a good thing! (we actually expected it to be a little bit like Bangkok). Maybe it is the fact that the roads are modern and up kept, or that the drivers respect traffic laws, or maybe it’s that it’s citizens are more civilized and modern, or the many Chinese and Indian people around, or also maybe it’s because of the very heavy Islamic presence, but KL doesn’t feel at all like the other Asian cities we’ve visited.

Anyhoot, our first stop was Chinatown which is a fairly compact neighbourhood with tons of Chinese restaurants, food hawkers stalls, money changers, and various merchants that sell…*drum roll*…fake everything!! After strolling around a bit, a pit stop to enjoy a BBQ pork bun, and a short visit to a beautiful Hindu temple Sri Maha Mariamman, we left the neighborhood of the $10 Louis Vuitton bags and headed to the KL Central Market for a more upscale shopping experience and fantastic traditional Malay dinner.
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Mark and I are headed to India this February so early the next morning we went to the India Visa Center to apply for our Indian tourist visas. There, we got a sneek-preview of the “Indian” ways that are to come. For example, the visa application clearance form (you have to get clearance before you actually apply for the visa) asked for our hotel address in India but we have yet to plan that far and didn’t have anything to write down. We told the receptionist about our problem and then some clerk took us to the back of the office and gave us a random hotel address from his little black book to use (The address he gave us was for the Hyatt Regency in Kolkata. LOL!). So in other words, this clerk helped us falsify some information on our application forms…it saved us a whole lot of trouble and we loved it!

After submitting our forms, we embarked on our self-guided tour of the Malaysian capital starting with the Masjid Jamek (mosque). In order to adhere to Islamic rules the guards gave Merryn and I some Hijabs (robes and veils) so we can be properly covered up (I must have sweat a couple liters with that thing on. How do the Muslim women do it??). Since neither of us are Muslim, we were not allowed to enter the mosque but rather only visit its perimeter.
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We also visited the Merdeka Square (Independence Square), walked through Little India, went hiked through the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve to get to the KL Tower. At the top of the tower we enjoyed great views of the city including the very tall, former world record holding, Petronas Twin Towers. We then made our way to the Bukit Bintang area where there’s tons of luxury hotels and shopping malls; we opted to go in the Berjaya Times Square complex which has 10 floors of shopping heaven. 10 floors!
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That night we went to a traditional Mamak (Muslim Indian) restaurant which are extremely popular in KL. This type of restaurant is a kind of ‘serve it yourself” unless you’re a tourist then it is a ‘we’ll come and serve you’ type place. We didn’t understand the process too much so ended up ordering too much, enough food for 6 persons.
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The following morning, we made a point to wake up early and set our alarm in order to get our hands on Kuala Lumpur’s hottest ticket: admission to the Petronas Twin Towers’ Skybrigde. The ticket allows you to up to the 42nd floor (actually in between the 41st and the 42nd) and cross from one tower to the other. These tickets are rare and that’s because they only give out 1000 of these per day, and it’s a first-come-first-serve policy. Well the ticket office opens its doors at 8:30 am. Merryn and I got there at 8:20am and there was already a huge crowd. It turns out that the 1000 tickets were already gone way before we got anywhere close to the ticket counter. Apparently you have to get there at 6am to be guaranteed a ticket. What a disappointment, especially for Merryn as it was her last day of travel!
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Afterward, Merryn decided to go see the Batu Caves (a Hindu cave complex) and since we were too lazy to walk up those 272 steps, Mark and I spent half a day shopping at the Suria KLCC shopping mall inside the Twin Towers. Kuala Lumpur is truly a shopping Mecca, it has all the brand you could imagine and much more. My question is; how can a mall that has ultra upscale stores like Gucci and Rolex have squatter bathrooms?...those squatter toilets actually have an automatic flush system so I guess that can be considered upscale. LOL!
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Later on that afternoon, I met up with Merryn and we did the crappy Kuala Lumpur Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour. Even though it got us to see some other areas of the city, the bus’ A/C was almost non-functional and we were stuck in traffic most of the time, which made the experience quite unpleasant. Once we were off that thing for good, we walked to the Old KL Train Station and the MTR Railways Headquarters which both have very nice architecture. Our afternoon ended with a visit of the very important Masjid Negara, the Malaysian National Mosque.
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This night was Merryn’s last before heading back home to freezing Montréal, so we girls went to sip on ultra expensive drinks at the trendy Skybar at the Traders Hotel which is located across from the Petronas Towers. There we sipped on Lychee Martinis and wine while looking at the best view of the illuminated Twin Towers.
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The following day was New Year’s eve and Merryn had to leave early in the morning to catch her flight back home. Once she left Mark and I immediately went back our slow paced ways. We spent our final day of 2009 eating, strolling around KL, and went to catch the latest Sherlock Holmes flick at the Suria Mall cinema (Petronas Towers). I have to say that the Malay are quite an animated audience. And by the way, you can’t get normal popcorn here, only caramelized popcorn. It’s not the same. This New Year Eve we decided to lay low and not do much but we did manage to enjoy the 3 different midnight fireworks shows from our hotel room.

Our remaining couple of days in KL was spent wandering and getting lost in the streets of KL in search to discover new things, planning our soon to arrive Bali trip, purchasing flights to Istanbul and Cairo (we are going in March), revisiting Little India and attending it’s Saturday market where there’s tons of mouth watering food and bargain shopping, trying new Chinese and Malay dishes, and also going back to the classic Mamak restaurants. We realized that we have been travelling in South-East Asia for too long when while we were having dinner, when a couple cockroaches crawled next to our plates and we didn’t flinch at all. We also got to witness quite the commotion in a Hindu temple next to our hotel; there was endless supply of free food handed out, loud music and plenty flaming coconut beings smashed.
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Though I really like Kuala Lumpur, the heat has really gotten to me (It’s probably the hottest and most humid city we’ve been to yet. Mark loves it!). It doesn’t help that the Islamic culture is very conservative and frowns upon women wearing short shorts and sleeveless tops (i.e. tank tops). You kind of have to cover your legs and wear full sleeve shirts which just adds to the heat problem. Also, we’re getting annoyed with the taxi drivers; their company is called MeterTaxi but they all claim that their meter don’t work so we have to bargain a price which is 3-4 times the actual fare. And you can’t do anything since they’re ALL in on the scam.

So that’s it for KL and we’re both excited to board the overnight train tomorrow for Paulau Langkawi which is the prime beach destination in Malaysia…

Thanh and Mark :)

Posted by malmn 07:26 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Malaysia: Langkawi, Georgetown & Melaka

The beach and two wonderful UNESCO towns!

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The rest of our Malaysian holiday saw us spent the next two weeks traveling north to Pantai Cenang beach on Langkawi, and then back south to the UNESCO towns of Georgetown and Melaka.

Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

After a very comfortable12-hour overnight train ride (our cabin was great but the shared toilets were something else), then a cab ride, a ferry ride and another cab ride, we finally arrived at the fantastic beach destination of Penang Cenang.
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As soon as we unloaded our luggage at our guest house, we went directly to check out the beach and it was gorgeous. Total paradise. Langkawi is the most popular beach destination for Malaysians and rightfully so. Penang Cenang has a long white sandy beach and with clear, bluish, calm waters, and it reminded us of the beaches of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.
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So we mainly spent our days at the beach lounging around and working on our fading tans from Mui Ne. Unfortunately, we were a little unlucky since it rained about a third of the time there (but usually later in the afternoons/evenings). One night, it rained so hard that even with an umbrella I managed to get drenched, and to make matters more frustrating and difficult I broke a sandal on the way home. It rained so hard another night that during our sleep the rain crept through our AC, which was installed above our bed, and poured all over us. However the rain did force us to go explore Underwater World, an indoor aquarium, which was pretty cool and fun. We got to see tons of weird and spectacular and bizarre aquatic animals.
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All in all, Langkawi was totally worth it for its amazing beach, some very decent restaurants and attractions. The only complaint would be the costs of things there since it is so touristy. After four days, it was time to leave the beach life behind and get some history and culture in Georgetown.
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Georgetown, Penang

Getting to our final destination on Georgetown was another hectic case of traveling; taxi-ferry-taxi-bus-ferry-taxi for more than 10 hours in order to travel less than 200 km. We checked in to the PPIsland Hotel and we were quite impressed as it was so cheap yet roomy, clean and very modern.
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So late that afternoon we strolled around town and was charmed by it instantly. The Georgetown seduced us with its pretty and colourful colonial architecture. It was all very attractive. It almost makes you almost forgive the crazy traffic and its narrow-to-nonexistent sidewalks. As well, because of a very big Chinese presence you seem to forget that you’re in a Muslim country (except for at prayer times when soothing and romantic prayers are resonating through megaphones throughout the city). This pleased Mark since it meant Chinese food! And that’s what we had that first night. We did the nerdy touristy thing and went to a restaurant highly recommended by the Lonely Planet and ordered the exact dishes that they suggested, It was excellent!! We actually saw another tourist couple do the exact same thing…how pathetic of us. ;) lol!
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We began our first full day in Georgetown with an amazing breakfast at a landmark dim-sum restaurant where the staff’s average age hovers around 65. We then set ourselves on a long walking tour starting with the Kuala Kangsar market where we saw some dandling mutton and chickens getting weigh before they were to be slaughtered. We then went to the Kuan Ying Teng temple with its giant incense sticks and the beautifully restored Toechew temple which led us to Lebuh Armenia street where the Holywood movie Anna & the King was filmed.
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We also visited the Cheah Kongsi clan house where we met Mr Lim Poey Kee, the curator, who was very eager to give us a tour of the site. He proudly told us that he gave the same tour to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife just a few years before (he had a newspaper clipping to prove it). He was adorable and insisted on having his picture taken with each of us then gave us his “business card” so we can send him a copy of the pictures once we get home.
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We finished with Khoo Kongsi which is considered the most beautiful clan house of them all, and they are right, it was breathtaking. We also passed by a couple of important and historical mosques; the Masjid Kapitan Keling and Achean Street Mosque. At that point Mark thought it would be a good idea to get a Muslim hat and pose in front of one of the mosques.
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That night we hit a local food court where you order numerous plates from the dozens of different food stalls, each specializing in different local dishes. It was so cheap and so delicious!

The next day, before heading to Penang Hill, Mark found a dead cat in a plastic bag along the sidewalk…just another day in South East Asia! Penang Hill is the highest point of Georgetown. At the top, we got some decent, but smoggy, views of the city and visited this small but beautiful South Indian temple. The most memorable part it was the cable car ride up and down. After waiting 45 minutes, they squeeze you in the cable car so tightly you could barely breath nor move. The weight limit was definitely exceeded! Then it took 30 minutes and one change of car for the snail-speed cable car to reach the top, exactly 881 meters above sea level. When you got out, it was like being freed from prison, it was so exhilarating.
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After being slightly disappointed with Penang Hill, we took the public bus to get to Kek Lok Si, the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. And it was big! It took us about 2 hours to visit the whole thing. It started with a long maze of Chinese vendors selling everything possible, then we past through a turtle pond to arrive at the pagodas where we said a few prayers for our trip. Then we took the incline lift up to the top for the “piece de resistance”; a beautiful 120ft bronze statue of the “Goddess of Mercy“. We also got to admire a fish pond which featured fishes strangely swimming in perfect circle pattern together. There we took the mandatory cheesy pictures and then another with our Chinese zodiac sign statue.
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That night we went to another food court but this one was a lot more ghetto (i.e. more rats) but still very delicious. Georgetown’s food is amazing!

The morning of our last day in Georgetown, Mark felt like watching the Canadiens game online so I decided to walk to a couple of popular Thai wats by myself. The walk felt as if I was on the Smelly Sewers of Georgetown Discovery Walk. It stank every second of the way. No wonder I was the only one walking! lol! Regardless, the wats were beautiful and the 30 meter long reclining Buddha was impressive, but nothing compared to what we’ve seen in Thailand.
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In the afternoon, Mark and I walk around the colonial district and got to see the Penang Museum, City Hall, Town Hall, Fort Cornwallis (unfortunately it was closed) and the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower. In between all of that, we did make a pit stop at a Muslim food court and reluctantly tried the Malaysian desert called the ABC Special. It’s this huge concoction of shaved ice, ice cream, beans, jelly, corn, and other stuff we don’t recognize. The ABC Special looked both appealing and appalling at the same time. In the end it was quite tasty and refreshing!
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That night, we caught the train back to Kuala Lumpur. The train was almost 2 hours late and it’s quite strange because there’s no apology, no announcement, nothing. People must wait until it arrved without really asking questions. I literally was caught with my pants down as I was in the bathroom when I heard Mark’s voice yelling at me to come out or the train was going to leave me behind.

Since we’re talking about bathrooms…I love Malaysian people. I think they are nice, polite, civilized and quite modern, but they need to do something about their toilets and bathroom habits! First, they have a lot of squatters and I’m not a huge fan of those. When it comes to Western style toilets, Malaysians are so used to the squatters that they actually get up on and squat on the toilet bowl seat making the rim always filthy and blackened from their shoes. Disgusting! They rarely dispense toilet paper and usually only have a water hose for you to rinse yourself off, which I don’t understand because you’re all wet after. To make matters worse, they don’t only rinse themselves with the hose but they seem to feel the need to rinse everything else around like the seat, the bowl, the floor, the walls… So you when you walk into your average bathroom stall it looks like a monsoon just hit it and you don’t know if you’re stepping on water or pee. The toilet seat is filthy and stained black from people’s shoes. The seat is wet and you have nothing to clean or dry it with as there is not toilet paper. For me, there was no way that I was going squat on the toilet, nor rinse myself with the hose so I ended up defeated, walking out cursing, and not relieved. After having to hold it in for days, I just started carrying crazy amounts of toilet paper with me. Rant over.
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Melaka, Melaka

Before heading to Melaka, the fiasco that is our India visas forced us to go back to Kuala Lumpur. We now had to hand in our passports after the Indian Visa Office had completed a background check on us. This KL pit stop would only allow us to visit Melaka for a day and a half.

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Melaka was our favorite destination in Malaysia. Like Georgetown it had plenty of old world charm but more Portuguese then English. Since we didn’t have much time in Melaka, we were determine to make the most of it, but unbeknownst to us, there was a major obstacle in the way: the scorching heat! It has to be the hottest city we’ve been to so far, and heat hits you like a ton of brick and exhausts you very quickly. We were constantly in search of shade and AC. Mark doesn’t like me saying it, but I actually started missing the cold weather and snow. We still managed to force ourselves to get out of our air-conditioned hotel room to visit Chinatown, which is probably the main attraction of Melaka, and also the Stadstruy’s museum, where you get a very good feel of the city’s history. We also went to visit the Ruins of Saint-Paul Church, Portia de Santiago, a fortress built in 1511. After lunch we toured a really well done maritime museum located in a life sized replica of an old Portuguese colonial trading ship. This museum taught us how Melaka once was one of the most important trading port in all of Asia.
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My highlight of Melaka however, is our trishaw ride. It‘s Mark’s too, but he refuses to admit it. The city is filled with these flashy trishaws that are borderline nauseatingly decorated with flashing lights, Christmas garlands, plastic flowers and stereo systems. To get the full experience, I picked a very excessively decorated one equipped with a powerful Kenwood sound system, and made the driver blast the cheezy dance music all the way back to our hotel. We definitely got stares and laughs from the locals and other tourists. Mark was slightly embarrassed by the loud music but even more by his crazy girlfriend who wouldn‘t stop dancing.
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Of course, it would not have been a Thanh-Mark experience if we didn’t go out and tried the local specialties. Melaka is renown for it’s authentic Nyonya (Chinese Malaysians) cuisine which is a beautiful blend of Chinese and Malay food. The stuff was delicious!
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That basically concluded our stay in Malaysia, but we still had to quickly go back to KL to pick up our passports and then catch our cheap Air Asia flight to Singapore.

Posted by thanh13 19:22 Archived in Malaysia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A Few Days in Singapore

The Lion City

sunny 35 °C
View Thanh and Mark's RTW Adventure 2009-10 on malmn's travel map.

Before heading to the sandy beaches of Bali we chose to spend a few days in Singapore, the “Lion City“, which lies one degree above the equator. Singapore is a very modern South East Asian city, and quite different than all the other ones we have visited so far. It is very clean & orderly, the traffic is moderate, and it has a few charming neighborhoods with nice looking colonial architecture. The shopping is also mind boggling as there are dozens of high end shopping malls that house all the famous brand name stores and restaurants from around the world. From Versace to Gap, Italian cafés to Starbucks, and from Mos Burger to Ben and Jerry’s, Singapore has it all. You could easily live a ‘Western’ lifestyle in Singapore. Although Singapore may be the most expensive S.E.A. city to live in, cheap tasty food is found everywhere especially in its famous food courts.
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We arrived late in Singapore and treated ourselves to a little “luxury” by checking ourselves into a Holiday Inn. We didn’t do too much that night but we did eat at a delicious Chinese seafood restaurant we discovered near our hotel. The staff were difficult to understand and we quickly understood what our Lonely Planet described as “Singlish”. Singlish is basically a bastardized form of English that many of the Singaporeans speak. It’s English mixed with Maylay, Hokkinen and Tamil slang.
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The next morning we chose to go back to that same Chinese restaurant for a dim sum breakfast. The reason being is that the night before we saw a picture of the cutest dim sum we had ever seen, dumplings shaped like little fish. The fishies were tasty, but the BBQ roast pork and was out of the world.! Mmmmmm!!!
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After breakfast we did a walking tour of the riverside and colonial district. Starting at the Esplanade, buildings in the shape of durians, we saw the War Memorial, the Cricket Club, City Hall, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the Supreme Court and a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, a famous Singapore colonist. Most of these sites have a distinct colonial feel and look to them. The riverside itself is lined up with restaurants, cafés and shops, and has touristy feel to it.
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We wanted to go to supper in Chinatown but things didn’t exactly work out that way. On our way there, we got distracted by a very loud and busy food court. Each food stall was selling something tantalizing and exciting. We ended up getting three dishes; curry fish head, sweet and sour prawns and some fried green veggies with oyster sauce. Needles to say, this meal was amazing! While ordering our supper I didn’t realize that the fish head was the most priciest dish in the whole food court so our bill was a little more expensive than anticipated. It cost us $20 including our drinks. And of speaking of drinks, I had a few Tiger beers and so did our neighbors. There was a party of four at the table sitting next to us. These old men were drunk off their asses cruising the waitresses and flashing some big money around. One the old men actually asked the cutesiest waitress around to make change for $1000 SIN, which is about the equivalent of $760 CAD. Whoa big buy! What was more comical was that this big shooter carried his wallet inside a zip-lock bag. LOL! Besides that, the same man was trying to flirt with Thanh a bit telling her that she was pretty and beautiful. The old man went on to ask me if she was a “Filipino girl”, wink-wink. ;) Thanh cleared that one very quickly. LOL! Upon leaving I said goodbye to my new friends and asked them to take a picture with me, for memories sake.
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After that funny episode, Thanh and I finally made it to Chinatown. This Chinatown may be one of the cleanest ones we have ever visited. Not only is it immaculate, it is very touristy but has lots of charm and charisma. Like all Chinatowns there are plenty of cheap goods for sale and restaurants galore. Before heading home we stumbled upon an awesome looking building, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Unfortunately it was closed, it was 10 pm after all, so we set made it a priority for the next day.
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Before heading to the temple the next morning, we stopped to have breakfast at the People’s Park Complex food court. Thanh had warm, sweet tofu and I had Mee Char Siew Won Ton, which are noodles with sweet roast-pork and won tons. Again it was very, very yummy!

The interior of Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was not a disappointment. Actually, the temple may be our highlight in Singapore! Moreover, it is the most amazing Buddhist temple Thanh and I have ever seen…and we have visited temple or two in our time. ;) The inside is absolutely magnificent, especially the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber! This place of worship is very modern as it was opened in 2008. It is very large with five floors. Everything in this place new, clean, beautiful and smartly constructed. There are elevators and there are even automatic toilets and sinks that automatically dispense soap and water! This temple even has a tea house and a museum!
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We were lucky visit the temple while a few monks were conducting some daily services in Maitreya Hall, the main and largest room in the room building. Here the monks were leading a few hundred worshippers to chants and prayers. It was beautiful to watch and listen.
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The Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber is located on the 4th floor, is the main draw and is very special. The chamber itself has a lovely, large gold Buddha in the center, the walls are trimmed with gold and have pictures of Buddha. The tiles on the floor look like they are made of gold and jade. It is really magnificent to look at! Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures of the sacred chamber so is a link to a few pictures (these pictures really don‘t do it justice): http://www.btrts.org.sg/Index_Temple_Fourth_Storey.html

Our afternoon saw us window shop at Raffles City, which is a mega mall that sells everything (Western and expensive) under the sun, and then go back to our hotel to enjoy the pool and the high speed internet.

Last but not least was our visit to Singapore Night Safari. Unfortunately, we only got to spend and hour and a half inside. We (I) didn’t realize it took 2 hours to get there by public transportation! Anyways, this safari is basically a zoo, but a night zoo as it’s opening hours are from 7:30 pm to midnight. There are over 120 species of animals inside this park but the most exciting are the flying squirrels, giraffes, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, elephants, tigers, jaguars and most cool of all, the lions. This zoo experience is very unique since the night adds a certain atmosphere you don’t get during the day. The darkness manages to hide the barriers between us and the animals and it makes it seem like the animals could just attack us at any time.
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Here are a few Singapore observations:

- Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore. You can’t buy it and you will be fined if you are caught with it. Somehow the customs agent who stamped my passport didn’t notice the grape Hubba Bubba gum I was chewing while entering the country.

- Prices in Singapore can be over the top at times, like the $15 Ben and Jerry’s Brownie Sundae, or the $16 Singapore Slings.

- Although they are fairly inexpensive and a good value, getting yourself a taxi is almost impossible. They are always occupied and you can easily wait 30-45 minutes at a taxi stand before one arrives. You have to call to get one.

- While this city has quite a few things to keep a tourist busy for a few days, the city may be too dull, and more importantly too expensive, to stay one full week.

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Bali here we come!!!!!!

Posted by malmn 01:26 Archived in Singapore Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Indonesia: Bali and the Gili Islands

Not exactly the paradise we were looking for but still a great time!

sunny 34 °C

Kuta, Bali

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We have dreamt about Bali since we began our trip and fantasized of the paradise that we will be living for the next 11 days. We imagined ourselves relaxing along a perfect beach sipping on coconut drinks and watching surfers to their thing, then dipping into the crystal clear water ourselves. Well, that’s not how things turned out, at least not in the beginning.

We arrived in Kuta, the main tourist destination in Bali, which is famous for it’s beach and great waves for surfing. As we don’t surf, at least not yet, all we had in mind was the beach. After finding our B&B the first thing we wanted to do was to head straight towards the ocean!
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Getting to the beach was not as simple as we had hoped. Seeing that our B&B wasn’t ocean front we had to navigate several narrow streets to get to it. On our way, we were constantly harassed by touts selling fake sunglasses (Oakley‘s for $0.25!), massage services, transport services, tours, clothes, and much more. They were all pretty aggressive and persistent, and they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Adding to our frustration were the dangerous footpaths, cars, motorcycles (who believe the sidewalk is theirs), dogs, cats, locals hanging out, Australians, and the hundreds of spiritual offerings merchants place on the ground outside of their businesses in hopes too woo the Hindu Gods their way.
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After that exasperating 15 minute walk we were happy and excited to finally see water and sand, but the feeling didn’t last very long. The beach was quite disappointing. There were mountains and mountains of rubbish all over the beach and there was even more of it floating in the ocean. Though the sand was smooth and the water quite clear, it was very hard to get our minds past the trash. Needless to say, our first impression of Bali was not paradise.
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Even though it was to be expected, we didn’t realize just how touristy Kuta was going to be. Every single business in the area is geared towards tourists, without exception, and especially Australian tourists. We guess that 3 out of 4 tourists in Kuta are from Down Under. It was as if the Aussie’s owned the town (which is partially true since a number of business are Australian-owned). Mark and I have both been to Australia, and they have the most amazing beaches there, so we can’t understand why they need to travel to Bali.

We went back to the hotel feeling a little defeated but still determined to stay optimistic and give this town another chance. That night we had a great dinner at this romantic Italian restaurant then had a few drinks at this bar with a live band. Though the band was awful, we still had a great time with the bartender who showed us tons of magic tricks, some better than others. Mark also met these two old, dirty, Australian men who, only after a few minutes of chitchat, revealed to him that they’ve had tons of “in and out” since they’ve been here. Classy. That night, on our way back home, the touts changed their tunes and were now offerings all kinds of drugs, like mushrooms and weed.

The following day, after a very filling authentic Indonesian lunch, the national dish Nasi Campur, we decided to give the beach a second try. It was still thumbs down but there was a little less garbage in the sea!
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Our day wasn’t ruined as we had the best of time that night at a bar/restaurant, called Crusoe’s. We discovered later on that this place also serves as part-time brothel. Anyhow, we spent the whole night ordering drinks and finger food while listening to live entertainment which was much better than the previous night. As the patrons downed their drinks, many of them grew the courage to come up on stage and demonstrate their talents. There were several singers, a guitar player and a bongo player, and since we were sitting right next to the tiny stage we got to meet and chat with them. And yes, they were all from Australia.
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We departed Crusoe’s at 1am and that‘s when Mark finally realized that he left his debit card in the airport ATM machine the day before. Even though he was quite drunk, panic set in. Mark immediately Skyped our bank and they were very helpful. They cancelled the lost debit card and then allowed his credit card to be used as a debit card. Once that was over with, Mark wanted to test the credit/debit card. I hesitantly let him go on his own to try out his new card as I went to bed. Well, he returned 2 hours later telling me that on the way he met 5 locals. He taught them some English and about Canada, and they made him down several shots of Arak, a local hard alcohol. Mark finally went to bed at 4am.

Do I need to say that the next morning was brutal for him? As was the afternoon and also the evening. We basically only managed to get out of our room only for lunch, dinner and a short walk. That was the extent of our third day.

Things were looking up the following day. Mark had fully recovered, we found a much quicker way to the shore and there was very little trash on the beach and in the ocean! I pampered myself and got little manicure and pedicure while lounging in the shade. Across the beach was Pro Surf, a surfing school and Mark finally signed himself up for a surfing lesson for the next morning. To cap off our day, we had a delicious supper. It was one of our best meals in quite some time and I went home with my stomach feeling very satisfied and very happy. That is until the next morning…
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I woke up with terrible stomach pains and couldn’t get to the bathroom fast enough. I felt horrible and as much as I would have liked to witness Mark’s catching his first waves, there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going further than 5 meters from the comfort of my bed and bathroom. I did force myself to go see him a couple hours later but only managed to stay just long enough to see him stand up on the board and snap a few pictures before I felt sick again and had to hurry back to the hotel.

Mark enjoyed his surfing class a lot. It was very professional and he learned quite a bit in only one lesson. Mark managed to get up on the board on his very first try! He is quite proud of that. Unfortunately, it got more difficult as time went on because surfing is a very demanding sport and Mark is not in the best shape of his life. ;) He was fully exhausted by the time the class was over. All in all, he loved it and hopes to do it again someday.
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We didn’t do much after that. I was so ill and Mark was so wiped out from his lesson that we stayed in the whole afternoon catching some Z‘s.

Gili Meno, Lombok

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We woke up early to catch our ferry to the Gilis Islands in Lombok. The Gilis consist of three neighbouring tiny islands; Gili Air, Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. We chose the latter of the three as it is known to be peaceful and quiet. After very bumpy two and a half hour ride, thee speed boat dropped us off at Gili Trawangan. Since the public ferry between the islands only runs twice a day (early morning and late afternoon), and we had to shell out $30 for a 3 minute long boat ride to Gili Meno where we had booked ourselves a beach bungalow at The Sunset Gecko.
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Our home for the week was a two-storey bamboo bungalow with a mosquito net covered bed, a fan, an outdoor toilet and shower, and a large deck on the second floor. From our deck, we had the best view of the picture perfect beach. Unfortunately, the beach more beautiful than it was functional as it is great for snorkelling but not for swimming. It was only when we put on our bathing suits and went into the water that we realized that ocean floor is totally covered with corals and walking on it was extremely painful and unpleasant.
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Gili Meno is small but it still takes around an hour to walk the whole perimeter of the island and we set out in search of a beach which will be friendlier to our feet. The island is quite special. You really feel like it’s your own private island since you can walk for quite some time without crossing anyone (but there are always cats, flies, ants and mosquitoes keeping you company!). Adding to the quiet and serene ambiance is the fact that motorized vehicles are forbidden on the island. The only mode of transportation is by horse carriage. Anyways, we never did find that perfect beach but we did see nicer areas without corals and made a mental note to come back tomorrow. Well that tomorrow never came…
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That night was the worst night we’ve ever had on this trip. I slept a total of one hour as the heat and humidity was slowly killing me. Even with the fan on and the windows open, there was no air going through that thick mosquito net of ours. Mark had it so much worse as he got violently sick, had major stomach cramps and had to go to the bathroom every hour or so. Mark woke up exhausted and holding his stomach. I woke up tired and scratching my 50+ new mosquito bites. Stupid mosquito net!

During breakfast, we met this cool Canadian couple, Gretchen and Paul, who are originally from Nova Scotia, but were on vacation from their jobs teaching English in South Korea. Mark excused himself after breakfast to go rest but I hung around with our new friends and learnt that they were also not having a great experience on Gili Meno. Like Mark and I, Paul was sick and Gretchen was slowly getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes. We all agreed to look into Gili Trawangan as it seemed to be more comfortable there.

I felt guilty for not being able to tough it out at The Sunset Gecko, but Mark was sick and I was running out of skin to sacrifice for those hungry mosquitoes. As well, I was tired of being constantly surrounded by bugs as they were in my clothes, soap, food…I was nibbling on some chips during the afternoon and three-quarters of the way through, I noticed that hundreds of ants had made their way into by bag and that some of them were now most probably in stomach! Mark spent the whole day in bed suffering and trying to recover, and I went to an internet café to plan our escape to the neighbouring island where many hotel rooms have indoor bathrooms and air conditioning.

We were delighted when Gretchen and Paul knocked at our door and told us they were also going to Gili Trawangan and we set a meeting at the ferry tomorrow morning. As I close my eyes that night, I had visions of a million bugs attacking me.

Gili Trawangan, Lombok

The next morning, we took the cheap $2 public ferry out and arrived at our hotel room on Gili Trawangan 20 minutes later. Air conditioning never felt so good and we stayed in a big part of the day since Mark was still feeling awful and I just loved the AC and bug-free life. We managed to come out for dinner and stumbled on Gretchen and Paul at a sushi restaurant. We enjoyed some sashimi and coconut shakes while talking about poutine, Swiss Chalet and all the things that make us Canadian. We have to say that at this point in our trip, Mark and I are starting to miss the comfort of home and also the food.
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Mark was feeling better the next day and we made our first trip to the beach. It was gorgeous, the sand was soft and the water just perfect. It was so clear we could see the tiny fishes circling us trying to find refuge from the sun. That night, as we were having Mexican dinner by the beach, we agreed that we loved Gili Trawangan and this was the paradise that we had coming to Indonesia looking for. Although there are many tourists on the island, Trawangan life is slow and rural, very comfortable, and the beach may be the most beautiful we’ve encountered on our trip.

On our second to last day on the island, we found the courage to leave our laziness aside and trekked up the only mountain on the island. After climbing up hundreds of stairs,, crossing paths with cows, goats, and a very large lizard, and avoid poo everywhere, we finally arrived at the lookout point where were rewarded with some beautiful views of the island area. The view was indeed special but the sun was so strong that we quickly went down to cool ourselves off in the water.
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It rained later that afternoon, as it did everyday since we’ve arrived to the Gilis, but this time it rained really hard and the streets were flooded. Aside from having wet ankles, the problem was that as you walked in the water, you can’t really see it, but you’re pretty sure that you’re stepping in one of the thousands of mountains of horse manure. We had our last dinner with Gretchen and Paul as they were leaving the next day. After our meal, we went to the beach to hang out and exchanged funny travel stories and they gave us great tips for our future trip to Egypt.
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On our last day we went snorkelling and since the tide can get pretty strong, we stayed close to the shore but still saw tons of fishes. At one point there were thousands of yellow, white and black striped fishes swimming with us but never touching us. It was so cool! Since the weather was so perfect, and that we might not see another beach for quite some time, we stayed at the beach all afternoon.

As a thank you, our hotel’s Italian owner invited us to a home cooked dinner that night with his family and another traveling couple. So over a delicious meal consisting of macaroni and beans, apparently a traditional dish of the Palermo region in Sicily, we talked some more about our past and future travels.
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The next morning we packed and hopped on our fast boat back to Kuta where we spent the our final day in Indonesia resting and catching up on our emails, finances and future travel bookings.

The day after, we took a taxi to the airport. On our drive there, as we past so many interesting temples, neighbourhoods and people, I realized we made a major mistake in our trip to Bali; we concentrated too much on the beach when the gem of Bali probably lies in it culture, traditions and people. Only slightly disappointed, we boarded our final Air Asia flight to exciting Bangkok.

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Posted by thanh13 05:17 Archived in Indonesia Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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