5 07 2010

So we made it back to Bangkok after completing our little excursion down to Indonesia and back. We have seen so much in the past couple of weeks and finding a good internet connection has been a bit problematic so I will try to briefly recap some of the ground we covered. As mentioned in my previous post we left the island of Koh Tao bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. We took a night boat which turned out to be a bit of an adventure as the seas where quite rough and we where in the smallest boat of the fleet. Only about 100 feet long and made of wood the boat was pounded for the first couple of hours of the journey, it was quite unnerving to look down through the cabin and seeing the entire structure flex, bend and shake after every big hit the hull. The seas calmed down as we got closer to the mainland and we managed to get some sleep before finally docking at 5:30am. I will spare you the details of the next 18 hours but after many transfers,a border crossing and too near misses with oncoming vehicles we finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur at  1:30am 3-1/2 hours later than we were told we would be there. We found our hotel and just passed out. Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia are primarily Muslim and so it was quite interesting so see such a change in not only the landscape but the people as well. The city is fairly large and cosmopolitan but it is also fairly clean and is generally safe. While not a major tourist destination KL does have some sights and we hit most of them in the time we where there. One of the most recognizable attractions are the Petronas Towers. These where the tallest buildings in the world until 2004  and still remain the tallest twin structures on earth. Although you cannot visit the top of the towers you can visit the unique sky bridge connecting the two towers at the 44th floor. I remember watching shows on the Discovery channel documenting the construction of the towers and it was really an exciting moment to visit them as I could have never imagined I would have the opportunity to see them in person. We also visited an Aquarium, one of the largest in Asia, located at the base of the towers which we enjoyed immensely and viewed in a whole other light considering all the diving we have done as of late. We spent the rest of the day visiting the markets in China Town as well as the National Mosque where we got a brief but informative introduction to the Islamic Faith. On the way back to our hotel we decided to go to KL Tower where we got to see some animals at the wildlife center at the base before we went up to the viewing deck over 1000 feet above the city. From Kuala Lumpur we took a bus to Singapore which only took a mere 5-1/2 hours. Singapore is not only the name of the city but also the country and with over 6.5 million people is the most densely populated country in the world with the exception of Monaco. Singapore was a bit intimidating to enter as it is known for its very strict laws and regulations. There are many signs at the border with warnings of the death penalty for trafficking drugs and exorbitant fines and jail time for the importing more than one open pack of cigarettes. Get this, the fine for importing chewing gum, as it has been banned by the government, is $10,000. This had me a bit nervous because I did have a few DVD’s that we picked up in Cambodia that where obviously fakes and are subject to inspection and a $1000 fine if found but thankfully we passed through customs without a hitch and we where on our way. One result of all of this regulation is that Singapore is one of the cleanest and safest cities on the planet. Things are still happening but it seems that major crimes are fairly uncommon, I mean if the fine for jay walking is $500 would you try shoplifting? Overall the city felt much like any big city especially in the neighbor hood where are hotel was located. Singapore is a very expensive city to visit and unfortunately some of the only cheap lodging happens to be located in the red light district and our hotel seems to have been located right at the epicenter. Prostitution is legal and if you haven’t already guessed highly regulated in Singapore which is interesting considering pornography is illegal. Overall this made our walks home in the evening a bit more interesting but we never felt unsafe and in general it was a lot easier to accept than some of the very obvious sex tourists we have seen in some of the other SE Asian countries we have visited. Singaporeans have two great passions shopping and food and of the two we really took part in the latter. Even though lodging is expensive if you skip the restaurants and eat at the food stalls located just about everywhere in the city you can get by without dropping too much money and you will likely have some really great food. We spent working our way from sight to sight stopping at food stalls along the way. Singapore does not really have its own cuisine but rather it is made up of the cuisines of its major ethnic inhabitants primarily the Chinese, the Indians and the Muslims. This allowed us to sample a broad range of great food in a short time and I can honestly say that we where never disappointed in what we tried. We visited Chinatown, Little India and The Water Front and one thing we noticed is that Singapore is a city that is growing and fast. We stopped in the newly opened Sands Casino and Hotel which is an architectural wonder and we went for a walk around the skypark a terrace located 54 stories up and spans the top of three buildings as well as cantilevers out on either end. From a distance it looks like a long curved boat up on three large pedestals but went on to it give you an unparalleled view of downtown. From there we could see no less than ten new skyscrapers being constructed not only at once but right next to each other as well as many other less prominent buildings in the downtown area. As I said above the other thing Singaporeans are fond of is Shopping and nowhere is this more evident than along Orchard Road a strip of some of the largest and most opulent malls I have ever seen. It  stretches for several miles and is just a labyrinth of stores and restaurants connected by tunnels, flyovers and escalators. One other thing we picked up while we where there is that they also like festivals in the city and we got to experience one of them at the River Fest at the Clarkson Quay where they where putting on nightly shows of music and performances along the river. We also got see a large display of Singapore’s military equipment as a practice run was being performed for a parade the following week. Singapore despite it strict rules is really a great city to visit, it is easy to get around, almost every one speaks english well and with such ethnic diversity and a large international community it was very easy to just blend in and explore. We flew out of Singapore to visit our fourth county in just over a week. We were headed for Bali, Indonesia. If you have taken a look at the page I had made describing our route you will notice that I make no mention of Bali, in fact you can pretty much forget that page as we have deviated from our original plan so much it does not even come close to describing where we have been or where we w are going. We wound up going to Bali because while we where in Bangkok browsing through guidebooks we came across one for the island and said this looks interesting and just about two weeks later we arrived. One of the things about doing this on a whim was that we did not know too much about where we where going and this turned out to be a good thing and a bad thing. I have always associated the name Bali with a paradise island so I was a bit shocked to learn when we landed that it had a population of 3.5 million. This was apparent in the amount of traffic in congestion on the roads even at 11pm at night. We decided to stay on the coast the first night and take a boat to an island located about 25 km to the southeast in the morning. We choose the island because of one sentence we saw in the guide-book “This is the Bali most people are looking for but never find”. We got to the island and just started walking and found ourselves on a little dirt road that led to the beach where we got an incredible bungalow run by an amazing guy named Europe. He was astounding having lost one foot and both arms below the elbow he was working on his laptop when we first found him managing his little hotel booking empire then he proceeded to take all of our bags at once to our room which is located up a ladder that even I had trouble ascending, I am still not sure how he did it. To top it all off he drives a stick shift around town and dial and text messages using a tiny little cell phone. The bungalow was just one of four located around a pool in a beautifully landscaped yard and only steps from a secluded little beach. It really was paradise and we really enjoyed our time there. The island also had some great diving and we made a total of four dives while we where there. During our first dive we got to see some really large manta rays with a wingspan of over 12 feet where quite a sight. We also got see some amazing fish and a couple of sea snakes during our second dive. The next day we made a couple of more dives that where exciting as there was a fairly strong current which took a bit of getting used to as it pulled you along the reef. It felt a lot like you where flying but also little out of control as it was difficult if not impossible to stop the best thing was to just let it pull you along and try to avoid hitting anything. We also rented a motor bike for the afternoon and explored around a little where we finally had our first breakdown of the trip. It sounded as if a belt was slipping and we could not get the bike to move so a couple of guys saw us and helped us to a mechanics shop up the road. A young guy quickly disassembled the rear end and found a rubber dust boot that had fallen off and into the drive belt. He removed it bolted everything back together and $7  and 20 minutes later we where on our way. It Really was a beautiful island and I could have spent a lot more time there but seeing as we only had six days in Indonesia I wanted to get a taste of what else Bali had to offer. We decided to head for the town of Ubud which is reported to be the cultural center of Bali. Once back on the island we again combatted taxi touts and traffic to finally get to Ubud. One thing is immediately apparent Ubud is a tourist town. With high-end shops and restaurants lining the streets and not a local joint in sight the town appears to completely revolve around tourism. We found a guest house and the next thing became apparent everybody is trying to sell you something if it isn’t a massage it is a taxi ride if it isn’t that it is a tour of some sort and so and so on. We settled in and decided to get a car and driver the next day to take us to some of the near by sights as again I did not get much time to research the island so I was not even shure what the sights where. We visited a couple of temples where immediately you are called out to by and followed by hawkers selling sarong which they say you need even though lend you one at the gate.  We then went to a coffee plantation aka as a place for you to just spend some money on stuff you don’t need. We finished up by having lunch at a ridiculously overpriced restaurant overlooking a volcano where you had to negotiate the price of the meal before you started. Overall it was a rather uninspiring day and to top it all off my camara broke right as we got to the first temple so that might not have helped my mood. We did however visit the sacred monkey forest at the end of town which was really the highlight of Ubud for me as there are several dozen Long Tailed Maquac Monkeys wandering freely throughout the forest. They where everywhere and if you where not paying attention or sat down they would come right over to you and crawl into your lap. There where three tribes of them and they seemed to be constantly fighting with each other which made some of them quite intimidating it was really interesting to watch how they all interacted with each other. That evening we went to a Kacek which is a traditional performance which relies only on the chanting of men and not instruments to tell a story. The show was interesting although I did have a bit of trouble trying to follow the storyline. On our second day in Ubud we just hung around town, Justyna got herself a full day massage package and I decided to go for a little trek and to get out of the town a little bit. So while Justyna was being pampered, manicured, scrubbed, and massaged I got my self lost in the jungle eventually finding my way back out only after covering my self in mud and debris as well as sweating out what felt like several gallons of water. That evening there was a festival in town and we got to see a live performance of what seemed to be a mix of traditional and modern Balinese music and dance. On our last day on Bali we decided to head up to the northeastern coast of the island and to go diving one last time. Even though it took us almost three hours to get their the drive was well worth it. We got to dive right off the beach and out to the wreck of a WWII era  liberty ship. The wreck is lying on it side and has broken up in a few places and has provided a great base for new coral to grow. It was really something to think that this ship was built nearly 70 years ago back in the US and now I was there diving in and around the very same ship. We then made one last dive at what was called the drop off which is what they call a wall dive which is just like it sounds in that you dive more or less along a vertical wall. The visibility was really good and we saw so many interesting fish including a couple of close encounters with some fairly large trigger fish which have been know to become quite aggressive. All in all it was a great day in the water and the surrounding area was really beautiful which helped to make up for some of the bad feelings I had about Bali. We finally headed to the airport the next morning and flew back to Bangkok where we are today. We are headed north to the town of Chiang Mai tomorrow which will likely be our last major stop in SE Asia before we head into China.




One response

6 07 2010
Jim & steph

Hi Andrew & Justyna. I just watched a show on the constuction of the Sands Casino & sky park.I was thinking of you guys while I was watching it.
I can’t believe how much diving you have been doing,divng around a ship wreck is something I have always been fascinated with sounds just amazing. Sorry to here about your camera hope you are able to get it fixed. Chris & Jason have a requests they would like you to bring home one of the monkeys. Already looking forward to your next post.

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