Monthly Archives: March 2014

Two Sides to Phuket

Phuket is such a big island that the “koh” (meaning island) was dropped long ago.  I stayed in two different parts of Phuket – Phuket Town and Kata Beach.  Most tourists skip Phuket Town, where the majority of the locals live, but I quite liked my time there in the old town area.  Kata Beach is another story, a typical tourist beach town that caters to foreigners.  It felt super cheesy after having been to some smaller Thai islands.

I first booked into a hotel that turned out to be far outside of the old town portion of Phuket Town, which I largely picked because it had a pool.  I was, however, kitty-corner to the much-advertised shopping mall.  Since I couldn’t see much else within walking distance, I decided to give the mall a go (I was on the hunt for new sandals after all, and I figured they must have a decent food court for dinner). The mall was so close – literally a hundred yards – and so far – it was across a crazy busy intersection with no pedestrian crossing.  Standing on the corner trying to figure out how to cross, I accepted the offer of a ride from the motorbike taxi.  I bargained him down to 20baht to get this chicken across the road.  But since he sang me a song on our short ride, I ended up giving him 30.  The mall was full of inexpensive stores, and I had no luck finding anything but pizza for dinner.  I really have no idea why this mall is considered an advertisable destination.

The next day I transferred to the Memory at On On Hotel, right in Old Town (again I took a motorbike taxi and tipped extra because he deftly avoided us getting sandwiched between two cars while keeping my backpack securely sandwiched between his knees).  The hotel is an old colonial building, and the place drips with charm. I was instantly happy with my decision to check out of the other place early, as much as my request to do so confused the other hotel staff.  This section of Phuket Town has some great Sino-Portuguese architecture, lots of artist spaces and galleries, (real) coffee shops, and the best food I had in Phuket.  I learned that Phuket has its own regional cuisine and I was lucky enough to try some local fare at Kopitium, after trusting my dinner choice to the owner (asking her to please recommend something local).  I had a dish I can’t remember the name of, but it was great: ground spicy chicken served with fresh veggies, a clear broth soup, rice and an omelet to (as the owner instructed) help cut the spice of the meat. It was amazing!  The next day I had some Thai pizza – massaman curry (my favorite) on a pizza!  It was interesting, although not mind blowing. Overall I was really glad I spent some time in old town. 

 

Scenes from old town.
Sino-Portuguese architecture in old town.
One of the fun art spaces I happened upon in old town.
One of the fun art spaces I happened upon in old town.
I can't believe it took me this long to eat from a street vendor -- eating hot, spicy soup on a really hot day...yep, that's what you do here.
I can’t believe it took me this long to eat from a street vendor — eating hot, spicy soup on a really hot day…yep, that’s what you do here.
The old Chinese school, now the Phuket Thaihua Museum re: the Chinese immigration to Thailand -- getting my history lesson for the day!
The old Chinese school, now the Phuket Thaihua Museum re: the Chinese immigration to Thailand — getting my history lesson for the day!
Lots and lots of coconuts!
Lots and lots of coconuts!
Scenes from old town.
Scenes from old town.
A koi pond inside the house - why not?!  (at the Chinpracha House, a fine example of Sino-Portuguese architecture)
A koi pond inside the house – why not?! (at the Chinpracha House, a fine example of Sino-Portuguese architecture)
Scenes from old town
Scenes from old town
A rather smug dragon (at the Sam San Shrine)
A rather smug dragon (at the Sam San Shrine)
Seen better days (the Luang Amnart Nararak Mansion)
Seen better days (the Luang Amnart Nararak Mansion)
Scenes from old town
Scenes from old town

Phuket

Phuket Phuket

on Soi Romanee
on Soi Romanee
Reflection
Reflection

 

Wat Puttamongkonnimit
Wat Puttamongkonnimit
Saw a dragon, had to check it out, turns out this is the only pretty part of this park in old town
Saw a dragon, had to check it out — turns out this is the only pretty part of this park in old town
Messing around at the Trickeye Museum
Messing around at the Trickeye Museum
More trickeye photos
More trickeye photos

Phuket

Now I’d met several tourists along the way who said I shouldn’t bother spending much time in Phuket.  And after spending some time on a touristy beach on Phuket, I understand why.  I opted for Kata Beach, supposed to be less crazy than Phatong, the main tourist destination.  But I still found it super crowded and I also really didn’t locate any worthwhile food in the three days I spent there.  Don’t get me wrong, the beaches are nice – good sand, a coastline that drops off quickly enough to actually swim in the water, something resembling waves (apparently it wasn’t surf season – that there is a “season” for surfing is already a bit funny to me) – and I can see why this a popular beach destination.  But it was the only beach I went to in Thailand where I had to be careful not to hit anyone while taking a cooling dip in the water, and where the beach chairs were lined up three rows deep!  I also had no idea that Phuket was so popular with Russian tourists, the signs and menus were as likely to be in Russian as English.  And it took me a while to figure out that many of the Thais were addressing me in Russian and not Thai. I know there are other, less crowded beaches on that big island, but the traffic is so crazy there that I didn’t feel like scooting was a good idea.  So I was admittedly a bit limited.  If I go back to Phuket, I will definitely not stay on Phatong, Karon, or Kata beaches (the “top 3” west coast beaches). But honestly I’ll likely just opt for one of the smaller islands, like Koh Tao or Koh Lanta, where you can’t help but slip into true beach bum mode given the slow pace of life there.     

Hot sauce in packets = bullshit!  Food fail on Kata Beach.
Hot sauce in packets = bullshit! Food fail on Kata Beach.
The view from my bungalow - 170 steps up the hillside from the road.  At least I'm close to the pool!
The view from my bungalow – 170 steps up the hillside from the road. At least I’m close to the pool!
Overlooking Kata Beach
Overlooking Kata Beach
Sunset
Sunset
Crowded Kata Beach (complete with a sun bathing sea captain)
Crowded Kata Beach (complete with a sun bathing sea captain)

Having spent so much time on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, I’m ready for the excitement of the big city.  On to Bangkok!

Beach Bum Transformation Complete on Koh Lanta

The quiet island of Koh Lanta is a perfect place to be a beach bum.  I stayed on Ao Phra Ae (Long Beach), as a nod to my home town.  And it turned out to be a great choice – in the spots between the rocky stretches the sand is quite nice and the water is refreshing, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from too.  There are a lot of rocks on the beaches of Koh Lanta, so you have to find the sandy spots between the rocks to have a good dip.

Chillin' on Long Beach
Chillin’ on Long Beach
DSC03684
Sunset happy hour!
The sunset show
The sunset show

Lanta

The hotel mascots
The hotel mascots
Loungin'
Loungin’

After bumming around locally on my first day, I decided to explore the island by scooter the second day.  I went all over the long island.  Compared to Koh Tao, scooting on Koh Lanta is a walk in the park.  The roads are smooth, wide, and relatively flat, there are few cars, and you can easily go at your own pace. I realized that my experience on Koh Tao was trial by fire – bad roads, hills, debris on the road, lots of locals screaming about – but, hey, I gained some good scooter skills!  I also learned that getting gas from a pump is always a better value than buying it roadside.  Somehow they say they are selling you liters of the stuff, but they certainly are not.  Two “liters” roadside might barely get the fuel gauge above empty, while two liters from a pump gets you half a tank.  I guess you’re paying for convenience!

My ride for the day
My ride for the day
This is how you commonly see gas sold on the islands (at least this one has a funnel, they usually just dump the bottle in).
This is how you commonly see gas sold on the islands (at least this one has a funnel, they usually just dump the bottle in).
The view at lunch, a little restaurant in Old Town over water
The view at lunch, a little restaurant in Old Town over water
I love these homemade hot sauces, most places have them and they're amazing on noodles
I love these homemade hot sauces, most places have them and they’re amazing on noodles

After exploring the island I decide to stop for a swim.  I happen upon two little places – a bar and a restaurant right on the sand on their own little beach at a break in the rocks.  I settle in under an umbrella for a fresh coconut and a beer, a few dips in the ocean, and a nap between book chapters.  They even had a crude outdoor fresh water shower set up, so you can rinse off the salt water after an ocean dip.  I stayed much longer than “planned,” settling into the realization that I really had nothing else to do.  It was in this realization that I knew I’d transformed into a proper beach bum.  See, I usually vacation in cities, spending my days walking from one site to the next, taking it all in.  This is the first extended time I’ve spent in places where the only culture to soak-in is the relaxed local vibe.  I now see the value in learning to totally relax.  And it certainly helps when traveling in a place where transportation is never exactly on schedule and obtaining even a simple meal may take a big chunk of your day.  You’ll get there when you get there and you’ll never be hungry for long.  I’ve learned a new patience in my time here.  Not the patience that feels like you’re being patient (willing yourself not to get too annoyed), but the patience that comes from knowing that things will happen in their own time and you don’t always know when that time is.

Fun little find - a bar on a small beach with coconuts and beer that lived up to its "friendly" name.
Fun little find – a bar on a small beach with coconuts and beer that lived up to its “friendly” name.
The little restaurant next to the friendly bar
The little restaurant next to the friendly bar
Another day, another coconut
Another day, another coconut

I also did go on a snorkel tour, a bit of a waste of time really, but a way to pass a day.

Time for some snorkeling
Time for some snorkeling
Apparently someone lives at this snorkel spot
Apparently someone lives at this snorkel spot
A bit of a storm coming in
A bit of a storm coming in
Shipwreck!
Shipwreck!

 

I Just Can’t Get Enough (Pictures) of Railay Beach

I had meant to go to Krabi Town, but on a whim ended up in Railay Beach for a few days.  The trip – by boat and bus – was longer than I’d expected, but thankfully I was able to sleep most of the time (I booked at 5:20 a.m. trip which made for an early morning).  Going across so much land made me realize that I wasn’t quite ready to give up the beach.  I showed up in Railay without a hotel, and decided to splurge a bit on a good spot in desirable Railay West.  In my two days in Railay I trekked a lot of the area. The beach on Railay West is the nicest – the best water, smoothest sand, longest sun exposure, and only direct view of the setting sun.  The eastern beach is all mangroves and you really can’t swim there.  It’s kinda trashed actually, but it’s a short walk to the western beach on the other side of this narrow peninsula.  The other option, also on the West side, is Hat Ton Sai.  It’s a good beach (the sand is just a bit rockier) but gets shady before sunset given its position.  It’s also decidedly more rustic and seemed to be a bit of a hippie paradise. 

 

Finally saw a sunrise (on the boat from Koh Tao)
Finally saw a sunrise (on the boat from Koh Tao)

 

Interesting stop lights in Krabi Town
Interesting stop lights in Krabi Town

 

In the longboat to Railay Beach (the girls in the background are the Germans who I navigated the many transport changes with)
In the longboat to Railay Beach (the girls in the background are the Germans who I navigated the many transport changes with)

 

View from the boat
View from the boat

 

The eroded limestone cliffs are so cool looking
The eroded limestone cliffs are so cool looking

 

No idea what the polka-dotted person refers to -- but if it means no lepers, I may have a problem given that all my bug bites have made me into one
No idea what the polka-dotted person refers to — but if it means no lepers, I may have a problem given that all my bug bites have made me into one

 

The view from West Railay (loving the Thai fro on that longboat driver)
The view from West Railay (loving the Thai fro on that longboat driver)

 

West Railay
West Railay

 

Yep, I'm actually here - this place is like a dream!
Yep, I’m actually here – this place is like a dream!

 

Amazing sunset on West Railay
Amazing sunset on West Railay

 

Sunset serenade
Sunset serenade
East Railay
East Railay

Railay is a big rock climbing spot, given all the picturesque limestone cliffs.  And there are a few viewpoints that I’d read you “have to see.”  Of course no one says how to hike to these places, and the map from the local travel agent had no roads or trails marked – i.e., not very helpful!  So I decided to see what I could find.  I walked to the end of the Railay West beach and found a promising-looking trail behind the fence of the final resort.  So I started up the slope.  I quickly lost the trail and went in circles a few times trying to make sense of things.  I eventually happen upon a rope tied over a boulder, so I figured that was a good sign that I’m on the right track.  But after that there is again no sign of a trail. 

So I looked for well-worn rocks and tree roots and just keep heading upwards.  Finally I came to a part that is more clearly the trail.  This trail is steep and at times a bit slippery given the loose dirt and leaves.  There then comes a point with ropes up the side of a craggy limestone face.  I read about ropes, so I figure – okay, I can handle this, NBD.  Grateful for my intro to bouldering (although there are no mats here to cushion a fall) I made it up two levels of the ropes, curious to see if there was anything resembling a semi-horizontal hiking trail in the next phase.  Of course there was not – the ropes actually continued diagonally across the face of the rock cliff.  At this point I’d made it above most of the tree line, so I call it a success and decide to head down before I fall off.  I’m “climbing” in a pair of Tom’s, which aren’t really made for this, but the rock is really easy to grab onto so it was a pretty easy surface hold onto.  Coming down I ran into a German couple at the bottom of the rope portion who were getting out their climbing harnesses to tie into the ropes.  While they were impressed with my ability to get down so easily, I realized I was right to come back down when I did! 

This is as clear as the trail got
This is as clear as the trail got
No where to go but up!
No where to go but up!
Looking down on West Railay
Looking down on West Railay
Starting up the second set of ropes
Starting up the second set of ropes
And there the rope goes diagonally across the rock face - no thanks on that one!
And there the rope goes diagonally across the rock face – no thanks on that one!
Snapping a photo of the view from the tops of the second set of ropes with my free hand
Snapping a photo of the view from the tops of the second set of ropes with my free hand
Back on mostly horizontal land - I'm a bit wiped from climbing in the heat
Back on mostly horizontal land – I’m a bit wiped from climbing in the heat

I later hiked over to Hat Ton Sai beach to check it out (and saw the Tham Pranangnai cave and some monkeys on my way).  I ran into a nice Canadian family (whose son happens to also be living in Singapore, what a funny coincidence) and we chat about home, our impressions of Singapore, and our Thailand travel plans. They convinced me that I can surely still get back over to Railay West by walking along the shallow water at the shore.  Of course by then the tide had come in and I didn’t want to get my camera wet.  So again I did some rock climbing (in flip flops this time) when the water got a bit too deep.  It was slow going, but I did eventually make it back around to the west beach and even caught another beautiful sunset! 

The cutest little spirit house I've seen yet
The cutest little spirit house I’ve seen yet
Exploring the cave - I heard bats and here I thought they slept in the daytime!
Exploring the cave – I heard bats and here I thought they slept in the daytime!

 

Exiting the cave, unscathed by the bats!
Exiting the cave, unscathed by the bats!
Swapping photos with some Brits - too bad my eyes are closed (lame)
Swapping photos with some Brits – too bad my eyes are closed (lame)

 

Just hanging out
Just hanging out
Hey there, Mr. Monkey
Hey there, Mr. Monkey

Overall I really enjoyed Railay Beach – the cliffs and hiking were a nice change from the other islands and I couldn’t take enough photos of that picturesque scenery!    

Railay

A few more shots of the rocky islands
A few more shots of the rocky islands

Koh Tao – I Love this Little Island!

In contrast to Koh Samui, I feel like I got a very good overall sense of the smaller island of Koh Tao and what it has to offer.  Mostly because we rented scooters and hit up a different beach every day. I stayed right on the beach at Chalok Baan Kao in a modern little bungalow that I loved.  And by this point I knew to be grateful to start my day with real espresso (instant coffee reigns supreme here). 

And somehow the bags all make it back to their owners
And somehow the bags all make it back to their owners
Maite at the top of their cliff-side hotel - great view!
Maite at the top of their cliff-side hotel – great view!
The beach at my hotel, mere steps from my bungalow, just before my first sunset swim.
The beach at my hotel, mere steps from my bungalow, just before my first sunset swim.
Even doggies need to cool off with a dip
Sometime even doggies need to cool off with a dip

Amy and I again went for a dive together – so fun to have a good friend for a dive buddy!  But the dive sites in Koh Tao were the most crowded I’ve ever seen.  I spent more time trying not to collide with other divers while simultaneously keeping track of my own dive group than admiring the sea life.  The most excitement was when a trigger fish (with his trigger fin up) was guarding the buoy line on our decent on the second dive.  You hear so much about how to avoid a run-in with one – they are apparently the only aggressive fish out there that will actually attack you.  I was amazed that none in the crowd of divers got attacked by that one.  I again noticed a lot of plankton in the water and again felt it biting me – in Samui I ended up with so many bites from these “sea fleas” that between those and the mosquito bites I had started to look like a leper – but I thankfully didn’t notice the hair floating in the water that Amy later commented on.  That there was so much hair in the water isn’t a huge surprise given the number of people diving in the same few spots.  I did observe that dreadlocks don’t really move under water.  Several of the guys on our boat had them and when I saw them underwater, their hair looked exactly as it had on land.  I tried not to think about how many sea fleas got stuck in their tresses on a daily basis.

My adventures on the scooter were mixed, but overall super fun!  We rented scooters in the evening of our first day.  I have never driven one before, but in exchange for my passport and 200 Baht (like $6) I was handed the keys.  Right off I nearly crashed trying to avoid the potholes in the dirt road.  I was apparently giving it way too much throttle.  We decided to ride around a bit to get me some practice, even if in the semi-dark.  Of course Amy used to drive a Vespa around SF (and I have fond memories of zipping around with her) and Maite also owns a scooter at home – so I was the only novice.  All was going okay until we stopped at a crossroads and I was going to take the lead in our scooter caravan.  As soon as I tried to pull out I (of course) gave it too much throttle, skid on the gravel at the side of the road, and the bike went over.  Miraculously I was unscathed except for a chip out of the middle of the nail polish on my left big toe.  A local – who from his boxing shorts and layer of sweat shine looked like he had just come from a Muay Thai gym (and here I thought the fighters covered in sweat on the boxing billboards were faking it with oil) – runs over to help me get the bike up and says in perfect English (with a British accent no less) that I should be careful of the sand and the bumpy roads.  Thanks, will do! 

My confidence shaken, we decided to drop off my scooter and have me hitch a ride with Amy for the night.  Over the following 3 days I become more confident on the bike, the most challenging ride being the one up to Mango viewpoint.  On the steep roads you are grateful for pavement (no matter how narrow the road – some are only one car width wide) but make due when soft dirt is all there is.  I don’t fall again, but after dark decide to rely on Amy to get me around safely. That little fall did cost me, as the owner claimed she would need to replace every part on the bike that was even barely scratched.  I could talk her down a bit, but when your passport is held for ransom you have to pay.  So, my first time on a scooter included a $400 learning curve!       

Mango Viewpoint - the view was worth the crazy steep ride and hike
Mango Viewpoint – the view was worth the crazy steep ride and hike
The view from the Mango Viewpoint - Maite in her new Hater hat
The view from the Mango Viewpoint – Maite in her new Hater hat
Enjoying our well-earned coconuts and taking in the view
Enjoying our well-earned coconuts and taking in the view
Sitting on the edge of the word
Sitting on the edge of the word
The viewpoint at Dusit Buncha Resort (our first snorkel spot)
The viewpoint at Dusit Buncha Resort (our first snorkel spot)
Sunset on the sea at Dusit Buncha Resort - Nangyuna Island is across the water
Sunset on the sea at Dusit Buncha Resort – Nangyuna Island is across the water
Watching the beautiful sunset
Watching the beautiful sunset
Sharing a cigar with the ladies
Sharing a cigar with the ladies
Maite contemplating the beautiful evening
Maite contemplating the beautiful evening

Most of the beaches on Koh Samui and Koh Tao have good sand and a slowly sloping shoreline that makes it difficult to get more than knee deep without wading out a hundred yards.  The snorkel spots are generally the exception – there the reef is close to shore and the land drops off more steeply.  They make for good swimming and good snorkeling.  One of my favorites was Hin Wong Bay, where we had an amazing lunch and I saw an impressive coral garden with some of the most colorful burrowing clams I have seen anywhere (one was florescent green).  I did cut myself on the coral once, which is healing very slowly.  The dive master in Samui had an infection from a cut on his foot and told us that every cut he’s gotten in Thailand has ended up infected.  So of course I have been applying Neosporin liberally and keeping a closer eye on this than I’d usually bother to.  So far, so good! 

The little lunch spot we found at Hin Wong Bay -- awesome noodles and homemade hot sauce.  And my new hot pink fisherman's pants are so comfy!
The little lunch spot we found at Hin Wong Bay — awesome noodles and homemade hot sauce. And my new hot pink fisherman’s pants are so comfy!
Snorkeling and soaking up the sun at Hin Wong Bay
Snorkeling and soaking up the sun at Hin Wong Bay
Hiking back to our scooters (we decided not to ride down this sketchy road)
Hiking back to our scooters (we decided not to ride down this sketchy road)
Hin Wong Bay from the top of the road (where we left our bikes - the hike back up was tough)
Hin Wong Bay from the top of the road (where we left our bikes – the hike back up was tough)

After so many days on the beach with Amy and Maite I am ready to venture out on my own.  So I’m off to Krabi on the other side of the Thai peninsula.   Without Maite around I’ll need to carry my own “mosquito arsenal” – since going out after 5:00 p.m. requires a dousing of “Mosquito No. 3” (i.e., deet)! 

My last beach day with the girls on Koh Tao
My last beach day with the girls on Koh Tao
I'm loving the built-in shade on the beach here
I’m loving the built-in shade on the beach here

Koh Samui – Welcome to the Islands!

Koh Samui is a big island and I can’t say I saw much of it.  We (me, Amy and Maite) stayed on Chaweng Beach and didn’t leave that area much.  Most of our days were spent in true beach bum style – getting daily massages and sipping the juice of fresh young coconuts (and I’m now expert at getting the pulp out of one) – just passing the time and enjoying the clear, warm waters in the Gulf of Thailand.  As Maite put it, the ocean there is “total bathtub” – warm, calm, and shallow.    

Steps to the beach from my hotel
Steps to the beach from my hotel
Sea steps
Sea steps
Boats in the shallow waters
Boats in the shallow waters
Sea plants washed ashore
Sea plants washed ashore
I love the anchors on these boats.  Not sure what those lights are about.
I love the anchors on these boats. Not sure what those lights are about.
Scenes from Chaweng Beach
Scenes from Chaweng Beach
Boats on Chaweng Beach
Boats on Chaweng Beach
Towing his boat
Towing his boat
I need to get better at selfies
I need to get better at selfies

All those 300 Baht (about $10) massages got me accustomed to the crazy acrobatics you’re put through in the name of relaxation.  But that first massage on the beach (in a bikini with only a hand towel as extra coverage) was honestly a bit nerve wracking.  I kept wondering whether my bikini bottoms were still in the right place and whether I’d end up injured by the pretzel poses my therapist pulled me into.  Fast forward a few days and we had all gotten comfortable with the process, often stripping down behind makeshift curtains to change into the massage-wear provided by some places (usually fisherman’s pants – like the hot pink ones I bought (photos later) – and a traditional cotton smock).  

Amy was getting her dive certification, so I joined her for the last day of her open water dives.  I hadn’t dived in 8 years – since getting my open water certification on the Great Barrier Reef – so my first time going under induced a brief freak-out, similar to what happened my first time going down in open water all those years ago.  I’m sorry but a refresher in a swimming pool does not prepare you for going under in the ocean!  So Amy’s super chill instructor ending up spending our first dive of the day working to make me comfortable as much as helping Amy with her last few underwater skills.  I swear there is a separate training on patience and comforting that comes with being a dive instructor, and for that I am grateful.  The second dive of the day was much better.  I quickly got past the initial “I’m going to drown” feeling and remembered that I needed to accept the feeling of having water up my nose the whole time.  Overall the diving was good but I now realize that I was completely spoiled by starting on the GBR.  The clarity of the water, the colors, the amount of sea life, it’s amazing there.  We did see some eels, avoided a run-in with a trigger fish, and see a huge sea anemone garden off Samui.  And I again pushed past my fear, which is an accomplishment in itself!

Heading to my first dive in 8 years - yikes!
Heading to my first dive in 8 years – yikes!
Dive buddies! Me and Amy after our two dives.
Dive buddies! Me and Amy after our two dives.
Back from our dive and taking in the view!
Back from our dive and taking in the view!
Mr. Owl keeps watch over the dive school
Mr. Owl keeps watch over the dive school

One thing that is everywhere here are Buddhist spirit houses.  My tuk tuk driver on Koh Lanta finally told me what they were. Here was my intro to them on Samui:

 

Sea front spirit houses, prime real estate!
Sea front spirit houses

 

Buddhist spirit houses come in all colors
Buddhist spirit houses come in all colors

 

Let’s Start with a Few Days in Singapore

My experience in Singapore was a mix of the very Western (making my foggy jet lagged brain question whether I had actually left San Francisco and flew half way around the world) and the clearly foreign.  The farm-to-table dinner at Fordham & Grand and artisan cocktails at HongKong 28 made me wonder why I had bothered to leave home.  But then we ended up amongst the ladyboys, dancing to a 90’s cover band while downing pitchers of Tiger beer at the seemingly condemned Orchard Towers (or as my friend Kris calls it – “Four Floors of Whores”), which showed me the grungier side of this seemingly plain-vanilla city.  I was happy to be experiencing the mix of high-end and low-brow that is Singapore.  In the same day you can pay sing$4 to eat some questionable clams in your lunchtime Char Kway Teow at a locals ‘ hawker stand, and end your evening on the sky deck of the Marina Bay Sands sipping sing$30 beers (at least I was paying that much for Hoegaarden) with a view of the futuristic downtown skyscrapers.  While Singapore is “Asia lite” – clean and largely crime free with relatively few offensive sights and smells – you have to admire it for what it is.  A city state that has quickly shun the habits of its neighbors Westerners deem offensive (spitting on the street will get you a hefty fine while expelling such bodily fluids is considered a healthy habit in most of Asia) to welcome in international corporations and become an extremely wealthy but still culturally diverse country (and the most expensive.)  

Overall I am glad that I stopped through Singapore, even if I did only start my trip there to see my ex pat friends who I miss dearly and whose help easing me into Asian culture was a god’s send.

View from Ryan's high rise apartment
View from Ryan’s high rise apartment
I could get used to dining al fresco in this warmth
I could get used to dining al fresco in this warmth

 

After sunset
After sunset

 

Fresh off the 19 hour flight, we head to Ryan's local hawker
Fresh off the 19 hour flight, we head to Ryan’s local hawker
Noodle time!
Noodle time!
Happy Happy - spending some quality time with Kris and Rocco before Amy and Maite arrive
Happy Happy – spending some quality time with Kris and Rocco before Amy and Maite arrive
Hey there, blue eyes!
Hey there, blue eyes!
The year of the horse
The year of the horse
Shopping in Chinatown
Shopping in Chinatown
Scenes from Chinatown
Scenes from Chinatown
Stopped in at the temple
Stopped in at the temple
Chanting in the temple
Chanting in the temple
Yep, they take crime very seriously in Singapore
Yep, they take crime very seriously in Singapore
Lilypads at the Botanical Garden
Lilypads at the Botanical Garden
Segways must be popular in Singapore
Segways must be popular in Singapore
The coolest bench ever
The coolest bench ever
Chili crab on Clarke Quay
Chili crab on Clarke Quay – Nick made a special guest appearance (he happened to be in town on business, what luck!)