Monday, July 2, 2012

The detailed itinerary

The entry following this hopefully provides a link to our 
"Highlights of SE Asia" album.  
Here's the full itinerary
     Arrive SFO March 1 evening; Depart March 3 midnight.
     Hong Kong : Arrive Mar 5
          Kualua Lumpur : Mar 9-12 
          Kuching: Mar 12-17  (on the Island of Borneo)
          Tioman Island: Mar 18-20
     Singapore: Mar 21, 22
     Cambodia (Angkor Wat): Mar 23-25
     Vietnam: Mar 25-Apr 9
     Singapore: Apr 10-15
          Yogyakarta: Apr 16-18
          Bali: Apr19 - 23  (Ubud Apr 19-21, Legian Apr 22)
     CA: Apr 24 - Apr 26

Cambodia & Vietnam Tour

Day 1: Siem Reap
Day 2: Angkor Temple
Day 3: Angkor Temple – Saigon
Day 4: Saigon – Cai Be – Can Tho
Day 5: Can Tho – Cai Rang – Saigon city  - Flight Danang - Hoian
Day 6: Hoian Cooking – Hoian 
Day 7: Hoian –My Son – Hoian
Day 8 : Hoian – Hue
Day 9: Hue – Flight to Hanoi
Day 10: Hanoi city tour
Day 11: Hanoi – Halong Bay
Day 12: Halong Bay
Day 13: Halong Bay – Ninh Binh
Day 14: Ninh Binh – Hanoi – Overnight train to Lao Cai
Day 15: Lao Cai – Lao Chai & Tavan – Sapa
Day 16: Sapa – Can Cau Market – Bac Ha 
Day 17: Bac Ha – Lao Cai – Overnight train to Hanoi
Day 18: Hanoi – Departure

Highlights of SE Asia

25 pictures
Click here to view these pictures larger

Recommendations for touring Vietnam

We are back from our 7 weeks in SE Asia.  We spent two weeks plus in Cambodia & Vietnam.  My recommendations:

- Skip HCMC.  Extremely disappointing.  Additionally, while the "floating market" in the Mekong Delta is interesting, it is not worth the 8 hours (RT drive), even with the entertaining stop. Trade this for Cambodia (2 full days in Siem Reap, allowing time to go to the fishing village, which everyone raves about.  I have been told this is best within a couple hours of sunset, including both sides as the activity within the village at that time is interesting.

I suspect that Phom Penh would be more interesting/appealing than HCMC (which is just a big city and the usual tour stops there were really a stretch.) We stayed at  Steung Angkor , but there is a Victoria there and all along our trip we liked our stays at the Victoria hotels. Thinking about it, the Streung may have the better location.

- Stay longer in HoiAn.  We stayed 3 nights, toured the town, visited My Son (not essential, but nice) & took a cooking class (went to Red Bridge, I'd recommend something smaller). HoiAn is really cute & has good restaurants. And not only can you get any clothes made overnight, they make handbags, shoes, and who knows what else.  The major limits to what can be made:  your imagination & the fabric at the specific tailor you choose.  We wish we had stayed longer and skipped Hue.  It's a long drive to Hue and didn't feel worth it although there are some impressive "tombs", pagodas & the Citadel.  You can stay at a Victorica on the beach in HoiAn. I am sure they'd have shuttle service, but taxis are very cheap so who cares. 

- A couple days in Hanoi would be good, but a basic city tour is OK.  

- Two nights on Halong Bay on a small boat with an itinerary that stops overnight at two different locations (there are only four approved overnight locations as part of the World Heritage Site agreement).  The food on our private boat was exquisite, except for breakfast.  The tour route should have been better. We booked this late & did not get our first or second choice options. OUr boat toured the same area both days and stayed overnight in the same location both nights. Still this was an exquisite part of the trip. Do note that it's about a 4 hour drive from Hanoi.  

- Instead of returning directly to Hanoi, go by way of Ninh Binh.  In Vietnam they call it the land version of Halong Bay.  I call it Guilin before it got discovered by western tourists. Instead of touring on one of hundreds of large tour boats, you are paddled through the lakes & cave on a boat that holds at most 8. (Note there may be hundreds of these small boats and on a weekend or local holiday they might be full of Asian tourists.  But on a weekday, very peaceful.)   It's probably 4 hours from Halong Bay and then another 4 hours to Hanoi but this drive was worth it.  We stayed at the Legend Hotel (good food, huge beds…the hugest any of us had ever seen) and walked to/through a little village about the time school had let out. All of the kids waved & said "Hello" with big smiles.  Western tourists are a rarity in this area.  The Trang An boat trip is the best.  

- We also went to Sapa.  Staying at the Victoria and booking it soon enough to get their special cars would be best.  We'd suggest the Saturday night train to Lao Cai arriving early enough to visit the Sunday market at Bac Ha, then on to Sapa.  Stay two nights there with a couple hikes trough local villages. Then return by overnight train.  Note: If you arrive in Lao Cai early and have time to kill, there are various dining options that are prepared to accommodate you and your luggage.

Well that's my input for what it's worth. And while I haven't researched this, I suspect traveling in October might be good.  April was fine but it was kind of chilly & rainy in Sapa. 

We booked all this through Asia King Travel
It's a small outfit and generally good. Nam Nguyen, the owner/founder aims to please.  I plan to let him know that he might want to screen his guides for stronger English (the issue is their accent is hard to understand).  I am sure many folks could accommodate the above itinerary.

BTW, one of our favorite other stops was Kuching (in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo.)  We stayed at the Batik Hotel (lovely, great staff) and had tons of activities (cultural center, kayaking, a private caving tour, Oranutangs).  There's lots more in Sarawak & Sabah and again. There are Aussie tourists but Americans are a rarity.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Finale: Bali

We arrived in Bali in the evening and were transferred to our accommodations in Ubud, down an alley barely a vehicle wide. Yes, it really was that narrow.

We explored and shopped around Ubud. In the evening we went to a Kecak Dance (otherwise known as a Fire Dance, a traditional performance with a firewalk as the finale). 

The next day we took a 25 km bike ride from the Batur volcano back toward Ubud through villages and rice paddies. Not as difficult as it sounds, 90% was down hill. We visited a coffee plantation, a typical village home, a rice paddy and on the short drive back to Ubud a stop for lunch and a visit of the Ubud Monkey Forest. 

Day 3 we continued our exploring of Ubud visiting an art museum, galleries and more shops. We also found our favorite restaurant, Cafe Wayan where we had lunch and dinner.

On Sunday we moved on to the beach at Legian. Enroute we visited Tanoh Lot, a temple dedicated to the guardian spirits of the sea. The temple itself is said to be guarded from evil by the sea snakes that inhabit the caves below. The site is accessible only at low tide, and quite spectacular  with the surf creating towering sprays along the rocky coast. This is another one of those places Pat dreamed of visiting ever since first reading of it.  And, yes, again it exceeded her imagination in beauty.  Please note, we're quite sure it's not that Pat's imagination is so limited, Tanah Lot and Borobudur are just that inspirational / beautiful / spectacular.

We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon. After a seafood lunch (pomfret for Pat & swordfish for Bill), Pat played in the surf while Bill relaxed by the pool. 

Today, Monday, we make our return journey, departing Bali at 4pm and arriving in SFO at 10pm, with 17 hours flight time and 4 hours layover in Hong Kong. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Borobudur & Yogjakarta aka Jogja aka Jogjakarta

We first became aware of Borobudur 15-20 years ago.  Immediately Pat imagined visiting the buddhist temple, built some time between AD 750 and AD 850. It was something about the 260 large stupas on the top stories.  In any event, we are pleased to report that even after having visited so many temples on this trip, Pat was enchanted by Borobudur.  Note: It's hard to explain, so there are no guarantees that you would feel the same. ;-)

Borobudur was covered in volcano ash when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles discovered it in the early 1800's. A vast restoration project was completed in 1983 only to have Soeharto's opponents plant & explode bombs at the top in January 1985.   Most of that damage has been restored (exception: Each of the stupas contains a buddha. It's not obvious without carefully looking inside, but most of the buddhas are now headless.)

Borobudur is in Central Java, north of the sultanate of Yogjakarta (also called: also Jogja, and Jogjakarta).  While Indonesia is ruled as a democratic republic, the well-love sultan of Jogja appears to have more personal influence. I think it was Sultan #9 who granted land to the local people and started providing training/employment.  The training and employment continue.  There are something like 40 universities and colleges in Jogja alone.  We visited the Sultan's Palace or at least the grounds and many museum spaces. Later we visited the batik areas of town.  There are two Batik cooperatives(?), the East & the West. They each have similar styles (to my eye) but I am sure the distinctions are clear to them.  

The downtown has low rise buildings, mostly 3-4 stories.  Walking along they all look to be shops or medium six stores.  But we stepped inside a building behind the Macdonalds and discovered a modern 4 story shopping center with International shops.  

Before visiting Borobudur, we explored the 9C Hindu temple Prambanan (Wiedy, our guide, wisely reschedule this worried about the rain expected on the following day. Hence we have photos of a temple with blue skies…maybe a first on this trip.)

We arrived at the Manohara Hotel (on the grounds outside Borobudur) around 3:30 and hurried over to the temple hoping to beat the storm. We advanced several levels before taking a break for the rain and then continued to the top, completing our pilgrimage. We returned the next morning under sunny skies for photos and one last viewing of the many carvings.

Among the Hmong & back to Singapore

Dave & Shelly got it first. Bill & Pat hoped against hope that they wouldn't succumb, but we all caught whatever was going round.  And it took us out at various levels for days.  Our touring continued.  Thank God for drivers, guides & pre-planned itineraries.  None of us had the energy to really think about what we might do.  Any way, jumping forward a week, Bill & I are in Borobudur (near Yojakarta in central Java) and are finally feeling much better.  

Catching you up a bit, from Ninh Binh, we returned briefly to Hanoi to catch an overnight train to the North (near the Chinese border.) This is the area of the ethnic minorities.  Many of them. 54 distinct ethnic groups are recognized by the Vietnamese Government.  Among the ones we encountered (or may have encountered) were the Red & Black Hmong (the color refers to their clothes, not their skin), the Dzay, Red Dao, Tay, Thai, …  We really lost track. 

The train arrives in Lao Cai, the biggest town in the area and the location of the International Gate between China & Vietam.  This is in fact quite a city and has little visible ethnic presence.  Sapa is to the east and provides a nice center for shopping at the local daily market, snapping candid shots of the women in their traditional clothes, and for hiking through the villages.  We stayed at the Victoria Hotel, pretty much regarded as the best option.  Very comfortable and pleasant. We were sorry to have only one night here. 

Saturday we drove to Can Cau (2+ hours to the west).  This is a large but truly local market.  Come here if you need a horse, cow, water buffalo, bird (song and or fighting variety).  It was an interesting market but the heavy rain more than dampened the experience. Despite the later polish job, our shoes likely still have vestiges of that mud!  We stayed overnight in BacHa to be there for the weekly Sunday market.  This focuses more on clothes, handicrafts, food, etc.  

Singapore Again

We returned to Singapore on Monday. Our first initiative: catch up on laundry. Exciting!  Actually it was pretty much all Bill & I could manage.  As the week evolved, it seemed that our basic schedule here was to laze around each morning (lacking the energy to take full advantage of the varied options for explorations), and to explore in the afternoons, and then join Dave & Shelly for an evening of food & sights.  We managed to take in the History Museum, Botanic Garden (including the exceptional Orchid Garden), the Jurong Bird Park, the Zoo and the Harbourfront (amazing architecture).  Sunday Dave played tour guide taking us to Chinatown, Sentosa Island, on the Singapore flyer (like the London Eye, a huge ferris wheel with great views) and to Jumbo Seafood for dinner.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hazy Days in Halong and Ninh Binh

We departed Hanoi at 8am and arrived at Halong Bay at noon.  From an Asian perspective that seems to be very leisurely.  We are told they tend to arrive in Hanoi at midnight & then board a bus for Halong Bay, arriving here at 4am.  We hope they then get a room for a few hours sleep, but that seems unlikely…

After waiting around for roughly 45 minutes we had approval to board the Victory Star 6 and depart for our tour.  We are on a 3 day, two night tour and along the way we discovered various stops for "approval".  It seems each stop requires a payment. And it seems unlikely that these are official fees.

While we were at Tioman Island, it seemed like nothing else could be so idyllic.  But having a private luxury junk tour of Halong Bay is pretty much right up there.  While we tend to get bored easily, just surround us with amazing scenery in balmy weather, with access to wine & good food, …well, it's just irresistible. As we entered our vessel, our lunch table decked out in white table cloth with wine glasses and decoratively folded napkins faced us.  Little did we know what a feast awaited us.  So exquisite. So delicious. The freshest and best prepared seafood you could hope for.  Later, for dinner we had small, sweet steamed clams.  Bill simply does not eat steamed clams.  It comes from growing up in Maine where the clams had strong flavored bellies.  Pat loves them (if the bellies aren't too large)…But these tiny clams were so sweet and so small, even Bill enjoyed them.   

But we really came here for the scenery.  Halong Bay is one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  The others include Iguazu Falls in South America on the border of Argentina, Brazil & Paraguay (where we visited a year ago) and Table Mountain in South Africa (which we visited in March 2000.)  Halong Bay features thousands of limestone karst upthrusts rising hundreds of feet vertically from the water.  For those of you familiar with Guilin China, think of it on steroids and with fewer (still a lot) tour boats.  The great thing about Halong Bay is that it is so vast that you can find yourself "alone" despite the thousands of other tourists. 

We were worried that the fog (magical mist?) would be too heavy to see the monoliths and that we wouldn't have warm enough clothes.  The sun peeped out now and again, enough to enable decent views and to be comfy warm.  To visit the area in sun with blue skies, come in summer but the rest of the country is way too hot then so maybe the best time to visit is September or October.  

Day 1, we visited a floating fishing village.  It was different from expectations.  Instead of being a floating compound, it features a number of individual floating buildings that resemble resort cabins.  Of course, while each is the size of a good hotel room, they accommodate a small family.  We had a boat tour of the village and then moved on to the "floating city", one of four approved overnight stops for the tour boats.  Interestingly enough, we "parked" back to back with another Victory Star 4-person boat which was parked next to a larger (30-50 passenger?boat).  The reason?  We "luxury" boats plugged into the larger boat & had no need to run the noisy generators over night. Day 2 we floated leisurely through the islands, stopping to visit a large cave, to climb 400+ steps to the Tito pagoda (built to celebrate the visit between Tito & Ho Chi Minh) and to kayak through a cave/tunnel to a lovely enclosed bay (along the way we passed over oyster beds and coral).  

We are now in Ninh Binh, south of Hanoi.  This is the inland version of Halong Bay. We haven't had a chance to tour yet but the photos on the wall look like what we imagine Guilin China to have been years ago prior to the tourist invasion. They are working to attract more tourists though.  Apparently they are building what is expected to be the largest temple in SE Asia with the largest Buddha in SE Asia. They hope that the combination will attract hoards of visitors.  In the meantime, Western visitors are still rare enough that everyone greets you with a big smile & a cheery "Hello".  

We are in the countryside but there is so much development here, it won't be countryside for more than a few years.  However we walked out around the rice fields and through a small village. As we walked the children were returning home from school. It was a constant stream of greetings and smiles.  

Tonight we are off by train to the far north of Vietnam to visit the weekend markets which are frequented by the local ethnic groups\, often decked out in tradition costume.  (There are 56 or so ethnic groups in Vietnam.  We're likely to see folks from maybe 5 or 6 groups.)  Again we expect to be without internet access for most of this weekend trip.  We'll be back in high-tech land (Singapore) on Monday.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


We are now in Hanoi.

Our hotel is in the Old Town, a warren of streets and shops that is hectic at all times.  The narrow streets specialize by product (shoes, office supplies, backpack/luggage, food, ...) and are filled with pedestrians, cyclos (3-wheeled bikes that take one or 2 passengers), scooters, cars, and workers. It's intimidating at first.  Following a relaxed cyclo tour (where the driver deals with the traffic craziness while you window-shop for an hour, it all seems more approachable.  Yet the streets aren't really square and with a map you can still get turned around...

We succumbed and visited Uncle Ho's Tomb.  Thousands of Vietnamese visit him everyday.  Fortunately foreign tourists get priority and the wait is shorter, maybe 20 minutes the day we visited. No photos are permitted but the image of his embalmed body is still with us. Do we recommend the visit? Well, if you are in the area... besides it is interesting from a people-watching perspective.  After visiting the tombs you also visit the grounds which include his official "state" house and his preferred one-room home.

Later we went on to visit the Museum of Ethnic Cultures, a preview of our planned visit to the North.  It's an enjoyable place with replicas of traditional homes outside & displays of costumes & customs inside. 

We also went to the "compulsory" water puppet theater.  In fact this wouldn't be necessary if you visit the Ethnic Cultures Museum because it includes a show.  

We will share other details later.  For now, know that we are off to Halong Bay for two days on a junk (a new luxury junk) and are then off to the north, land of various ethnic groups and local markets.  I doubt we'll have Internet access until we return to Singapore on April 9.

HoiAn (tailoring, cooking) and on to Hue

Wow, what an amazing number of tailoring shops there are in HoiAn.  While we allowed time for tailoring we didn't allow time for all the ideas we would think of as we had time to realize the potential. And while we understood that they could make clothes, who knew they would make shoes or leather bags overnight.  

We arrived at the Bebe Cloth Shop at around 3pm.  We all browsed the materials and developed some ideas.  Then off to the hotel to check-in. On our return, each of us focused on more materials and ideas. Then we detailed what we wanted and by 7pm we were measured and asked to return the next day at 4pm for fittings. Bill ordered 2 pairs of pants and 2 shirts.  Pat ordered 4 shirts, 2 silk night gowns, and a skirt.  In truth the limit for Bill & I had to do with fabric selection, but we did just fine anyway. 

One of MANY tailor shops (& the one we used)

Fabrics & samples for Pat's order, all documented below.

Notes about Pat's order
Shelly & Dave, who are still working for a living, each ordered suits and shirts. And during the process Shelly learned about a handbag shop.  Little did she know that this was primarily a place for custom designing her handbag, not a simple shop.  Within an hour's time a new leather bag with promised for the next afternoon.

Leather Shop where Shelly ordered her new bag (ready in less than 24 hours.

We managed a leisurely morning prior to our 11am cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School.  We started our explorations at 10am, immediately finding a great shop.  It started with Pat spotting a nice lightweight silk shirt.  Then Shelly noticed one. Then Bill.  While Shelly was trying hers on Pat discovered great scarves, then Shelly found pants… on it went.  And Dave went off to take photos.  With purchases in hand we went of to the cooking class meeting point. The class started with a market tour, followed with a boat ride to the school, and then several hours of cooking and eating.  The food was great. Among other things we made spring rolls, including making fresh rice pancakes.  And we learned not to say "Yum" in Vietnam.  Yummy is OK but yum seems to have a sexual meaning. (We didn't get the details.)

Market Tour preceding Cooking Class

The Goal

Our result

Scenes enroute from Cooking Class 

We couldn't believe Bill's timing with this shot!

A ferry loaded with bikes

We returned to the tailor at 4pm and all was ready for fitting.  Changes were to be completed by 6pm.  We returned again.  Pat & Bill's clothes were done.  Dave & Shelly's required more work but they & their team stayed until all was satisfactory.  In the meantime, we learned that one of the designers had been off to DaNang the evening before to meet with a tour group to take orders. All of which would be ready within 36 hours of ordering.

Bill trying on a new shirt

Fitting changes being made to Dave's suit

Here are some scenes from HoiAn, a really cute World Heritage Site.  We definitely wish we had stayed here longer. 

 We also visited My Son (pronounced My Sewn), a nearby ancient Hindu temple complex which spans the 4th to 13th centuries.. Unfortunately it incurred major damage during "the American War".  Admission includes a dance performance.

Here are a couple traffic scenes from the trip to My Son:

On the way to Hue (pronounced "Whey")

The drive to Hue from HoiAn is several hours with photos stops along the way plus a visit at a marble factory and a pearl shop. Hue is an ancient imperial capital of Vietnam with many extravagant royal tombs, pagodas, temples & citadels.,  The main citadel was pretty much a slightly smaller version of the Imperial Palace in Bejing.  Unfortunately much of the grandeur was destroyed in wars. We spent one night in Hue and left of Hanoi in the afternoon.

 The route from HoiAn passes through DaNang and climbs over the Pass of Ocean Clouds, dropping down to the picturesque fishing villages of Lang Co. In the afternoon we visited the lovely grounds of the home and tomb of Tu Doc and then explored the extensive Dong Ba riverside market.

The next morning our dragon boat cruise on the Perfume river took us to the Thien Mu pagoda, considered by many as the unofficial symbol of Hue. It is active Buddhist monastery with its origins dating back to 1601. One of its most poignant displays is a car belonging to a former monk, who in 1963, drove to Saigon and set himself alight to protest against the South Vietnamese regime and its cruel treating of Buddhist. (Pat was impressed that Shelly recalled this incident from the news.)  We visited the Citadel, containing the Imperial City and the Forbidden Purple city, the Emperor's private residence. Both were almost destroyed during the Tet offensive of 1968. The remaining and/or restored parts are still quite impressive.

Here are a couple scenes from the trip to Hue:
Cool Buddha at Marble Carving Factory

Incense for sale

Scenes from Hue:

Dragon Boat

Transporting Wood

Regal Dragon

Scenes from around the Citadel:

Assessing this area:

We wish we'd stayed in the HoiAn area longer.  Given our experiences staying at the Victoria Hotels, we'd choose the Victoria on the beach near HoiAn (a very inexpensive taxi ride away from the center.)  The visit to Hue may warrant more time to get to know the city (there are many elaborate tombs & temples to explore...but that can get tiring; there is a huge market). But for the quick visit, the payoff isn't worth the long day of driving.  Definitely give it a pass before limiting your stay in HoiAn.

Market Days on the Mekong

What a day!  Basically all we did was drive from Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta and ride in a boat through the wholesale produce market allowing for a couple interrupts to see rice being "popped" and noodles being fried, etc. We visited a lovely old country home for a feast including 'Elephant ear fish' (crispy-fried fish from the tilapia family served in an upright position. The flaky fish meat is gently removed, rolled in rice paper with sprigs of mint and basil and dipped into fish sauce.)

We then continued exploring the tributaries and canals of the delta. The idea was to get to Cantho for the night so we could visit the early morning floating market in nearby Cai Rang. Despite all the sitting (in the car, in the boat, for meals) we were all very tired when we arrived at our lovely riverside hotel.

The next morning we were off at 7am.  The market consists of dozens of boats (maybe even a couple hundred) loaded with fruits, vegetables and fish competing for sales. Sellers advertise their wares by displaying a sample on a pole.  Each boat is small so they specialize in one product each (mangoes, potatoes, fish).  

Floating Market
Later we visited some orchards and saw rice vermicelli being made.  A light paste is made of rice water & tapioca.  This is spooned onto a large flat pan and stirred from inside to out to make a super large thin pancake.  Within a couple minutes the cooked pancake is picked up with a baseball bat shaped framework made of bamboo (how anyone came up with this idea is beyond me, but it works).  The pancakes are left to dry and are later fed through a huge pasta maker to be cut into vermicelli.

Before heading to the airport re returned to Saigon to visit the Reunification Palace (former residence of the President of South Vietnam until end of April 1975), and some French colonial structures including the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Old Saigon Post Office. Our guide had worked with the Americans during the Vietnam War and shared his perspective. It was quite different than the brief version that was in our materials at the hotel (a minor reference about after defeating the French, and later the Americans, Vietnam finally achieved independence.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Getting "Angkored"

Getting through customs in Cambodia is a breeze.  We filed for the visa online, waited briefly in-line, let them take our fingerprints (all 10 of them!) & away we went.  If only Vietnam reflected this efficiency a little bit…but that's another story.

We had only two days to visit the temples in and around Angkor Wat (late 11C). Space wise they span 81 hectares.  In years they span about 12 centuries, but we focused on 10-12C. (When we have time, we'll update this with more details on the vast complex of temples.) The visit started out with an elephant ride around Bayon Temple (late 12C).  The Leper King Terrace (1190-1210; faced with deeply carved  bas-reliefs inside & out depicting multiple-headed serpents, garudas, giants, gods, and dancers; many theories abound re why the name, so don't ask…)  It rained through lunch and off & on later.  Much of this was spent undercover in Angkor Thom (12th century) where we climbed to the highest level and entered "heaven".

Day 2 we visited Banteay Srei temple (10th c), regarded as the jewel in the crown of Classical Khmer Art with good reason.  The bas reliefs are delicately and intricately carved.  Way finer than those we saw the day before.  And they are unprotected but have withstood centuries of weathering.  Wars & theft have taken their toll though.  It's about 35 km from Siem Reap but absolutely a "must-see".  From there we returned to the Angkor complex to see Ta Prohm, recognizable from Tomb Raiders. This temple has been taken over by trees that grow in, around and through the stones.  At this point the trees are frequently part of the structure. Ta Prohm has been relatively untouched since it was discovered and retains much of its mystery. We had to pass up the earlier temples (from 1-9C) due to a flight change.  But honestly, Banteay Srei & Ta Prohm were so impressive, it was fine to leave it at that.

Banteay Srei Detail

Banteay Srei Detail 
Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei
Ta Prohm

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back to Singapore

We returned to Singapore for two days before our big trip to Cambodia & Vietnam.  Day one we visited Kampong Glamm (the Arabic section of Singapore). Conveniently that was the day of a great intro to Singapore Tour in that area.  We learned about the history of Singapore (Johor Empire to Brit to today), wandered the lanes of shophouses (shops on the first floor, living space above), visited the mosque, enjoyed demonstrations of perfume blending, wrapping a sarong, and using a neem tree twig as a toothbrush.

Park View 
- Art Deco Building circa 2002

Shophouses - shops on ground floor,
living space above

Alleyway Barbershop

What were they thinking?

Following the tour we had lunch at Gourmet Port (North Bridge Rd) which featured Morroccan & Italian food.  We had Muhammara, Lamb Shank Tagine and Chicken Kababs.  The chicken was absolutely fabulous...soooo moist.  After lunch we explored the shops.  The fabric shops on Arab Street are amazing.  We'll be back on our final visit to Singapore for this trip...

Muhammara - Red pepper puree 
with garlic & Morroccan Spices
Chicken Kabab - perfectly moist chicken!

Fabric Display in one of many textile shops on Arab Street
Day 2 was basically relaxing & preparing for the trip to Cambodia & Vietnam with a 4:30 flight to Siem Reap.

Bali Hai

View from our room.  Not bad, huh?
Sunday we were off to Tioman Island, the island called "Bali Hai" in the movie South Pacific.   We wanted some beaching and a taste of the reef.  We found an idyllic, isolated resort, convenient to Singapore.  (Giving credit, where credit is due, Bill & Judy Zivko found this island first via their Malaysian daughter-in-law.) We vegged out for 1 1/2 days, laying on the beach reading, occasionally looking up to be amazed at the beauty of the surroundings. It's truly impossible to really express how gorgeous the place is.  Hopefully the photos suggest it a bit.

Tuesday we made up for our lazy ways by taking a 2 hour (one-way) hike out through a small village and on to a waterfall. To minimize the heat we headed out at 9am.  Not bad.  The return trip was pretty darn hot. We were certainly ready for our shower and lunch when we got back!  The trek started out on a forest trail which then took us across a beach then back to the forest and on to a neighboring resort.  A bit further it turned into a 5 foot wide concrete "road" that continued to the village and on to the waterfall.  It is clear that some of the villagers work at the resorts. We'd seen some of them passing by our otherwise secluded rook.  But we were amused to see the old bikes parked at the end of the concrete awaiting their owners workday return. A little after-lunch snorkeling was enough activity to round out the day.

View upon arrival by b oat from the airport
View from our chairs on the beach

Parking Spot at the end of the pavement

A wing is good. A swing on in paradise is better