Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Eating my first delicious banh mi sandwich upon arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was from a roadside vendor and cost 50 cents. The lady took fresh-baked french baguettes, sliced them open, and slathered them with a special mixture of sauces and pickled vegetables. She then quickly fried up a few eggs in a sizzling hot pan before slipping them into the sandwich. The best of roadside food, period.
Swimming in the infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands, the iconic 55 floor resort/casino/hotel in Singapore. The view of the cityscape in the light of the setting sun was breathtaking. The cool water contrasted perfectly with the blazing rays of the near-equatorial sun. Fun fact: did you know that in terms of revenue from gambling, Singapore has surpassed Las Vegas? It is number two in the world, only behind Macao. I had no idea.
Witnessing a beautiful wedding in the oldest cathedral in Manila, the San Agustin Cathedral. Here all the guests are turned around to view the procession of the bridal party, and later the bride. Everything, from the music, decor, outfits, as well as the cathedral itself, was breathtaking. We were just touring the building and stumbled across a balcony in the back from which we could view the ceremony. I must have stood by the railing for a good twenty minutes, watching the procession and waiting for the entrance of the bride.
Exploring the Monkey Forest in Ubud, the geographical and cultural heart of Bali, Indonesia. This lush forest was crawling with free roaming monkeys of all ages. There were little babies with their mothers as well as wizened old geezers. They warn you not to get too close to the animals and not to bring in any food, for good reason! These monkeys aren’t trained or domesticated. Despite their cute appearances, they are not afraid to attack you and your possessions!
Walking along Jonker Walk, a winding street full of food vendors, boutique shops, and souvenir places, in the historic center of Malacca, Malaysia. This place was so festive that we had to come back three times! We strolled slowly along the street, stopping and buying cheap night snacks whenever they looked appealing, and browsing all the wares in the cute little shops. The boutiques sold everything from unique clothing to local traditional foods to handmade jewelry. There was also a huge outdoor stage where old people sang Chinese karaoke in front of an eager crowd.
Boat ride in Bangkok, Thailand. The small boat was just big enough for our group of travelers. We rode along the main river, taking in the city, before turning into networks of small canals that led us past neighborhoods of houses standing on sticks and platforms. Bangkok is known as the Venice of Asia, if I recall correctly. The driver took us to temples and pagodas, as well as a wonderful floating market, before dropping us of at our final destination, the Grand Palace..
Watching the sunrise in Desaru, Malaysia. We dragged ourselves out of bed at six in the morning, in the dark, and wandered down to the beach, sleepy eyes trying to locate the first rays of day. Sure enough, the sun appeared, with its blinding rays. After we were sure that the sunrise was indeed over, we promptly settled onto beach chairs and took a nap until midday.
Of course, there are many other moments that I will always treasure, as well as some that I may have sadly forgotten already, but these were a few that stuck out to me. I met so many people, saw so many places, and learned a lot about the world around me, as well as about myself. One thing is for sure: I could not have asked for a better summer.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Two things stood out to me on this trip: the slow pace of life on Bali as well as how the tourism industry has completed transformed and taken over the society.
Perhaps it is ingrained in the spiritual culture of the island, but the pace of Bali was extremely laid-back and relaxing. We joked about "Bali time" and "Bali distance." When people told us a time, we could always expect them to be at least fifteen minutes late. When people told us a distance, we could always expect it to be at least ten times further away. Therefore, life on the island is extremely unrushed, and there is the ability to simply enjoy the moment.
The city where we stayed, Kuta, is the backpacker and tourist district of Bali - I shouldn't have been surprised at total domination of the tourist industry. Every single business, whether it be a spa, yoga studio, surf shop, restaurant, hotel, bar, boutique, is catered specifically for overseas travellers. Every Balinese local that I met was working in the tourism industry, whether as a driver, vendor, service worker, or hotel manager. Though these developments have brought a lot of profits and have created jobs in the area, I wonder how much authenticity is left.
We stayed at Fat Yogis Cottages on Poppies I, a narrow street that runs perpendicular to the beach. It was a pretty decent budget option - clean and very simple. For 3 people, it was about $50 a night. The location is about a 5-10 minute walk to the beach.
Complimentary breakfast was provided every morning. We ordered toast with jam, poached eggs, fresh fruit, and coffee.
There is a great tranquil atmosphere outside in the courtyard, with a pool and lounge chairs.
On the first day we hired a private driver to take us around. This is a really good option because it costs about $40 and the driver will take you wherever you want to go for the whole day. We went to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. Our first stop was the Monkey Forest. Here, hundreds of monkeys roam around freely. You can interact with them at your own risk.
Some of them were very mischievious and tried to steal people's water bottles. Others were quite zen, like this old fellow below.
We went to lunch in a very cute cafe called Warung Lada. "Warung" is what they call any type of family business. This place serves traditional Indonesian food at very reasonable prices. Each dish is usually under $5. I ordered the gado gado, which is a plate of various items dipped in peanut sauce.
Right outside Ubud are these lush green rice terraces. They are a huge tourist attraction, despite how commonplace and everyday they must seem to the Balinese.
We made it to Tanah Lot for the sunset. Tanah Lot is on the west coast of Bali. It is a temple out in the sea, and another huge draw for tourists. We had to walk through a maze of vendors before reaching the shore. There was even an officially licensed store selling Crocs shoes.
Tanah Lot is a Hindu Temple (Bali is mostly Hindu, as opposed to the rest of Indonesia which is predominantly Muslim). Not being Hindu, we couldn't go onto the temple itself, but at least I got to take photos from the ground!
The next morning I tried something new - Surfing!
There are a lot of surf shops and surf schools that offer full day lessons, but if you just want to "test out the waters," the best and cheapest way to learn is to go to the beach. There are tons of surfer dudes lined up with their surfboards propped up along the beach. They will each offer to teach you how to surf and name a rate. We passed by three different people until we reached a guy who would give us a 3o min. lesson for about 50,000 rupiah ($6). Bonus - he said the lesson would be free if we couldn't stand up on the board by the end of it.
So I didn't get a free lesson!
For lunch we went to this restaurant by the beach. I got this salmon salad. Not sure if the salmon was fresh, but it was still really delicious. Here I tried experimenting with the macro setting on my camera.
In the afternoon we went back to the beach and were surprised at how much the tides had receded. There were huge expanses of sand that went out maybe 100 meters out into the sea. People were playing soccer on the wet sand and kids were building sandcastles.
There was so much left to see, but I'm glad we didn't try to squeeze tons of activities into our limited time. I'm already looking forward to my next trip here.