Monday, October 29, 2012

Sweet Singapore

Ok, I'll never get this written if I don't do it now, so here's a short version of our stay in Singapore, with lots of photos:
I had some possible Reverse culture shock - maybe it was too clean? Singapore felt like a museum, look but don't touch! After a day or two I settled down and really liked it though - but I still struggled with the prices.
There were great views - Marina Bay, a crazy Huge Boat on top of a hotel, the Merlion - the symbol of Singapore-, not to mention the crazy amounts of skyscrapers.
It was CRAZY expensive - $11+ for a combo at Carls Jr or Burger King - so, we ate bread, peanut butter, nutella, and some apples for most of the 3 days we were there.
Our hotel was in a scary area - much dirtier than the city center area, and apparently it is the prostitute district. At night, when we came back, we had to walk down the street through a crowd of women dressed to impress, and the only other people in that area of town were men - loads and loads of men. It was a really creepy feeling. That and knowing our hotel rents the rooms on the first 4 floors by the hour, and only the 5th and 6th floor rooms for regular customers (according to our French friends who have stayed there before). It was affordable and relatively clean though, so we couldn't complain too much. But it did have a weird chemical smell and the mattress was plastic, but what can you do?
The Metro was really awesome. It was way more efficient than the one in KL, very quick, and very clean. And if you take Durian on the metro it's a $1000 SD fine.
We walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. It was an awesome time, but I've never been so tired of walking EVER.
Beautiful city! It looked like a city out of a SciFi story - everything looked very new, polished, and uber modern.
Michael being cheeky with the Merlion statue/fountain. It really was a beautiful sight. If only the camera hadn't run out of battery again...
They jokingly call Singapore a "Fine" City - there are fines for just about everything - here's a few of them!
Plantain!!! I was so excited! There is a part of the Botanical Gardens called the Healing Garden - that is made up of different medicinal plants with little plaques describing their uses. I could have spent all day wandering through this part of the garden - but it was murderously hot outside, so we had to leave after just a bit of meandering. If only I could have brought a few seeds with me to Vietnam... I could sure use it with all the mosquito bites!
Awesome huge tree at the Botanic Gardens.
Michael at the open grounds of the Botanic Gardens. The photo doesn't even start to capture the immense size of the gardens, it was beautiful!
Geraldine and Xavier in China Town. We spent hours hobbling through the shops looking for trinkets to bring back home. It's custom in Vietnam that when you go somewhere, you bring something back for people, so we had fun finding gifts for Gamelofters - there was a lot of neat stuff though that was out of our limited price range, we need to return with more moolah!
There were some beautiful Chinese temples. This one was huge, with lots of different deities, video to follow.
This was the most awesome market in Little India! There were clothes everywhere, and other stuff too, but mostly clothes. I got a little outfit (that is cool but proved poorly made), and Michael got a really awesome Indian style shirt - it goes to his calves! So cool!
This was the BEST INDIAN FOOD EVER. After finding the awesome market in Little India, we needed food - this was a plate of foods from Northern India. It had some yellow dal, some curries, some briyani, bread, soup, and a tasty dessert soaked in syrup. It was AMAZING!!
This was one of my favorite buildings, the windows were a rainbow of colors, so neat!
This place was near the center of town, and it had these awesome structures that were like giant fans - but they look like space-ship parts or something.
Yay for crazy buildings! I love the shot, but I was feeling like my feet were totally worn down to little stumps of pain by this point.
A panorama of Marina Bay.
Some of Michael's favorite buildings.
Panorama of the bay with the mall on the right side.
Awesome architecture at the Marina Bay Mall.
There was a river inside the Marina Bay Mall! So nuts! You could even take a ride in a little gondola-like thing. It was really awesome.
Here's an awesome shot of Gardens by the Bay, it was cool, but you could tell it was still new, so the gardens weren't really grown yet in some areas. But the giant "trees" were really awesome.
This bench was really awesome, but it thought Michael looked better!

Michael with some statues outside one of the pods at Gardens by the Bay. I thought it was fitting :)

On Saturday night, we boarded the train back to Malaysia to avoid one more night in the pricey hotel - but unfortunately it was a crazy bad idea. The train doors were open the entire time, so it was crazy noisy, and then somehow it was freezing - I haven't been that cold since February back in Utah - really crazy. So, needless to say, none of us got much sleep. After arriving in KL at 6:30AM Sunday, we all kind of rested a bit while our friends and Michael were sick - it was a rough day. Sadly, we were unable to make it to one of the LDS Branches in KL due to Michael being sick and us not knowing the city well enough to attempt it. But in the end we all made it back to Da Nang safe and sound and were able to take a much needed nap when we got home - after figuring out how to get in our house since the landlord had locked the door and we didn't have a key to the deadbolt.

'Mazing Melaka

We flew into KL on Sunday night, and then Wednesday morning we took a bus to Melaka, a great little tourist stop in sourthern Malaysia. The bus ride was fine, and the small bus from the main station to the guest house was totally crazy - it was really dirty, some of the seats were broken, and we had to hold our luggage on the little chairs, plus the driver didn't speak English so we kind of guessed at when to get off. But, it was like 1 ringgit or something so it was worth it. After stopping off at the guest house where we were staying, we were off on the town - having one big afternoon to explore before heading to Singapore the next day.
Our guest house took us through the little India district - where all of the streets had really awesome tile work, really cool (plus it helped distract from the smell, their sewer system isn't that great).

 In little India we ate lunch at a Banana Leaf place - they basically put food on this banana leaf mat and you eat Indian style - with your fingers! I think there is something about only eating with your right hand, but I couldn't remember and I ended up using both my hands a bit. I made such a mess, I don't know how they eat like that and not get so messy! No one around us was nearly as messy as I felt, but the food was really good.
 Here is Xavier in front of the St. Francis Xavier church, his namesake I think after the Catholic tradition.
 This was the central square of the old-town of Melaka, it was really beautiful with a lot of little tourist shops around, a lovely fountain, and right across the street from a small river that cuts through the city.
Bike carts were all over town decorated in all different ways. Some of the craziest ones included a cart covered in old, dirty barbie dolls, one with the batman symbol in glowing lights, and the one blasting "Gangnam Style" from a loud speaker on the bottom of his cart.
We walked onto Jonker Street - the shop central of China Town, and were greeted by this huge dragon! It was incredible, none of our pictures really captured how big it was. It would also spit water into the fountain below every so often. We loved looking through the shops, but were awfully bummed when, after resting a bit in the hotel, we went back and EVERYTHING was closed by 7PM! It was earlier even than Vietnam! We were lucky to get the last table at the last restaurant open in town, when it was 7:30 or so. I was rather bummed as we were leaving before the shops would open in the morning and there was a really awesome dress I had wanted to get, but ah well, we just have a reason to go back now :)
 Here's a random statue of Mr. Universe Michael shot while we were out - I honestly don't know anything about it as I didn't see it until we went through photos.
 We passed a beautiful temple in China Town.
This place was cool - it had some rebellious/creative art shop inside, and the giant mural was awesome. 
 Here's a photo of a water wheel from the colonial ages. Melaka was a port town I think, or at least had fort ruins, so being on the coast there were a lot of old ruins of different European power struggles.
Pirate ship! 
This was a beautiful bird we heard singing while walking through town. 
Here's a photo of our dinner we had in China Town - rice balls, seasoned eggs (they were really tasty, soaked in some herbs like star anise and who knows what else), herbal drinks, and some wonton soup (not pictured). It was really good.

 Here's the doorway to where we stayed. I'd never been to a guest house before, it was really neat. Basically, it's like staying in a friend's house - with lots of extra bathrooms. The owner was French with a Malaysian wife, and their kids were the cutest! Michael played some hide and seek or something with their son and he had the cutest giggle.
Here's the common area of the house, they had rooms on the right side, a bookshelf with all different languages of books, a fish tank, and a lovely area to relax. The kitchen was communal, you could buy drinks from the fridge and breakfast of toast and jam was included with the bill. The beds were heavenly, like a giant foam mattress, and the rooms had a kind of Japanese quality to them as the beds were on a raised portion of the floor. Overall I really loved this place and I wish we could have stayed longer. This quiet place was a really neat break from the craziness of KL and the upcoming major city of Singapore. After a great night and a breakfast of toast with peanut butter and bananas (also a first sight for our French friends), we were off to the bus station and bound for Singapore.

Krazy Awesome Kuala Lumpur

For our anniversary - as well as just for fun - we planned to go to Malaysia and Singapore with our French friends Xavier and Geraldine. After more than a month of planning (Geraldine did everything, she is an amazing travel-agent in disguise), we were really excited to go. With 1 week to cover 3 different locations, we knew it would be a crazy blast. I know if I give you a play-by-play of everything this will never get posted, so I will give you some highlights and some photos of each town we visited (although with over 700 photos, I regret there is a lot I can't fit on a blog post, ha ha!).
First, we flew from Da Nang to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as Air Asia was having an awesome sale on tickets and it's a direct flight.
The view of Da Nang from the air is really cool - our house is relatively near the beach on the bottom left of the photo between the two bridges you see crossing the peninsula :)
We really loved Kuala Lumpur. It was a refreshing and much needed balance of amazing Asian cultures and added development compared to Vietnam. I realized one thing I had been missing so much was diversity - in the states you had some (although not much in Utah County), but you at least have access to diverse ingredients and foods - even if they're not all that authentic. Anyhew, it was awesome to have such an amazing blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and western influence all in one. The language was really fun to hear, and the people were friendly and everyone seemed to speak a little bit of English at least, which made getting around town easier.
I admit, coming from an area where I'd never met a Muslim before - not to mention the loads of bad press in the US - I was a bit nervous to see so many Muslims. However, I was very much delightedly surprised to find out how friendly and kind they are. The extremists in some places really make a bad name for the rest, we had a wonderful time visiting Mosques and interacting with amazingly friendly and kind people of many different faiths in Malaysia.
The food was amazing, to say the least. We had satay, a kind of kabob thing, wonderfully amazing cheese-filled nan bread that was so good it could kill you, noodles, McDonalds (that was a first for me since I can remember, it's been years), and so much yummy stuff I can't even name it all. We also introduced our (horrified) friends to the Utah County weirdness of dipping fries into ice cream/shakes at McD's, that was rather entertaining, and yummy.
Satay our first night in town. You pick what you want and pay according to the color of the bottom of the stick, we had some greens, some chicken, mushrooms, and our friends let us try their eggplant.
Our hotel was in the middle of China Town, inside the market, which was nuts! You had to go through this mass of little booths and stores to get to it, but it was a lot of fun. The room was ok, not the greatest ever (plus the elevator was broken so we had to walk up 3 flights one night), but it was a good price and the staff were really friendly so we liked it.
The price conversion in Malaysia is about 3 Ringgit for $1US, and it worked out really well for us, I didn't feel too stressed about money and we were able to have an enjoyable time. I was also thrilled to find supplements there - it was amazing! I got some all-natural bug spray that was cheaper than you could get in the US, and I bought some probiotics - I can't find them in Vietnam and I think they're the main thing keeping me from getting sick (I'm the only one so far who hasn't been sick here). It was so fun to look at the isles of supplements - they even had Solaray brand which comes from Utah! The convenience stores and the western-style roads and general lifestyle (everyone has a car, etc), really made me feel at home, but homesick as well.
Our second day in Kuala Lumpur Michael and I woke up insanely early to go on a jungle hike through OpenSky Unlimited. It was SO much fun! It wasn't too pricey (well, I guess kinda pricey considering the prices of everything else), but it was well worth it. Our tourguide Amos picked us up at 6:30AM, and we drove out to just outside the big city, and within a few minutes we were in the jungle. It was so much fun, but man were the bugs BIG. The biggest mosquitoes I've ever seen (although their bites don't swell nearly as much as Vietnamese mosquitoes), not to mention loads of ants of all sizes. We hiked, climbed, and puffed our way to the top of a Quartz "mountain" ridge - we had to wear gloves to protect our hands - and the view from up top was amazing. For better pictures go to this - link - it's on the company's Facebook page. (We were silly and didn't find our camera charger until after the hike, and our camera died the day before, so sad!). After the hike Amos took us for lunch at another amazing Indian place, it's kind of like Indian fast-food, with naan breads and various other breads, daals, noodles, etc. And after a short rest and a shower at the hotel we went and walked our feet off around the city.
Here's some photos - they're out of order according to time but I will just explain them as we go!

 Here's Michael with one of the trees in the park behind the huge Petronas Towers in the city. One thing we really loved about KL was that there were trees everywhere, and it was so green and beautiful. On the beach we don't have many trees (too much sand or something), and we never really go into the hills to see trees - so we loved seeing the crazy huge trees in town.
 Here is a stand from the China Town Market selling roasted chestnuts. We didn't end up getting any, but the smell was really tasty - they take the chestnuts and put them in that large vat on the right that is full of dark, coal-looking things (maybe coffee beans even?) and they stir it up all day long. It sure smelled good!
 Here is a view of the market where our hotel was. When the market is open there are people everywhere, I think our hotel was just up this street on the left but I can't be sure :)
 Our first night out we ate some amazing Indian food with a friend of Xavier's named Paul, and this is what they had in the cooler by the door - yes, that is CORN ice cream... no, we didn't try it. Honestly, we ate so much good food we couldn't if we tried! We had the cheese naan, tandoori chicken I think, and wonderfully thin bread (kind of like a crepe) cooked with Milo powder and bananas inside. Milo is kind of like Ovaltine, a chocolate-malt drink, and is all the rage in Malaysia. So good!
 Here's Michael with Amos, our guide on the hike. It was just us and him, and he was super friendly and knowledgeable about what he is doing. We were really impressed with his company, he left the financial/law district to pursue his passion of the outdoors. The outdoor community is still small in Malaysia, he said some of the people he takes up this hike are from KL and never knew it was there!
 After the hike, Amos took us out for some great food. I don't remember names (they're written on Michael's phone so maybe I'll add them later), but the cone is a crisp-bread made from rice flour, and it came with Indian-style yogurt, yellow daal (a lentil dish), and another kind of curry to dip it in. Michael's drinking a mango lassi, which was also very yummy.
 One of the places we went to was a beautiful Indian temple called the Sri Mahamariamman temple, a Hindu temple. There were so many colors and designs everywhere, even an entire wall of different Hindu gods! You should google the place to get a better idea, I couldn't fit all of the pictures here.
 This was a fun photo in front of the KL post office I think? Michael and Xavier are thrilled about what you can get here in Malaysia - Mountain Dew and Push Pops! They even had Push Pops in France way back when, so Xavier was really excited to see them. On the left, outside of the photo, are a bunch of Dutch-style buildings from the Dutch occupation, and the building on the right, in the photo, is English-style I believe.
 A really cool building in KL, there were a lot of Islamic-style buildings around, all of the different architecture styles were a really fun part of the trip.
Here's a shot of the Sephora store in the shopping district of KL. There were huge malls everywhere! We even visited this awesome mall with something like 100 food shops in the basement - Amos said the owner was a real foodie so he spent a long time trying the street food around KL, and he decided to gather the best of all of them to put in his mall and keep the businesses going. We got some really good ice-cream-like stuff, the guy took a big block of frozen something out of the freezer and put it in a machine that shaved it off kind of like a snow cone, but the texture was creamy. We got strawberry flavor, and it was really yummy until we noticed the yellow stuff he had put on as topping was creamed corn! Ha ha, we had chocolate cereal bits, creamed corn, and strawberries on our ice cream. Surprisingly it wasn't too bad, but we were weirded out so we tried not to eat the corn after that.
 Here's Michael at one of the huge malls. It was crazy to have such a variety of things in KL. You had the jungle just a short drive out of town, the poorer homes that look like Vietnam, the British architecture, the dirty parts of town, and then the huge, developed western part that was full of expensive shopping malls.
 Here's the inside of the mall - it was one of the biggest malls I've ever been in, it was so crazy. We even visited a mall that was entirely electronic stores inside - 5 floors of stores to be precise. It was a lot of fun, and the bathrooms there were so beautiful I almost cried.
Here's some more delicious-ness we had our last night in KL. We ate with Paul again, and he took us to this street that was only food stalls, it was really fun. There was Turkish ice-cream, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, anything you could want. We ate at this place with Satay and Chinese, which Paul says is the best - apparently so as we were finishing up we saw some big guys with earpieces in inside, and then they left with a group of people between them. Everyone was making a fuss but none of us recognized them - then finally a local told us it was the Jonas Brothers, ha ha! I had a celebrity entourage walk right next to me and I didn't even know it.
 Here's another view from up top on our hike. I downloaded from FB some of the photos Amos took for us and the colors went all weird, so I encourage looking at them online for better views - Michael is tagged in them.
 It was a beautiful hike! My legs hurt SO bad afterward I thought my thighs would explode. But it was worth every pain-staking minute of inching down stairs like a little old lady for the rest of the week.
 Here we are in the National Mosque in KL. I found it really neat that they would let you go in to see it, you just had to cover yourself with these lovely purple outfits - women wear the hood, men don't have to, and you have to take off your shoes. It was really beautiful inside, and we saw the main prayer room where a lovely woman from the Netherlands explained the basic principles of Islam to us and told us about the temple. The main prayer room had really beautiful walls - they were so delicately and dramatically textured. It was really neat though to see how many similarities there are between our beliefs and theirs, and it was a really beautiful place to see.
 One of my favorite parts of our massive walks around town was the Orchid Park, which was free. There were thousands of orchids everywhere, and every color of the rainbow. It was stunning, and now I have enough flower photos to supply my own greeting card company for life :)
There were amazing towers everywhere - this one was Michael's favorite. I think it's called the Dayabumi Complex, or something. He was fascinated though, it was a really unique style.
And finally, here we are at the main landmark of Kuala Lumpur - the Petronas Towers. There was a huge mall inside that offered some nice AC, but we didn't have the needed moolah to go up to the walkway - which was fine, apparently you can only go at a certain time of day. We had so much fun in this great city, it was everything I had been hoping Asia would be like. We had a great/crazy time navigating the metro system around town, and we even saw two sister missionaries at one point! (I recognized the way they wore their clothes!) I was really bummed because we only had time to wave hello to them as our metro train was loading, but at least we saw some other members after 3 months of being on our own. In the end, it was 3 spectacular nights and 2 amazing days in Kuala Lumpur, then the next day we were off to Melaka, Malaysia!