After 27 hours of initial transit from San Diego and with three new countries under my belt in under a week, I write this on a bus in Cambodia, on my way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Thanks to jet lag I’ve been awake every night from 3-6am, so you’ll have to give me a pass as I attempt to record my first impressions from the trip so far, especially since this is my first timing blogging using my phone.
I was not expecting to love Singapore as much as I did, our two days there flew by in a joyful jet lag induced delirium. My first impression was how lush and green everything was, I found myself especially enamored with the orchids and blooming plumeria trees lining nearly every street. There seemed to be constant new construction projects around every corner, and the dichotomy between old temples or the traditional colorful shuttered homes and the towering chrome skyscrapers was a bit jarring. In general everything was extremely clean, perhaps due to everyone seeming very rule-oriented: cars can’t be older than 10 years; there is a 500 dollar fine for eating or drinking on the subway; chewing gum is forbidden. All of this was enforced through the constant presence of cameras monitoring your every move, turns out Orwell might have been a prophet after all.
Luckily my travel buddy Katie has family that recently moved to Singapore and they spoiled us to death, it was such a treat to have someone to hold our hands and show us around. Our first day we walked over to Orchard Row, a luxury shopping street similar to any you might find in a fancy area in the US, where we watched ladies in Louis Vuitton walk dogs wearing tiny designer shoes. Thanks to Chinese New Year celebrations most stores had set up elaborate light displays featuring monkeys, cherry blossoms and red lanterns. We ducked into a bar to escape an afternoon downpour and sampled a round of Singapore slings, the Long Island iced tea of Asia as far as I could tell. The rest of the evening was spent at Club Street giggling over our Vietnamese food, until at long last it was time to pass out for 12 hours.
Our second day was spent marveling at tropical foliage we had never seen before at the Gardens by the Bay and taking in the view at the towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel, where we could see not only all of Singapore but parts of Indonesia and Malaysia as well. For lunch we took the subway to Chinatown where we had our first hawker experience, picking out snacks from various food stands and jockeying for a place at one of the plastic tables nearby. At this point it was 93 degrees with 90 percent humidity, and discovering a stand that sold frozen coconuts might have saved my life. That night we had dinner in the Arab Quarter, enjoying the call to prayer from the local mosque and great people watching from our outdoor table over Turkish food. The next morning before leaving for our hour flight to Malaysia we were able to have a final breakfast featuring traditional Chinese New Year delicacies. The various dim sum dumplings were delicious and I tried his coconut based spicy soup called laksa that I couldn’t get enough of, and washed it all down with a whole plate of bite sized desserts, yum.
Stepping outside after landing in Kuala Lumpur felt akin to someone throwing a wet, hot blanket over your head. I tried to do a lot of positive self-talk, telling myself that the constant sheen of sweat across my face looked ‘dewy’ and ‘fresh’, or that my hair was simply curly and voluminous for the first time in my life, rather than a frizzy insane mess. After checking into our bare bones hostel we were famished and the traditional Malaysian fried noodle dish mee goreng that we samped for dinner tasted like the best thing I had eaten ever. After a brief walk around the neighborhood we spent the rest of our romantic Valentine’s Day evening waiting out a downpour drinking mango lassis and playing go fish.
The next day a friend of a friend, Ann Marie, came to play tour guide for us for the day. After a traditional breakfast of roti canai (thin, chewy, buttery bread you dip in this incredibly flavorful sauce) and kopte (the sweetest and creamiest coffee I’ve ever had), we made our way out on the subway to the Batu Caves. Culturally I was really not as aware as I should have been about what was actually going on (the jet lag was pretty full on at this point) but I loved the whole experience. A giant blue elephant god guarded one side, while we had to pass a different giant golden god to clamber up 273 steep stairs towards the entrance. As we sweated our way to the top we passed tons of little greedy monkeys, I didn’t have a lot of love for them, I found them to be just as annoying as squirrels, and perhaps sensing my animosity one granddaddy monkey attempted to murder me by throwing a coconut at my head right as I climbed the final step. At the summit the limestone opened up into a huge cavern streaked with various shades of green, white and grey, which twisted down with the rock into dramatic pillars. We watched people making their pilgrimages to several little shrines inside before briefly stopping at the ‘dark cave’, where we heard what must have been hundreds of thousands of bats. On our way out we stopped at the final cave where life size figurines told the story of Ram, I got pretty into it, especially the part with the demoness and the giant.
And now, here I am in Cambodia, or as I have been saying (much to Katie’s annoyance), Cambodi-yaaah! It’s been another love at first sight kinda travel romance here, and I’m thrilled to have another 13 days to really fall into it before I head back to Malaysia to start work on Tioman Island. Thanks for reading!