A Travellerspoint blog

Squeezing Singapore Into Our Backpacker Budget!

It only took 5 hours by bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. Singapore is a very interesting and enjoyable country, and with a little effort and help, can be done within budget! It is the size of a small city, its government run by a business-minded dictator, and it’s RIDICULOUSLY clean. One actually has to make an effort to find garbage on the streets because there virtually isn’t any! It’s interesting to see that everyone seems to have a job or some kind of function. No one is idle on the streets. There isn’t any begging. Even the elderly and the mentally challenged have a function in the hawker markets selling handwipes and Kleenex. Most young women carry some kind of high-end designer bag, or their boyfriends or their husbands will carry it for them. Most people are very well dressed, all of the time. Their designer duds are apparent from their Armani eye-glasses to their Gucci shoes. Apparently it’s illegal to buy or wear fake designer clothing!

The temperature is always in the 30 to 40 degree Celsius range and is constantly humid. You can’t even escape the humidity at night! Consistent sweating and frizzy hair are guaranteed!

We stayed in a well-run hostel in the Ann Siang area of Singapore – it’s pretty posh. We stayed at the Matchbox Concept hostel in a 16-pod room, equipped with lights, hanging space, and a cute little “peep hole” if you want to talk to the person next to you! I quite enjoyed the pod-like layout because it gives you privacy from the other people staying in the room. However, I was quickly reminded the reason why we usually avoid multi-bed dorms – the snoring and constant coming-and-going of people make it very difficult to sleep! Still, it was the coolest dorm-room I’ve ever slept in!
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We were fortunate that our friend Jeannette was available to meet up with us and show us some sites. We met her and her fiancée in India and quite enjoyed their company. Thanks to her and her insight as a Westerner working in Singapore, our stay was even better than we could have expected!

Just to give you an insight as to how clean Singapore is, Jeannette mentioned that she can walk to work barefoot in the rain and not have dirty feet afterwards. Also, we watched a bunch of teenagers practicing their break-dancing in a subway station ON THE FLOOR WITHOUT GETTING THEIR DESIGNER CLOTHES DIRTY. Amazing!

Jeannette took us to a couple of fantastic hawker markets where you can buy a huge meal and a large fruit drink for less than $4/person. The Hainan chicken-rice is a MUST. The famed “chilli-crab” is supposedly another must-try, but Derek felt his had too much chilli and less crab.
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Jeannette also took us to the Marina Bay to watch a free and innovative lazer/light show displayed on a background of fountain mist (best watched next to the Louis Vuitton flagship store), showed us a restaurant where people are hoisted onto cables to reach wine bottles from the biggest wine rack I’ve ever seen, hotels with cars that would take me at least 10 years to buy (provided that I forego a home and eating), high-end restaurant rooftops where drinks cost a minimum of $20/glass, and a mall with a drain that fills streams so that boats can take passengers through the mall and peruse by their favourite designer stores. Jeannette topped off our night by taking us to a wine bar that only served wine. After backpacking and being in countries that don’t serve wine, it was refreshing to sit back and sip on a glass of delicious Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and paired with great conversation!
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On another night, Jeannette brought us to an Arabic-centric part of town that was very vibrant and full of expats, locals, and tourists. We ate a very inexpensive restaurant with fantastic food, then went off to an outdoor patio/jazz bar for my first shisha/hookah experience! We had the apple flavour and only later did I learn that you’re NOT supposed to inhale it (duh).
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We had such a memorable time in Singapore thanks to Jeannette! It meant so much to us that she was able to take time out of her busy life to show us around and introduce us to all the wonderful things Singapore has to offer… and on a budget!

Posted by krisses 05:06 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Unwinding in the Perhentians


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

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The Perhentians islands in Malaysia are what tropical dreams are made of. A pair of idyllic islands just of the cost of the Malaysian peninsula that have some of the nicest white sand beaches and best water visibility in the world. We visited Perhentian Besar, the larger of the two islands, and at first we stayed at Arwana beach resort on the Teluk Dalam side of the island. The Teluk Dalam bay is extremely shallow which makes swimming difficult and the beach is white and beautiful but a bit rough on the feet as you walk into the water. Regardless, we really enjoyed ourselves:

After a few days we decided to move to other side of the island, specifically to the Coral View resort. The sand here was a PERFECT powdery white that felt wonderful under our feet and the water was absolutely crystal clear. As if that was not enough, there was also some amazing snorkeling just steps away from the beach, with no need to take any expensive boat trips. Just step into the water, submerge your head, and gaze at the amazing underwater world. We had truly found our tropical paradise:

Getting to the Perhentians is ridiculously easy with modern airconditioned buses from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut (gateway to the islands) on a perfect asphalt road leaving multiple times per day. There are also multiple boats per day in Kuala Besut that will take you the islands from a modern and well organized pier. If you prefer, you can also organize such transport with the resorts ahead of time but we preferred to just show up and bargain.

Posted by dariusz 09:46 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Why Malaysia, you ask?

As we travelled throughout Central and South America, we met many travellers who had travelled extensively throughout Asia. Since we had not decided where we wanted to go to in South East Asia, we posed this question to these travellers ,”If you would suggest only one country to visit in South East Asia, where would you recommend us to go?” The majority enthusiastically answered, ”Vietnam!” But as we travelled throughout Nepal, many highly recommended Malaysia. Also, we were in dire need of a beach and relaxation after our Himalayan adventure. Therefore, we decided to do over 2 weeks in Malaysia, a few days in Singapore, then 1 week in Vietnam.

Kuala Lumpur welcomed us with organized arms. After being in India and Nepal, organization was such a welcome feature! Malaysia was the first country we visited that did not require a stupid form to fill out at immigration. All you need to do is hand over your passport, have your fingerprints checked, and they can decipher whether you’re a criminal or not! I think that’s sufficient enough.

Kuala Lumpur is very multi-cultural city with a strong Muslim influence. It was refreshing to be in a city where men and women work as equals, couples can hold hands in public, women are not given unwanted attention for wearing a tank top and shorts, and people of different cultural and religious backgrounds are happily dining out together. Public transportation was efficient, the people are friendly and polite, and people actually drive in a designated lane! What a concept!
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We stayed at an incredibly clean hostel in Chinatown. There was a fantastic food court nearby as well. Derek always gets fidgety and giddy whenever he gets excited about food – and here, he was thrilled!

The food was something Derek and I found to be something we eagerly looked forward to all the time. It’s delicious and Malaysians rightfully take much pride in their cuisine. It is ridiculously inexpensive to eat in Kuala Lumpur. At a Hawker stall, you can eat a hearty meal for less than $3 per person. When we “splurged” at an expensive restaurant, we would spend $20 in total! And don't forget to try the "local Penang coffee" -- it's so delicious!!
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We actually spent time in the malls. For those who do not know Derek, he hates shopping. It’s his kryptonite. He literally loses energy, focus, and I believe he gets dizzy spells from it. Luckily for me, the malls actually have amazing food at the food courts so Derek had no choice but to go to the mall! Also, I discovered the Japanese clothing UNIQLO! Great stuff for great value! Finally, a brand of clothing for flat Asian bums like mine! But the greatest part about the mall is that it’s air-conditioned. It is so humid in KL and an escape from the humidity and heat outside is welcoming.
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Strangely enough, our old friend S.A.M. happened to be in KL at the same time as us! We met up with him, had dinner in KLCC, and then checked out the Petronas Towers – the largest twin towers in the world.
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We also visited Skybar because of its drinks and views. India and Nepal do not serve wine (well, they do but I think much taste as if it’s brewed in someone’s toilet), so I FINALLY had my wine fix! Oh yeah – the views are great too!
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Kuala Lumpur was definitely a good choice to visit when trying to escape the craziness in Asia!

Posted by krisses 04:46 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Kathmandu- In and Around

After almost 3 weeks of stunning nature views, breathing in fresh mountain air, and enjoying the serenity of ACTUAL peace and quiet, we decided to spend 3 days in Kathmandu to see the city and its surrounds.

We stayed at a fantastic hostel called Yellow Hostel right outside of the backpacker district of Thamel. The owners were very involved, welcoming, and extremely friendly. The food was delicious and the vibe was very relaxed. The hostel is owned by a Nepali woman and her Swiss husband, and their children spoke fluent French, English, Nepali and Hindi! I received some tips from the Nepali woman on how to teach your children different languages so that one day our children can be multilingual!

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The Walk
Only equipped with our Lonely Planet book and Derek's internal ability as a human GPS, we guided ourselves through the allies of Kathmandu towards Durbar Square. Along the way, there are thousand year old temples, buildings, and relics that are embedded within the more recent architecture of Kathmandu. For instance, you’ll see things such as a tiny, thousand-year old statue of Ganesh squished between 2 convenience stores, or an ancient temple that indirectly used as an island for a roundabout and is surrounded by motorcycles. We also happened to adopt a stray Canadian along the way who became lost while exploring the city by herself before she caught her flight back home to Toronto. Be warned that there are some “graphic” carvings entrenched within these ancient pagodas, but here’s what we saw during our walk:

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Bhaktapur
Bhaktapur was once the capital of Nepal and is now a beautiful UNESCO heritage site. It is rich with towering pagodas, beautiful stuppas, various Nepali ethnic groups going about their daily lives, and ancient inhabited architectural buildings. Thanks to our Lonely Planet guide, we were taken off the beaten track and enjoyed a day free of tourists and tour groups, peacefully exploring the city ourselves.

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Swayambunath
Born in 253 BC, we were lucky to be in Kathmandu during Buddha’s 2575th birthday! We decided to check out how they were celebrating at the Swayambunath Buddhist temple. It is also known as the “monkey temple” but people will quickly correct you to say its proper title. We took local transportation to the temple and were overcome by the seas of people going in and out of the temple! We had a great time watching monkeys running around, families enjoying their day together, and monks trying to keep up with the festivities. It was great to see the beautiful Tibetan colors and flags draping across the temple. It was truly a festive experience!
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Bhoudhanath
This was one of the holiest sites in Nepal with a massive stuppa as its most popular holy landmark. The humongous white stuppa was built in the 14th century after the original one was destroyed by the Mughals. We had a peaceful visit.
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One can see why people visit and revisit Nepal for months at a time. Its cultural diversity, wonderful people, and the Himalayas are just a fraction of things to appreciate while visiting there. Given how disorganized the government is and how negligent it can be with its people, it’s a wonder that the people are not more jaded.

I look forward to visiting Nepal again one day and definitely invite those who haven’t gone to do the same! And while you're at it, order a huge Tongba (Tibetan Hot Beer!)
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Posted by krisses 05:15 Archived in Nepal Comments (2)

Annapurna Base Camp Trek - Part 5

Final push to the top!


View World Trip 2012 - Actual on dariusz's travel map.

While looking through pictures and videos of this and thinking about what it is I would write I realized the less I write and the more I post the better. This video has all our thoughts as we make this last push to the top and our most immediate impressions of the stunning views we saw that day.

Unfortunately, my words at the end of the video ended up turning a bit prophetic. It was only less than a week after we got down from ABC, and only 1 day after we left Pokhara (the city where most hikers stay before heading into the range) that a giant avalanche broke a natural river damn in the Annapurna range. Pokhara was flooded and there was a number of people who went missing on one of the trails including a group of foreign hikers. I don't want to scare anyone away from hiking by writing this, but it is a reminder that when dealing with nature you always have to respect its power. Just because its not avalanche season does not mean you can be careless when there are clear avalanche conditions obvious to even an amateur like myself.

The hike trail itself is extremely safe and very well maintained. The people all long the trail are extremely friendly and helpful and you always know that you can find help should you need it. It is very easy to hike the entire trail yourself but a porter could be useful to make it a less physically demanding trek. We saw people of all levels of physical fitness and every age group. In the end it is truly an adventure of a lifetime, one you will NEVER forget, and I would highly recommend it to everyone regardless of fitness or age!

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Click here to see these and other pictures in better quality

Posted by dariusz 05:22 Archived in Nepal Comments (1)

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