Singapore: Coming Together of Cultures

To start my 4 months of travel, I first had a 2 night stopover in Singapore. I tried to visit as much as I could, taking in all the smells, sights and tastes of this city/island.

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Singapore was just a quick stop.  I was transiting between cities and I thought it would be nice to break up the journey and have 2 nights in Singapore.  I found Singapore a very expensive city especially compared to the other countries in the region.  It was very clean, and filled with lots of shopping malls.  Not just any shopping malls, but high end stores.  I got the impression that the number one pass time of people in Singapore was shopping.  I tried to stay out of these megamalls except for when escaping the heat.

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city and has corresponding areas to represent the different ethnicities that make up this island.  I stayed in Chinatown which was very touristy and full of shopping.

China Town

Chinese temple and lanterns Chinese temple and lanterns

Although Chinatown, there was a Hindu Temple right in the middle of it. Although Chinatown, there was a Hindu Temple right in the middle of it.

Singapore wouldn’t be complete without a Little…

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Turkey

Before my 4 month trip, I went to Turkey with my parents. I didn’t blog on this trip because my parents read my blog and I wasn’t sure they’d like reading about themselves. But here are some of the photos.

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I had already been to Turkey once before and loved this country.  I loved the people, the culture and the food.  I had missed out on going to Eastern Turkey and really wanted to return to visit there.  I decided to take my parents to Turkey.  They had to see Istanbul, of course, and then we headed to Eastern Turkey.  Some compromises were made because of the weather, time and my parents desires, so I didn’t end up climbing Mt Nemrut.  However, we did see some very interesting places.

In Istanbul, we went to all the major sites in Sultanahmet.

Outside the Blue Mosque Outside the Blue Mosque

Stunning mosaics inside the blue mosque Stunning mosaics inside the blue mosque

Basilica Cistern Basilica Cistern

Hagia Sophia Hagia Sophia

Christian Mosaic, Hagia Sophia Christian Mosaic, Hagia Sophia

View of Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia View of Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia

Galata Tower Galata Tower

Suleymaniye Mosque Suleymaniye Mosque

At the Topkapi Palace, I loved the exquisite mosaics.

What I enjoy the most about Turkey is the food

And I…

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My Travel Companion’s Kind Words About Me

This post wasn’t written by me, but it was written by my Russian friend just shortly after we parted ways.  She posted it on facebook and I wanted to post it here as it is as much a part of the memories as the posts I have been making:

Manila is the best place to meet people. The most amazing travelers I met were in this city. There is something special about the hostel I am staying. Special atmosphere and well organized space which make people get to know each other.
Three months I met Marcia at the same place. She became my travel partner for some places in the Philippines and later on decided to change the tickets back home to be able to join me in my trip without purpose and destination for another month.
She is certainly my soulmate and we had a blast whenever we went. I have learnt a lot from this experienced traveler who has visited over 70 countries and really thankful to the universe for bringing us together at the same place and time.
When people asked us where we were from and we replied Canada and Russia you could see instant sparkles of astonishment in their eyes.
Words cannot describe what an amazing time we had together – by the end of our journey we could be able to read thoughts of each other just watching the eyebrow move or look of each other. That has been a pure harmony.
Dear Marcia, I wish that you will find what you are looking for very soon and that we will meet up again one day to travel a bit more, discuss all the possible topics and play shithead on the bus to somewhere.

 

The End of My Journey…

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Now my travels have come to an end.  I’m back in my “hometown” after a whirlwind visit to London.  Ahh…London, I truly love this city.  Although there for only 10 days, it was like I had never left.  I picked up my old routine, even went to 3 dance classes.  I found myself feeling very conflicted while there.  In theory, I know all of the reasons that I chose to leave but did I make a mistake?  But to have renewed my visa in London meant that the past 4 months would never have happened.  I wouldn’t give up these past 4 months for the world.

Out of all my adventures, this period of travel was the most meaningful to me.  I think it was because I am at a crossroad in my life.  When traveling, many other travelers are at similar crossroads.  They have finished school and don’t know what the next step is; changing jobs, careers, countries, life…  Crossing paths with these travelers can bring deeper meaning to your travels.  When you open up to them, they listen and reflect with you.  They are genuinely interested in what is going on in your head, perhaps because listening and reflecting will give them some insight into their own situations.  It’s different sharing with travelers than with others who are on defined paths.  They can be quick to advise and opine when all you really want is a sounding board.

I started these travels with clarity of mind for the future and I’ve ended it with obscurity.  However, I have learned lots about myself along the way.  What I’ll do with this new found knowledge is the big question.  Continue to watch this space, I’m sure I’ll be jet setting somewhere soon.  In the meantime, I’m going to sort out the photos and work on the photoblog.  I may even pull up some old emails from the early days of my travels before blog was a word and digital photography was in its infancy (I sound like a dinosaur) and sporadically post them here.

Thanks to those that I met along the way for the insight that you brought to my journey.

Submerged in Southern Laos

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Laos is a country which when I traveled it 2 years ago, I was told that there is no defining feature to Laos unlike its neighbouring countries, but when you get there you never want to leave.  I would agree Laos is the perfect country to just lose time in. This time, my visit to Laos would encompass the southern part: the Bolaven Plateau and 4000 Islands.

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First we arrived in Pakse and we decided that it was time to try the motobike.  Although, the perfect time to do this was when we were doing nothing in Kampot; take a bike out and play around with it. We decided that our first time on the bike would be when we had to travel 46km one way.  As it was new to us, we opted for an automatic bike but it was twice the price to rent it so we just took one.  My Russian friend drove first and she made it look so easy. It didn’t take her long to get comfortable with the bike. We had gone to see an ancient temple, Wat Phou, in Champassak.  After exploring the temple in the sweltering heat, it was time to head back to Pakse.  It was also my turn to drive the bike.  Well, I didn’t go very far before skidding with bike and falling.  I got back on had a bit more play with it and then my friend said “Are you ready? Let’s go.”  Then she got on the bike and the bike swayed as I couldn’t get the balance, so I stopped and chickened out as I needed more time to get used to it.  That was my attempt at a motobike.  We kept the bike for the next two days as we ventured up to the Bolaven Plateau to see the many waterfalls in the area.  I let her do all the driving because I needed time to get used to driving it and we were always going somewhere.  I have to say, the love affair of seeing Laos on the back of a bike was totally lost on me.  You can’t read, you can’t sleep, bugs hit your face and it so uncomfortable.  Maybe when you are driving it’s more exhilarating but as a passenger, give me a bus any day.  She loved it.  She got very confident almost too quickly.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous on the back.  I was watching the speedometer to make sure she didn’t go too fast. Every time, she turned to talk to me or was looking at the surroundings, I was saying a silent prayer.

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After Pakse and surrounding areas, we headed to 4000 Islands.  We stayed on the island Don Det.   I have to say that Don Det was my favourite island/beach chill out place in the whole four months.  I can’t quite put my finger on it.  It didn’t offer the crystal clear waters of Gili T or El Nido- it’s on the Mekong, it’s a river.  There were no snorkeling opportunities, but there were fresh water dolphins.  Maybe it was the company, but something about Don Det just made me want to stay.  Most of our time was spent doing nothing; by this time we were professionals at it.  In all fairness, I’d say we actually were more active here than in other places.  We tubed along the Mekong and got one speed push bikes and went to neighbouring islands to see waterfalls.  We even booked a kayaking tour.

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The first time my friend and I were in kayaks, we were in single ones on our own.  The next time we had the one-sided oars.  This time when we had double kayaks and could finally kayak properly together, she ditched me for someone else! Rewind- when doing long travels, you sometimes end up randomly bumping into people who you’ve met along the way.  On the island, my friend bumped into her Greek friend who she had met in Chang Mai two months previously.  So off she went with him in the kayak.  I do not exaggerate, but not 15 minutes into the tour, I hear my Russian friend screaming and turn and look back at them as they are headed straight into an island (a lot of these 4000 islands are just green growth on top of rocks).  The guides had this look on their faces that read “You can’t be serious.  We haven’t even hit the hard part yet.”  Watching for them, as they came around the island, their kayak slowly started to tilt and turn over.  Out they fell.  I started laughing, it was too funny, words can’t describe.  Then suddenly I stopped laughing, my eyes widened and I covered my mouth.  A girl in the tour said “It’s okay, you can laugh.”  To which I replied “I know I can laugh, they’re my friends.  But they have my camera!”

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Phong Nha Caves- A Must Visit

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Now that we had spent a couple of days in Saigon, it was time to head to the caves which would be a bit of trek to go and see. Normally, if you were traveling Vietnam, you would visit either on your way from/to Hue.  As we were skipping all the highlights in between Saigon and Hue, we decided to fly to Hue (as opposed to taking a 28 hour train ride) and then get the DMZ transfer, pricey, but direct from the Hue Backpackers Hostel.

The Phong Nha Caves have just recently opened up to tourism in the last couple of years and the traffic into the area is still quite low.  The national park here is a world heritage site which boasts the largest cave in the world.  Having very little information about the caves, we were surprised to get there and find out how extensive the caves were and if you want to do it properly, you should come with lots of money and time to do a multiple day trek.  The most phenomenal trek is a 7 day 6 night trek through the park and Hang Son Doong Cave.  You just don’t show up to Phong Nha and book this tour.  They limit the number of people per year that can enter this cave and it costs 3000USD.  But from the pictures that were shown to us, it looks absolutely amazing and I would consider returning to do it.  There is a forest growing in the caves and rock formations that I have never seen before.  However, with the time and the money we had, we stuck to the more accessible caves.

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The first cave we visited was named the Phong Nha Cave.  We had to access it by boat.  One boat costs 350 00o dong and can take up to 14 people.  The boat takes you along the river and into the cave.  Surprisingly, there weren’t too many people in the caves which was really nice as it was very quiet to ride along the boat and watch the stalactites and stalagmites.  Then we got a chance to get out and walk in the caves.  There were no walkways with rails, so you could walk right up to the rock formations.

The next day we did a tour which would take us through the national park and into Paradise Cave and another cave known as the Dark Cave.  In the Dark Cave, we would have to swim through it.  The section of the Paradise Cave that we went into was very touristy and had been laid out with walkways and colourful lighting.  We walked about 1.4km through this cave, but the cave is deeper and if you want to you can explore more of this cave in a different tour.

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At lunch, we were mentally preparing ourselves for going into the next cave as we weren’t sure how cold the water was going to be.  One of the guys on the tour asked “When are we going to go into the mud hole?” My Russian friend, said if I could have seen the look on my face I would have laughed as my eyes darted back and forth with confusion on my face.  “Mud hole?”  I asked.  “We were told about water, not mud.”

We headed off to the last cave.  After getting into swim suits, life jackets and helmets with head lamps, we had to kayak out to the entrance of the caves.  My kayaking skills had been improving over the past 3 months, but there was a new challenge today.  How to kayak in pairs with a one-sided oar.  My poor friend and I kept going in circles.  We couldn’t figure out how to go in a straight line.  But didn’t feel too bad because everyone else was struggling.  Eventually, we were able to keep a pretty straight course by moving in a wide snaking fashion.

Once in the cave, we had to walk through some ankle high water and then we were told to leave all cameras (although, I had already left mine) and shoes.  We headed off in single file through a narrow part of the cave.  Suddenly as the walls came in closer we found our feet being sucked into mud.  One of the group members said that you could tell when people had hit the mud because the giggles started.  As your feet sunk into the mud, the mud surrounded it and didn’t want to release our feet for the next step.  We held the sides of the walls and walked heavily through the cave until we reached the parts of the cave where we had to climb over rocks, climb up steep hills and slide down steep slopes.  The mud was slippery, so it was challenging to hold on and safely climb.  Going down the slopes was much easier, just slide down and enjoy the drop!  We ended up in a slightly less viscous of pool of mud with the consistency of chocolate pudding.  I think this was the mud hole.  We were instructed to turn off our head lights and the guides unleashed mud bombs on us.  We had this huge mud fight in the dark.  It was so much fun.  Any reservations I had about extending my trip were eliminated at that moment in a mud hole in the middle of Vietnam.