With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

The Malls of Singapore

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 20, 2017

Thursday, June 8th – 12th, 2017

Singapore is known for being quite expensive, but Mark and I managed to not spend a lot of money by planning ahead of time. We packing everything we wanted to do in just four days. Everyday we got up early and did lots of things before heading back to our hostel at night. We would rest in a more economical country.

The good thing about Singapore is that there is a cheaper version of almost everything you want to do. You could visit the Gardens by the Bay and pay to see everything, pay to see somethings, or you could just stay in the free areas. A majority of the Gardens by the Bay is free. The same is true for Sentosa Island. You could pay to enter Universal Studios or any of the many other attractions. But you could also just walk around then head to the areas with free activities. You’ll still have a great day.

Ritz Art

Mark and I packed our schedule with as many free things as we could. We were going to pick a few non-free things to do, but we didn’t feel the need or have the time. If you love art, Singapore is for you! There were a few free displays of artwork at hotels and malls. Some of them, like at the Ritz-Carlton, came with a pamphlet with explanations. Others came with art experts just dying to talk about the works.

There are many malls in Singapore. You can go from subway station to mall to another mall and back to a new subway station all without going outdoors. At times it seemed that Singapore was just a bunch of interconnected malls that came together and declared itself to be a country. It’s so easy to just spend all your time, and your money, in the really nice malls of Singapore.

Try hard to resist the shopping urge and go outside.


Singapore
(Republic of Singapore)

How to get there:

You can enter Singapore by bus, train, plane or boat. Though, as of 2017 the train from Malaysia is a bit of a hassle requiring multiple transfers at the boarder.

Most can get 90-day visas to enter Singapore. Check with the ICA website for visa information.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police 999
    • Ambulance and Fire 995

Website:

Downloads:

Data:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Do not bring illegal drugs into Singapore!
  • Do not carry the luggage of someone who might have drugs into Singapore.
  • In most countries, it’s best to change money at a bank. For some reason, banks do not change money in Singapore. You must use a money changer’s.
  • Use a single-trip ticket to use the LRT.
    • Do not get the Adult Stored Value Card since the 5$ deposit is not refundable.
    • When you get the credit on the card returned (ie. You have $6.75 left on the card and now you are leaving Singapore.) you cannot keep the card.

The 5 Merlions of Singapore

How to get there:

  • Coordinates:
    • The Merlion on Sentosa – 1.253475, 103.818908
    • The Merlion on Mt. Faber – 1.273339, 103.817764
    • The Merlion at Merlion Park – 1.286797, 103.854504
    • The Mercub at Merlion Park – 1.286814, 103.854143
    • The Merlion at Tourism Court –  1.303755, 103.824061

Address:

  • 2 at Merlion Park
  • 1 on Sentosa Island
  • 1 up Mt. Paber
  • 1 at Tourism Court

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • Some are always available, some are not

Videos:

Notes:

  • Technically there are 7 Merlions, but 2 shall never be spoken of. They know what they did.
  • One merlion has survived a lighting strike.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.281400, 103.844291

Address:

  • 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840

Phone:

  • +65 6220 0220

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free
  • Donations are welcomed.

Hours:

  • 7:00 – 19:00

Notes:

  • No shorts or sleeveless shirts.
  • If you are wearing shorts or a sleeveless shirts you can borrow a scarf and skirt.

Gardens by the Bay

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.281702, 103.863678

Address:

  • 18 Marina Gardens Dr, Singapore 018953

Phone:

  • +65 6420 6848

Websites:

Downloads:

e-mail: 

Cost:

Hours:

  • 5:00AM – 2:00AM

Videos:

Notes:

  • Watch Garden Rhapsody, a light and music show.
    • Free
    • everyday at 19:45 & 20:45

ION Art Gallery

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.304003, 103.831540

Address:

  • 2 Orchard Turn, Singapore 238801

Phone:

  • +65 6238 8228.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 10am – 10pm

Notes:

  • Some of the pieces are for sale.

Artwork at the Ritz-Carlton

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.290441, 103.860147

Address:

  • 7 Raffles Ave, Singapore 039799

Phone:

  • +65 6337 8888

Websites:

Cost:

  • Free

Notes:

  • Ask for a pamphlet on the art. It’s helpful and free.

Sentosa Island

How to get there:

Address:

Phone:

  • 1800-SENTOSA (7368672)
  • +65 6736 8672

Websites:

Notes:


Botanic Gardens

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.314097, 103.815871

Address:

  • 1 Cluny Rd, Singapore 259569

Phone:

  • +65 6471 7138

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 5:00 – 0:00

Mt. Faber

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 1.273831, 103.817513

Address:

  • Mount Faber Rd, Singapore

Phone:

  • +65 6377 9688

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24h

Notes:

Map:

Posted in Singapore | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Travel Tips for Malaysia

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 15, 2017

2017

You have to bring:

  • Prescription medication.

Everything else can be bought in Malaysia. (I know I say this a lot, but it’s true. All you really NEED to bring is your meds.)

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage:
    • You can use a suitcase or a backpack. A Backpack gives you a little more mobility, but it’s not a must-have here.
  2. Clothes:
    • Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia in general have a lot of tourists. There are many, many shops here with western sizes.
    • There are many malls in KL with prices that rage from cheap to normally priced.
    • There are also many upscale malls too.
  3. Towel:
    • Bring your towel if you are staying in a hostel.
    • Some hotels allow their towels to be used at the beach.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash:
    • All hotels provided guests with shampoo and body wash.
      • When I didn’t like the shampoo I was given, I bought my own.
    • You are never given conditioner.
    • You should bring your own toiletries if you are staying at a hostel.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash at any convenience store.
      • You can find many popular brands like Dove, Pantene, Finesse, and Lux.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • You can find this here, but the brand selection is limited.
      • It’s mostly Dove, Nivea, and other brands I’ve never heard of.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • It’s mostly Banana Boat and Nivea.
    • Many (not he Banana Boat brand) come with “skin whitening” (whatever that means).
    • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and suncreen at a convenience store, but they will be cheaper at grocery stores. Grocery stores will have more variety, too.
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Rentals & Rides: (Mostly at Langkawi)
    • You can rent:
      • surf boards.
      • Boogie boards
      • Scooters
    • You can do:
      • Banana Boats
      • Parasailing
      • other various water activities
  9. Other things you should bring:
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone
      • You will need this to use Uber.

General Tips:

Food:

  • Try not to over eat too much.
  • The food is very delicious and not expensive at all.
  • It’s easy to over do it.

Taxis:

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
    • HSBC has no ATM fees.
  • Exchange money at banks.

Scams:

  • It’s mostly taxis you have to watch out for.

Swimming:

  • NEVER swim at any beach alone.

Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get there visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

Posted in Malaysia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Sunway Lagoon

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 10, 2017

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

We’re laughing because our plane tickets were so cheap. That kid is jealous because he flew to KL on a non-discount airline.

On our trip, Mark and I fly with Air Asia. The tickets are ridiculously inexpensive especially because we have no check-in baggage, we don’t buy the meals on the plane, and we choose the cheapest days to fly.  Even after finding the cheapest ticket on the cheapest day, Mark runs that flight through google to look for discount codes or sites selling the very same tickets for slightly less. We also do the online self-check in which saves us some extra money because… reasons?

I have a sudden urge to go to Malaysia.

We saw the above ad on a flight from Hong Kong to Hanoi. Up to that point, I had only the vaguest notions about visiting Malaysia. But, this display got me to go to Kuala Lumpur.

Once in Vietnam, we did some research on Sunway Lagoon. We found that the cheapest day to go was on the silly named “Quack-tastic Tuesday” when the tickets are more than half off when purchased online.

Why is it called quack-tastic? I have no idea. Their fast pass, was called the Quack-Xpress. But there are no ducks or duck-like mascots. The whole thing is a bit weird.

There is about 1 of these Quack-tastic Tuesdays (I hate this name) each month. To get the discount you have to buy your tickets online. Once we picked the date, we saw that the fast pass for the QT was also heavily reduced. So we got that too. Buying our tickets online meant that we didn’t have to stand in the super long line at the entrance.

The ticket that is usually 170 ringgets ($40), we got for RM60. The fast past which is normally RM70, we got for RM40. We paid RM100 ($23) each for our tickets and fast pass. Which means that the people standing in line, most of whom paid full price at RM170, paid more than we did. And, we skipped them in line all day long.

Don’t try to sneak in food, they check your bags quite thoroughly.

The lines were long, but we fast-passed our way through all the rides we wanted. The fast pass has no limit; you can use it all day on almost all the rides. Even on some of the ride where there was no fast pass line, people just let us go by. The whole day I thought, “This must be what it’s like to be rich and privileged.”

As a fast passer, I get the first pick of seats before the non-fast-passers are let in.

Most of the time the fast pass holders didn’t even stand in the same area as the other people. Not only did we not have to stand in the line, at times we didn’t even see the line. Around noon I remarked about how the park was not crowded at all. I wondered if it was worth it to get the fast pass. Then I had to use the bathroom, a part of the park where my fast pass had no power. The park was in fact, very, very crowded.

Thinking about signing up for courses at Sunway University. Does the fast pass work there too?

My favorite part of the whole park was the huge pool. I could have stayed there all day. But Mark wanted to be entertained and ride all the rides. Mostly, I think, he wanted to invoke his fast pass powers. So I let him drag me out of the pool to go do things, like cross the scary, creaky bridge of foreboding. I drew the line at the Vuvuzela.


Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get there visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Sunway Lagoon

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.071727, 101.605237

Address:

  • 3, Jalan PJS 11/11, Bandar Sunway, 47500 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-5639 0000

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 18:00

Notes:

  • Go on the Quack-tastic Tuesday for the cheapest ticket price.
  • Get there early.
  • It’s best if you don’t use a locker, but that might not be very realistic since you have to wear a swimsuit in the pool and you can’t wear a wet swimsuit on the roller coasters.
    • There are 2 types of lockers.
      • Big lockers RM43 – Can only be opened twice; once to put stuff in and then to take them out.
      • Small lockers RM22 – Can be opened as many times as you like. It’s yours all day.
    • Most of the locker rooms are very crowded. It might even seem that some people go to the park just to hang out at the lockers.
    • Old men, who just don’t care anymore, will change in the locker rooms, which have no curtains and are not separated by gender.
      • You will see at least one naked old man every time you enter the locker area.
    • The lockers at the Nickelodeon section were the least crowded.
      • They they get into the park, everyone just heads to the lockers nearest to the entrances.
      • The Nick area is not near any of the entrances.
    • Wear your swimsuit under your clothes when you enter the park.
      • Ride the dry rides first.
      • Take off your clothes at the pool (since you have your swimsuit on already).
    • Change back into your dry clothes at least an hour before the 18:00 deadline or just go home in damp clothes.
      • You actually have until way past 19:oo to leave, but it’s very stressful as everyone is freaking out by that time.
      • All the bathrooms are at a stand-still with everyone and their moms taking showers, doing their hair and make-up, and getting all dolled up. (I’m not joking. All the ladies in the bathroom I saw looked like they had hot dates later that evening.)
  • Bring flip-flops or sandals to walk around in the water park.
    • The ground gets very hot during the day.
  • If you wear a skimpy bikini, you will stick out.
    • Most women wear tankinis and/ or boy shorts.
    • Some even wear rashgaurds and yoga pants.
    • The only people wearing teeny tiny swimsuits are old men. (The same old men from the locker rooms.)
  • If you have rented any floating tubes, be sure to return them before 18:00 to get your deposit back.
    • The returned money will be in cash, even if you paid the deposit with the cashless eLoad thing.
    • Keep an eye on any tube you have rented.
      • It has a unique number. Remember it.
      • Kids take them either because they think it’s for anyone, they think it’s theirs, or they’re just thieves.
      • You do not get your deposit back if you do not return your tube.
    • You don’t need a tube for any of the rides.
      • The rides provide their own tubes.
      • You only use the rented tube for the lazy river and the pool.
      • It’s more of a nuisance, really.
  • Make sure to get the money remaining on your cashless eLoad thing before 19:00.
    • This means you have to leave the park by 19:00.
    • You don’t have to use the eLoad, but it’s better than carrying around a wet wallet.
      • All the shops and restaurants take cash or eLoad.
  • You can’t bring your own food into the park, but don’t worry.
    • The food in the park is not crazy expensive, just mildly overpriced at worst.
    • The food is not too bad with many options from Subway, Burger King, and some none fast food places too.
    • Eat early or late after the rush is over.
    • You can bring in water. Bring as much water as you can, because the drinks are the most overpriced things.
  • Pay attention to the times and places of events and shows, such as Slime Time.
    • They are very punctual and they last for 15 minutes or less.

Map:

Posted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Langkawi: Hotel D’Lima

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 5, 2017

Monday, May 29th – Jun 5th, 2017

When Mark picks accommodations there is a process he goes through. If he knows exactly where he wants to stay, he will first check google maps. There he can see all the hotels in an area along with the price of accommodations and some websites like agoda or bookings where you can make reservations.

If he doesn’t know where he wants to stay or he doesn’t care, he will go straight to agoda. Agoda usually has the lowest prices or the best deals, but not always. Overall agoda is a good starting point. After that there is a quick check at hostelworld, airbnb, and whatever website google recommends for that area.

He looks for things like nice views, central location, breakfast, and free laundry service. Though, for a good price some of these can be left out. Photos of the accommodations are nice, but not much weight is put on good pictures. If the photos are bad, that means the hotel will definitely be bad. If mold and dirt show up in photos it means that the hotel manager has no idea what he or she is doing. But good photos do not mean the opposite of what a bad photo means.

Many hotels will have great pics, but when you get to the hotel you realize that the photos were taken 20 years ago when the hotel was new and in its prime. Since then cracks have appeared and the hotel doesn’t look anything like it used to. The grand pool is now just a big storage area.

That’s why you must read all the reviews you can find. Check the reviews on all the websites and google maps too. Be highly wary of places that have 3 or fewer reviews, especially when they are all too glowing with nothing but positive ratings. Also, look out for copied and pasted reviews. A guest might use the same review for 2 websites, but it’s very unlikely that anyone would paste it on more than that. Who has that kind of time? Hotel owners, that’s who.

Sometimes a hotel will have no reviews yet, because its new. If that’s the case, it might be okay. If the hotel is new, how bad can it be? But, another reason for having no reviews could be a change in name and ownership. If that’s the reason for no reviews, then it’s probably a crappy hotel. Good hotels will never change names.

The plan for Langkawi was for us to get a hotel near the beach, but not so near that it broke our budget. Then we would spend a week swimming and doing very little else. It was going to be a very relaxing week.

The first sign that things were going wrong was when our Uber driver couldn’t find the hotel. He was from another part of the island, so we didn’t worry too much about it at the time. We asked to be dropped off near where google said the hotel was and asked around.

No one had ever heard of the hotel. “Where is D’Lima Inn?” we asked. We weren’t sure how to pronounce the name, but if it was pronounced the way we thought it might be pronounced… “This could be a problem.”

Mark walked into hotel after hotel to asked receptionists for directions. He asked taxi drivers, security guards, shop keepers, and other tourists. No one had ever heard of the “Dilemma Inn”.  Watching Mark try to find this place, I stood on the sidewalk and pulled at my hair. A huge part of me thought we had given a fake hotel our money for one weeks accommodations and now we would have no place to sleep.

Mark seemed a bit more hopeful. “It might be new. That’s why no one knows where it is,” he told me. “It didn’t have very many reviews and the ones it did have weren’t from too long ago.”

“Did the hotel look new in its photos?” I asked.

“Yes, but all hotels look new in the photos,” he responded.

We had an address for the place, but it could not possibly be right. We had a pin on google, but when we went there it was just a field of grass. We had a map from the hotel’s Facebook page. That could not be it either; it was a building that was torn down. I looked online and found a few phone numbers for the hotel.

We took the numbers to a tourist information booth. We didn’t have a sim card on our phone so, we couldn’t make calls ourselves. But the lady at the booth was kind enough to call for us. She called the first number, but no one picked up. Then she tried the second number; it was disconnected. So she kept calling the first number until, after 5 calls, someone picked up the phone.

She asked the guy on the phone to send someone over to pick us up and show us the way to the hotel. It was over 2 hours after getting out of the Uber driver’s car, that we got to the hotel. I was so mad and irritated. The hotel was not pinned properly on google maps. On all the maps the hotel provided online, not one of them had the correct location. And, the address the hotel gave was of a place that could not possibly exist. Once on the island and on the correct road, the hotel had no signs posted until you got almost to the hotel itself on some shady back road. Then the idiot receptionist wouldn’t answer the damn phone.

“Don’t mind us. We’re just building this hotel.”

At the hotel, I could see that there was a possibility that the place was new. Hell they were still building the thing. There was construction going on right by the pool. And the work on the third floor had yet to commence. We were handed a key and walked over to a room next to the pool.

“No,” we said. There was one window in the ground-floor room and it was in plain view of the construction crew. It was also very noisy from the work being done and the screaming kids in the water. “This will not do. Show us another room.”

We were given another room. It had brown globby fluids leaking from the ceiling in the bathroom. “No,” we said. “Show us another room.”

We were given another room. It had mold covering the bathroom from floor to ceiling. “No,” we said. “Show us another room.”

We were given another room. It had random holes in the wall and wires sticking out in odd places. We could tell that it had recently been remodeled because it had new furniture and the room smelt slightly of paint. There was no mold in the bathroom, though there were wires sticking out there too. “I guess this will do…” we sighed.

One night a cat got in our room. We had to chase it, catch it, and throw it out.

The room we got in the end was not too terrible. It was big and newly refurbished. But it wasn’t good either. There was no wifi or any kind of internet. The paint job was not done well. They clearly ran out of whatever paint they were using and finished the job with another paint that was a few shades off. Some of the electrical appliances were oddly mounted or installed, like the TV placed in a corner or the water heater plugged into the wall in the shower where water ran over the socket.

The staff didn’t know the first thing about running a hotel. They never cleaned the room. We begged them to several times, but were always given excuses why it wasn’t done. Once they claimed to have done house keeping, but the only noticeable change was that the floors were swept. They didn’t even take out the trash, give us new towels, or replace the shampoo, soap, or toilet paper.

Are they ever going to start on that 3rd floor?

To prevent myself from losing my mind, I had to get passively aggressive. Since they didn’t change my towels, I started just taking towels. Of course when there was someone at the reception, I asked, but 80% of the time no one was there. They left the laundry area open with all the clean towels folded on a table. I would take a clean one for me and one for Mark and leave our dirty towels on a pile on the other side of the table. I did this twice a day, in the morning for showers and the afternoon for beach towels. The dirty towel pile in their own laundry room went untouched the whole time I was there. They probably wondered who this towel fairy was that kept delivering damp towels.

That bottle of water and that chair was there when we checked in and it sat there for the whole week. It might still be there now.

The trash annoyed me. Since they never cleaned the room, it never got emptied. Eventually it started to attract ants. There were always ants crawling around this hotel, but with the trash full, even more were stamping around our room. I took the trash can and put it in the hall one morning. By evening there were 4 more trash cans placed in the hall by 4 other guests. The next day, all the trash had been emptied and the bags replaced. I, and most other guests, kept our trash in the hall after that.

“One day, there will be a 3rd floor…”

The hotel itself wasn’t bad. I don’t think it was a new hotel. It might have been in the process of being remodeled. I can appreciate that. But the staff had no idea how to run a hotel. There was a cleaning staff that never cleaned and a receptionist who almost never answered the phone and was out of the office most of the time. The only people who were consistently on the job were the construction workers by the pool and I have no idea what they were building.

I spent one afternoon by the pool looking at them work. I couldn’t tell what they were building. It might have been a BBQ pit or a shed… maybe a garden?

The staff themselves had no interpersonal skills. The few times they were there for me to request (beg for) house keeping and toiletries they would just sit there staring at me. They would have vacant looks in their eyes like they were stunned by what they saw. I would repeat my request several times because they couldn’t hear me on account of their focused gawking.

One of them had a 12-year-old daughter who seemed quite normal. She would go in the office or laundry room and come back with soap, shampoo, and towels. “Here,” she would say and smile at me.” “Thanks kid!” I would tell her and she would giggle.

The adults would then stare at her thinking that she was so brave to interact with a creature who had been replacing their clean towels with damp ones.

Getting my 5-a-day

Other than the hotel, Mark and I had a good time on Langkawi when it wasn’t raining. Actually even when it was raining, we had a pretty good time.


Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get their visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Langkawi

How to get there:

  • From Penang:
    • Ferry: RM 60/ 2hours
    • Plane: 16-30USD (RM64-120)/ 35 minutes
    • Bus: RM18 / feels like all afternoon
  • There are plenty of taxis around town.
    • They charge a flat rate that’s a bit high.
    • Your alternative is Uber.

Websites:

Downloads:

Notes:

  • This island can probably be fully enjoyed after renting a scooter.

Map:

Posted in Langkawi, Malaysia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

George Town: Food Heaven

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 30, 2017

Monday, May 22nd–29th, 2017

Clearly, if you ate more you wouldn’t have his problem.

It wasn’t too long into my visit to Malaysia before it became my new favorite country. I kept asking Mark how he would feel if we lived in KL for a year. I didn’t have too much time to think about what kind of job I could possibly do, before it was time to leave Kuala Lumpur for the northern island of Penang.

I stepped off the boat at the dock in Penang and started to forget all about Kuala Lumpur. I walked down the street and took photos with the street art on the side of buildings. After my first banana leave nasi kandar, Kuala Lumpur was a distant memory. George Town on Penang is where it was at. “It” being all the delicious dishes of Malaysia.

Choosing Dim Sum at Heritage Food Paradise.

We loved the hawker stalls where you can get all sorts of Chinese foods with a Malaysian  flare. We would walk in and take a table. Then we would order food from the different stalls as well as drinks. They would bring us our food and we would pay for our dishes at the table.

We also love the nasi kandar. Mark especially, would order all sorts of combinations of curries. He couldn’t remember the name “nasi kandar” so, he would say, “I want to go to a ‘this and that’ restaurant.” Because, when he ordered his food he would point to things and say, “I’ll take this and that and some of this…”

I preferred the nasi kandar to the hawker stalls, but we ate more at the hawker stalls. The hawker stalls are owned by the people working there. They were very professional and congenial. If they treat their costumers well, they get repeat business and therefor they make more money.

The staff at the nasi kandar, though, were just employees. They get paid whether or not the diners returned. They never put much effort into making patrons feel welcomed. They weren’t out right rude, just passively so, like teenagers. The wait staff would roll their eyes if you took too long to order. They would ignore diners if they didn’t feel like helping them. They were curt to people who they thought didn’t order enough food. Once, at a nasi kandar place 3 grown men argued among themselves as to who had to serve my table.

There are a thousand and one nasi kandar restaurants in George Town, so there was no need to return to any place that had bad service. Mark and I also wanted to eat in as many restaurants as we could. But there a few places we kept going back to. One was the Heritage Food Paradise hawker stalls and the other was Top One Cafe, the only non-rude nasi kandar place.


Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get their visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Penang

How to get there:

  • You can get there by train, plane, bus, boat, and I even saw someone take a taxi on the ferry.
    • KTMB (bullet train) from KL to Butterworth:
      • 40RM oneway
      • 4 hours
    • The ferry from Butterworth:
      • costs 1.20RM there, but it’s free to return.
      • Runs from 5:30AM – 1:30AM every 15 minutes

Websites:

Notes:

  • In George Town there is a free CAT shuttle bus.
  • There is a tour bus called The Penang Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.
    • You can use it to explore the non-George Town area.
    • There are 2 routes:
      • The City Route – Buses come about every 20 minutes from 9:00 – 20:00.
      • The Beach Route – Buses come about every 1 to 2 hours.
        • You really need to look at the schedule when you get off the bus and take note of when the bus returns.
        • You could get stranded on the wrong side of the island, if you are not paying attention to the bus times.
  • The coconut tart is amazing.
  • Enjoy all the delicious food.

Hawker’s Centers

How to get there:

  • Heritage Food Paradise 5.414707, 100.339311
  • Medan Selera Seri Weld 5.417759, 100.342788

Websites:

Cost:

  • Everything is more than reasonably priced

Hours:

  • Some are opened all day.
  • Some are opened only for breakfast, only for lunch, only for dinner, or only for 2 of the 3 daily meals.

Videos:

Notes:

  • Service at all the Hawker’s centers were great.

Nasi Kandar Resturants 
(Top One Cafe)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 5.415817, 100.340469

Address:

  • 67, Lebuh Pantai, George Town, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 19-464 7439

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 7:00 – 21:30

Videos:

Notes:

  • Top One Cafe – The food is fantastic with excellent service every time!
  • With some other Nasi Kandar places, the food is great, but sometimes the wait staff can be passively rude, rolling their eyes when you take to long to order foods you’ve never heard of before.
    • Sometimes, they straight up ignore you.
  • Other places include:
    • Restaurant Kassim Mustafa 5.415830, 100.339308
    • Restoran Kapitan 5.416247, 100.338613

Other Non-Food Attractions:

  • Ferringhi Beach
    • It’s a nice beach.
    • Oddly no one but Mark and I were swimming the day we went, making us feel like everyone knew something we didn’t.
    • There isn’t much else to do on the beach side of the island.
  • Fort Cornwallis
    • Overpriced with not much to offer.
    • We just looked at it without going in.
  • Jetties
    • It’s free.
    • It can be a little awkward at times since these are people’s homes.
  • Kek Lok Si Temple
  • Miami Beach
    • If you are using the Hop-on Hop-off bus, this is not worth it, since the buses are 1 to 2 hours apart.
    • It’s rocky and there isn’t even one person selling fruit drinks for miles!
  • Penang Hill
    • If you go, take the train.
    • This would be great if you have kids.
    • It’s okay at best for adults.
    • The food up the hill is not at all over priced.
  • Purrfect Cat Cafe
    • The money they make helps to take care of all the cats.
    • Mark didn’t like it, because we spent most of our time there watching the staff playing with all the cats.
      • Mark wanted to play with some cats, but the staff member wouldn’t let up.
  • Street Art
    • They are everywhere.
    • Try to find them all!
  • The Sun Yat Sen Museum
    • It’s really more of a museum about the museum itself.
  • Trick Art Museums
    • There are figuratively millions of trick art museums on Penang.
    • Choose the one, or two, you want before heading to any.
    • They are Penang themed, movie themed, upside down art, ghost themed, 3D themed, and so on.

Map:

Posted in George Town, Malaysia, Penang | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

KL: Shoppers’ Delight

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 25, 2017

Thursday, May 18th – 21st, 2017

Not only do I love KL, but I also love my rapper-designed quick-dry active shorts.

When I packed my bag at the start of this trip, I thought I had packed light. The long trail of discarded clothes, gadgets, and what-naughts from Hanoi to Cambodia left in my wake proved otherwise. I thought I was clever packing 2 pairs of reversible shorts that made it look like I had 4 shorts. But, they took forever to dry. And really, who cares that you might have 4 pairs of shorts when all you ever wear are damp shorts?

I was lucky to find not 1, but 2 pairs of quick-dry shorts that were so light and thin they literally could be folded up and placed in the pocket of one of the old shorts without much of a bulge. They were in the little town of Mui Ne, Vietnam and where designed by a rapper I had never heard of. The brand is called RBX and it’s marketed as “athletic apparel at an affordable price”. Along with affordability, I like that these shorts are active wear without the “active wear” look.

Travel clothes are expensive. They are light, dry quickly, and some don’t even need to be washed often. But travel clothes are also very expensive. It’s roughly $60 to $90  for a t-shirt. I’m talking US dollars here, not Laotian kip or anything for one measly shirt.

A more economical option is to buy sports clothes. These clothes are light and dry quickly. You probably have to wash them as often as you do your regular clothes, though. The problem with sports clothes is that they look like sports clothes. They are flashy and cause all eyes to be directed at you when you are in range. You will look like you got lost on the way to the gym and somehow ended up on a plane to Malaysia when you wear them.

So what I do, is go into stores like Sport’s Authority and search through rack after rack hoping to find the least athletic looking shirts, pants, and jackets. It’s a very hard task. Many times I come so close to finding something decent, only to have to choose between a boring black and a neon green shirt with orange trim.

But, the shorts inspired me. If I could find two pairs of plain, ordinary looking shorts that happen to be light and quick-drying, then there must be hope for some shirts too. I searched online for recommendations. One travel blogger talked about Uniqlo’s Airism collection. These were cool (as in temperature) clothes for the summer.

Uniqlo, if you don’t know, is like Japan’s Gap or Old Navy. The clothes are affordable and not too flashy. This is rare; Japan is mostly 80% flash where clothes are concerned. The problem with Uniqlo in Japan, is that they mostly have smaller sizes. They do sell clothes that fit me, but they usually sell out before I get to the store.

But Kuala Lumpur is a more international city. The Uniqlo there would have more bigger sizes in stock. And best of all, the prices at Uniqlo are about the same world-wide. If a shirt costs 20USD in L.A. it will cost about 2000JYN in Tokyo, 15GBP in London, and 85RM in Kuala Lumpur.

Mark and I went shopping in KL. I bought a few shirts that cost about 18USD each. But, Mark went full-on Uniqlo. He took this opportunity to dump all of his clothes. He bought 3 shirts and 2 pairs of shorts. They were all athletic quick-dry clothes that didn’t look sporty.

He didn’t buy it all at once though. He got one shirt, liked it, then came back for more. Then he bought a pair of shorts, liked them, and bought another. In the course of 3 days he had a whole new backpacking wardrobe. “If only I could get a new quick-dry wife, my life would be complete,” he joked.


Malaysia

How to get there:

You can enter by plane, train, bus, boat, and even on foot (from Thailand only).

Most people can get their visas when they arrive for no charge or paperwork. The length of stay differs by the visitor’s nationality. Please check the IDM website.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Police and Ambulance 999
    •  Fire 994

Website:

Downloads:

  • Travel Guides
  • Uber
    • If you don’t have an account already, get one before you go to Malaysia.

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Be careful when taking taxis.
  • HSBC ATMs do not charge ATM fees.
    • Use ATMs responsibly. Use the ones indoors where you are least likely to get robbed.
  • Kuala Lumpur had a free bus service. Check the route out before getting a cab or bus ticket.

Central Market 

How to get there:

Address:

  • Jalan Hang Kasturi, City Centre, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 1-300-22-8688

Websites:

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 21:30

Notes:

  • The food stalls around the market seem to be a better choice than the restaurants at the food court.

KL Tower

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.152813, 101.703655

Address:

  • Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2020 5444

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 22:00

Notes:

  • There is a free shuttle near the base of the hill the tower sits on.
  • This tower has short lines, but is a little overpriced.
  • The Petronas Towers are more expensive and there is a loooooong line for the tickets.

Petronas Towers

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.157916, 101.711620

Address:

  • Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2331 8080

Websites:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 21:00

Notes:

  • They are named after a Malaysian oil and gas company and nothing Potter related.
  • Tickets can only be bought on the day starting at 8:30am until they run out.
    • People start lining up at 7:00am or earlier.
  • There is a mall near the tower. If you cannot go up, you can at least go in.

Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3°08’30.7″N 101°41’23.4″E

Address:

  • Jalan Lembah Perdana, Tasik Perdana, Wilayah Persekutuan, Perdana Botanical Gardens, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 3-2092 7070

Websites:

e-mail:

Cost:

  • 14RM

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 18:00

Batu Caves

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 3.237939, 101.684015

Address:

  • Batu Caves, 68100 Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia

Phone:

  • +60 1-300-88-5050

Websites:

Cost:

  • Some areas are free others cost 5-15RM.

Hours:

  • 7:00 – 20:00

Notes:

  • If you’re taking the train from  KL Sentral, be careful not to get on the train heading to Butterworth.
  • Monkeys will rob you.
    • Don’t bring food to the caves.
    • Keep your pockets empty.
    • Keep your things zipped up in your bag.
    • Don’t let the monkeys get too close.
    • Monkeys will take food, glasses, cameras, phones, anything!
  • The caves are:
    • Temple Cave – Stays open the latest
    • Dark Cave – closes the earliest and is sometimes closed for reasons.
    • Cave Villa – lots of lights
    • Ramayana Cave – tells part of a Hindu epic
  • Dress modestly. No shorts, tank tops, or low cut shirts.
  • There are lots of nice vegan and vegetarian restaurants right outside the caves.

Map:

Posted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Travel Tips for Cambodia

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 20, 2017

2017

You have to bring:

  • Prescription medication.

Everything else can be bought in Cambodia, but not as cheaply or as easily as in Vietnam. But, it can be done.

Quick disclaimer: We only stayed in hotels in Cambodia. For 2 people, hotels were either cheaper or just slightly more expensive.

Things you can buy here but you should bring with you:

  1. Luggage
    • Bring a backpack instead of a suitcase.
      • It’s easier for bus rides.
  2. Clothes
    • Everyone sells the same exact clothes here.
      • You can get a good deal, if you are good at haggling.
      • Larger sizes are harder to find. So, if you are taller or chubbier than average I would not depend too heavily on finding lots of clothes.
      • Many pants are unisex and one size fits most.
    • You might not find your usual style.
      • You will look like every other backpacker, unless you shop at malls which only carry smaller sizes and have less discounted prices.
    • You will need to have at least one short sleeved (non-tank top) shirt and one pair of shorts or a skirt that covers your knees to enter some temples. This is true for men and women.
  3. Towel
    • All hotels provide guests with towels.
    • But, I don’t know about hostels.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.
    • All hotels provide guests with shampoo and body wash.
      • Sometimes I didn’t like the shampoo or body wash so I bought my own.
    • You are never given conditioner.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in Cambodia.
      • You can find many popular brands like Dove, Pantene, Finesse, and Lux.
    • But, I don’t know about hostels.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant
    • You can find this here, but the brand selection is limited.
      • It’s mostly Dove, Nivea, and other brands I’ve never heard of.
  6. Sunscreen
    • It’s mostly Banana Boat and Nivea.
    • Many (not he Banana Boat brand) come with “skin whitening” (whatever that means).
    • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and suncreen at a convenience store, but they will be cheaper at grocery stores. Grocery stores will have more variety, too.
  7. Over the counter medicine
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone

Tuk-Tuks:

  • Settle on a price before getting into the tuk-tuk.
  • Some will have a laminated flyer with destinations and prices.

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
  • Get US Dollars.
    • Make sure, when given change, you get “legit looking” bills.
      • No bills with writing, odd marks, dirt, or anything that looks counterfeit.
  • Make sure you use up all the Cambodian Riel before you leave.
    • No one out side of Cambodia wants it.

Scams:

  • No scams in particular.
  • Just watch out for overpriced things and tuk-tuk rides.
    • Even overpriced items are cheap when compared to prices back home.
    • Overall, almost everything in Cambodia is inexpensive except for some restaurants.
      • Restaurants away from the tourist areas are FAR more inexpensive.

Visa:

  • If you need a visa to enter (Americans do) get a visa beforehand to save time.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. (I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.)
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Posted in Cambodia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

2017 A Flight Oddity

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 15, 2017

Thursday, May 18th, 2017


Mark and I flew out of Cambodia on an inexpensive Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur. There was a moment when I thought we would have had to stay another night in Siem Reap. When we were at the airport there, I saw a very weird looking guy walking around the airport. He wore a Rugrats t-shirts and, I think, a wig.

He walked up to the Dairy Queen counter and asked the price of their beer. Dairy Queen doesn’t serve beer, at least not at the Siem Reap Airport. He made a little scene where he over acted his astonishment at the lack of beer. He looked around to see what attention he got. Not many people noticed him, so he walked away to cause a disturbance else where.

Inwardly, I hoped he was not on my flight. He was not just a weirdo. He was an attention seeking weirdo. One that wasn’t getting the attention he craved. This could not lead to anything good. I had just become aware of the existence of this man and only after a few minutes I knew that trouble followed this guy wherever he went. At best, he was just some guy with mental or social problems. At worst, he was up to no good.

When we were on the plane and everyone was seated and ready to go, the flight attendants closed the door. We just sat there waiting. Then the door opened again. Walking down the aisle was an airport official wearing a reflective vest and talking into a walkie-talkie. Behind him was Mr. Rugrats. He walked down the aisle glowering at some passengers and giving goofy smiles to others.

The airport guy walked Mr. Rugrats to his seat and got him to sit down. Then the airport guy left. Once the official was off the plane Mr. Rugrats got up and walked to the back of the plane to speak with a flight attendant. I don’t know what Mr. Rugrats said, but it upset the flight attendant. He ask Mr. Rugrats to sit down. But every time he sat down, he would get up 2 minutes later to bother another flight attendant or glower at passengers.

Flight attendants walked Mr. Rugrats back to his seat several times. We had not even left the ground and already these hard working people were exhausted taking care of just was silly man in a Rugrats t-shirt. He just wouldn’t stay seated long enough for them to do their jobs.

Finally another official came and took Mr. Rugrats off the plane. There was a very normal acting man who Mr. Rugrats sat next to, the few seconds he actually sat down. He was Mr. Rugrat’s friend. He was given the option to stay on the plane or leave and help keep Mr. Rugrats calm. He left with his friend.

An attendant made an announcement to explain what happened. The 2 guys landed at the airport earlier in the day, but the government refused them entry to Cambodia. They had to go back to their country, Malaysia, and our flight was the last flight to Malaysia that day. Cambodia wanted Air Asia to take the 2 with them.

But, they did not fly in on Air Asia, and our pilot didn’t want to take responsibility for the one who was behaving oddly. He was willing to take them to Malaysia if, and only if, Cambodia provided 2 escorts to accompany the strange man. Cambodia did not or could not do that. So, our pilot refused to take Mr. Rugrats. Cambodia retaliated by refusing to give our plane clearance to take off or to allow anyone to get off the plane.

I don’t know how things got resolved. After an hour and a half stand-off, our plane left without either of the 2 guys. Who knows what happened to them.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Posted in Cambodia, Siem Reap | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Angkor Wat

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 10, 2017

Monday, May 15th to 18th, 2017

We went to Siem Reap for one thing and one thing only. We wanted to see Angkor Wat. We weren’t really enjoying Cambodia that much. I’m not sure, maybe it was the genocide being less than 40 years ago, but it just wasn’t half as fun as Vietnam was. So excluding the day we arrived and the day we left, we stayed only 2 days in Siem Reap.

Arrival Day  

  • Option 1: Buy AW Tickets after 5:00PM and see the sunset?

The very first day in Siem Reap we made our first Angkor Wat orientated decision. We chose not to see the sunset at Angkor Wat. You see, on the day you buy a ticket, if the ticket is purchased after 17:00, you can enter the Angkor Wat complex without it affecting how many more days you have left to tour the temples. It’s like a sunset freebie.

  • Option 2: Sunrise at AW?

We were tired from traveling the 7 hours it took to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh. So, not only did we not head right over to the Angkor Wat ticket office, We didn’t even schedule a tuk-tuk to take us there early enough to see the sun come up the next day. Instead, we agreed that he should come pick us up at 8:00 the next morning. Actually, I groaned on the inside at the thought of not being able to sleep in the next day, but then nodded at his suggestion that an 8:00 pick up would be ideal if we didn’t want to see the sunrise.

Mr. Le

Siem Reap Day 1 — Option 3: Buy either the 1-day, 3-day, or 7-day ticket?

  • Option 4: Bike or Ride?

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Le, showed up as scheduled and took us right to the ticket office. I read online about people who rent or borrow bicycles from their hotels to get to Angkor Wat. We passed a few of them on our way and I thought they were crazy. It was very hot even this early in the morning. “Most of them will not make it back this afternoon,” I thought. Even if I were in the greatest of physical shape, the heat alone would deter me.

  • Option 5: Buy a sarong?

Mark only had shorts, having thrown out all his long pants in Vietnam. They were all too hot for the Vietnamese climate and they weighed his pack down. So, now he had no pants that completely covered his knees for Angkor Wat. There, knees need to be covered, even male knees.

There are shops at the ticket office selling snacks, drinks, food, bags, sarongs, and all manner of tourist items. Mark walked into a store to pick out a manly looking sarong. He tried on a few, holding them around his waist and looking at himself in the mirror. None of them were “him”.

Seeing what Mark wanted the sarong for, a sales lady told Mark, “Pants okay.” She pulled on the end of Mark’s shorts to show that it stopped almost below the knee. The shorts didn’t fully cover the knee, just most of it. He did not need a sarong after all.  

I had to yell at some tour group people to get out of the shot, right before this photo was taken.

  • Option 6: What order?

We read about “temple fatigue” and knew we would be very susceptible to it. We had already suffered from “travel fatigue” a few times on the trip. These syndromes happen when you have too much of a thing. You become overwhelmed by or tired of temples, travel, or whatever.

The best cure is to stop doing the thing that you are tired of for a day or two. For travel, Mark and I might spend a day in the hotel watching movies, hang out at a park, or stay at a café where Mark reads online articles and I blog. (I’m writing this right now in a café in Bali as a cure for “beach fatigue”.)

It wasn’t a matter of “if”, but “when”. So, we chose to visit our must-sees first. That way we could leave when the “temple fatigue” hit. We chose to see, Ta Prohm, Bayon (Head Temple), and Angkor Wat, in that order.

Ta Prohm, the temple from Tomb Raider, was picked to be first because it is a popular afternoon stop for tour groups. These groups move through the temple 30 or 40 people strong. They are slow, constantly stopping to take selfies, and always getting in your selfies.  Once you get stuck behind a tour group, all you can do is wait, or have clumps of tourists in all your best shots. It’s best to avoid tour groups at all cost.

We picked Angkor Wat, the temple all the other temples are collectively named after, for the afternoon. Most people will have seen it shortly after sunrise. So, we hoped that it would be least busy after lunch. I don’t know if that is when it is least busy, but we did manage not to run into a tour group until our way out of Angkor Wat.

We also explored Elephant Terrace since it was not too far from Bayon, the temple with all the faces. There were so many photo-perfect moments interrupted by other tourists mindlessly stepping in the way. It was also hard to not be a mindless tourist myself, since at any given time other people were having photo-perfect moments themselves.

Most people tried to be as respectful of other people’s shots as possible. It was a little hard with so many tourists taking photos at all times. The only people who just didn’t care about ruining other tourists’ shots where the ones in tour groups. Something about being in a tour group makes people obnoxious and act like everything belongs to them. Tour group patrons would jump the queue of tourists patiently waiting to take photos with certain statues or doorways or take forever with a thousand and one selfies before pulling out another camera to take more photos.

  • Option 7: Buy a guide book?

At the entrance to every temple there are touts trying to get you to buy stuff. The most common thing they sell are guide books. You can buy one for really cheap, I hear. But, like me, most people have done their research before getting to Angkor Wat and a guide book at this point is a bit useless.

The Cambodian government would rather you buy from the adults, if you are going to buy something, and not from the children. Kids are recruited to sell things because they are cute or pitiful. The people forcing them to sell, think that tourists are more likely to buy from them. These kids are taken out of school to sell junk. If people stop buying from the children, their overlords might let them go back to school.

Sometimes you just have to rest and enjoy an icy drink.

  • Option 8: Stay for sunset?

We never did get “temple fatigue” because regular old fatigue and the heat got to us first. We spent 2 hours wondering around Angkor Wat after lunch and had to take many breaks and several liters of water to get through it. There were a lot of stairs to climb.

To cool down we ate some ice cream at a shop near the temple before looking for Mr. Le again. He asked us where we wanted to go next. It was only 3:00 in the afternoon. I couldn’t climb any more steps. We asked to be taken back to our hotel.

On our way back we passed a few tuk-tuks with bicycles shoved in the back cab. The cyclists looked so tired, many of them could barely sit up. “I knew it,” I thought. At least they didn’t have to bike back to their hotels…

  • Option 9: How will we recover?

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel’s pool. Later we were even too tired to go out for dinner. We ordered room service and went to bed early. It was a great day.

The following day we leisurely walked around town going from coffee shop to coffee shop. I did some writing and Mark got a 2-dollar haircut and shave. We felt like rich people because everything was so cheap.

Then we walked into an upscale mall. It had shops like Armani Exchange and Montblanc. I couldn’t even afford to buy a pen in that mall. I went from being a high roller to a peasant by just walking through the door. We didn’t stay long.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Siem Reap
(ក្រុងសៀមរាប)

How to get there:

Websites:

Notes:

  • During the hotter months, I recommend getting a hotel with a pool.
  • Other than Angkor Wat there are lots of adventure sport things to do in Siem Reap.

Angkor Wat
(អង្គរវត្ត)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 13.376835, 103.880741 (Ticket Office)

Address:

  • Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia

Phone:

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • One day 37USD
  • Three Days 62USD
  • Seven Days 72USD
  • Cambodians can enter for free
  • Tuk-Tuk ride 15 – 25USD

Hours:

  • Ticket Office 5:00 – 18:00
  • Sometime before sunrise to sometime after sunset.

Videos:

Notes:

  • Be sure to see:
  • Always keep your ticket with you. If an official asks to see it and you cannot produce it, you will be fined.
  • Food at the site can be a bit overpriced and not very delicious. Try the Golden Monkey in front of Bayon and Angkor Wat temples.

Map:

 

Posted in Cambodia, Siem Reap | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The History Tour

Posted by Heliocentrism on July 5, 2017

Wednesday, May 10th – 15th, 2017

Learning History Through Travel

In high school I was a pretty good student. I went to class, paid attention, did my homework, passed my tests, and passed all my classes. I did, however, put more effort into courses steeped in math and science. I thought of these as more absolute classes, with questions that have real answers. I did well in subjects like literature, religion, and history, but I saw them as less important. Their questions came with vague answers based on feelings and emotions or other very subjective foundations.

History was the worst of them all. Not only was it very subjective and most of the time one-sided, but history lessons were unforgivably boring. Even when I tried very hard to pay attention in class, I just couldn’t. To be honest I studied history just to pass tests. I didn’t think history had anything for me since it didn’t interest me in the least.

This was before Youtube, John Green, and even the History Channel.* For me history was dead and I never had a good teacher to bring it to life. Once in my freshman V. I. history class, I asked my high school history teacher why the Danish sold the Virgin Islands to the US. They sold three Caribbean islands for 25 million USD, which is not a lot. “What did the Danes get out of the deal, really?” I asked. My teacher responded with a curt, “That’s not going to be on the test, so don’t worry about it!”

This seemed like typical history teacher behavior. I felt their job was to get us through tests, where as science and math teachers were there to help us learn things. In high school I always got the feeling that most history teachers didn’t know much more than what was in the textbook. So, asking them anything too complicated was equivalent to harassment.

I did have some very bad history teachers. But I’m sure even the really good ones must ask themselves what the best way to get students interested in history are. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have found two. My methods would be hard to implement in a classroom setting, unfortunately.

*There was a time when I thought the “H” in the History Channel logo stood for “Hitler” because every other documentary they aired was about World War II. Then they started making really interesting shows like “The Universe” and airing non-World War II documentaries that were just down right fascinating. I would spend many Sunday afternoons watching documentary after documentary. They still have good stuff, but now, I think it’s better to watch their shows online where you can pick out the better shows. Ancient Aliens is entertaining and all, but there are only so many episodes of the show one can watch before it becomes repetitive.

Sometime after my sophomore year in college, I read a book. I liked it, so I read another one; then another one. I had read books before, but they were mostly books assigned to me by teachers or my mother. Once in a while someone would recommend a book to me and I would read it out of obligation. But, in my second year of college I started picking out my own books. I got a library card and I developed a taste for certain genres of literature.

I enjoyed biographies and historical fiction. I would read 3 or 4 books at the same time. There would be a book on CD in my car, a smaller book in my bag, a bigger book at my desk, and a more relaxing book to read before bed. Without realizing it, I began learning about the recent past. I learned about the Nation of Islam through The Autobiography of Malcolm X . I learned about life in China through many Amy Tan books. I learned about escaping a Russian gulag with The Long Walk. (Later I found out that a lot of that story was fabricated when I read Looking for Mr. Smith.)

I chose books because of some curiosity about a time, place, or person in history. Rather than learning about the past through a dry textbook, I saw the past through the eyes of people or characters. I had more of a feel of what life for that person was like. I could almost imagine being there myself and that these stories were distant memories.

After reading a book about one person in a time period and set in a place, I would read about another person in similar circumstances. This gave a more rounded view of events that felt a bit less one-sided than what my high school history classes offered. Take for example the books written about China during Mao’s rule. There are hundreds of them. Reading these biographies gave me more information about that time period than I could ever learn from just lectures. I could pick out any topic I liked and spend years reading up on them.

Traveling also helped me learn about history. Every city has a museum or two telling the stories of its past. But also, you begin to learn what the people who live there have known their whole lives. What is common knowledge about history to, say… a Korean, might be new information to other people who grew up elsewhere. Even if you did know more about the history of Korea, you will get a better hold of a Korean’s perspective after living in or visiting Korea.

Traveling and reading combined have taught me more about history and the world than high school ever did. Traveling to a certain city or town made me more  interested in that place’s history than in the history of areas I had not visited. Would I know as much about feudal Japan as I do if I hadn’t spent 7 years living in Japan? No. Was the Oxford Time series more exciting because I had lived in London once? Yes.

Before going to Cambodia, I knew a little about the genocide. There was an evil man named Pol Pot. He was an agrarian, like Mao, and believed that the country should be run by the peasants. He tried to kill all the intellectuals in the country. There was a ridiculous notion that intellectuals included anyone with glasses, anyone who had ever been outside Cambodia, and basically anyone of convenience.

I was vaguely aware of a place called the killing field. I didn’t know much about it. I just figured that many people died there. “Maybe, there was a mass shooting or something,” is what I thought. I would learn more after my trip to Phnom Penh.

Our first stop was at the Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S21. This used to be Chao Ponhea Yat High School. I walked through the place sadden that they turned a school into a prison of death and torture. The building still held many characteristics of schools in Japan where I taught. It even resembled my own high school in the Virgin Islands a little bit.

As I walked from one room to another, the museum told me stories of individual prisoners held here. None of the stories have happy endings. Almost all the prisoners died horrifically. Many did not die here, this was just where they were held and tortured. There are a few survivors, but they are far from lucky as most of their families did not survive the torture.

They were made to name others and to admit to the most insane things. They were forced to say they worked for the KGB, the CIA, and the Vietnamese all at the same time. The possibility of this would hurt the mind of anyone capable of logical reasoning. Almost no one here was guilty of the crimes they admitted to. No one deserved what happened to them here.

There were some rooms dedicated to the stories of some of the guards. Many of them were prisoners here too. Some were teenagers conscripted in the Khmer Rouge taken from their families who would never hear from them again. They too were forced, not to admit to crimes, but to torture their countrymen. Some of them did not last long as guards and found themselves shackled along side those they had helped torment. Many of the guards ended up with the same fate as most of the prisoners.

Listening to the audio guide that comes with the ticket.

The first thing I learned at the killing field was that there was no one killing field. There are many throughout Cambodia. Many towns and villages had one. There were over 300 killing fields in Cambodia.

The one in Phnom Penh called, Choeung Ek was once an orchard and a cemetery for Cambodians of Chinese ancestry. This was where many of the prisoners from S21 and other prisons around Phnom Penh ended up.

The guards, not wanting the victims to scream or yell, told them that they were being moved to a bigger prison. Some people from nearby villages who were under questioning were told that they were clear, but were being moved to another town for their safety. They were made to dig huge ditches.

At the site, you will see many tourists standing or sitting around the place. They are listening to the audio guide. It tells several stories about witnesses and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. The stories are very immersive and gives you information of the different sections in Choeung Ek. There are areas where visitors are sitting down and crying as they listen to Ros Kosal’s voice. Ros Kosal is himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and escaped the killing field. He lends his soothing voice to the audio guide along with others who tell their stories.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Choeung Ek was discovered to hold more than its expected old Chinese graves. The people were not buried very well and after heavy rain, many of them would surface. It took years to collect all the bodies. There are still more in the fields to this day and remains still get unearth after a hard rain. As I walked along the designated path I saw clothes and bones of victims.

According to Wikipedia, 8,895 people were buried here. They were placed in mass graves that many of them dug themselves before being murdered. They were not shot. That would have cost the government too much money to pay for all the bullets. These people were bludgeoned to death.

The guards used the same tools they had for farming and repeatedly hit the prisoners with them. Shovels, hoes, axes, sometimes even a simple bamboo stick was used. It took a lot of effort and hate for these guards to keep up the killings.

Some guards didn’t have what it took. Their hatred either waned or it was never there to begin with. If a guard was just working here to not become a prisoner himself, his lack of enthusiasm would show and his fellow guards would become suspicious. Sometimes, all it took was for the other guards to dislike a coworker for a guard to be labeled a spy. The guard would be beheaded and tossed in a mass grave dug for treasonous ex-Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge uniforms for women and men.

The government was so chaotic and so blood thirsty. Many Cambodians did not make it through the 70’s. A quarter of the population died in camps, from starvation, or from sickness because all the doctors were murdered. Being on the side of the Khmer Rouge was no guarantee that your life would be spared.

Unless you were firmly on the top. The head of this whole movement, “Brother Number One”, Pol Pot, never received any form of punishment. “Brother Number Two” a man by the name of Nuon Chea wasn’t held accountable for his actions until 2014. He was placed in jail in 2007 and received life in prison after a trial in 2014 along with Khieu Samphan, another Khmer Rouge official, for crimes committed in the 70’s.

Many of the officials running the S21 prison either received no punishment at all or very late in life. In the 80’s many of the people who had positions of power in the Khmer Rouge held legitimate power in the new government. The Khmer even kept their seat in the UN until 1982, which made it look like the world was okay with what had happened in Cambodia.


Cambodia
(កម្ពុជា)
(Kampuchea)

How to get there:

  • You can enter Cambodia by bus, plane, train, or boat.
  • You will need visa to enter. You can get a visa at the border, get an e-visa, or go to the nearest Cambodian embassy or consulate and get a visa.
    • I got my visa at the border, so I don’t know what advantage an e-visa would give you.
    • The cost of a Cambodian visa at the border or at the airport is 34USD. I know all the websites say 30USD, but it’s actually 34USD.
      • It’s not a scam, because everyone pays 34USD. If it is a scam, it’s a very consistent one.

Phone:

  • Emergency Numbers:
    • Fire 118
    • Police 117
    • Medical Help 119

Websites:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The US dollar is the main, however unofficial, currency.
    • Only paper money; no coins.
    • When getting money from retailers as change, check the bills.
      • Return anything that looks suspicious and ask for a new better looking bill.
      • If you have a suspicious bill, you will be stuck with it. No one will take it from you.
      • Refuse to take anything with rips, writing, or stains.
      • Refuse to take anything that looks fake, even if it’s a one dollar bill.
  • The local currency, the Riel, is used mainly as change less than a dollar.
    • Pay for things in rial, is like paying for things in quarters.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
(សារមន្ទីរឧក្រិដ្ឋកម្មប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍ទួលស្លែង)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.549347, 104.917658

Address:

  • St 113, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phone:

  • +855 93 388 988

Websites:

Cost:

  • 3 USD
  • 3 USD for an audio guide

Hours:

  • Daily 7:00 – 17:30

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • You can probably meet Chum Mey. He seems to hang out here signing his book and answering questions.
  • Bring lots of water.
  • Check the times for the movies and special lectures for the day.
  • There are a few rooms with some air conditioning.
    • One is a library where you can sit relax and take in all the things you’ve seen.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
(Killing Fields Of Pol Pot)
(មជ្ឈមណ្ឌល​ប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍​ជើងឯក)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 11.484441, 104.901967
  • You will need to take a tuk-tuk or get a tour bus.
    • The tour bus costs about 10USD per person.
    • The tuk-tuk should cost about 15USD for the ride.
      • 1-4 people can fit in the back of a tuk-tuk.

Address:

  • Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phone:

  • +855 23 305 371

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

  • 6USD with audio tour included
  • The tour bus costs about 10USD per person.
  • The tuk-tuk should cost about 15USD for the ride.
    • 1-4 people can fit in the back of a tuk-tuk.

Hours:

  • 8:00 – 17:00 daily

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • The audio tour is very good.
    • You might start crying.
  • There is a museum that your ticket covers. There is air conditioning in the movie room there.

Map:

Posted in Cambodia, Phnom Penh | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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