At the end of last year we attended a presentation from Century Travel at Cap St George. Dan announced that there were a number of errors in their latest promotional brochure and that there would be a prize draw for whoever spotted the most. We were delighted to be the winners of return flights for two with Gulf Air.
Following an overnight flight to Bangkok via Bahrain, we had our first sight of its incredibly green design airport with its gardens and bird sculptures.
The change in Bangkok was really marked since we were last here, with lots of new high rise buildings, but still a lot of traffic congestion, but the Skytrain is the fastest and cheapest way to get around the city and
we took this to the world’s largest flea market at Chatuchak weekend market. We had read up about the market but on arrival we weren’t really prepared for the sheer size of it. Our initial impression was of a huge factory site which seemed to stretch into the distance. You can buy anything here, although we did baulk at the fried squid eggs and the baby octopus, deciding to eat instead in the “artistic quarter” of the market.
After lunch, not the cheapest but worth every baht, we decided a massage would be a good idea and ended up in a nicely air conditioned room, with about twenty other people, having our legs and feet massaged. Quote of the day came from Fiona’s masseuse, directed at Geoff who said, “If your wife was young, she would be beautiful”. Eventually succumbing to our exertions, we took the Skytrain home, via the incredibly serene and peaceful park, which could have been St James’s on a quiet afternoon.
Another good way to see the sights is via the river, taking the circular tour Tourist Boat. We hopped off at
Chinatown, which proved to be busy and quite tacky but we did steel ourselves to sample some street food – a little bag of fried chicken something on toast with chilli sauce, which was surprisingly tasty.
The next morning saw a two hour minibus trip to the river Kwai where we took our first Dragon Boat trip to the bridge. It was a shame that half the bridge was covered with “love” posters and detracted from what should have been a thought provoking occasion. Having crossed the bridge we left the main group and took a one hour drive into the mountains to an elephant sanctuary which also involved a Dragon Boat ride. We saw plenty of bird life on the way, before returning to the river for a peaceful drift in the current by bamboo raft and then a local train for a short trip.
Our next stop was Siem Reap in Cambodia which appeared to be just one huge market, interspersed with restaurants, but it had a nice friendly feel and was positively peaceful compared to Bangkok. The traffic was constant, but mainly motorbikes and tuktuks and we found the best answer to crossing the road was to walk with confidence straight across! We were asked several times to try some of the local street food – more like food from the street! Not quite ready for cooked scorpions, cockroaches, spiders and maggots – all nicely displayed though, with some on skewers!
We were here to visit the Angkor Wat complex. We expected to see a seething mass of humanity, but tour groups are limited to a maximum of twelve, which made thing much more manageable. Amazing to think that until the late 1800s the area was covered in jungle. Well done those French archaeologists.
Nothing quite prepares you for the sheer scale of the site and we were clicking madly with our cameras every several feet. After nearly three hours we left Angkor Wat for the short drive to Bayon Temple Again incredibly impressive with all its faces on the towers and finally on to Ta Prohm. Unlike most other Angkorian temples, this is in much the same condition in which it was found. Amazing to see trees growing out of the ruins, and those who have seen “Tomb Raider” will surely recognise it.
The following day, a short flight took us to Phnom Penh in Cambodia and The Killing Fields. We were totally gobsmacked and stunned by the atrocities committed by Pol Pot – a man surely more deranged than Hitler, and who incredibly was recognised by both the UK and USA as the country’s official leader.
A brilliant audio interpretation which brought tears to our eyes as we walked the area, finally finishing at the skull and bone filled memorial stupa. We hardly said a word on the way back, apart from commenting on the third world state of everything once you were off the main road. Believe us, you REALLY notice, and smell it, in a tuktuk!
Afterwards we visited the Central Market with one section, devoted to fortune telling! By far the most interesting area was the fruit, veg, and fish section, with locals, as opposed to tourists, going about their daily business – or playing the Cambodian version of chess.
We then set off for the Royal Palace and were surprised how spectacular the whole area around the palace was, with lots of photo opportunities and unusually, not too many visitors to block the views!
The next day we took the bus to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The landscape was fairly flat and uninspiring, with lots of villages all looking very much the same until crossing the border into Vietnam, where there was a very marked change in the landscape with everything being cleaner, tidier and more cared for. The traffic on the outskirts of the city was incredibly heavy with more traffic than we had seen before, with not a tuktuk in sight.
Feeling very bold, and following everyone else’s lead, we stepped out into the main road, looked straight ahead, and much to our surprise, arrived safely at the other side to get to the Ben Thanh market -a very pretty building but a lot of hassle from the traders!
A visit to the War Remnants Museum is a must, with the outer area concentrating on captivity and torture, and inside a large collection of photos with, dare we say it, a heavy bias towards condemning everyone but the Vietnamese. By far the best exhibition was the work of the war correspondents/photographers who came up with some incredibly powerful photos.
The area around the cathedral was clearly indicating its French Indo-China roots, with an amazing Central Post Office nearby, that could have come straight out of a film set,
Next on the list was the “Reunification Palace”, again just a short walk away. We weren’t sure just what to expect here, but whilst standing outside waiting to go in, we heard an American couple talking saying, “so this was where the tanks busted in and the last helicopter flew out from the roof”. We felt a musical coming on and sure enough, there on the roof was THAT helicopter.
We followed this with a drink at the Bitexco Financial Tower, the tallest building in Vietnam with a great view over the whole of the city.
The next day saw a flight to Singapore where we quickly discovered Orchard Road- wow! Shops as far as the eye can see – this could be painful on the credit card! What we didn’t realise initially was that for every shop above ground on Orchard Road, there were another fifty below ground – most of which we couldn’t afford to shop in!
We walked through the amazingly designed Marina Bay Sands Hotel (looking for all the world like someone had deposited a boat on top of a high rise!) en route to the Gardens by the Bay complex, which contains more than one million plants in two enormous domes – our highlight of Singapore.
The next few days saw us using the MRT system with visits to Little India and China Town. We found a small but extremely ornate Hindu temple with a few hundred devotees all walking around the central shrine We are sure it means something, but it was lost on us! And the much more serene Central Pagoda, filled with hundreds of Buddhas and scary explanatory notices about the ten different hells and their keepers and just what would befall transgressors.
Naturally we also paid the obligatory visit to the home of the Singapore Sling, Raffles Hotel. – and yes, we did throw our peanut shells on the bar floor (just WHERE did that tradition come from?).We also visited the National Museum of Singapore which was extremely interesting and took a gentle boat ride from Clarks Quay.
We left Singapore via bus to catch a train at JB Sentral (we love train journeys) for Kuala Lumpur. To say it was eventful would be putting it mildly! Eventually on the train, we tried to work out the names of the stations en route and our first stop was Ruang Menunggu – OK, the name board did seem fairly small for a station name and we eventually realised – two stations later – that what it actually said was “Waiting Room”! The journey was incredibly scenic and we arrived in Malaysia several hours later than we expected!!
We awoke far less stressed following yesterday’s adventure, but then how can you not feel good with a view over the city from your shower – full marks Helen!
We took in the Petronas Towers before heading off to the Central Market which reminded us somewhat of Covent Garden, where we sampled some local street food .The Market itself is on the edge of China Town, where we succumbed to buy a few “knock off items, and also found a brilliant example of street art, as well as the fascinating and colourful Sri Maha Mariamman temple which we visited.
On our last day in Malaysia, how were we going to see everything that we should – albeit fleetingly? Simples – the Hop-on Hop-off bus. We’ve used the bus in lots of countries and it really is a good way of seeing everything that you should. Unfortunately, in downtown Kuala Lumpur, there is not really a lot to hold your attention – unless you’re an architect! We were last here in 2002 or thereabouts, and it really does seem like a lot of the old buildings have gone, to be replaced with high rise office blocks, condominiums and hotels.
We had an entertaining drive to the airport for our return to Bangkok by a very chatty Mr Singh who, amongst 5000 other things, summed up Malaysia with “You can get a full eight hours sleep here without worrying about things falling from the sky”
Our hotel in Bangkok proved to be a really quirky, colonial style close to the airport which we can’t recommend highly enough.
On arrival at Bahrain, we were told we needed to obtain visas – oops! No problem though – after filling in a form and paying $30 US, we picked up a taxi to our final hotel of the holiday with our Arab driver introducing us to a few well chosen Anglo Saxon expletives on the short but frenetic journey.
We took a walk around the local area before it got dark and although Bahrain obviously has its share of high rise buildings; it was nice to see that some parts have obviously retained their identity, with old interspersed with new.
We checked out and took the hotel taxi to the airport for our early morning flight back to Larnaca. It was a pleasant flight back to Cyprus and having cleared customs our car was waiting for us at the airport.
It had been a wonderful 3 weeks in South East Asia – Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia. Five very different countries, all with so much to offer. We don’t go on holiday to relax and this was certainly obvious on this trip. It has been great fun writing the blog of our journey and our FULL blog can be viewed at https://greaveysasianadventure.blogspot.com.cy