More Singapore

MARINA BAY SANDS RESORT

A state of the art luxury resort with four main attractions – The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, and the Art Science Museum.

singaporeedits_29

The hotel is topped by a huge SkyPark which rests on the three, 55 story towers. We checked out the lobby area of the hotel but didn’t get to see much more. You must be a guest to get up to the Sands SkyPark and swim in their famous infinity pool.  There is an observation deck for non-guests but we decided against it since the price was too steep ($22 Singaporean Dollars per person). 

The shopping center is reminiscent of a ritzy Vegas hotel with high-end stores, five star restaurants, a movie theatre, ice skating rink, and even a casino. In order to save money, we stuck to window shopping and dining at the foodcourt. 

Most of our time was spent in the gardens and at the museum. 

GARDENS BY THE BAY

This magnificently vast, out of this world garden comprises every shade of green with vibrant pops of rainbow colors. We spent an entire day getting lost in the surreal oasis. From the giant trees made of steel to the massive glass domes, we were taken away to another world, a place we had only ever seen in sci-fi flicks.

OCBC SKYWAY/SUPERTREE GROVE

Each Supertree in the grove is made up of a concrete core surrounded by a steel frame draped in a variety of plants and topped with an inverted umbrella canopy in the shape of branches. There are 11 in total, all embedded with an environmentally sustainable function. Some harvest solar energy while others serve as air exhaust receptacles. Genuine  trees of the future.

p1030370

p1030416

Suspended within the Supertree Grove, 72 feet above the ground, is the OCBC Skyway. Getting up to the Skyway proved to be a daunting task. For good reason, the bridge would close at the onset of dark clouds or the sound of thunder. We tried twice in one day, but the fickle Singapore weather denied us the opportunity. Finally, on our last day in Singapore, we succeeded.

When we reached the Skyway, I wasn’t expecting my fear of heights to set in so dramatically. From below, the bridge seemed sturdy and safe. But looks are decieving and the view from the top produced anxiety and sweaty palms. I held tight to the rails, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, and tried my best not to look down when the bridge slightly shook.

There is a Garden Rhapsody show that takes place a couple times each evening in the Supertree Grove. We decided to check it out (especially because it was free). In the spirit of the holidays, the tree lights sparkled and moved to the sounds of yuletide symphonies and Christmas classics (including Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You).

 

FLOWER DOME

There are two, gigantic domes within Gardens by the Bay. $28 Singaporean Dollars buys you entry into both.

We began with the largest glass greenhouse in the world – the Flower Dome, coined as the world of perpetual spring, where unique plants grow. The cost of entry was well worth the cool 75 degree temperatures inside. The stunning array of flowers and plants transported us to a world of childhood fairytales. We leisurely lingered around the variety of plants enjoying our escape from the draining Singapore heat.

CLOUD FOREST DOME

Of the two domes, this was by far my favorite. A futuristic jungle with cascading waterfalls, secret gardens, crystal mountains, and a walkway through the clouds. The interactive video playing at the bottom floor described the effects of temperature increase and climate change around the planet. By the end of our trek through the Cloud Forest we were both brought to tears and inspired by the possibilities that the future holds.

ART SCIENCE MUSEUM

The Art Science Museum, known as the Welcoming Hand of Singapore, is a giant lotus flower building that sits on the bayfront of the Marina Bay Sands resort area

There were a few of exhibits to choose from but we decided on FUTURE WORLDS: WHERE ART MEETS SCIENCE, an interactive collection of installations displaying a range of digital technology. There was a nature room with flora and fauna projected on the walls, a park with giant bouncy balls spread throughout that changed color by touch, and a space room with beads of large, sparkling crystals that dangled from the ceiling. The exhibit was geared more toward children, but Sean and I still loved it.

ORCHARD ROAD

Shop ’til you drop on this road full of fancy stores, bright lights and fat wallets. We arrived in Singapore in the middle of November but Christmas was already in full swing. Nothing I’ve seen in the States could compare with the holiday decor on Orchard Road. Sean and I were too overwhelmed, overawed, and overstimulated to handle more than a quick stroll through the Santa overkill. We witnessed enough Christmas cheer in one hour to last us through the rest of the year — and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Unfortunately we were too in shock to take any photos. If I’d known that Christmas in Thailand would be so ho-hum, I would have welcomed, appreciated, and savored the holiday spirit of Singapore a lot more.

 MERLION

Last but not least, the true gem and people-watching mecca of Singapore, the Merlion – a statue, half lion/half mermaid, resting atop concrete waves, spouting water from its majestic mouth. I had found my true spirit animal!

We blissfully watched, trying not to laugh out loud, as tourists attempted (over and over again) to take forced perspective photos of the Merlion spewing water into their cupped hands or open mouths.

Sean and I obviously had to partake in the hoopla.

I loved the Merlion so much that I couldn’t bare to leave Singapore without one of my very own:

merlion-pop

Singapore

The land of luxury, city of the future, and home to the Merlion (my new favorite animal hybrid) – Singapore. We spent more money here in 3 days (being frugal) than two full weeks in Thailand, but it was totally worth it.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Fortunately, we were able to save quite a bit by staying with our friend, Tamy, in her posh high-rise apartment. Without free lodging, our trip expenses would have doubled. She also served as our personal expert and ‘Trip Advisor’ to everything Singapore.

Special thanks to Tamy for letting us crash at her pad, taking us out, and showing us a fabulous time. We miss you already!!!

GETTING AROUND

I loved the Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)! It was so easy to get anywhere in the city riding their clean (and air-conditioned trains). Rideshare apps, Uber and Grab, were super cheap and easy to use when we didn’t feel like walking to the MRT station in the humid, midday heat. Taxis are also an option if you don’t mind paying a little more. Apparently it is extremely expensive to buy and own a car in Singapore. This forces most people to take public transportation and leaves the roads traffic free.

FOOD

Hainanese chicken rice is the Singaporean specialty. We had seen the dish served throughout Thailand but never were tempted enough to order it. It seemed necessary to finally try the boiled chicken and broth rice in the place where it was invented and made  famous.

singapore-chicken-rice

The chicken rice at Boon Tong Kee tasted like it looked – bleh. Everyone around us had ordered the same dish and seemed to enjoy it immensely. We didn’t really get the appeal. The chicken was served cold and the rice wasn’t anything special. I’d be willing (but not enthusiastic) to try it again. On the other hand, the crispy beancurd and all of their in-house sauces were incredible.

Singapore is home to many high-end restaurants. Famous celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck all have high class eateries at the Marina Bay Sands. Since we were traveling on a budget, we opted for cheap eats instead.

The mall food-courts became our goto for most every meal and they did not disappoint. There was a wide selection of cuisines from around the world at reasonable prices.

My most notable meal was the chili crab and Satay by the Bay. Spicy, messy goodness.

DRINKS

Getting drunk in Singapore was impossible. While there were bars everywhere around the city, the drinks were extremely expensive (especially when coming from Chiang Mai where you can get a beer for $1-2USD or a gin and tonic for $2-3USD). On our first night out we spent about $75USD on THREE drinks. Granted I had an insanely good Bloody Mary topped with tiny pickles and baked beans, it was definitely not worth the price.

singapore-cocktail

When we tried to be thrifty by purchasing a “pre-party” bottle of wine at the gas station, we were turned down because their liquor law prohibits shops from selling booze after 10:30pm.

On the upside,  the bars were swanky and we were in good company so a buzz was not necessary to have a delightful evening.

SITES

Singapore is unlike anyplace we’ve ever been. Stand almost anywhere, take a look around, and you will be transported to a place of futuristic beauty – clean streets featuring hip restaurants and bars, unique skyscrapers garnished here and there with abundant gardens, and water shows displaying light projections and floating bubbles.

Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Cloud Dome, Flower Dome, Merlion, and Art Science Museum – we covered quite a bit in 3 days. I’ll be writing another post on our adventures in the Lion City.

 

 

Officially #blessed

Sean and I always discussed getting tattoos in the countries we visited but never knew what to get (or mustered up the courage to go through with it)…until now.

Sak Yant (also called Sak Yan, or Yantra) is a form of tattooing that originated from ancient Thai peoples. Sak means to ‘jab’ and Yant or Yantra means ‘Blessed Tattoo’. The inscriptions are made up of ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers and are believed to bring its bearer magic powers of luck, strength, healing, and protection against evil.

Sak Yants are customarily administered by a Thai Monk, but because Monks are not allowed to touch women, we had our tattoos done by an Ajarn, or master whom has studied the art of Sak Yant and is believed to be able to ink and bless the tattoos.

We were more excited about the spiritual experience than the tattoo itself. With each jab of the steel needle, we focused on being present in the pain, concentrating on the powers we desired our sacred blessing to bring. It took about 45minutes to an hour to finish each tattoo. Once completed, Ajarn Amnat recited a chant (or kata) and softly blew on our designs to activate the magic within the Sak Yant.

This is, by far, the best memento I’ve obtained throughout all of our travels around the world. May its magic bring us strength, protection, and virtue as we continue on our journey.

 

 

Welcome to the Jungle

Cross zip lining off the bucket list! Our first tourist excursion in Chiang Mai was spent flying through the trees, gawking at cute little gibbons, and taking in the beauty of the rainforest.

There are a few zip lining tours to choose from (Dragon Flight, Jungle Flight, Eagle Track) and with ads for the Flight of the Gibbon posted on every other tuk tuk, I was a bit skeptical at first. However, after reading a number of positive reviews and watching a video or two, we were persuaded (mostly by the chance to see gibbons).

Included in the 3999Baht per person fee, you receive hotel pick up and drop off, approximately 2-3 hours of zip lining and trekking through the rainforest with a small group and two “Sky Rangers”, a yummy lunch accompanied by delightful Thai music, and a quick trip to a waterfall.

Zip lining was more exhilarating than we had imagined and to top it all off, we got to see gibbons playing in the trees!!! Our “Sky Rangers”, Zen and Thorn, were fun-loving and did an outstanding job of making us feel safe whilst instilling the right amount of fear (for jest). It was worth every penny and we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

 

3 rainy days in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a city about 3-4hrs north of Chiang Mai. Sean and I planned to stop there for a day or two on our way to the national forest park, Phu Chi Fa. Our original intention was to go hiking up the mountains to watch what is supposed to be an amazing sunrise. Unfortunately we could not predict the weather and a storm forced us to change our initial plan. We turned rainclouds to rainbows and made the most of our time in the northern town of Chiang Rai.

Here are some of the highlights:

White Temple

Wat Rong Khun, known to tourist as The White Temple, was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat as an art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. Easily the most “majestical” temple I’ve seen thus far, this sparkling shrine was especially spectacular on a dark and cloudy day.  The white buildings are covered with fragmented glass giving them a beautiful shimmer and glow straight out of a fantasy. My favorite part is the mural inside the main structure (or ubosot). To get there you must pass the concrete sea of outreaching statue hands and cross over the bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”. A large mural of flames and demons covers the walls in the ubosot. Dispersed throughout are idols of western culture – Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, the Terminator, Jigsaw, and superheroes  – representing the evil devotions of mankind. For 30Baht we inscribed out names on a small, silver ornament to be hung with thousands of others, leaving our mark in this enchanting edifice.

Black Temple

Almost the polar opposite of the above, the Baan Dam (or the Black House) is a museum/art studio created by Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. We immediately felt a dark and eerie vibe consuming the museum grounds when we arrived. Dark clouds and heavy rain pour definitely intensified the creepiness of the snake and crocodile skins, buffalo horns, and animal skulls adorning the walls and tables. In spite of the sinister decor, there is something hauntingly enticing and beautiful about Baan Dam. Definitely worth checking out!

Cat n’ a Cup

Apparently there are quite a few cat cafes throughout Thailand but this is the first one that Sean and I had seen. The name says it all – hangout with some cats while you drink your cappuccino. I wouldn’t consider myself a cat person but I do love animals and being without our dogs for so long (and also learning of Trump’s victory that very morning), I needed something cute and cuddly to cheer me up.

Reggae Home & Bar – (Facebook page)

The best night in Chiang Rai was spent getting drunk and making friends with some locals. We were wandering through the streets looking for a place to have a drink and recalled a small reggae bar in a nearby alley. As we approached the bar, we were quickly beckoned in and offered free food (meats on a stick and pad thai). The bar was pretty much empty but it had a chill vibe and the young owners couldn’t be friendlier. Apparently it was their very first day and we were their very first customers (aside from a few friends there for support). We ended up staying for hours – drinking beer and taking shots.

Night Bazaar

Aside from the few scattered bars, there is not much of a nightlife presence in Chiang Rai. Wanting a low key evening, we headed to the Night Bazaar for drinks, a light dinner, and some window shopping. Most of the food stalls served hot pots and your standard Thai dishes. We opted instead for bugs and beer. We scanned over the grasshoppers and cockroach-like bugs and settled on the safer looking silk worms piled on a paper plate.

Chiang Rai Beach

Don’t be deceived, Chiang Rai is far from the ocean and not at all like a beach. Instead we found a path along the river and small huts where we could sit back, relax, and drink a couple beers. The ‘beach’ was quiet and empty with the exception of a few locals napping in huts nearby. I could have easily sat there for hours enjoying the breeze and the occasional boats passing by, but sadly we had to catch bus back to Chiang Mai.

 

Thai Massages

When it costs $6-10 USD for an hour massage, why wouldn’t you get them ALL THE TIME?!? We’ve now spent over a month in Chiang Mai and have had our fair share of rub downs. One thing we’ve gathered from our numerous experiences – Massages are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

It is rare that we leave a spa with the same experience. A lot depends on the masseuse/masseur which come in all shapes and sizes: little old grandmas, young men, even younger girls. Nonetheless, it is impossible to predict their skill level based on appearance. Sean received a weak, lackluster massage from a strong looking dude while I was left pounded and tenderized by a petite lady. Sometimes they put the perfect amount of pressure in just the right spots and other times they lackadaisically slather you with oil for 60 minutes.

Your surroundings can also play a major role in the overall experience. Nothing beats a dim room with the AC blasting, mellow tunes, and soft scents of lavender. On the contrary, a loud group of Chinese tourist, seeing a mouse run up the wall, or a chatty staff can ruin the best back rub.

Despite the uncertainty of each massage, it is hard to complain when they are so freakin’ cheap. With only have a couple of weeks left in Chiang Mai we will continue to take our chances.

We’re BAAAACK!!!

After a few weeks of traveling through Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur) and Myanmar (Yangon, Nyaung Shwe, Bagan, and Mandalay), we are back to our apartment in Chiang Mai.

Back to pad thai, khao soi, cheap massages, TV (with HBO), decent wifi, and most of all…back to blogging!

The hardest part about being back is figuring out what to do with our first day.

Here are the items on the agenda:

  1. Blog! (This being the first post of many) – I am so behind and have a bunch of drafts yet to finish. Time to get back to work.
  2. Watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The Thai subs may get annoying but this is our only chance to see it in theaters. Plus, movies here are super cheap (about $4-5 USD).
  3. Chow down– Pad kra pao for breakfast, khao soi for lunch, and pad thai for dinner. Perhaps a mango mania smoothy at the mall, too.
  4. Pedicures – You don’t want to know about the number Myanmar did on our poor feet.
  5. Massages – Massages every day for the rest of the week.
  6. Going through expenses – Not because we want to, but because it is necessary. Fingers crossed we have enough money for Vietnam in January.

So much to do, so little time.