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Chloe and I spent a couple of days in Madrid, essentially eating our way through the city: tapas, paella, churros con chocolate, sangria, manchego… mmm! Madrid also happens to have 3 world-class art museums all on one street (hola Picasso, hola Goya, hola Velasquez!) and beautiful gardens where one can basque in the sol and the calor. Viva Espana!

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I’m experiencing culture shock. Also, my teeth are cold.

Those are just 2 of many rather astute observations I’ve made so far in London, others including: “Hey! I’m not the tallest woman on this train,” and “Woah! All the jeans in this store fit over my hips,” and “You mean, the sandwiches here taste good?”

Otherwise my first 2 days in the UK can be explained by my favorite SE Asian saying: same same, but different. Allow me to present some photographic evidence to support this claim.

My Neighborhood: same same… but different:

The Local Park: same same… but different:

Shrines: same same… but different:

And breakfast: same same… but different:

None of this feels normal yet.

Recipe for a great weekend in Bintan

Ingredients:

  • 7 girlfriends (preferably 3 parts American, 3 parts French, 1 part English)
  • 1 super-sized villa 50 meters from the ocean
  • 1 stretch golf cart
  • sun, sand, surf
  • fruity drinks to taste

Directions:

Have 1 lovely friend arrive in Singapore from Paris at 4pm. Board boat to Bintan from Tanamera Ferry Terminal at 8pm. Arrive 8:30pm. Clear immigration 9pm. Combine all remaining ingredients. Yields: 1 serving of weekend full of fun!

***

While in Malaysia last week, I decided to try Ipoh White Coffee.

I know what you’re probably thinking as you look at the picture, and I will tell you that I too was  surprised (and slightly bummed) that the coffee was not actually white.

According to my source of knowledge for all things in the world everywhere (wikipedia), “white coffee” is a literal translation from its Chinese name, 怡保白咖啡. I have NO idea what that means.

Essentially the beans are roasted with palm-oil margarine (don’t tell Green Peace) and the resulting coffee is mixed with condensed milk.

Verdict: Way too sweet for my taste buds, although the kaya toast I ate with it was dee-licious!

Also known as the day when I was dragged on stage to shoot blowdarts with half-naked “indigenous men” [read: actors]. I blame the blonde hair.

Embarrassing video footage is forthcoming.

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Man vs. Orangutan? My money’s on the orangutan. Here’s why…

You can’t see Orangutans in the wild anywhere in the world except in Borneo and Sumatra (Indonesia) so J and I took advantage of our location and went to the Semengoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre right outside of Kuching, where you can see orangutans rehabilitated back into the wild. Outside of the centre they’re facing extinction due to habitat destruction and “human disruption.”

While I appreciated the unique opportunity to see the orangutans – I must admit I spend the better part of my morning observing the far less intelligent species: the homo sapien. No, I’ll reclassify: the homo stultus (subspecies: touristus).

Folks – when the park guide stops you before you enter the sanctuary (read: not a zoo, there are NO fences here) and gives you the following information:

  • Remain quiet at all times.
  • The orangutans like bags because they know they carry food.
  • Do NOT eat or drink in front of the orangutans.
  • A man went to the hospital on Friday because he tried to fight an orangutan for his bag.
  • If your baby starts to cry – “run” it out of the feeding area.
  • If an orangutan is chasing you, run into an open area.
  • Do not back into a corner. Also – do not freeze. They know you are not a statue.

take heed. J and I were properly scared, but it seemed the park ranger failed to effectively communicate his message to the 30 other fools in the group.

Exhibit A: Observe the homo stultus touristus in his natural habitat – communicating to his mate via mobile phone (ringtone: horrific) while his offspring clanks around the wooden planks in her turquoise kitten heels. To his left, a female homo stultus touristus feeds her offspring apple juice from her Louis Vuitton purse while behind him an asinine woman weakly pleads with her screaming infant homo stultus to “shhh.”

I was half hoping the Orangutans would sweep up some children and take them back into the wild. They probably have better parenting skills…

J and I high-tailed it out of the park before something crazy went down.

Bottom line: Don’t bring your baby to see WILD APES.

Alternatively titled, “It’s like the zoo, except for real.”

J and I took a trip to Sarawak, Malaysia (aka Borneo) over the long holiday weekend and found ourselves in the middle of Bako National Park. Ok, so we didn’t exactly “find” ourselves there – it was 90 minutes of driving, 30 minutes in a junk boat, and another 2 hours to the park center complete with midday sun, salty sweat and some true grit!

Basically it was amazing and just as exotic as Borneo sounds. While we didn’t see a lot of animals (I’m sure they all saw us), we did see some beautiful forests, beautiful jungles, beautiful beaches, and a whole lotta bugs!

***

Above: The Tajor Waterfall; Below: Taking the junk boat the park

Below: Arriving on the beach at low tide

Below: Preparing for the Telok Tajor hike. Heads up – 4 km takes 2 hours.

Below: Still relatively dry

Below: shrooms, man

Below: On the “trail”

Below: Leaving the protective shade of the forest

Below: Spiky Palm Trees

More posts and pictures from our Borneo adventure to follow! Stay tuned…

Step 1: Book a flight to Bali. This should be sufficient. If not, continue to step 2.

Step 2: Find a villa in Seminyak. Ideally it will have a private pool and someone will come to make you breakfast in the morning. It will be cheap because you will have followed my advice on how to book a trip in SE Asia (see here).

Step 3: Capture your joy on film. If you need to pinch yourself, it’s okay.

Step 4: Rent a moto in Candidasa and start driving in the direction of nowhere. When you stop for gas and a Balinese man asks you if you are going to White Sand Beach, just tell him yes.

Step 5: Then figure out how to get to White Sand Beach. You’ll probably drive around lost for a few hours, and local ladies will point and laugh at you, but it’s worth it because the beach looks something like this:

Step 6: Find a little shack where someone will grill you fresh fish in spicy Balinese sauce. Eat it all and wash down with Pineapple juice.

Step 7: Afterwards take a walk in the sunset to digest the fish. This will all feel surreal, but that’s okay -just embrace it. You’ve now achieved happiness.

[If you’ve followed each step as directed, you might be SO happy that you’ll be able to walk on water (see above)].

A fascinating look at Singapore, Crossroads of the East, in 1938:

and then 2 decades later, Singapore, The Lion City in 1957:

I’ve done a fair share of traveling these past 2 years, and in the course of planning those fabulous trips I’ve come across a number of resources to facilitate my vacations – some resources great, others totally useless (yeah, I’m talking to you expedia).

Since my time in Singapore is winding down (only 2 more months?!) and I’ve been planning a series of final trips in the region, I’ve been having a lot of travel conversations with friends lately.  I was shocked to find out that some of them had never used/heard of my go-to travel sites, and pleasantly surprised to discover new ones.

So, here is my gift to you all: a compilation of the travel sites I found most relevant for planning vacations in Southeast Asia. If you have any other suggestions, please send them my way!

1. Agoda


Without a doubt, the best website to book a hotel in Asia. I’ve found 5-star hotel rooms for less than $100 a night, prices that are nearly 75% less than published internet rates on hotel websites, and crazy deals on packages for multiple night stays. If you find a deal for a hotel on another website, definitely check it against agoda to make sure you are getting the best price.

2. Wego


Sort of like cheaptickets.com or expedia.com, except this travel search engine includes many of the local budget carriers like JetStar and Tiger Air that don’t get picked up on other websites.  You won’t always find cheaper tickets using this website, but it’s great if you want to compare regional flight schedules and prices in one interface – especially if you’re flying to remote destinations with irregular flight service.

Note: Zuji.com is another similar site. I just happen to use wego.

3. Wikitravel


An open source travel guide to basically anywhere in the world. Articles are written and edited by travelers with practical tips. I find it especially helpful for figuring out how to arrive at your destination. For example, if you’ve decided to go to Railay Bay (you should, by the way) and don’t know that you need to take a flight to Krabi, a cab from the airport to Ao Nang beach, hire a longtail boat to take you 15 minutes to the bay before the sun sets, and carry your luggage over your head the entire time, then this website will give you all the pertinent info. Think of it as the online equivalent of asking your friend for the real-skinny.

4. Lonely Planet


I use the Lonely Planet website for travel inspiration when I know I want to get away but I’m not sure where to go. LP is prone to lofty and romantic descriptions (i.e., I translate “Phnom Penh is a city of charm and chaos” to “Phnom Penh is a hot mess“) but when you’re heading to the capital of a developing country recovering from a major genocide, ‘s it’s nice to have someone to point out the exotic silver lining to what could easily be perceived as a very unglamorous, poor destination.

5. Travelfish.org

I have to credit fellow blogger friend Flora for sending me this website.  It’s full of great, practical information for Southeast Asia for travelers. I’ve only been using it for a few days now, but it’s been pretty helpful for finding neat ideas for my upcoming trip to Bali!

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