Saturday, 29 November 2014

Raja Ampat - Bungalow Surprises

The last stage of our amazing holiday was a week of scuba diving in Indonesia, amongst a group of islands called Raja Ampat. The translation means “four kings,” referring to the four largest islands (Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati and Missol) amongst the thousands of smaller islands that encompass this area.

From Singapore, we flew to Jakarta where we had a 13-hour layover until our 1 a.m. and 4-hour flight to Sorong in the Province of West Papua. We both managed to sleep a bit but were still very tired when we (along with eight other people) were met at the airport by Raja 4 Divers resort staff.

It was still another 100+ km and a 3-hour ride via long boat to the island of Pulau Pef where we were enthusiastically greeted by the staff singing, dancing and playing instruments. (We were sent off at the end of the week in the same manner.)

The welcome message at our bungalow, written out in small stones, and the mangrove designs on the bed were the first surprises and indications of the attention to detail that abounds throughout the resort.

Coincidentally, we got the turtle bungalow. And they didn't even know about our love of turtles!

The bungalows are built in Papuan style with local materials. They are “open air” and have an “indoor/outdoor” bathroom.
Looking into our bungalow from the deck.
The "indoor" part of the bathroom.
The outdoor part of the bathroom with stepping stones to the clothesline.
In keeping with Papuan style, the bathroom does not have a shower but a large basin and ladle. But with the heat and the outdoor portion of the bathroom, you could simply pour the water over your head and not worry about also pouring all over the floor. Yes, there was hot water. And what a great way to save water! Although there are two fresh water wells on the island the water is certainly not unlimited, especially in the dry season, and there is quite a process that it goes through to get water pressure to the bungalows and kitchen.

The resort has it's own team of carpenters and we were told it's the imagination and talent of the head carpenter that adds so much of the attention to detail of the resort. 
Turtle shaped water faucet
Wooden carvings were placed throughout the bungalow as well as the whole resort. It was often humorous to see where you’d find one next and what the expression the carving would have. It took me at least a couple days to notice all three of the carvings somewhat hidden amongst the plants in the bathroom.

Also in the bathroom were locally made clothes pins. 

These ones greeted us at the door.

These were in various other areas of the bungalow.
Looking out to the ocean

 So humorous!

One evening after supper I went into the bathroom to get a glass of water from the dispenser just inside the doorway. As I was reaching for a glass, something dropped from the ceiling not four feet from me! A small black snake! Skinny, about 2 feet long. I yelled for Andrew to come see it. "Oh, it's harmless," Andrew said. "You probably scared it." Well, what do you think it did to me!?!? 

I'm sure Andrew would consider this to be the best surprise of all. Me, not so much!!

Friday, 21 November 2014


Although Andrew and I had both been to Singapore about 10 years ago, we easily could have spent a few more days.

We started out going to the S.E.A. Aquarium (South East Asia) on Sentosa Island. We were quite worried when we got on the monorail as it was extremely crowded (i.e. wall-to-wall people crammed in like sardines) with school kids, teachers, parents and family groups. Sentosa is WAY more touristy than it used to be! Now advertised as a "theme park." Fortunately for us, most people were NOT headed to the aquarium!

As we left the aquarium there was a torrential downpour outside but overhead canopies (presumably for both sun and rain) kept us mostly dry and by the time we finished lunch it was dry again. We took the cable car back to the main island and, although it was very cloudy, had great views of the island and the massive number of boats and cargo containers in the harbour area.
On the cable car between Sentosa Island and Faber Hill.
A very small section of Sentosa Island shows the "theme park" atmosphere.
The Singapore Zoo really is one of the most beautiful! There is so much greenery and natural looking (e.g. bamboo, vines covering wire fences) enclosures that it sometimes hardly seems like the animals are in pens. In fact, many of the monkey-types were "free range."

The large and wide open feeling definitely helped with taking photos. Amazing to get a photo of a white tiger!

We had "breakfast with the orang-utans" at the zoo. We declined getting our photos taken with them (or, more accurately, standing in front of them while they studiously concentrated on eating sunflower seeds) but I did manage to snap one reasonable shot.
A couple orang-utans we had breakfast with.
A beautiful white tiger
This "medallion" in the middle of a walkway caught my attention.
We happened to be at the giant tortoise exhibit at the right time and got to feed them.
This guy (or gal) was quite speedy and followed me, expecting food, even when Andrew had the container of carrots.
Iguana closeup
We never did get to the Jurong Bird Park, the Night Safari or the River Safari which we would have liked to.

Singapore has a lot of interesting architecture, green features, and there are art installations everywhere.

One one particularly rainy day (during which we eventually broke down and bought umbrellas), we went to the Art and Science Museum which is a work of amazing art and architecture shaped like a lotus flower.
Lotus flower
Art and Science Museum

There was an excellent DaVinci exhibit on but it was way too much! It kept me interested for the first half and then I began to wonder if it would ever end? Even Andrew, who is much more interested in DaVince-related stuff than I am, found it a bit much. There was also a photography exhibit that caught our eye because in the advertisements they profiled a photo of rhinoceros in Africa so we thought the theme would be wildlife. But that was about the only wildlife photo, the rest being sometimes strange profiles of people. 

We also saw a lot of really interesting greenery in the form of green walls and green roofs. We passed by this green wall, incredibly in the shape of a world map, on the side of either a mall or office building, on our way to the museum. 

Not surprisingly, Singapore is where the Singapore sling was invented. We went to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel where you too can have the world's most expensive sling for a mere $28 SD (about $24.50 Cdn). Crazy, I know! But some things a tourist just has to do!  :-)
Passionfruit Sling and the Original Sling
Other very unique architecture includes the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (and shopping mall of course!) and the Skypark (or "the banana boat" as Andrew began calling it) which has a swimming pool, gardens, observation deck, shops and a couple restaurants. Although as near as we could figure out, the public only had access to one horrendously expensive restaurant.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Skypark
The Helix Bridge is another very interesting piece of architecture, so named due to its connection to DNA. 

The Helix pedestrian bridge
"The Float" is used for many events but was set up as a soccer field. I wonder how many soccer balls end up in the water every year?
Floating soccer field
Lastly, the other really interesting place we visited (from the standpoint of nature, environment, conservation and architecture) was the Gardens by the Bay. Two huge conservatories (the flower dome and the cloud forest dome), the Supertrees grove, a children's garden (including water park, treehouse, trampolines, balance beams, hanging bridges), and several outdoor garden areas. Wikipedia has a good article on it. 
Outside of the flower dome conservatory.
Inside the flower dome. Cloud forest dome in background.
Christmas display inside flower dome. Or, to quote Andrew, "Christmas s**t already!"

Waterfall in the cloud forest dome.
I know another little boy who gets as excited about trains as this little boy!

Spiderman on the dome?
Or a workman?
Inside the cloud forest dome.

Double flower (Andrew didn't have his camera out for this one!)
We stayed at a nice little out-of-the-way hotel (Lloyd's Inn) which had a lovely courtyard but between days full of other activity and all the rain, we really didn't have time to enjoy it. Note to self: Next time in Singapore -- stay longer!
At Lloyd's Inn

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Kuala Lumpur

Our first destination in Kuala Lumpur was the Bird Park which boasts being the world's largest free-flight walk-in aviary. Andrew and I agreed it was one of the best we've been to. We spent the whole morning there and probably would have stayed longer had the heat and afternoon rain not convinced us we'd had enough. We'll soon be visiting the bird park in Singapore so we'll have a quick comparison. Andrew got lots of great photos (of course) and I even managed to get a few passable ones.
A cooperative subject?
I always love the colourful peacocks.
Milk and honey. Yum, yum!
Pretending to look interested? Or deciding whether or not to crap on the tourist's shoulder?
Momma and baby
Cleaning time 
Pretty feet
The next day we went to the Butterfly Park which was again very good. The Bird Park and Butterfly Park as well as various specialty flower gardens, a sculpture garden and a lake park are all in the same vicinity but quite difficult to visit all in one day when you spend as much time in them as Andrew and I tend to and when it starts pouring rain every day anytime between about noon and 2 pm. Although, as Andrew noted, I resorted to sitting and reading my book for a while as he took massive numbers of butterfly photos.

We treated ourselves to a couple especially nice meals while in Kuala Lumpur and took advantage of some of the high-rise views (15th, 38th and 57th floors). One evening we went to Marini's on 57 -- supposedly Malaysia's highest rooftop bar and restaurant. It was confusing enough just getting there that they employ several extra staff to direct you up three different elevators.

Our greeting at the first elevator came with the notice that "I'm sorry ma'am but we have a dress code." I was wearing a nice skirt and blouse so had a rather confused look on my face until she explained that my shoes didn't make the cut. My version of travelling for 10 weeks does not include multiple pairs of shoes so my sports sandals were it. Yes, I know, I'm such a fashionista at the best of times! But no worries, they had some spares and I got these cute little orange shoes that actually matched the new shirt I was wearing. (On checking their website, they actually don't allow sandals of any kind.)

The restaurant did a few very unique things. These parmesan encrusted olive & cheese balls (a "gift from the chef") were on a reed and attached to a live plant. The waiter warned us not to eat the plant!

But Andrew's main course did come with a live basil plant that you picked the leaves off of if you wanted to add to your dish. Which I thought was a very cool idea! Also note the gold leaf, also edible, on the spaghetti.

But dessert was where things really started to go overboard. We ordered a dessert off the menu but first came a small pastry (another "gift from the chef," which was ok) followed by this huge monstrosity of cotton candy. Of which we took only a couple bites just to be polite. 

Then after we had the dessert we ordered, they offered an assortment of chocolate truffles and wrapped up two croissants for us to take to have for breakfast. Too much!

Also worth mentioning is the unique dessert we had the night before at Thirty8. A "chocolate box for two" which at first glance really did look like a wooden box but was actually made of chocolate and filled with chocolate mousse, a raspberry ice and miscellaneous other good stuff.

The Petronas Towers dominate the skyline and this was especially true at night time.
From the rooftop bar of Marini's on 57
In Kuala Lumpur City Centre Park (KLCC)

Water reflection of the Petronas Towers