Posted in Asia, English, Phi Phi, Phuket, Thailand

Thailand – Day 9

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

26 March 2018

Since we are now all on our own and we need to entertain ourselves somehow, we decided to go on a day tour of the nearby islands. The are two famous directions here: the Phi Phi islands and the islands of Phang Nga Bay (which include the famous James Bond Island).

We took a while to pick one – both seemed to be very good, but the first route included snorkeling and the second one included kayaking. As we had already tried kayaking in Vietnam, we decided to try snorkeling this time and finally chose Phi Phi.

So, at about 6.15am (!) we were picked up from our hotel by a minibus and taken to the pier with seven other passengers. The painfully early hour is a special feature of this company, intended to arrive to places before crowds of other tourists.

At the pier, we got a light breakfast (special kudos for the hot sandwiches!) and then headed to our boat with the guide – a very friendly guy called Wai. The speedboat was equipped with safety vests, which we were told to wear, as well as with snorkeling masks.

It took us about an hour to get to our first stop – the Phi Phi Lei island. We arrived around 9am, and there were already a lot of tourists, mostly Russians. On the Maya beach, known for The Beach movie with DiCaprio, no one was swimming, everyone was just taking photos.

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We took a few as well and then took a stroll among a crowd of Russian tourists to look at the picturesque Loh Samah Bay.

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Once back on the boat, we rounded the island and anchored in the Pi Leh bay, where we could swim, jumping (or descending the stairs) into the sea directly from the boat. Right next to us was a boat carrying lots and lots of Chinese tourists, who were swimming around us, wearing bright orange lifejackets.

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Our next stop was for snorkeling, again straight from the boat. Wai handed us the snorkeling masks, we pulled on our fins and got out into the water. It felt bizzarre at first, so I had to get my head above water every few seconds. But then I got used to it. The sensations are very interesting, as if you are right inside the Singapore aquarium – there are lots of colourful tropical fish swarming around and it seems like you can reach out and catch one. Except that when you do try to reach out, they dodge and very easily avoid being caught.

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Another attraction of the island is the so-called Viking Cave, containing some rock paintings. Previously, the cave used to be open to visitors, but now swallow nests are being harvested here (for food purposes), so tourists cannot get inside. So we just floated by. Quite a pity, as on the outside it didn’t look like anything special.

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We didn’y stop at the Monkey Island either, just came very close to it. Not that anyone minded though – the prospect of being attacked and robbed by long-tailed macaques was hardly tempting! It was much better to observe our distant relatives from the boat. And then, when one monkey, apparently a male, separated from the group, jumped on a rock closer to us and stared at us, it even started feeling a bit uncomfortable, so I preferred to go inside the boat.

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We stopped on the second major island, Phi Phi Don, for lunch at a local restaurant, with a big table already waiting for us with various dishes: curries, coconut soup, french fries, and some spicy vegetables.

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It already got very hot to the extent that walking on the sand became painful. We didn’t get to swim here, but our last stop on the Bamboo Island turned out very pleasant. We stopped at the back of the island, and Wai said that there were much fewer people here than at the front. Indeed, there was only one other boat anchored at beach, and then it left too.

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The sea bottom here was more suitable for snorkeling than for normal swimming, as there were lost of coral reefs. And again it was very interesting – there were colourful fish all around you in the crystal-clear water, there were sea sponges, contracting their bodies, there were some ugly creatures looking like sea cucumbers at the bottom.

Overall, we had a very good trip, with the cherry on the top being such an interesting activity as snorkeling.

We still have two and a half days to spend in Phuket, but I am not going to write any more posts, since all we are planning to do is lie on the beach.

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Posted in Asia, Chiang Rai, English, Thailand

Thailand – Day 4

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21 March 2018

Today we left our hotel at 8am for our first excursion in Chiang Rai and headed up north, to the Doi Tung Royal villa with a beautiful garden.

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The garden is one of the successful projects of the late Queen Mother, who tried to combat drug trafficking in this dysfunctional region, bordering Myanmar, by increasing employment.

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And indeed, the garden is very beautiful. At an altitude of 1300 m above sea level, it is much cooler than Chiang Rai itself, and full of the most diverse flowers ever – predominantly European, but including some local orchids too.

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The actual royal villa, where the Queen Mother used to live, is located further uphill. We went up to the residence – again, strict dress code had to be followed there and we had to cover up – and went inside. I managed to take one photo before a lady from a French tourist group – the only tourists apart from us, I wonder where the crowds of Chinese tourists are? – warned me that this was prohibited.

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The residence is essentially a huge wooden hut, the entire interior is also made of wood. Some of the Queen’s personal belongings are exhibited, in particular tools for embroidery and pottery. The balcony provides stunning views of the garden that we saw before.

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There is another attraction at the very top of the Doi Tung mountain, where we had to get by car. These are two stupas in a typical Lanna style, erected as far back as the 10th century and containing Lord Buddha’s relics – namely, his collarbone.

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There is also a temple next to the stupas, very intricate from the outside, but not particularly remarkable inside. As for the stupas themselves, we couldn’t come close to them – women are not allowed to.

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By the way, our guide Dino told us that these stupas were especially sacred for people born in the year of the Pig (or Elephant) according to the Eastern Zodiac. And for each of the zodiacal animals, there are respective stupas all around Indochina. It is believed that everyone should visit the stupa corresponding to their zodiacal animals and pray there at least once during their lifetime.

On the way back down to our car we descended a stepped alley with lots and lots of bells of different sizes at the sides.

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It was already lunch time, and we stopped at some roadside eatery. I had read somewhere that in Thailand the most delicious food can be found right in such non-glamorous places (in China as well, by the way – as confirmed by myself), and it turned out to be exactly the case! We got two servings of spicy chicken noodle soup, and we liked it a lot. And it cost us 70 baht for two, which didn’t even make 3 USD!

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After lunch we drove to the town of Mae Sai at the very border with Myanmar. Dino said that Thai, Burmese, Indian, and Chinese people live here, and everyone gets along very well: Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. In Mae Sai we visited a jade shop and walked past a street market, which, apparently, Dino himself was much more interested in than we were.

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But what was really interesting to see was the gate separating Thailand from Myanmar. We asked, how far away from here the Golgen Triangle was – that is, the place where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. We were told that it was a 35-minute drive, for which we’d have to pay extra to the driver and that we’d still need to get permission to get on a Mekong tour boat.

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We decided that we didn’t want to go there and headed back to Chiang Rai. Once back at the hotel and left to ourselves, we went straight to the swimming pool, which we’d been drooling over for two days now. But it was no coincidence that the area around the pool was completely empty all the time, which we were really surprised about. The water turned out to be so icy cold that I could not even dip my toe in it, let alone get in there.

Mission unaccomplished! But we went again to get a wonderful massage in the same parlour as yesterday. There are plenty of such parlours on our street, but as we already tested this one yesterday and were very happy with it, we saw no point in looking for something else. And after the massage, as we were intending to go for dinner, we accidentally spotted a cat in the window of a small coffee shop, and then many more cats. We’d noticed this coffee shop, called Cat’n’Cup, yesterday, but somehow didn’t realise that it was a cat cafe. So how could we resist going in to have a frappe and to pet some furry purring felines!

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Well, the latter actually turned out a bummer: we were still smelling of massage oil with a citrus aroma, which by cat standards meant that we were stinking sickeningly! So they avoided us at all costs, although we did see one or two curious faces on our table!

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Then we went to have dinner in an open-air restaurant, right around the corner from the night market. It was a very pleasant place, and next to it there was a stage, from which we were entertained first with Chinese music, then with English-language guitar songs, and finally with Thai dances.

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Posted in Asia, English, Singapore

Singapore – Day 4

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27 November 2013

This morning, right after breakfast, we went up to the concierge in order to find out whether there was anything interesting going on in town. Instead of an answer, he handed us a brochure, where we read that tomorrow there was going to be a performance of Lang Lang – the Chinese pianist that we had seen in a TV-programme quite some time ago in London, got very impressed and had been dreaming to hear live since then. And now we were lucky: he was here!

We immediately changed the plans for tomorrow: the concert in the evening would make it impossible to spend a whole day on Sentosa island. So we decided to book our concert tickets and then go to Sentosa right today. These plans were overset by the rather useless concierge: in response to our request to book tickets for us, he muttered with a strong Indian accent that he couldn’t do this, basically telling us to go book ourselves. We asked him to clarify whether we needed to go directly to the concert hall and got an affirmative answer. We found this pretty strange, as almost anywhere, we thought, there at least existed box offices around the city, if hotels didn’t provide such services.

Mt Elizabeth Hospital

Quite obviously, we didn’t know the exact location of the hall, so we had to stray a bit – but no rest for the wicked, so we strayed, searched and found. The receptionist at the concert hall – a nice Chinese young lady – seemed way more helpful than our concierge: she told us that the ticket office actually opened an hour later, but there were options to either book tickets online (and she gave us the link) or else to buy them from SISTIC Outlets – a ticketing service with outlets all around Singapore (which actually did exist after all!); she then asked us where we were going from there (to the Harbour Front station, in order to head to Sentosa from there, as you remember), and advised where the nearest outlet was. Surely there must have been at least one around Orchard Road as well, and if the concierge had told us about them, he would have saved us at least an hour, or even an hour and a half.

Esplanade MRT Station

Esplanade

Outram Park MRT Station

Anyway, we found a SISTIC Outlet in the Vivocity mall, which could be accessed directly from the tube, bought our tickets and, totally relieved, albeit later than originally planned, got on the Sentosa Monorail right from the mall. By the way, the train fare can be paid with EZ-Link cards, which are also valid for other types of public transport, and can even be used even in some stores.

Waterfront Station

Once on the island, we decided to limit ourselves to the beach and the Aquarium only, and then come again another time to visit the Universal Studios separately. It was lunch time and we sat down in an Asian eatery, where, as we had already seen in many places, the complete diversity of the south-east Asian cuisine was represented by countries: China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia – but also some western food, like spaghetti or Fish’n’Chips, for those tired of Asian food. Generally, what I like in Singapore, is this spirit of pan-Asianism – although it would be weird to expect anything else from a city-state with such a colourful ethnic composition: the backbone of the population is formed by Chinese, Malays and Tamils.

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

The weather was exceptionally suitable for the beach: as a special gift, the sun was shining all the time, without a single drop of rain (all the previous days had been cloudy). Arriving at the Beach station, we realised that there were beaches both to the left and to the right, and, after hanging about near the signs announcing this, like Buridan’s donkeys, we eventually chose the one to the right – Siloso beach. We had never seen such white fine soft sand before. The beach was quite uncrowded. Among the few other visitors there were a group of teen school students (maybe even skipping classes) who were swimming right in their clothes – both boys and girls.

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

Siloso Beach

After swimming to our heart’s content we headed to the Aquarium – the largest one in the world. It’s simply gorgeous, especially its huge glass arches, where fish glide both along the walls, and above one’s head – a very strong impression. We took tons of pictures and videos of various fish: the “smiling” rays resembling Astrid Lindgren’s Karlsson, disguised as a ghost, the sharks with their concentrated yet dazed snouts, and the moray eels. I loved the large amphitheatre, where the whole wall was made of glass, and it felt as though there was a whole ocean behind it. There we just sat on the floor and stared at the fish scurrying to and fro, among which rays stood out again, but this time giant ones.

Little Ray

Some Crustacean

Nautilus

Some Jellyfish

Some Jellyfish

Ray and some other fish

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Shark

Shark

Moray Eels

Lionfish

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Next to the dolphin displays, we were warned not to attract the dolphins’ attention, or beckon them, because they might decide what we offered them food, get discouraged and never come again when beckoned. It is understandable, as dolphins are highly intelligent beings, unlike, for example, some big fish, which had been staring at us for quite a long time with the stupidest expression (and painfully resembling someone I know, just couldn’t remember who exactly it was) – whether you beckon it or not.

Stupid Fish

Dolphin

We had dinner right on Sentosa, and oddly enough, at a Mexican, not Asian restaurant.

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island

Posted in Asia, English, Singapore

Singapore – Day 3

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

26 November 2013

If you feel the urge to move somewhere, do yourself a favour and move to Asia. Here is where one understands that Europe has totally outlived itself, as Asia has already left it a hundred paces behind and keeps developing by leaps and bounds, while Europe is busy with stuff like gay marriage. Having breakfast in Asia is also much better – any croissant would pale in comparison with hot noodles and dim sum early in the morning!

Being in Singapore and missing the opportunity to visit the zoo would be a big sin. The zoo is huge here, and the animals are kept almost in freedom. We rejected the suggestion to go on a 3.5 hour zoo tour with a transfer from the hotel, as we wanted to neither have any time limit nor to overpay, and so we went there all on our own – first by tube and then by bus. We do sometimes end up in silly situations here, underestimating how everything here is made for the convenience of people, so coming out of the tube at the Ang Mo Kio station, we walked out into the street in search of a bus stop. We shouldn’t have walked out at all, though! It turned out that the tube station was directly linked with the bus depot.

The bus ride was long but seamless. We purchased regular zoo tickets only and not those for various safaris, as we were told that not all animals would be represented there till the end of the year.

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Giraffes

Zebras

Cheetah

Kangaroo

Tiger

Hippo

Butterflies

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Even though we knew that the animals were more or less free here, it was still unexpected when we saw monkeys friskily jumping on the tree branches. As usual, most of the zoo looked more like the Land of Nod, though, for example the leopard cat did not even bother to come out of its shelter.

Proboscis Monkey

White-Faced Saki

Finger Monkey

Chimpanzee

We literally had lunch with orangutans – we were sitting in the open cafeteria (the usual zoo type, with the only difference that it served Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes as well as western fast food) and they were swinging on ropes above our heads, landing on some kind of hammocks stretched between the branches, and eating leaves.

Zoo Cafeteria

Orangutans

The zoo offered a chance to ride on elephants. We had a thought about it, which, however, somehow never materialised. Generally there was a huge variety of animals: there were lemurs, and babirusas, and porcupines, and tapirs, etc.

Lemur

Porcupines

Babirusa

Elephant

Painted by an Elephant!

I am traditionally fond of reptiles, especially snakes – certainly not enough, however, to welcome their behaviour, as during Harry Potter’s London Zoo visit.

Crocodile

Komodo Dragon

Rhino Iguana

Kingsnake

Reticulated Python

Oriental Whip Snake

Some Green Snake

Generally, all animals were grouped according to different parts of the world and climatic zones, even the cold tundra was represented here, particularly, there was a dirty polar bear swimming in circles in a huge pool, following exactly the same trajectory, even poking its head to breathe strictly in the same place, and the large glass allowed to see it under the water as well, like in an aquarium.

Polar Bear

We were lucky with the rain – again! – it started pouring when we were drinking tea under the roof of the cafeteria, just before leaving.

In the evening we decided to explore Singapore’s nightlife, and following all the tips we had read on the Internet, headed to Clarke Quay, where all the entertainment seemed to be focused. Apparently, there’s not much happening there on weekdays – for instance, none of the places supposed to be night clubs was functioning as one; instead they only served as a shelter for those few visitors wishing to have a drink or two. Most of the people were concentrated in the waterfront restaurants and were eating, eating, eating (and still, there weren’t too many, indeed, Singapore somehow looks surprisingly uncrowded – I wonder whether this is a seasonal phenomenon, or something permanent), but even those left at around 11pm.