My flight at the gate in Detroit
Ninety minutes after departing Indianapolis we were boarding our first connecting flight, a Boeing 747 at the McNamara terminal in Detroit, Northwest's world gateway. Fifteen hours into our journey, we were pushing back from the gate at Tokyo's Narita International for our third flight and final leg, the seven hour flight to Thailand. Nearly twenty five hours after we had boarded our first flight in Indianapolis, we touched down at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Asia's tourist capital, the sprawling urban mass of Bangkok, home to over 10 million people.
We cleared Customs and Immigration, exchanged a few dollars for Thai baht and headed to the airport's official taxi stand to queue in line to pay for our cab into the city.
We both slept well, but woke early the next morning. As we walked outside the hotel, I immediately recalled what I remembered most about Bangkok--the heat, congestion and friendly, irrepressible smiles of the Thai people. We had both seen much of the city on previous visits, so we only planned a couple nights in Bangkok on this trip. We planned to spend our first two days in Bangkok to simply relax and stroll at leisure as we adjusted to the 90 degree heat and recover from the long flights.
By the third day, we were both fully rested and ready to move on. We had a quick breakfast, gathered our bags and waited in front of the hotel for the minivan we had scheduled. Three hours later we arrived in Kanchanaburi. Not having concrete plans, we decided to join a group to visit the allied war cemetery, the WWII museum and of course, the famous bridge over the River Kwai. Like everyone else, we walked across the famous bridge. On the trip back across the bridge, I hurried to meet an approaching train midway on the trestle as it approached with its strident whistle blast to alert everyone on the bridge to clear the rails as it passed. We joined our group back at the minivan and drove a short distance to catch the next train ourselves for a one hour breath-taking ride on the famous Burma Death Railway.
We boarded the train at the Tha Kilen station just west of Kanchanaburi. The train chugged along slowly, hugging the sheer cliffs high above the banks of the river Kwai. The train itself was third class, but the views were nothing short of first class. Our group got off the train at the Nam Tok station where we had a traditional Thai lunch on a jungle raft floating on the River Kwai Noi. After lunch we stopped at the Saiyok waterfalls for about 45 minutes to explore on our own before we headed back into town. I had made arrangements in advance for us to spend the night in Kanchanaburi rather than head back to Bangkok as many from our group were doing. I thought it would be more enjoyable to spend a peaceful night on the river Kwai rather than deal with the evening traffic chaos to get back to Bangkok.
We said goodbye to our group as our minivan dropped us off at the Pung Waan Kwai Yai Resort and Spa. It was a beautiful resort on the outskirts of Kanchanaburi, on the banks of the River Kwai. It was a good choice, a relaxing place to spend the rest of the afternoon and overnight with beautiful surroundings and excellent facilities. After the heat of the day, we both enjoyed the cool water of the resort pool before getting ready for our dinner at the resort's dining room. We both agreed the resort was a great choice for the night. We had very comfortable adjoining rooms that more than exceeded our expectations. We were in for another small, yet pleasant surprise the next day when we departed the resort.
We checked out around noon. We both smiled when we realized our short ride back to Kanchanaburi would be in a songthaew, bench seats in the back of a small pickup truck with an overhead canopy. It was of course a bit of a striking contrast to the luxury of our resort accommodations from the previous night, but an experience that we both agreed that we wouldn't have missed for anything, and a first time in a songthaew for each of us. We laughed and smiled as we enjoyed the ride and all the friendly smiles and waves from every one we passed. Our taxi dropped us off at the bus station after the short ten minute ride. There was a first- class VIP bus parked at the curb so we grabbed a ticket inside the station as our luggage was loaded into the luggage compartment of the bus.
In short order, we were on our way back to Bangkok, first class seats on a VIP coach for only 198 baht each! After a comfortable two and a half-hour ride, we pulled into Sai Tai Mai, Bangkok's southern bus terminal in Thonburi. Getting a taxi to Bangkok's main rail station was effortless. The taxi driver was standing at the door of the bus when it opened. I smiled with a simple request, "Hualamphong Station" and in less than a minute we were in a taxi to Hualamphong Station. Our twenty minute ride cost 40 baht ($1.15). We had a few hours before we were scheduled to depart Bangkok, so we stored our luggage at the train station and headed to Silom where we had a wonderful dinner at the Swiss Lodge on Convent Road near the Sala Daeng Station, probably the best Tom Yum Goong of the entire trip, not to mention the coconut ice cream!
We boarded car 15, the first class car on our overnight sleeping train bound for Chiang Mai at 1930.
As the train pulled out of Hualamphong Station, our conductor was at the door of our berth requesting our food and drink orders. Since we had used our time in Bangkok to have an early dinner, we declined dinner, but placed our order for an American breakfast with coffee the next morning. A few minutes later our conductor returned with two large bottles of Singha, Thailand's premier and original beer, a smooth, but strong Thai lager. I always sleep like a baby on the overnight trains, but I admit, the Singha certainly didn't hurt! After a comfortable night's sleep in a first class sleeping berth, and waking to a hot breakfast around 0800 the next morning, we pulled into Chiang Mai train station at 0900.
Minibus taxi drivers were available to meet us on the arrival platform. For 40 baht, and in less than 10 minutes we arrived at the Central Duangtawan Hotel, a beautiful four star hotel adjacent to the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. The hotel was a fantastic value for first class accommodations in a great location. Mikki Jo’s first impression and comment was 'wow, how much is this costing us?"... But not to worry, I had booked her in a deluxe room on the 6th floor for $40 a night, and for only $75 a night I had a beautiful Dynasty Club suite on the 22nd floor of the hotel with breathtaking views of the mountains and city lights of Chiang Mai, not to mention the convenience of executive lounge privileges on the 23rd floor providing complimentary daily breakfasts, afternoon teas, evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and free internet access.
We had an early lunch in the Tawan coffee shop on the hotel's 2nd floor, an international buffet which was offering a world class Japanese buffet the day we arrived. Following a grand scale lunch for only 210 baht ($6.05), we spent the afternoon exploring the shops in Samkanpaeng, where most of Chiang Mai's famed handicraft shops are located. I got a beautiful piece of lacquer ware at one stop, a small black jewelry box with a gold elephant on the lid, hand-painted with a floral design and my name inside as I waited, a nice little souvenir for 150 baht ($4.30) Our favorite stop of the afternoon was probably the visit to the Shinawatra silk factory where we watched a demonstration of the old methods of harvesting the silk from silkworm cocoons, then moved on to watch how they dye the silks, spool them and manually work large weaving machines to produce the beautiful Thai silk.
Late in the afternoon, we took a stroll around Chiang Mai's old town, inside the moat. Right inside the walls we found plenty of charming pedestrian lanes where you can wander at your leisure to see attractions like Sompet, the fresh market, the Three King's Statue, and many beautiful temples, with Wat Chiang Man being the oldest and probably the most beautiful of the temples inside the old walls. Right outside the walls at the Tapae gate we got our first tuk tuk, a southeast Asia version of the vehicle known in other places as an auto rickshaw or cabin cycle. It was the quick way back to our hotel and a very welcomed treat to our tired feet. The driver wanted 60 baht, but I charmed him with a little flirting and he finally decided he would take the 20 baht I offered him... That evening we had dinner in our hotel, at the Sunflower Cantonese Restaurant on the 24th floor.
We had a great table near the window with stunning night views of Chiang Mai. Our meal consisted of both hot and sour and crab corn soups, braised sea bass with brown sauce, steamed baby kale in oyster sauce, and sauteed spinach with crab meat. After dinner we headed to the famed Night Bazaar that operates from sunset to midnight daily - THE place to go for souvenirs, textiles, fake goods and knick knacks. It's a blast to stroll through the market as they heckle to sell their wares... To cap the day we each got a full body oil massage, 150 baht for an hour ($4.35) Aem, the little guy that latched on to me had magic hands that I won't soon forget :) We had an 0800 pickup time from the hotel the next morning.
After a pleasant scenic trip to the north of Chiang Mai, we arrived at Maetaman Elephant camp around 0930. Amidst lush jungle at the side of the meandering river we got to watch the elephants take their daily baths before they entertained us with a show that demonstrated some of the ir skills in the timber industry, playing sports and painting! It was pretty amazing to watch them hold a brush in their trunk and bring their picture to life, simply by watching the trainer point to the color they were to use next. The next adventure on our itinerary was a very pleasant Huckelberry Finn type float trip on a bamboo raft down the scenic and placid Mae Thang River wearing our Ho Chi Minh hats.
I liked my hat so much that I bought one to bring home. It was a great way to finish our morning. We floated for an hour downstream where we were met by our driver and returned to the elephant camp for a buffet lunch. After lunch it was time for the main event-- get 'em up ride 'em time! We boarded our elephants and started our trek down the hillside for the plunge into the river where shortly downstream we crossed to the other bank and headed up into the hills of the jungle, moving with the swing and sway of our sure-footed transports. At the end of our jungle trek we sadly left our elephants at the drop off point near the small Lisu hilltribe village that appeared more created than authentic. We switched to oxcarts for our ride back to the camp.
I asked the driver if I could sit in the driver's seat and he happily agreed as he jumped down and ahead of the cart on foot, with my camera in hand to record the experience for me, at the reins driving the team back to camp! What a fun day, but it wasn't over yet. The trip back to Chiang Mai included a stop in the Mae Sa Valley area at the orchid and butterfly farm. It was a beautiful sight with over 850 varieties of exotic orchids in bloom and a special butterfly garden, a tropical enclosure with over 600 tropical species flying around in lush flora in their natural environment, but obviously accustomed to the visitors... not a bit shy of being touched and they would happily land on your arms or hands with just a hint of invitation, they were both amazing and beautiful.
That night we had dinner at the Whole Earth Restaurant, set in a traditional Thai-style wooden house amid landscaped tropical gardens, reached via a lantern lit pathway. It was a recommendation from the little Thai girl that was working in the executive lounge at our hotel. We were asked to remove our shoes and then escorted to the upper floor where we had a wonderful Thai dinner in a very unique setting. It was a fun experience and the food was top notch. Chiang Mai is a delightful city, one of the most memorable of the trip and certainly a city that I'm eager to visit on my next trip to Thailand, three days was simply not enough. Packed and ready, we headed to the airport the next morning to board our Air Asia flight, heading south to Kuala Lumpur for the start of our Malaysian adventure.
As we descended in Kuala Lumpur on final approach, the first thing I noticed was how beautiful it was. There were groves and groves of lush palm trees, literally thousands of them. I had opted to use Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Air Asia's hub to avoid the political turmoil in the southern Thai provinces we would have otherwise had to travel through had we opted for overland travel to reach the northeast coast of Malaysia, our starting point to reach the Perhentian Islands. My choice for getting to and from this island paradise meant an overnight train ride, departing KL Sentral, Kuala Lumpur's massive grand central train station. We were on our way at 1930 with deluxe sleeping berth accommodations (and greatly appreciated air-conditioning and an oscillating fan inside our cabin) as we slept our way through the interior jungles of Malaysia and the Cameroon highlands enroute to Tanah Merah.
When I awoke the next morning and looked out the window of my sleeping berth, I was mesmerized as I watched the peaceful fog that hovered over the lush green flora as the train chugged its way through the dense Malaysian jungle. It was captivating, yet a bit eerie. I was reminded of my favorite Carl Sandburg poem as I watched the fog "arrive silently on tiny cat feet...and sit on silent haunches" before it moved on and slowly disappeared as the sunrise appeared over the mountains...a sight I won't forget! After reaching Tanah Merah at 0920, it was another hour by taxi to reach the jetty terminal in Kuala Besut, but the resort had arranged for a driver to meet us at the Tanah Merah train station. I was pleased to see he was there on the train platform, eagerly awaiting our arrival! From the jetty, it was thirty minutes out into the sea before our speedboat idled down and we coasted into the beach of our island home.
We were both smiling like Cheshire cats as we caught our first glimpse of the island. The resort staff met us on the beach with a welcome drink and gathered our luggage as they showed us the way to the reception desk. Pulau Perhentian Besar and living in individual chalets under palm trees on a powder white beach framed beautifully by the turquoise blue waters and lush jungle was a little like an upscale version of being on Gilligan's Island! Our beach chalets were air-conditioned, we stayed in one of three island resorts that had 24 hour generated electricity - a bit spoiled in our western ways. During our stay on the island, we spent hours snorkeling over beautiful corals with a rainbow spectrum of exotic fish, and gray tip reef sharks, dolphins, barracudas, sea turtles and bucket head parrot fish that were bigger than me.
.. Add the island music, torch lit paths at night, fresh seafood, tropical fruits and drinks under palm tiki huts, gentle tropical morning rains followed by blue sky and sunshine, totally unspoiled nature in a laid back and relaxing tropical island setting with no roads, no cars, just island water taxis to shuttle you between Perhentian Besar and Perhentian Cecil with bronze-skinned Malaysian island locals that treated you like royalty, that was life in the Perhentian islands off the northeast coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea -- abbreviated P.A.R.A.D.I.S.E Sad to leave, but after three full days of island leisure our luggage was loaded into the resort's speedboat at 4pm and we were on our way back to the coast to be dropped off at the resort office in Kuala Besut where our taxi awaited to return us to the train station.
The sea became a bit choppy as we headed back to shore as the wind picked up, signaling the possibility of an afternoon storm which actually didn't occur, but I was none to happy to arrive at the jetty after that ride. We had enough time in Tanah Merah for dinner before our train arrived for our overnight journey back through the jungle. We pulled into KL Sentral at 0930 the next morning, plenty of time for our airport transfer and our flight back to the land of smiles, beautiful Thailand.
After a short one hour and fifteen minute flight, we were hovering over the beach as we touched down at Phuket International Airport.
For those who are not familiar with Phuket, it is a vacation hot spot, an island in the southern isthmus of Thailand. This time having a rental car, I saw even more of the island than before, and again it was a week of tropical paradise. Home this time was the Andaman Beach Suites Resort on Patong Beach in a room on the 9th floor offering beautiful sea views. Patong is the hub of island activity, a lively little town that sits on a large crescent beach on the west central coast of the island at the foot of the mountains, a town that springs to full life at dusk, with the emergence of neon lights and all night entertainment.
Phuket was just as beautiful as I remember with the palm-fringed, white sand beaches, not to mention the breath-taking sunsets of Karon and Kata Beaches. That glowing sun, viewed through the palm fronds as it fades into the water leaves an indelible impression that you long to see over and over. After settling into the hotel we took our first meander of Patong Beach along the main beach road. As we strolled past the shops I was surprised by waving hands and a big smile as Herry Shyam, a young man from Skandia Fashion who had tailored two suits for me in 2003 ran out of his shop and greeted me with a hug and 'hello Marriott, Miss Tiffany. He remembered me and that I had stayed at the Marriott on my previous visit. I was excited to start another Phuket adventure, much as I had remembered it, complete with shopping, wonderful people, great food and the beauty of the surrounding sea.
We got an early start the next morning, the minivan arriving around 0800 to transport us to the marina on the northeast side of the island, our departure point as we headed out for a day amidst the beauty of Phang Nga Bay, aboard a twin deck vessel. Our time on board was spent on the upper deck, which was canopied to shield us from the intense heat of the sun and afforded us prime views of the pristine beauty of the bay. The lower deck had bathroom facilities and was also used to store the inflatable canoes which we used to explore the caves carved inside the limestone cliffs that jut out from the emerald green waters. After a short introduction of the day's activities, we were introduced to our personal guide who would be our paddler for the day as we explored the caves and lagoons. Our first stop of the day was at Koh Panak.
We boarded our assigned canoe and set off to explore the caves. I remembered that smell as we glided quietly through Bat Cave, but it was worth it because I knew the cave would soon open into a beautiful lagoon inside of the towering limestone cliff. Being quite claustrophobic, I was pleased that he knew the exact time of low tides to ensure our safety as we paddled through the caves, and the assurance that we could get back out before the water rose. During high tide when it was impossible to get into the caves, we anchored at sea where our crew had prepared a wonderful buffet lunch of fresh fish and tasty Thai food back onboard our boat. Over the course of the day we made several stops to canoe and explore inside the caves. We ended with a stop at James Bond Island before we headed back to the marina at the end of the afternoon.
Back in Patong by early evening, we had plenty of time to shower and change before we headed around the corner for our dinner. We got into a routine of having fresh seafood nightly at our favorite sidewalk dining hangout, where Jai and Tham, a couple young guys from Burma, promised to always have the freshest fish in Patong Beach, cooked to order. Most of the entire block along Ratchutit Road was lined with small sidewalk seafood cafes, fun little outdoor dining spots that offered fresh fish and seafood. It was fun to watch them as they competed with each other to flag down the tourists to sample their cuisine. Tham developed a bit of a crush on me early on and always gave me a fantastic price upfront, then still another discount on top of that, even after I acknowledged that the price offered was acceptable to me.
The other guys would giggle as they watched him work his magic to get my attention. They always had plenty to offer and it was fresh and prepared to absolute perfection with plenty of options for side dishes. I sampled everything from lobster and crab to fish, but developed a taste for the white snapper Thai style, usually fried with fresh chiles and garlic. We'd usually opt for different fish entrees, but share a couple side dishes, typically some crab fried rice and a vegetable. We both loved the baby kale and stir fried asparagus. It was always a meal to write home about. Aside from the food being delicious, it was always a fun place to have our dinner and the entire crew was always so much fun. Up early again the next morning, soon after breakfast we were picked up by our minivan and headed to the docks to board our speedboat to the Phi Phi Islands for a day of snorkeling the coral reefs around Bamboo and Monkey Islands and swimming in the warm turquoise waters of Maya Bay on Phi Phi Lei, the smaller, and I think the prettier of the Phi Phi Islands.
Maya Bay is breath-takingly beautiful, it's where "The Beach" was filmed. It was untouched and escaped any damage in the 2004 tsunami, but the larger of the islands, Phi Phi Don was hard hit, although it's recovered with barely a trace of evidence now, other than Tonsai Bay. It is totally rebuilt and looks different than it did in 2003 on my last visit. One of the most noticeable things, aside from the fact that it has built up quite a bit from the way I saw it originally, many of the beautiful palms that shaded the beach there were lost in the tsunami. All the little island bungalows that once dotted the perimeter of the bay were sadly lost and not replaced. I had enjoyed a family style lunch there in 2003 as part of a day tour package. This time our lunch stop was on an entirely different island, a small island that housed nothing more than the restaurant itself, and we were told it was owned by the company that operated the tour that day, Phuket Adventures.
Just as I had done on my previous visit to Phuket, the last night was reserved for the Phuket Fantasea in Kamala Beach, an event not to be missed, it's Thailand's number one tourist attraction, a cultural theme complex that promises to be the ultimate nighttime attraction in Phuket, home to the Golden Kinaree, the world's largest restaurant offering a grand buffet of Thai and international cuisine, with seating for 4,800 people... The Palace of Elephants is a lavish 3,000 seat theatre inside a large Sukothai era stone palace, the exterior facing with huge elephant stone carvings, the interior having the appearance of a fog-filled rainforest, complete with the exotic sounds of wildlife. The theatre houses the main event, the breath-taking Las Vegas style theatrical production teaming Thai culture with amazing special effects, beautiful lighting, music, aerial acrobats and ballet, Thai mysteries and magic.
..the show is comprised of over a hundred performers in lavish Thai costumes and of course the true stars of the show, the dozens of large elephants that will grace the stage with a performance that is almost beyond belief, it's a night you don't want to miss if your travels take you to Phuket!! Did I mention that no trip to Phuket would be complete without a full body Thai oil massage every night? Merely 300 baht, not much more than 4 years ago, a whopping $8 for a full hour body massage that will rival any massage you've ever experienced! (As mentioned earlier, the same treat can be found in Chiang Mai for half the price, only 150 baht and in Bangkok for 100 baht)...I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't indulge themselves at those prices, besides, after a day in the Thailand sun, a full body oil massage is a welcome treat to cap the day! No different than my previous visits, Phuket was a hard place to leave, but the journey continues, so the next morning we're back to the airport to drop off the car and get our flight back to Kuala Lumpur.
Even though Kuala Lumpur was our primary transportation hub for three flights and three rail journeys, our arrival in Kuala Lumpur this time was a planned two day stop that allowed some time for us to experience the city, an amazing city with its cultural diversity. It was rather perplexing to see Muslims, Taoists, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus seemingly living in contrasting, yet perfect harmony with each other. It is very apparent when you visit Kuala Lumpur that the government is controlled by the Muslim majority, yet the economy is defined by the Chinese/Malays...quite an interesting, and strikingly beautiful city of skyscrapers centered around the famous Petronas Towers, fringed by groves of beautiful palm trees in the central market areas of Merdeka Square and Masjid Jameck where the Star and Putra subway lines intersect.
Kuala Lumpur is a sprawling modern city, but very easy to navigate with its mass transit system of light commuter rail, Star and Putra subway lines, and the north/south monorail, all of which hub in KL Sentral. Sharply contrasting, yet perfectly situated are the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little India, each tucked neatly within the confines of this bustling and modern city, yet they're an entirely different world. Kuala Lumpur is an inexpensive city to visit. We had luxury accommodations at the Kuala Lumpur Regent Hotel, in the heart of the Golden Triangle in the midst of excitement, the Bukit Bintang for less than $80 each for separate rooms on the 19th floor overlooking the Petronas Towers. In seemingly no time, but after a nice stay in Kuala Lumpur, we were comfortably nestled in on board our deluxe night train.
We heard the whistle blow from outside on the platform and we said goodbye to Kuala Lumpur as our train pulled out of the station, this time our final departure from KL Sentral for this trip. Off again, this time enroute to another world - Singapore, a country that more than lives up to it's reputation of clean and green.
We crossed the Straits of Johor the next morning around 0600 arriving at the Woodlands station, signaling that we had left Malaysia and arrived in Singapore. We had to alight at the border checkpoint to get our passport stamped. Within thirty minutes we had arrived and were loading our bags into a shared cab at Singapore's Tanjong Pagar rail station. A bit of a scam at twenty five Singapore dollars, considering we could have walked to the Tanjong Pagar MRT station and taken the east/west line three stops to the Bugis station which was right around the corner from our hotel for two Singapore dollars.
However, we had not yet familiarized ourselves with the Singapore subway and how easy and inexpensive it is to get around. Word to the wise for anyone who travels in Singapore, always use the subway when you can, it's cheap and it's easy! My first observation of Singapore was its striking contrast to everything else I've ever experienced in Asia. It was every much as modern as Japan, yet pretty much western and spotlessly clean. Other than the majority population which consisted of 80% Chinese and the minority presence of Malays and Indians, the appearance was no different than the likes of places like Palm Beach, Florida or Long Beach, California, just noticeably cleaner. Malay is the official language, yet English seemed to be the most widely spoken language.
We spent much of our first day in Singapore just walking around to get an idea of what the place was like. We stayed at the Golden Landmark Hotel, in an area that was tucked neatly between the Arab district and Little India. I had a wonderful view of the Sultan Mosque out of my hotel room's window. The area near the hotel was colorful and offered a nice variety of ethnic restaurants from Indian to Lebanese, as well as many ethnic shops on Arab Street and along the walk behind the Sultan mosque. Within a few blocks of the hotel were great shopping areas where plenty of bargains could be found in Bugis Village and along the streets in Little India. For everything under one roof type shopping, Mustafa Centre in Little India was definitely the place to go. We decided to spend the next day across the straits on Sentosa Island, which we reached by cable car from the main island.
Our first stop was the Carlsberg Sky Tower which gave us a panoramic view of Sentosa Island, the Singapore skyline and the southern islands. We also had a nice view of the merlion statue on Sentosa. An icon of Singapore, it has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. Later in the day, we took a tour of historic Fort Siloso. For me, the highlight was the wax figures set up in the surrender chambers. Singapore offers a lot for such a small country. Sentosa Island is listed as the number one attraction in Singapore, but I'd also suggest seeing Chinatown, Little India, shopping in Bugis Village, Arab Street and the colorful and romantic area along the Singapore River in downtown. We both agreed that the highlight of our Singapore visit was the night safari, a journey that takes you through the trails of one of the few undisturbed primary tracts of jungle forest just north and outside of the city area.
It's an experience of a lifetime that teams the sounds of night with the unspoiled botanical display of over 100 natural species, hundreds of years old. The experience begins the moment you board the safari tram. Your jaw drops in amazement as the tram moves you along, engulfed by natural jungle that comes to life after dusk with the sights and sounds of nocturnal wildlife, home to over 900 animals of 135 exotic species and smooth transitions between eight different zones that have been recreated to simulate geographic regions like the Southeast Asian rainforest, African savanna, Nepalese river valley, South American pampas, Burmese jungle, and deep into the density of Malaysian jungle, each with the sights and sounds of its own inhabitants freely roaming in their natural surroundings. The strategic placement of lighting along the tram route maximizes the effect, peacefully blending the beauty of the jungle flora and fauna with the tranquility of night as you look a rhino in the eye, listen to the heart-stopping scream of a striped hyena, or watch a giraffe as it glides peacefully among it's plains as though human life was no where near.
The sounds of cicadas and crickets fill the night sky that's illuminated by a full moon and a picture perfect tapestry of stars. Pure peace and serenity engulfs you as the calm of night is broken only with the brevity of an occasional roar from a lion or Malayan tiger making its visible presence known from a not so far distance ... Braving a short departure from the tram for a nature walk is a thrill that allows for up-close and personal encounters with the likes of gremlin look-alike tarsiers, flying squirrels and Malay and small-toothed civets. There's a brief rustling of trees in the shadows of the jungle as a leopard emerges with seemingly no interest in the nearby human life, but to tear apart the flesh of a lifeless carcass that hangs from a tree. Sounds like something from a scene in a wildlife documentary, but it's not, it's just a few of the surprises that await you on the Leopard trail on the Singapore night safari.
If you find yourself in Singapore, it's a tour you don't want to miss!
Our journey ended with a very early start...up at 0215, since we had scheduled an airport taxi to pick us up at 0315 for our 0605 flight. Traffic at that hour was non-existent and the 30 minutes to the airport was yet another example of the beauty of Singapore, the highway to the airport was lined with palms and huge broadleaf trees that swept over the highway in a canopy for much of the entire route. Singapore's Changi airport is an experience in itself. It has an unabated winning streak for awards and airport service excellence with over 250 awards, and holds the distinct honor of being Skytrax's only airport in the world with a five star rating.
It is immediately apparent why. It is the most beautiful airport I've ever seen, complete with a small interior tropical forest adorned with a small pond and waterfalls, the concourses lined with beautiful gardens of live orchids growing everywhere. There was even a bamboo tranquility garden that graced the central food court in terminal 1, not to mention the entire airport is squeaky clean, has stream-lined operation and efficiency that will baffle you. It took us all of ten minutes to check in for our flight to Tokyo Narita - pretty amazing when compared to the other international departures I've made in the past. Just like Berlin’s Tegel airport, every departure gate has its own security checkpoint for streamlined and time-saving efficiency.
That's a brief synopsis of what unfolded over the course of a month.
Despite the hundreds of photos taken, all factually embellished with intricate details that I journalized over the course of a month, it's still impossible to paint a picture with words or photos that would adequately describe the reality of our adventure. It definitely left an indelible mark in both of our memories. It was truly an adventure of a lifetime that I doubt either of us will soon forget. I invite you to enjoy the rest of the trip, vicariously in photos on the next pages of this blog! Happy travels!