Archive for December, 2009

Minangkapau roof

We left Singapore three days ago to begin our journey to Bukkittinggi, which is a city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. According to the guidebooks we’d read, the trip should have been an early morning ferry from Singapore to Palau Batam (45 minutes), then a ferry to Pekanbaru (6 hours), and finally a bus to Bukkittinggi (6 hours). We knew it was going to be a long day, but we set out at 6am determined to give it a try.

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Christmas wishes
in Singapore

Singapore

After Port Kelang, we spent one last night inboard the Azamara Quest before finally arriving in Singapore. We have spent five fantastic days here so far, enjoying the festive season in this lively and exciting city. We adjusted quickly to life without the cruise ship, thanks in part to the city itself. Singapore is clean, modern, well planned, easy to navigate, and very English speaking, all of which has made our introduction to Southeast Asia much easier than expected. We have no illusions that this is the case everywhere in this part of the world; in fact, we’d be sorely disappointed if that was the case. Still, Singapore has proven to be one of our favourite cities so far.

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Taste of Malaysia

Penang temple

Our 24 day cruise from Athens to Singapore is behind us now, and we are adjusting to life in hostels again. We had a wonderful time on the cruise, as I’m sure many of you gathered from our video. We relaxed, recovered, suntanned, swam, read, slept in, ate well, and met some really great people. We’d like to say a special hello to some of the crew and cruisers that made our time on board so enjoyable: Allison & Valentin, Ngawhira, Louise, Mia & Gustaf, Costa, Jonas, Michelle, Jerry & Marla, Jean & George, Lucy & Michel, Ed & Eleanor — we hope our paths cross again soon, and that your future travels are enriching and exciting.

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Merry Christmas everyone!

We had some extra time on our hands during our cruise over to Singapore, so we put together this little project.

Merry Christmas everyone! We miss you all.

After 150 days of traveling, here’s the latest tally:

- 35,594 kilometers traveled, over land and sea
- 856 hours spent in transit
- Countries visited: 16
- Distance breakdown: 61% ship, 30% train, 6% car, 3% bus, <1% other
- Time breakdown: 73% ship, 16% train, 4% car, 3.5% foot, 2.5% bus, 1% other

At last we've arrived in Asia. We're really excited to be here, and are starting to adjust to the stifling heat/humidity combination.

Check out the breadcrumb for the latest routes. Also, we’ve just posted four new albums on the photos page, from Alexandria, Dubai, Mumbai and Cochin.

Where should
we go?

Hello loyal readers. Today is our last day on this magnificent boat. We’ll be docking in Singapore tomorrow and staying there over Christmas. We have no idea where to go next. We have a few months to kick around Southeast Asia. I was thinking about Sumatra since we’re so close and there are frequent ferries over. But there are many excellent choices. Please send us some suggestions — places you’ve been or want to be or heard should be great. We’d really appreciate some feedback. We’ll take pictures and it will be almost like YOU were there too. Thanks!

Bicycles and
fishing nets

Chinese fishing nets

Our second stop in India was Cochin, much further south than Mumbai. We set out on foot again, and encountered some of the most aggressive tuk-tuk drivers we’ve ever seen just outside the port gates. Tuk-tuks are the little three-wheeled scooter/taxis that are barely big enough for a driver and two passengers crammed in the back. They look almost like a motorized rickshaw. Two of the drivers followed us for what must have been eight or ten blocks trying to get us into their tuk-tuks. It was impossible to convey to them the concept that we just wanted to walk. Clearly we must be crazy.

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Dharavi slum, Mumbai

On our first day in Mumbai, we joined a small group of other people from the cruise on an organized excursion. The group was made up of staff from the ship and other travelers with open minds. This was no regular overpriced cruise ship excursion; one of the guest relations officers that we’d made friends with had organized a tour of the Dharavi slum through a Non-Government Organization (NGO) called Reality Tours, and she invited us to come along. Dharavi slum is supposed to be Asia’s biggest slum, but depending on who we asked we heard varying information on that. Our guide told us that over one million people live there, and someone else said fifty thousand. On first hearing about it, we were a little apprehensive that taking a “tour of the slums” was simply putting the lives of these poverty-stricken people on show for tourists. But we read a little more about the NGO, and learned that 80% of their profits from the tours went to funding a computer learning centre and a kindergarten in the slum community. We thought it would be an experience worth having, not for enjoyment’s sake, but for the sake of learning more about the lives of the people here. Five of us went in a car with a driver and an english-speaking guide, and after driving past some of the city’s major attractions, we parked at the edge of Dharavi and got out of the car.

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Mumbai, India

Mumbai

We arrived in Mumbai, India, on December 13th, and we had two days in port there. We set out in the hopes of seeing and experiencing as much of the city as possible in the short time we had. On arrival, we left the port on foot, fighting our way through a throng of aggressive taxi drivers who are determined to get you into their cabs. Of course, the cabs at the port are nearly all overpriced, and often are operated off the meter. We heard of other guests paying as much as $40 US for a two hour drive around the city in a cab, while Meg and I managed to find a three hour tour in an air-conditioned car, with a guide, several stops, and guided visits to places tourists wouldn’t go alone for only $22. Most of the other taxi rides we took cost less than $1, as long as we made sure that the meter was running. But on our first venture out into the city, we were determined to walk, to get a better sense of the life on the streets. It took us about three blocks to shake off the last of the cab drivers, and then we were on our own.

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Dubai doings

falcons al burqa

It’s very tricky writing about this place. I got carried away with my thoughts and so this post is instead about what we actually did in Dubai.

Mark mentioned previously that on day one we visited the Dubai mall. This has recently become the world’s largest shopping mall complete with a giant indoor aquarium, international sized ice rink and a giant man-made lake with dancing water fountains. The mall itself is like a giant North American covered shopping mall with 3 ginormous floors of high-end shops and food courts. A massive plaza overlooks the lake and the neck achingly tall Burj Dubai tower. It is unreal how high this thing is. It stands alone and defines Dubai’s skyline by dwarfing all others (even though they are also extremely tall by any other city’s standards).

Day two was jammed packed. After feeling a bit deflated for only having visited a shopping mall on the first day we wanted to see as much of the city as we could. We got up early and shared an overpriced taxi into the city with a nice canadian couple who had actually lived in Dubai for 5 years. They gave us some great ideas on where to go and how to get there, which is more of a challenge than you’d think because the city is so spread out and so many things are under construction.

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