Just a little update. I am now in Singapore, awaiting my connecting flight to somewhere exotic, way up north. I haven’t really had a proper rest since the past three weeks so as you can expect I am quite exceptionally tired. Given a bed, or somewhere flat and soft, I would in an instance fall into lifelessness.
I am however excited about my flight tonight. I will be flying on an Airbus 350-900 (XWB)- my favourite aircraft for a while until I flew aboard KLM’s Boeing 787-9 i.e. the Dreamliner, from Kuala Lumpur (KUL) to Amsterdam (AMS). I don’t study aircraft specifications in my line of work per se but from my superficial knowledge of aircraft, I thought there aren’t many out there who can top the A350s. But boy was I wrong! From a consumer’s standpoint I thought the B787-9 was a magnificent piece of machine! For one, the engines were quieter; the cabin felt substantially more spacious and the pièce de résistance for me were the shutterless windows! You need only dim the windows opaque by clicking the buttons up/down to keep the lights out. Brilliant! Until of course one of the wires snaps and you’re left with a blank window-cum-wall.
I will write more about my Singapore Changi rendez-vous as well as my trip up north in my next posts. I hope you’ve been well 🙂
A clear lesson learnt for me about travel writing is to write them immediately or almost immediately upon my return home. Alternatively I should make conscious efforts to jot them down as notes or something equivalent lest I risk forgetting the more intimate details of both the ordinary and extraordinary encounters throughout my journey. It helps though that I take photographs of everything I find intriguing; they help me recall my thoughts and feelings and why I found my subject captivating. If anything else, they help me render our experiences in exact chronological order.
We flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia immediately following our trip to Sydney. It was a spur of the moment decision that did not take long to deliberate. We decided not to stay in Kuala Lumpur for the rest of our holiday and felt strongly about seeing other parts of South East Asia. As we had always wanted to visit the jewel of Cambodia- the Angkor Wat- the decision came to us easily.
Siem Reap is the second gateway into Cambodia after its capital Phnom Penh. It is home to UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat along with countless other spiritual temples, some of which are still in use today.
There are two airlines operating the Kuala Lumpur (KUL) – Siem Reap (REP) route: Malaysia Airlines (MH) and AirAsia (AK). At the time of writing, MH and AK operate 5 and 11 times per week respectively. The flight took us about 2 hours which gave us decent time to get a much needed shut eye after the long flight from Sydney which arrived very early the same morning.
Our sightseeing started only on our second day there (we were knocked out the first day that we spent the whole day recharging ourselves!). As is probably customary for all travellers, we initiated our excursion with the obligatory visit to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat was originally built as a homage to the Hindu lord Vishnu during the Khmer administration. It gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century, propelling itself as the capital of the Khmer Empire. The Angkor Wat, or Capital Temple, is a colossal temple complex that sits within a site measuring 162.6 hectares surrounded by moat and protective outer walls. Purported to be the largest religious monument in the world, it is extolled for its grandeur and the intricate bas-reliefs and devatas (Hindu deity) adorning its walls.
Angkor Wat is one of many temples contained within the premise of the Angkor Archeological Park. To enter, you are required to purchase a one day (USD 20) or 3 day (USD 40) passes which will grant you access to no less than 40 temples around the park including the Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm among others. This can be done at any of the site’s entrances. Also note that there are check points at every temple where you’ll be asked to present your ticket; so do make sure that you don’t lose yours!
It took us more than half a day to thoroughly see Angkor Wat. We spent 2 full days temple hopping after which we had had enough and opted to travel out into the Cambodian villages towards Banteay Srei and Phnom Kulen National Park.
Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous in Cambodia and we were lucky to have met one at the airport who agreed to chaperon us throughout our stay in Siem Reap. We paid about USD20 per day which may seem quite hefty but taking into account the sheer diligence of our driver and the amount of kilometres we covered everyday, it was money well spent.
On our last day in Sydney, we decided to conclude our Australian chapter by ending where we began- the Sydney Opera House and its environs.
Our flight back to KL was not until later in the evening so we had ample time to make a brief round-up of the city beginning at the Rocks, inside the great Sydney Opera House, the Royal Botanic Garden, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and finally Mrs. Macquarie’s Point.
I loved everything about that day. The glistening cobalt blue sky that seemed to follow us everywhere, the uncharacteristically strong winds (while we were around the parameters of the opera house) that had us hold on to each other tight, the calmness of the Royal Botanic Garden which held at least 2-3 beautiful garden weddings that afternoon, the sound of the violin quartet soothing through every rustle of the leaves, the chirping of the birds in between, the brilliant Jacarandas against the emerald green lawns- everything and everyone seemed to be so happy and at peace. It was as if we were all joined by a familiar kinship- one that is innately understood by each of our hearts- that celebrates and glorifies life as it is, warts and all.
I knew I loved Australia even before I arrived. In a weird but not entirely unexpected way, it felt like home.
On the morning of our drive to the Blue Mountains, I remember feeling sufficiently tired that I spent most of the journey asleep in the back passenger seat. I could say I feel a sense of regret for missing the sceneries of the Sydney outskirts and the splendour of its natural beauty laid for miles around; but were it not for that brief recess, I wouldn’t have had enough vigour to experience the living majesty of the Blue Mountains and beyond that would last the day.
Our journey started at Mercure Sydney where we collected our rental car from Europcar. Even though I fell asleep almost immediately as I stepped on board, it took us 2 hours to reach the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We did not do any intervening stops other than the one very close to Echo Point (where you’ll find the Three Sisters) in Katoomba, the centre of Blue Mountains. This was to be our first sight of the southern valley of the Blue Mountains. The shrubs and the densely forested surroundings could not obscure the magnificently picturesque valleys that laid beyond. The arresting scenery was even more amplified once we reached Echo Point.
A few steps off Echo Point is the main street which hosts the Lookout and Waradah Aboriginal Centre– a compact centre housing tourist information, souvenir shop, cafes and bars, Aboriginal art gallery and my favourite- the Aboriginal cultural performance. All my life, I had always wanted to learn more about, and possibly immerse myself in, the Aboriginal culture. A one day trip out in the Blue Mountains couldn’t possibly give this justice but I was nonetheless very grateful to be able to witness a glimpse of this ancient culture from the rich Aboriginal performance at Waradah. The cultural performance gave a wealthy narrative of the Aboriginal history; the origins and distinctive features of the many Aboriginal tribes across Australia including the dances, or Corroboree, unique to each tribe; the smoking ceremony; and the dreamtime story of the quintessentially Australian didgeridoo. If you are into history then this is definitely a must-do. At AUD20 per entry it is great value for money.
Our great escape did not end just then. After Waradah, we ventured further west of the Blue Mountains circumnavigating the national park to the north through Capertee Valley (purportedly the second largest canyon in the world- 1km wider than the Grand Canyon but not quite as deep) and Wollemi National Park before making our long way home to Sydney. A few times on the way we witnessed a large group of wild kangaroos either basking in the sun or hopping along/towards/away from our car. Throughout our stay in Australia we did not visit the Australian zoo or the wildlife park, so this magical encounter with the kangaroos (and wallabies at Wollemi) was deeply gratifying.
I loved everything about this day. The Blue Mountains, the trees, the valleys, the lands, the Aboriginals, the history, the tradition, the stories, the iconic animals, the parks, the sun, the sky, the moon and the stars we witnessed were all so extraordinary and enchanting. All this is what makes Australia, Australia but what touched me the most- what I felt was the most captivating for me- was the spirit that lives in it all. It is something that cannot be replicated elsewhere, something that is purely and uniquely Australia. It’s the spirit of the place, the history and the people that I’ll treasure forever.
There’s still plenty to write and reflect upon my journeys this year and already the year is coming to an end in about 2 hours 42 minutes. I can’t believe we’re almost at the end of a wonderful year full of travel memories, work and challenges. I am grateful though that we are well and looking forward to another great year ahead.
Spurred by a great travel spirit, this year has really been a great travel year for us. We travelled to 12 countries, 9 of which were new ones for me. We started 2016 with a short one-day visit to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. This was then followed by adventures in Amsterdam, Scandinavia, Rome and Vatican City in the springs. Few months down the road I travelled to Brunei for a two day break before an amazing week in Sydney and Siem Reap just recently.
In summary and in chronological order, my excursions of 2016 by month:
Vietnam – Ho Chi Minh City
April / May
United Kingdom – London
The Netherlands – Amsterdam
Germany – Puttgarden & Hamburg
Denmark – Copenhagen & Helsingor
Sweden – Malmo, Grundsund & Gothenburg
Norway – Oslo
Italy – Rome
Vatican City State (the Holy See)
Brunei Darussalam – Bandar Seri Begawan
October / November
Australia – Sydney & the Blue Mountains
Cambodia – Siem Reap
All in all, it has been a very fruitful year. On top of my wanderlust adventures, I managed to sell my maps offline in one of Amsterdam’s creative boutiques Thuyskamer. It may not seem huge to some but it is definitely a major milestone for me.
2017 will be another adventurous year for us. We’re already planning for our trips in January and have a rough idea of what we’d like to do in at least three other different sets of excursions which will hopefully cover 3 regions: South Asia, North Asia and Australasia. I am super excited for this coming new year and I hope things work out the way I hope they will.
With greatest sincerity and warmth, I wish you all a very happy New Year. May it always be better, happier and more prosperous for you; may all your prayers and dreams come true 🙂
Just a few steps from the Tidal Cascades are an array of chic restaurants and bistros facing the harbour where many sail/speed boats are moored including the HMAS Vampire- one of Australia’s largest museum vessel which forms part of the Australian National Maritime Museum. A short stroll ahead and at the end of the harbour is the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse which was once a beacon guiding ships through the Great Barrier Reef and is now part of Darling Harbour’s numerous museums.
It’s hard to feel morose or any sense of skepticism when the sky is beaming at you in what is quintessentially Australian blue- definitely one of the things I love most about Australia.
And no matter how jubilant the Australian sky looked, we still had to feed our grumbling tummies. Thankfully there were plenty of restaurants to choose from to satiate ourselves. After careful inspection of menus from one restaurant to another, we finally settled at the best Darling Harbour had to offer- Cyren. Cyren is a bar/restaurant which specialises in good Australian fresh seafood. Whether it’s shrimp cocktails or marinara pizzas, everything they serve are of high quality standards and absolutely flavoursome.
We were in luck when we were there as it was happy hour which meant that all meals on the menu were subject to (a lot of) discount. The marinara pizza that we had costed only AUD10. The portion was generous so you could easily share between two or three people depending on how hungry you are. But being the famished (greedy too?) vultures that we were we (my fiancé and I) ended up gobbling down three large marinara pizzas! They were absolutely delicious! Super generous portion- the pizza and the fresh prawns- and great value for money; I couldn’t help but feel even more blessed under the same jubilant Australian sky.
We left Cyren with bouncy happy hearts and tummies, ready for yet another long and circuitous walk home through the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the ever-eternal Sydney Opera House.
One can never get enough of Sydney. The outstanding beauty of this historically rich city coupled with a winning weather makes wandering through this metropolis a much flavoursome experience.
Just like on the first day, our third day in Sydney saw us wandering through the city but this time towards Darling Harbour.
Originally known as Cockles Bay (after the molluscs early European settlers found here) Darling Harbour was named after the seventh governor of New South Wales, Ralph Darling. Teeming with thieves’ den and bawdy houses, this area of Sydney was considered unsavoury in the late 19th century. Nevertheless, the docks of Darling Harbour were an important trading centre for wool and other exports from abroad.
With the decline of Sydney Harbour industry, Darling Harbour became rundown until its revival as a focal point of the 1988 Bicentenary. Through rigorous modernisation and redevelopment, Darling Harbour is now a popular and buzzing district of Sydney.
Our walk from Sydney Central (where we stayed) to Darling Harbour took us no more than 30 minutes even with the sporadic (yet mandatory) stops for picture taking. My friends came across a hidden avenue just behind our apartment the night before (I went to bed early); and knowing my lust for architecture and good design they told we should check it out before venturing further afield. Incidentally they didn’t tell me in detail what they had discovered that night but the moment I set eyes on the avenue I was flabbergasted in euphoria. What I found before me was an old Victorian quarter lined with colourful century old houses some of which were remodelled as coffee houses and some restored to their glory as, what I presume, residential units. If I could live anywhere in Sydney, it would be here.
On our way to the harbour, we went through Sydney Central Station before stepping out again at the other end of the station onto Pitt Street. Running north and adjacent to Pitt Street is the Belmore Park where a number of aboriginal Australians rendered homeless. I was saddened by the paradoxical disparity between the prosperous metropolis and the displaced few; but as much as it is hard to swallow, homelessness exists even in the richest of countries. In my heart I wished them very well.
Moving past Belmore Park, we found ourselves in Sydney’s China town, just a few blocks south-east off Darling Harbour. Much to our excitement we stumbled upon a Malaysian restaurant Mamak, famed for its roti canai (Malaysian paratha) and satay. In Malaysia, the term Mamak is commonly used for Malaysian citizens who are of Indian Muslim origin. Mamak stalls/restaurants are notoriously popular and ubiquitous throughout Malaysia and they typically serve Indian-Malay food such as roti canai with curry or dhal gravy, chapati, mee goreng Mamak (Mamak fried noodles), tosai and lots more.
A few meters off the water park is Darling Harbour. At its onset is the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICCS) where you’ll find the Tidal Cascades- a sunken fountain designed by Robert Woodward. The cascades are a double spiral of water and paths replicating the circular shape of the Convention Centre.
To be continued in Sydney, Australia (Day 3 – Part 2)….
Day 2 saw us walking along the coast from vibrant Coogee Beach up to the infamous Bondi Beach. We had a late start to the day so we managed to walk only half of the trail between the two touchpoints. The train from Sydney Central took us to Bondi from whence we took a bus to Coogee. Instead of walking north-southwardly (Bondi-Coogee) we started from Coogee and moved northwards towards Bondi, stopping midway at Clovelly.
The views from the coastal walk were as spectacular as they were magical. Everything just seemed so vibrant and alive- from the cloudless brilliant blue sky, the rich emerald green grass with the many exceptionally rare vegetation, the intensely golden-white sandy beaches and the deep blue ocean- making everywhere I turn seem so majestic. Even then I couldn’t believe that I was really in Australia and had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t just dreaming.
If this year had a theme then it would be travel although there is still a fair amount of sedimentary living done in between. I haven’t really documented my travels in writing other than the lazy snippets I publish on Instagram but I shall attempt to, here, with more (I hope) exciting photographs and sufficient dosage of narrative.
After much dreaming and an ironically minimal amount of planning I packed my bags and flew to one of my favourite cities in the world- Sydney, Australia. It was really a bizarre chain of incidents that led me to this adventure. I’ve only dreamed of visiting Sydney since my teenage years but nothing really happened beyond my daydreaming and talking/singing about the city for years. I had Cambodia initially planned for October/November but an old friend’s question about Sydney gave me that final push to just go and make it happen. And I did!
As I mentioned, after much dreaming and an ironically minimal amount of planning, and armed with my trusted-all-time-favourite DK Eyewitness Travel guide, I flew out to Sydney.
The night flight from Kuala Lumpur meant that I’ll arrive early morning in Sydney. After a short rendezvous with our friends at the airport we headed out into the city for a long, aimless, albeit exhilarating, walk through the city (I think my Fitbit clocked in about 20+km by end of that day, yay!).
After a swift check-in at our accommodation, we meandered through the city, hopped from park to park and ended our excursion with a stroll along the Sydney Harbour on to the Circular Quay before our late dinner on George Street.