Singapore: An Update

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 🙂

Siem Reap, Cambodia

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.

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Entrance at Angkor Wat’s outer wall.

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The grand promenade leading towards the main temple of Angkor Wat.

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Headless statues victimised by looters.

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Carved pillars which are emblematic of the Khmer architecture.
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The War Gallery where you’ll find the most intact bas-relief in Angkor Wat.

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Sydney, Australia (Day 5)

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.

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Back at the Rocks!
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Perfect view of the Harbour Bridge.

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The heavy interior of the Sydney Opera House.

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Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden.

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An unexpected gem on the calmer side of Sydney.
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Cafe at the NSW Gallery.

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Some of the beautiful aboriginal crafts. I love the simple geometric shapes. I’m sure each line, shape and colour tells a story. I wish I knew more.
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One of my favourite paintings there. The details are just amazing!

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We walked back into the Royal Botanic Garden to this cozy cafe just on the edge of the garden.

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As we headed back to the Opera House we came across at least two weddings around the garden. They were so beautiful and heart warming to witness. How could they not be against this spectacular backdrop? 🙂

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Party boat!

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Our favourite Jacaranda.
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Another beautiful wedding!

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We have so much love for this city. We hope we’ll return here soon!

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Blue Mountains, Australia (Day 4)

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.

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The Blue Mountains.
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Echo Point, Blue Mountains.
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The Three Sisters.

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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.

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Echo Point main street with the Lookout and Waradah Aboriginal Centre in the background.
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Coulnd’t resist a picture with the Australian post. This reminded me a lot of the British Royal Mail letter boxes back in the UK.
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Waradah Aboriginal Centre.

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One of two or three cafes at the Lookout. The berry-flavoured crushed ice drink was a welcome treat after some flirting with the Australian sun.
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One of many stupendous (and very expensive) Aboriginal paintings at the Aboriginal Art Gallery. If my memory serves me correctly, this particular piece costs about AUD18,000.
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The stage set for the astounding Aboriginal performance.
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The fantastic crew (left-right): Peter Williams (the Elder), Shonay and Dennis.

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.

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Kangaroos basking in the sun.
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Capertee Valley.

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En route to Wollemi National Park.

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Wollemi National Park.

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Snacking on a Dutch cheese sandwich in Wollemi.

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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.