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July 2007 Archives

July 3, 2007

Singapore

Singapore is a remarkable city state. The 700 square kilometer island gained independence from Malaysia in 1965 and is today rated as the world's most business friendly economy. With 4.5 million people living on the island, it's also the world's most densely populated country in the world. Amazingly, Singapore's size was just 580 square kilometers in the 1960ies, but the ongoing land reclamation project constantly creates new land with earth from Singapore's hills and the neighboring countries to keep pace with the growing demand.

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(it is inherently difficult to make nice skyline pics - this one's from Wiki.)

But enough dry facts! We arrived here with the cliché in mind that Singapore must be sterile beyond reason, because littering is heavily fined. Like every cliché, this turned out to be wrong. It is indeed a very clean city, but coming from a place like Zurich, there is nothing special about it. What you wouldn't find in Zurich, however, are 1000 S$ fines for riding a bike through an underpass (about 700 USD or 800 CHF).

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This being the most densely populated country and a booming economy, prices for sleeping are quite high. We were therefore especially lucky to be able to sleep at a friend's place (Flo Faes) who works here as a translator. He lives very close to the center, where apartments cost about 6000-10000 USD (a month, that is). Apparently, thousands of foreign companies don't wanna miss out on this booming economy and happily pay the prices. So once again, we were extremely lucky.

Singapore is a multicultural city, a fact that is conveniently reflected in the food offerings. Chinese, Indian and Malay are the "local" dishes, reflecting the major ethnic groups here (but of course, nothing keeps you from going to one of the gazillion shopping malls to buy Swiss chocolate and a good bottle of Spanish wine ;-) The best experience so far was eating at a hawker centre where dozens and dozens of small, authentic stalls cook whatever you can wish for in a couple of minutes, for about 4 dollars.

We also took the chance to go see the Singapore Zoo, which is promoted to be the nicest zoo in the world. We are still a bit traumatized by Australian tourism "promotion" (where a cosmopolitan city is defined as one that has at least one chinese restaurant), but it is true, the Singapore Zoo is the most amazing zoo we've ever been to. The entire area is covered by lush, authentic rainforest, and most habitats are as natural as you can have it in a zoo. They also have the largest primate exhibit in the world, and as our guide book so aptly puts it, "you can watch 50 shameless red-bummed baboons doing things that Singaporeans still get arrested for". Indeed, the animals looked very happy.

The most entertaining animal, like so often, is Homo sapiens. Here is a typical snapshot of three individuals, posing with a visiting Kangaroo from Australia in the hope for food (for aesthetic reasons, we cut off the kangaroo on the right hand side who was taking the picture). The expression on the kangroo's face is priceless. Imagine what it must be thinking!

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We are now getting ready to cross the border to Malaysia tomorrow. We will take the train to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital city, where we plan to stay three days before heading to the east cost. The world's oldest jungle awaits us.

July 13, 2007

Malaysia Part I

(Editor's note: All pictures are now smaller - if you wanna see the bigger version, just click on it.)

After spending our last evening with Flo and Milena (see picture below), we left Singapore and headed to Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia's capital city. Riding the train in Malaysia is extremely comfortable. If we could, we would exclusively take the train to travel around, but many places where we want to go to are not connected to the railway system.

Compared to Singapore, KL is pure chaos. Messy, noisy, stinky - very tiring and very interesting at the same time. When you look up at the sky, you see dozens of ultra modern skyscrapers, most famously the Petronas Towers, the world's tallest buildings until 2004. Take one step without looking down, and you will stumble over a pavement crack in the footpath (if there is any footpath at all). It's poor and rich at the same time, and we could not get rid of the feeling that it is rich only on the outside. As in Singapore, the food is excellent, with hundreds of food stalls on the streets and excellent restaurants.

The language that is spoken in Malaysia is Malay which is more or less identical to the language spoken in Indonesia. Most people, however, also speak a funny dialect called Singlish (at least that's what it was called in Singapore). One of the most generic terms is "can". For example, when we took a taxi in KL which hadn't quite enough space in the back for our backpacks, we squeezed the backpacks between us on the back seats. The taxi driver looks over his shoulders and asks "Can?". With much self-confidence, I say "can!". Of course, all of this means "Is that ok for you back there, squeezed like that?" "Yes, everything is alright, thank you". Why should language be so bloated and complicated if it can be that simple?

After two nights in KL, we took a bus to the east coast and arrived at the city of Kuantan, where Rahel's stepdad, Meng, lives. After a brief and pleasant visit (2 nights), we took another bus, a taxi, and finally a boat to the beautiful island of Perhentian. We stayed in the Bubble Dive Center, a very beautiful resort with its own private beach. Life underwater here is fantastic, not only for diving, but also for snorkeling. The reef begins right at the beach, and you can see sharks, stingrays and lots of fish going about their lives among gazillions of healthy corals.

You only get on the island by boat - there are no roads and hence no cars or anything motorized on the island. It really is just a jungle with a couple of idyllic white sandy beaches. We lived in a small hut about 5 meters away from the beach, and at night, the turtles come here to lay their eggs.

July 14, 2007

A story about 5 billion $

We recently wrote about Kakadu National Park, a large but rather unimpressive national park in northern Australia. Just today, I've learnt that they found Uranium worth 5 thousand million dollars in the Kakadu national park, just a few kilometers away from where we were.

Surprsingly, the sole owner of the land doesn't care. He says "I can go fishing and hunting. That's all that matters to me." A thought stimulating story about a not so thought stimulating place that can be read here.

July 21, 2007

Malaysia, part II

We have received some mails expressing something similar to "you must enjoy yourselves so much (A) that you don't even have time to update the blog (B)". While both (A) and (B) are true, they have no connection.

We are currently staying in the Taman Negara Park, of which many independent sources claim that it is the oldest jungle in the world. Apparently, neither an ice age nor any volcanic or other geological activity has disturbed this forest for 130 million years. The wildlife in the park is truly amazing: tigers, leopards, elephants and gibbons live here in the wild, largely undisturbed by human activity. Oh, and snakes and scorpios:

Unless you trek for days in the jungle to get away from the busy entrance area, it is extremely unlikely to see any big mammals, but that is not the point about Taman Negara. The point about it is simply to be in such an astoundingly if you are really interested in big animals, this is the right place for supersize animals of special kind: insects.

After a couple of days here, you don't think that 10 cm is especially big for a beetle. You are also not surprised to see butterflies with a wingspan of 20 cm. Everything is just supersized here (not the spiders, thank goodness, although the so-called bird-eater is not exaclty what you want to encounter in the shower).


After leaving the perhentian islands, we took a taxi to the northeastern city Kota Bharu which calls itself the islamic city. The islamic party is in power up there and wanted to enforce islamic law for a long time (and seems to have partially succeeded). Although single-sex waiting lines in super markets have been abandoned, this was clearly not the city we wanted to stay for long. The next morning we took the so called jungle train to Jerantut close to the national park. It felt a bit strange to pay 30 ringgit (about 10 francs) for the 10 minute taxi drive from the hotel to the train station, and 21 ringgit for the 7 hours train ride! Sometimes, it is really tricky to understand the pricing systems here. Consider, for example, this note at the national park entrance:

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Zero ringgit or 3 years prison - though choice!

After another night in Jerantut, a small village close to the national park, we took a 3 hour boat trip to the place we are currently staying: Traveller's home. It's a great place only a couple of minutes from the park entrance away, and people are so friendly, the food is fantastic, the room spacious and clean - it's so good we decided to stay for longer. Since we both still have a little work to do, we thought that this is the place. Thus, the reason why we haven't updated the blog for a long time is because both adventure AND work keep us busy. This is our current "office":

Unfortunately, I stepped on a wasp two days ago, and my foot is still swollen and hurting, but I would defend myself with equal vigour if I was stepped on. I hope the swelling will stop soon so that we can go to the jungle once more, especially the part I liked the most: the canopy walkway, a set of hanging bridges originally built for tree research. The one in Taman Negara is the longest in the world, and at the height of 50 meters high enough for us (although maybe not the highest :-)

July 30, 2007

From Malayisa to Thailand (or: all roads lead to Hat Yai)

We left Traveler's Home in Taman Negara as the longest staying guests ever (12 nights). Normally, driving from the Jungle of Taman Negara to the city-jungle of Kuala Lumpur means taking at least 4 different buses, but Hamid, the owner of Traveler's Home, was so kind to give us a ride back to KL - and because his car is a fairly new, black Mercedes, our trip back to KL was, well, different. At one point, he said he was a bit sleepy and asked me if I wanted to drive the car, so I ended up driving a Mercedes through the traffic and backstreets of KL, probably an adventure not so many travelers are able to experience.

(Hamid is the guy in bright yellow. It is not clear why the three gentlemen on the right look so grim - they were smiling all the time and were extremly friendly, but it seems they don't like the camera)

We planned to spend two nights in a budget hotel, but because our room faced what seemed to be the busiest street of Chinatown, we could barley sleep and changed hotel after one night. To get ready for our next destination, we went to a Border's bookstore and bought two Thailand guide books (again in vain - Lonely Planet is still much better than anything else. Anyone from Lonely Planet reading this? We love you!). Having read both books the next day (just kidding), we felt prepared enough and left KL, heading north towards the Thai border.

Malaysia borders Thailand in a troubled region of the country. The south of Thailand has recently seen a series of bomb attacks, and martial law is in effect in three states in the south. Even if you cross the border in the one state that is not affected, you have to go through a city (Hat Yai) that has experienced bomb attacks as recently as May 2007, targeted specifically against places where a lot of tourists go. Unfortunately, the train to Thailand from Malaysia stops in Hat Yai. Well done.

Being the smart tourists that we thought we were, we left the train right at the border, in a village about 50 km south of Hat Yai. None of the guide books had any info on this area (apparently assuming that everyone going to Thailand goes via Bangkok) but we were quite confident that we could find a taxi that would bypass Hay Yai. We couldn't. From the looks on the faces, we must have been the first travelers in this village for ages. As we kept walking through the village, with no goal, no idea and no clue, we kept asking people for "taxi?" or "minibus?", and some smiled and nodded, all pointing to different directions. No one spoke any language that we speak, and you can't read a single word in Thai unless you know the alphabet.

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At last, someone in a car spoke some english and was even so kind to take us to the minibus "station". We spare you the details of the rest of the trip, but needless to say, we ended up going through Hat Yai in the end. We arrived in Krabi, Thailand, about 7 hours later, having changed vehicle 6 times in total.

If you have never heard about Krabi before (like us), you still have heard of Krabi before. For one, it is the classical Thailand postcard view, especially the islands of Ko Phi Phi. Ko Phi Phi must have been so beautiful that it became overdeveloped beyond reason. To make things worse, large parts of the movie "The Beach" with Leonard DiCaprese were shot there, attracting hordes of tourists to take pictures of the beach where "The Beach" was shot - consequently, tourist traffic increased tenfold (!). On December 26th, 2004, an earthquake of magnitude 9.3 in the Indian Ocean caused a Tsunami, and with waves as high as 10 meters, Ko Phi Phi was hit badly. Two waves coming from opposite sides crashed in the middle of the most crowded stretch of the island, leaving 5000 confirmed dead and 3000 missing.

In general, tourism seems to have completely recovered from post Tsunami effects here, and the beaches are fairly crowded (despite this being the low season). Krabi is on the west coast of Thailand, and the west coast experiences a lot of rain this time of the year. Today, we were lucky and the whether was quite nice, so we rented a Kayak to check out the beautiful area. Tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, we will go to the island of Ko Samui, or maybe not... The only thing that is certain is that we will write about it on this blog, so stay tuned!

(PS, tonight, we will celebrate our 20th blog entry with a hot thai curry - and when the Thai say hot, they mean hot... Rahel is happy, and my taste buds are dead.)


About July 2007

This page contains all entries posted to p < 0.05 in July 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2007 is the previous archive.

August 2007 is the next archive.

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