Wanderlust – Siem Reap

The Angkor Wat Temple at dawn.

Despite not being the capital of Cambodia, Siem Reap is probably more famous than the capital city (which is Phnom Penh by the way!). Why you ask? Well simply because of the world famous Angkor temples that lie a few kilometres on the outskirts of the town. In fact, almost all of the tourist traffic to this town is driven by these stunning testaments to humanity’s devotion to the gods.
Interestingly, although the iconic Angkor Wat temple is featured in most travel brochures for Siem Reap, they are but a fraction

of the complete set of temples located in the Angkor archaeological park. Owing to their gargantuan geographic expanse, the temple complex opens its doors even before the sun rises and stay open till sunset. Access to the park is provided using tickets that bear an image of the ticket holder and let you leave and enter the complex for the duration that the tickets are valid.

The Iconic Angkor Wat Temple.

Possibly the second most prominent temple after the Angkor Wat, The Bayon is truly an architectural marvel. Pictures cannot do justice to the grandeur of this structure.
The artwork on some of the temple structures is simply breathtaking. The details are simply astounding.
Most of the temples are still in the state of ruins. However there’s a certain charm in the rubble as well!
Owing to the huge tourist crowds that pour into this town all year around, there are a gamut of retail and refreshment options aimed at the travelling lot. Chief among these is Pub Street which is absolutely a must stop after a day long walk in the Angkor complex.
As the name suggests, Pub Street is a street lined with loads of bars, restaurants and lounges intermingled with trinket shops and some massage parlours, the legitimate kind ūüėČ
Just so there are no doubts about the name of the street, they’ve put a big-ass street sign for all the tourists!
The Temple, the most crowded and noisiest joint on Pub Street. Be prepared to experience deafness!

Madam Wong – One of the recommended bars in the Pub Street area.

And if you’ve noticed the prices in the menu, alcohol and food are super cheap in the Siem Reap, in fact in all of Cambodia. An indulgent night out with friends won’t run beyond 25 dollars per person.
In the same vicinity you’ll also find the central local market which houses both the wet market and trinket stores. If you plan to shop for souvenirs, you’ll be spoilt for choices here.
These adjoining shops had some great deals on luggage items. We ended up buying a massive suitcase at dirt cheap prices!

This piggy shouldn’t have gone to the market.

The town butchers have no qualms on displaying their fresh meat for everyone to see.

The wet market is frequented by locals and tourists alike. It’s in fact a stop for most cooking classes aimed at tourists.

You could spend days living in Siem Reap and not get bored. The temples alone can cause your stay to extend for a week. Siem Reap is an absolute must on your South East Asian itinerary. Not just because of the world famous Angkor temples, but because of the warmth the town exudes. 

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Wanderlust – Bangkok: A Photo Essay

The Royal Palace Complex
We (the wife and I) had the opportunity to visit Bangkok over the New Year Eve weekend. Although the trip was about¬†ringing in the New Year in style, we ended up walking around the metropolis exploring the myriad sights and sounds. Here’s a compilation of some of the snapshots

from that trip. All pictures here were taken with my handphone, the HTC One X. Enjoy!

Street performances are quite common along the streets of Bangkok and more so at the weekend market at Chatuchak. Beware though, the market is one huge maze and with the scorching heat, you’re gonna need something to cool down!

Street Food is Bangkok’s speciality. Raw papaya salad such as this one is simply delicious and best enjoyed from the street-side vendors.

The ubiquitous public transportation mode, the Tuk-Tuk. Although we didn’t take a ride in one, it sure seemed like a fun way to move around the city.

Another first for me. These small sweet treats are roasted pieces of jaggery sold by street- vendors as a quick perk-me-up snack. Trust me, they are delicious!

The Royal Palace. A tourist hotspot and a photographer’s paradise. Be sure to head here as early in the day as possible to avoid both the crowds and the heat.
Another unique Thailand delicacy, the coconut flavoured ice-cream. A welcome treat on a ¬†hot sunny day. And the fact that it’s served in a hard coconut shell is simply cool!

Probably one of the most iconic idols splashed across all Bangkok travel brochures  РThe Reclining Golden Buddha Statue

Bangkok by Night as seen from the Sky Bar at Lebua at The State Tower. The view is one of  the many reasons patrons frequent the bar. They pack a mean Mojito as well!

The Dome at Lebua. You may recognise the structure from the Hangover Part 2. The famous roof top bar at the Lebua is ¬†definitely worth a visit even if you aren’t a photog. The views from here are simply breathtaking and best enjoyed with one of their famous cocktails. Pssst, try their Mojitos, they’re quite awesome!

The Baiyoke Tower. The tallest structure in the city. The revolving observation deck on the top floor ¬†gives one of the best bird’s eye views of the metropolis.

Bangkok as seen from the observatory deck of the
Baiyoke Hotel, the tallest structure in the city.

And here’s a video of the city view from the observation deck.

Bangkok was a brilliant destination and we hope to visit soon. Till then, we’ve got a lotta memories captured to help us revisit this beautiful city.

Wanderlust: Singapore OR A Noob’s Guide To Visiting The Lion City

So this post is pretty much impromptu and totally random in every sense. This one’s actually a mail to a friend who was enquiring about tourist hot spots in Singapore for her family (specifically her mom and sister). Although this is by no means a comprehensive guide to the Lion City, it’s still a pretty nice primer for folks visiting the little red dot, especially during the holiday season.¬†
Cityscape 

Most of the city is pretty much oriented towards shoppers, so there are ginormous malls in most areas. Although shopping isn’t on their agenda, your sister and mom may enjoy just walking around these retail meccas for a while. Most notable ones are Takashiyama (Orchard road), Ion Orchard (Orchard Road), Raffles City (City Hall), Plaza Singapura (Dhoby Ghaut), VivoCity (Harbourfront) and Suntec City Mall (City Hall). And with the holiday season looming around the corner, these malls and shopping districts will be lit up like the 4th of July and will be absolutely picturesque!
 

If they enjoy taking walks around the city then I’d recommend taking the hop-on hop-off city tours. They offer the flexibility to explore pockets of the city such as Little India, CBD, Matina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino (the casino doesn’t compare to the big Vegas ones, but is quite good), Singapore Flyer (similar to the London Eye), Botanical Gardens and Orchard Road.¬†The most prominent (and I think the only one) player is Duck & Hippo.¬†They offer great packages to combine multiple touring options.

 
The Singapore Zoo and Bird Park are also great destinations for a day trip and offer some great souvenirs to take back. For a unique experience they could possibly  try the Night Safari which is supposed to be quite good.
 
If they enjoy outdoor activities and wanna enjoy a nice bicycle ride (or skates!) along the shore, then they should check out East Coast Park (or ECP as its called by the locals). They can rent a cycle here and ride along the almost 7.5 km stretch of beach and park along the south eastern portion of the island.
If they can spare an entire day, they can also head to Pulau Ubin, a small island to the north east of Singapore and just a 30 min ferry ride away. Its a relatively under-developed fishing village but has some great cheap seafood options and an amazing bicycle trail that runs along the entire island.
 
If they’d like a short trek, there are a few options for that as well. Bukit Timah, Mc Rithcie Resevoir and Mt Faber are local trek hotspots. Although don’t expect the rustic trekking trails of Maharashtra since all of these are pretty much man-made and have paved roads running through them. In fact, Mt. Faber also has 3-4 hill side fine dining restaurants.
 
There aren’t too many great beaches (well not the kind you find in other SE Asian countries at least!) but a famous touristy beach is the Siloso beach on Sentosa, which another island to the south of mainland Singapore. Apart from the beach, there are also a rotating observation tower, Tiger Tower (so called because it’s sponsored by Tiger Beer), The gigantic version of the original Merlion Statue and quite a few other activities and sights. Sentosa has a lot to offer and is a good day’s outing.¬†Sentosa is where they will also find Universal Studios which makes a good all-day outing.
 
I’m not sure if the information I’ve provided is what you were looking for exactly, but do let me know if you need any specifics and/or some other details or options.
 
Here are some useful links that may help paint a better picture about all that you’ve just read
 
Duck & Hippo Tours –¬†http://www.ducktours.com.sg/¬†
Resorts World Sentosa –¬†http://www.rwsentosa.com/
Pulau Ubin –¬†http://www.pulauubin.com.sg/
Singapore Zoo –¬†http://www.zoo.com.sg/
Bird Park –¬†http://www.birdpark.com.sg/
NIght Safari –¬†http://www.nightsafari.com.sg/
Singapore Flyer –¬†http://www.singaporeflyer.com/
 
And here’s a link to my flickr set which has pics from the city –¬†http://www.flickr.com/photos/aaragorn1984/sets/72157626694561885/
The pics may give you a better sense of what to expect at the various spots.
Like I said, this isn’t an article for the Lonely Planet or Frommer’s Travel material, but IMHO it’s a pretty decent writeup about what tourists can expect when visiting Singapore.

Wanderlust: Malacca – The Conclusion

Firstly, my apologies for delaying this post by more than a month. A lot of changes on the personal and professional fronts have had me occupied almost all the time. Hope you guys aren’t too disappointed with the end result.

So here it is, the final chapter in the Wanderlust: Malacca series. Gosh, almost seems so theatrical (especially since I JUST watched the final Batman movie). As promised, this post is ALL about the shopping experience the heritage city has to offer. And boy is there a lot to experience.

The city of Malacca has something to offer to every kind of shopper there is. From colossal shopping malls offering the latest in big-retail brands to kitschy momento stalls. You’ll probably find tourists in either location!

Instead of bombarding you with words, let me try something new.¬†For this post, I’ll let the pictures do the talking (with a little caption help!). So here we go –¬†

Street side retail stalls like this one are a common sight near almost every historical landmark in the city. Selling from anything from bottled water, caps, tees, umbrellas, postcards, kitchenware and even interior decor items, these shops are clearly targeted at the average tourist and do not disappoint. Although you should be prepared to bargain since most of the prices are not written in stone and are always marked higher than expected.


The colossal structure at the far right, the Mahkota Parade Shopping Center, and the oddly shaped circular one at the center, the Dataran Pahlawan, ¬†are two of the largest (and relatively famous) shopping malls in Malacca. Apart from the regular global apparel brands, you’ll find quite a few boutique outlets housing some quite cool casual wear. Be prepared to walk a lot, cause the two malls spread across a pretty large mass of land. And if you do get bogged down by the size, you’ll have plenty of options for some delicious grub.

The most prominent and famous shopping destination Malacca has to offer has got to be Jonker Street. The street comes to life over weekends with innumerable stalls setup along the sidewalks. These stalls  have everything from tacky keychains to designer wear. The serpentine dragon is an unmistakable landmark marking the start of Jonker Walk. Be sure to take loads of pictures of this one cause it sure does look great!

The infamous Jonker Walk.

Street food like these candied fruits (they’re strawberries dipped in delicious chocolate sauce) are a common sight throughout Jonker Walk. Other options include flavored popsicles, satays, popcorn and even spiral cut potato fires. They make the perfect on-the-go snack whilst you wander around bargain hunting. And ¬†they don’t even put a dent in your wallet. Most of the items I mentioned are available for less than 5 Ringgits! So chomp away!

Towards the other end of Jonker Walk is this community stage which is more or less like an open mic where locals and I suspect even tourists can showcase their vocal skills and even shake a leg. And even if you’re not standing up on stage, take a break and enjoy the lively performance by the some of the elderly locals here. You’re bound to be leaving with a smile on your face.

After all the walking (and shopping) you’ll be spoilt for choices when it is time to dine. Hawker stalls are omnipresent and provide delicious meals for a very reasonable price. If you’re more comfortable with a roof over your table, then head to one of the many lounges, restaurants and bars.

One of the more upmarket places to shop along Jonker Walk, the Jonker Gallery offers great fashion buys albeit not very cheap when compared to prices elsewhere, but still a decent bargain.

And that folks marks the end to the rather long series of posts in the Wanderlust section for Malacca. Till the next journey ciao!

Wanderlust Malacca: Part 2

Our second day in the heritage city, started with at a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. A word of caution, since Malacca is a family tourist spot, be prepared to be swamped with noisy children at ALL times at family hotels such as the Holiday Inn.

Old Portuguese Wall
Me taking a pic of the wall!

After the sumptuous breakfast buffet at the hotel, we set out to experience the sights and sounds of Malacca. Our first stop was the remnants of the old¬†Portuguese¬†wall, which isn’t really as eye-catching as some other walls, but has it’s significance in the history of the city nonetheless. What was noteworthy was the array of canons right across the new street from the remains of the old wall. ¬†We found a number of tourists posing along side these magnificent war-canons and for good reason! Check out the grandeur of these babies!

Another attraction close to the wall and the cannons is the Malacca Ricer WaterMill. When I say attraction, I purely mean for photographic purposes cause you can get some really neat snaps with the watermill as a background.

Our next stop was at the famous¬†Stadthuys. The most prominent structures in this city square are the Melaka church, the administrative building, the fountain and of course the clock tower. If you’re a photog like me, you could spend an entire afternoon here and still not be satisfied with the number of shots you would have taken on your camera. This place is THAT awesome!

The Stadthuys

There is also this one supposed war veteran sitting at the base of the clock tower with an array of war¬†memorabilia who let’s you take funky pics like this one for ¬†nominal fee of 3 Ringgits.¬†I am not sure how many he’ll let you click but I was able to take about 3-4 before it got a little repetitive. The alley ways around the church are lined with shops aimed at the average tourist selling refreshments and¬†memorabilia¬†alike.



Next we made tracks to the other famous church in Malacca, The Church of St. Francis Xavier. Those of you who have been to Goa will instantly recognize that name because there’s a church with the same name there as well. It so happens, that the two churches share more than just their names!¬†The church looks absolutely stunning from the outside and is equally eloquent on the inside. We were even fortunate to witness a wedding in progress as we entered the church.¬†

By this time we were beginning to feel the heat of Malacca and boy was it HOT! And what better way to beat the heat than with a nice delicious cup of ice-cream. So we made a quick pit-stop to savor a local ice-cream favorite, icily. Icicy is quite conveniently located close to the city square and the St. Francis Xavier church. Using fresh fruits, a type of preserved low-fat cream base and quite a funky contraption that melds all of this together, the kind lady at icily concocted a delicious cream frozen dessert for us. The dessert was bursting with natural fruit flavors and it made the ice-cream simply irresistable!

¬†Before moving onto the next attraction that we went towards, let me share how we got there. So after coming out of the church and grabbing the dessert we decided to blindly explore the back alleys of the Stadthuys. Which turned out to be a bit of a bummer since we ended up in a kinda eerily empty spot of the city with stairs ascending to a crude structure on a hill. And to make matters a lot more interesting, the picture to the left was the view going up. Suffice to say, we were kinda spooked till we reached the top of the hill and discovered this – St. Paul’s church.

Turns out we had taken an less frequented route to head uphill, cause the place was swamped with tourists. The church is essentially a ruin but still looks quite majestic. There is no roof but the outer walls and most of the inscriptions are intact, and even some tombstones. Again, you’re bound to get some really great snaps for your collection. We sure did!

Descending from St. Paul’s hill brings you smack in the middle of a long line of a variety of museums dedicated to philately (pertaining to stamp-collection and other postal for the uninitiated), the ruling political party, one on architecture and also another on the heritage of the city. Before you do walking towards the multitude of museums you’ll notice another pretty photogenic landmark called A Famosa (which means in Portuguese), a fortress remnant from the Portuguese era. This structure earns the distinction of being one of the oldest surviving European architectures in Asia.

That’s it for this blog post. I know I promised I’d talk about the shopping escapades in Malacca in this post. But the chronicles so far have taken up a LOT of the post space. So the next (and hopefully final!) ¬†part in the series will focus a LOT on the shopping escapades at Jonker and other great places. Till then, happy reading!