Barb and Ben Dietrich, recently retired, travelled through Southeast Asia for three months last year and sent emails “home” describing the journey. Here is the final leg of the journey.
We ended up only visiting the capital city, Kuala Lumpur (aka KL). It is a huge city of about 5 million people, the most modern and developed city in Malaysia. The shopping is a huge attraction for tourists.
We stayed with a local family, the family of my cousin’s soon-to-be wife. We had never met them before but once they knew we were coming they treated us like their own family, welcomed us into their home and showed us the sites.
We saw the famous KL tower, which is presently the 18th tallest structure in the world, and the Petronas Twin Towers, which are 88 stories high. The towers are set in a tropical forest in the centre of the city. They are amazing to see, particularly at night when they glow.
On our second day we were taken to the famous Batu caves, one of the most significant Hindu religious sites outside of India. There are 3 main caves inside a limestone hill that make up a temple complex. You have to climb 272 steps to get into the caves and there is a great view of the city from the top. A priest is there to bless you. The caves are also home to many wild monkeys that take your food and water bottles if you aren’t careful.
On our last day we toured to the city of Melaka, which has been deemed as a world heritage site with churches and forts dating back to the 1500’s.
Singapore was our favourite city, hands down! They say it’s the most innovative city in the world. It’s located 1degree north of the equator, which means they have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness every day of the year. There is little variance of temperatures with the average temperature between 25 to 30 degrees. Who wouldn’t love that!
Singapore is a city-state, which means the city is the entire country. It is 26 miles by 14 miles and has a population of about 5 million people, and they are predicting that in the next couple of years it will expand to 7 million people so it is one booming city. Since Singapore is so heavily populated in comparison to its land size most people live in high rise condos and apartments. You see very few homes.
Singapore is SO CLEAN and SO MODERN. They are very particular in keeping their country clean—they don’t even sell chewing gum. There are heavy fines for anyone eating or drinking on the transit systems so everything is immaculate. Such a simple concept and what a difference it makes.
Once again we really lucked in with our travels in Singapore because we were able to meet up with the daughter of a friend from home who has been teaching in Singapore for 8 years at the Canadian International School. She and her husband opened up their place to us and helped us draw up an itinerary of what to see.
Our first stop was China Town where the streets were lined with lanterns in the shape of a snake as this is the year of the snake. The Chinese are the largest ethnic group in Singapore. While in China Town we visited one of their famous temples, which has 6 tiers of sculptures and ornamental decorations.
Next we continued on the subway to the downtown area. The river here is lined with many of the historic buildings as well as new and modern ones. They say it is “the old meets the new”.
Here you see the famous “Merlion” sculpture, which is part fish and lion. Singapore is referred to as the “lion” city. They even have a floating soccer field–can you believe it! Many restaurants line the river.
The Singapore River flows into Marina Bay and this is where their newest resort has been built, called the Marina Bay Sands. This resort dominates the skyline in Singapore and has 3 hotel towers, 2500 rooms, a 3-acre sky park on the top of the towers (in the shape of a boat) with a rooftop infinity pool for hotel guests. At the base of the hotel is a casino and a large shopping area. It even has an artificial skating rink on the bottom floor. Absolutely stunning.
Next we walked up to the Raffles Hotel, which is famous for inventing the first Singapore sling. Of course we had to try one but only one as it cost us $30.00/drink! That is the most we have ever paid for a drink. Our waitress told us they serve at least 800 Singapore slings in ONE day. What a moneymaker that is!
Singapore is famous for its zoos and we had an opportunity to go to their Night Safari where nocturnal animals are about and it was fabulous. The zoos are “open”, which means the animals roam freely in landscaped areas.
Indonesia was our last country to visit. WOW–talk about a fast 3 months!
We only made one stop in Indonesia and that was the island of Bali. We ended up staying here for 18 days and we called it our little piece of paradise. We didn’t venture too far from our resort and we literally did very little but relax. It was a welcomed change as we had gone pretty hard for over two months.
Bali has wonderful beaches, culture, nightlife, warm water, beautiful rice paddies, mountain scenery, fantastic year round weather, and the world’s best rated resorts at reasonable prices. It sure won our hearts!
Ninety percent of the population in Bali is Hindu and the Bali Hindus have their own uniqueness. Two days after our arrival, all of Bali shut down and I mean literally. Once a year Bali Hindus observe a “Day of Silence”, which is called Nyepi (their new year). It is observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning. It is a government holiday where the Hindu people do not talk or eat and stay in darkness. Tourists and non-Hindus are asked to respect this and stay indoors. Nobody is to be on the streets other than a few security men patrolling. Even their airport shuts down. Needless to say the grocery store was PACKED the day before—kind of reminded us of Christmas Eve day at home with the line-ups in the grocery and liquor stores. To think that we struggle to get people to observe one hour for earth hour and they do this for 24 hours.
But the best part of being here at this time is the night before Nyepi. It was an EXPERIENCE. At dusk the Hindu people gather at the main crossroads of their towns and this becomes the catwalk for demons. Thousands of youths carry HUNDREDS of ogoh-ogoh. Yes, you read that right – ogoh-ogoh. They are giant paper mâché effigies that they start making about a month prior to this night and they are representative of many different demons. It is a very noisy procession with these gory characters parading down the streets with spectators following. At the end of the crossroads many of the different parades meet up and then the ogoh-ogohs are torched, with flames shooting everywhere. This is a symbolic act of destroying the evil. Then they all go back to their homes to observe the darkness for 24 hours – which marks new beginning and renewed hope. So fascinating!
One other little tidbit to share about the Bali Hindus is their daily offerings called Banten, which are found everywhere. The Balinese people make these every single night and put them out for the good spirits in hopes of prosperity. Store owners, restaurant owners set these out in front of their place every single morning hoping they will bring a successful day of sales. Every day our maid put them outside our villa, as well as around our pool and in the kitchen. Cabbies would have them on their vehicle dashboards.
Now – our little piece of paradise. We found this place by good luck as we so badly wanted our own kitchen and this was one of the few places available in our price range. It was considered off-season but we saw very little rain while we were there. We had a private pool, maid, pool boy and gardener. We couldn’t have asked for more! We even had a Bali cooking class – right in our own villa. They brought all the food and spices and then showed us how to prepare 4 different Balinese dishes. It was a feast.
The end of the journey
This is the line we used many times, especially when things were getting a little rough: “This whole trip is truly an incredible experience”.
And indeed it was.
Barb’s letters are reprinted with permission; the content has been condensed and edited.
Here is Barb and Ben’s complete trip through Southeast Asia: A classic travel itinerary for Southeast Asia
Photo credits Barb and Ben Dietrich
© Riding the buses 2014