Beginning of the year and Denise and I were off to Asia predominantly to go and visit her side of the family. We basically spent a week in each location.
First week was in Hong Kong. Denise’s mom and brother live there and she has certain yearly chores to do and she still does them in Hong Kong. So a good portion of the time for Denise is appointments in Hong Kong. Not a lot of sight seeing for both of us but at least this time we went and ate at some better places. Something that I missed last time I was in Hong Kong.
Our Hotel was Metro Park which had a pretty, unobstructed view of the bay.
We did a simple hike again this time. Last time was the “Dragon Back” trail which was very pretty hike. This time we went to Hong Kong University which is the start of the hike and walked up to “The Peak” which is a small mall and entertainment complex which looks over the downtown of Hong Kong. Christmas and New Years the downtown is cool because a lot of the sky scrapers are lit up. Like the ICC which is like one large pixel board wrapped around the whole building.
ICC is the one with fancy graphics that change. The other ‘tall’ building on the near size of the bay is IFC, both buildings are considering to be in the 10 ten or 20 tallest buildings in the world. The IFC looks like a tower from Tolkien.
When Denise had her whole day booked with stuff to do I went on my own. I visited the Botanical Gardens which also includes an Aviary. It’s a quick walk through as it isn’t that big.
After the Botanical Gardens I was planning to go to the art gallery but it was closed that day. Some museums are like that. It turned out that the Science Center was also closed that day. So I visited the Space Museum… after a bit of waiting since it opened a lot later in the day than I had expected. Space Museum was a bit of a miss for me. It is small and not much to see. After that I mosied on over to The Hong Kong History Museum. A museum dedicated to the history of Hong Kong. A fair size museum and decent amount of content. It was still a fairly quick walk through for me. Certain history is fun for me but this museum just wasn’t really for me. I was hoping to visit the Science Center/Museum which is right across from this museum which is not bad as Science Centers go but it was closed for the day. They did have some sort or dinosaur exhibit so they had some animatronic statues outside.
One thing that keeps me in awe with Hong Kong is that they build tall! It helps that they don’t get any earthquakes so they can do that. They do sometimes get high winds though which might be rather disconcerting when you are near the top of these tall building which would be swaying in the wind.
It doesn’t look like it but this row of apartments are actually separated by a small gap between the buildings. This is in Tong Chong near where Denise’s mom lives. A couple more buildings are going up in this area as well so they haven’t stopped building in Hong Kong.
After Hong Kong we flew to Balikpapan, Indonesia on Borneo/Kalimantan/Saba/(What do you call that island anymore?) via Singapore. Singapore Airport is REALLY nice even though we just passed through it. It was easy. The thing I REALLY hate is the design of having the X-Ray machine basically at the gate. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen that, Amsterdam Schriphole does the same time. It’s absolutely asinine especially when you are not expecting it because often people buy a bottle of water after the first security check only to be told you can’t take that bottled water at the security check before you get on the plane. Even though you had bought it in an area you would have thought was already SECURE!
We flew with Silk Air which is a subsidiary of Cathay I believe. Probably one of the safest small airlines flying around the Pacific Islands so that’s why we picked it. One thing that was very interesting was seeing actual ‘metal’ cutlery with our meals. Everywhere else you will get varying sturdiness plastic because of the “terrorist” angle. So I was surprised to see metal. I wonder how long that will last but it was kind of nice to see it again.
Balikpapan WILL be a nice airport. When we arrived they were still working on the modernization of the airport and it looks like it will be a nice modern airport. Unfortunately this meant the experience was less than stellar. It’s a simple airport and pretty small so nothing really to say about it. Denise, her mom, and her brother had not problem with customs. I, being Dutch, had to buy a visa to enter the country. This meant paying something like $25 US dollars for one.
We had a driver to take us from Balikpapan to Samarinda. A 2 hour drive, not because it is so far away but mainly because you can’t drive very fast here. Samarinda is a smaller city / large town which is continuing to grow. There are a ton of 125cc motorcycles everywhere here. They are zipping all around the cars and so as a car, you can’t really go very fast or else you’ll be picking off motorcyclist as you go. We were at the Swis-Bel hotel which was the only hotel our travel agent could book. It’s a nice hotel. It’s almost right next to a mall that has the only cinema in the city.
Why are we in Samarinda anyway? Well Denise’s mom grew up here and all but one of her mom’s brothers and her only sister still live here. The whole week was basically visiting family and eating. The first day I made the mistake of having breakfast, because after breakfast was visiting the home of one uncle, and eat some more; then invited to lunch to eat some more; then another uncles’ home, to eat; then dinner to eat… You get the idea. I was fully prepared to lose weight in Indonesia because of my past experiences with similar places like Egypt and Peru. Nope. When I left I was fat! So good times!
Although I was a lot more careful on what I ate than those other trips and Denise and we both took that Dukoral Travel Diarrhea vaccination so we were a lot better protected. Although they had some very interesting looking drinks there that we missed out on because we were worried they may make us sick. A cousin was almost mad at us for ordering Cokes instead because of it but, yeah, spending your vacation on the toilet is worse. I know. Denise knows it to an even larger degree having been hospitalized once for something more severe. We live such a cushy life here in Canada with tap water that is super safe. Our digestive system just isn’t hardened to the bugs in certain countries.
We ate some fruit that we would never find here. Or could never get fresh enough here. One we can’t find here is “Salak” which looks like a huge strawberry with a skin that looks like skin on a snake. The meat, I would say, tastes like a cross between a pear and an apple. Not really juicy, pretty dry and very crunchy texture. Very unique. They have a Dragon fruit there that is a very deep purple in color. Other than being a stain hazard it doesn’t taste any different that the white dragon fruit you can get here. And of course Rambutan which is in a prickly skin. Very tasty.
Indonesia is very Islamic though. There were quite a few mosques in this city. Plus a lot of girls in the Hajib and covered up. Not everyone but the majority. Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world so it isn’t a surprise. I’m glad Samarinda isn’t as bad as Bandehache, which after suffering an earthquake and tsunami not too long ago, switched to Sharia law and is now going through a lot of growing pains as a lot of people don’t know a thing about Sharia law and are falling afoul of it (or at least according to a show I saw on TV while I was there.) But I’m digressing. Samarinda is a nice small city, very busy, traffic is a bit chaotic, I think Cairo still has them beat though, but not much to see around here. I think it is more a working town since there is quite a bit of mining nearby and from someone back home, apparently logging as well.
Since our flight out was near mid day we decided to stay overnight in Balikpapan. Otherwise we would have a REALLY early morning if we had to leave from Samarinda. We stayed at the Novotel which I have to say was not as great as I expected. First thing was driving up to the front door and you have a bomb squad looking under the car. That’s a bit disconcerting. Checking in was ok but staff was completely unhelpful. I mean we were looking around for the elevators which we did find but instead of being told where they were hiding we had to look like idiots trying to find them. In my room I dropped a book on the night stand and the night stand collapsed… I couldn’t stop laughing at that.
The waitress for dinner was spectacular though. Very helpful and patient considering Denise had to translate for her mom and brother. So not everything was a miss but all in all the feel for the hotel was less than stellar. This could be clouded by our experience ‘before’ we even left for Hong Kong. Our reservation for Balikpapan was wrong because the travel agent made a mistake. Correcting that mistake was a royal pain. Staff at the Novotel Balikpapan was not helpful at all and were very frustration.
Singapore was the highlight of the trip. It was really the actual ‘vacation’ part of the vacation. Where we just did the tourist thing and did sight seeing. Sentosa island was up first and we visited the Universal Studios and the Aquarium there. Some of the rides are exactly the same as other Universal Studios like the mummy ride but it doesn’t get old. I ended up going on these rides alone because Denise and family were too scared. Fine, it’s nice that certain rides have a ‘singles’ line which bypasses a lot of the queue so the wait isn’t as long.
The Aquarium had a HUGE tank full of fish. I believe they claim it is the biggest in the world. I wonder if that’s still true because the one at Atlantis Hotel in Bahamas is also pretty huge. Mind you I believe the wall of glass into the aquarium is the largest. I’ve never seen anything as big.
Marina Bay at night is interesting. The Sands hotel has got to be one of the coolest looking hotels on the planet. Three pillars with a ship connecting the tops of them. There’s an infinity pool up there that looks like you could swim over the edge and fall off. You can’t of course but the view is wild. Not a cheap hotel though. We checked to see how much a night would cost and it was something like $450 a night for an average room. Ouch.
They also have a ferris wheel just like the Eye in London. The Fullerton Hotel and Merlion on the other side of the bay is all nicely lit up as well. You can walk all around this bay which is nice.
We visited the River Safari which is next to the Zoo. We didn’t go to the zoo on advise by the Hotel Concierge (Fairmont) who said it wasn’t anything different than other zoos we may have been to; I have to say the concierge guys were very very helpful. Props to the Fairmont Hotel for those guys. The river safari was an interesting little ‘zoo’ / ‘aquarium’ to visit. A simple little river ride to see some animals in larger pens. Loved the cute Red Panda. Plus the cute Panda themed food at the restaurant there.
We stuck around for the ‘Night Safari’ which as you might guess opens at night. This is to see those animals that are awake in the evening. We tried to take pictures but my little camera doesn’t do so well in low light conditions.
The next day we went to the Bird Park which is also in the neighborhood of the zoo and the safaris. All sorts of birds to see. The Lorikeet cage is where you can walk in and feed them directly. That was fun. One of them thought my watch wrist band was tasty for some reason.
Last place we saw was the Gardens by the Bay. Basically a botanical garden but I have to say, this garden is well worth the visit. Even if you aren’t so much into plants, it just feels like you are in another world with the Sands Hotel and the buildings at the gardens. They look strange but they actually serve a purpose for the domed gardens.
What’s Singapore without a bit of shopping. And there is a LOT of shopping you can do here. If you think our shopping malls are large in North America, you haven’t been to Singapore. It’s crazy.
Our friends, who now live up in Terrace, were there as well and they showed us a unique street that we would never have known about. It’s nothing really special but locals would know. You would go there for desert and just eat fruits bought from the fruit vendors that line the street. There we tried a bunch of fruits that you just can’t get fresh here. Jack fruit, Durian, Mangosteens, Rambutan (not your normal variety, this one is larger and tastier), and two others I have now forgotten the names of. One was a red fruit, a bit dry, white on the inside. You eat it like an apple. Another was a sort of cross between a grape and an orange, it was a light green, you had to peel it, the edible flesh was segmented like an orange but the texture of a grape with grape like seed inside them. I loved the mangosteens. They were awesome. The Rambutan were also very good. I couldn’t stomach the Jack fruit; as soon as I bit into it was about to vomit. It was disgusting. Denise’s brother loved it though so different flavors for different people apparently. Durian was fresh and I though it might actually be better fresh but I was so wrong. Durian is not my fruit.
So that was our trip as a whole. The flights were pretty uneventful. Thankfully. Although the entertainment unit for my Cathay flight to Hong Kong was royally messed up. Staff had to reboot the unit something like 8 times. They even offered me another seat if it kept being problematic which was nice but I wanted to stay with my sweety. 🙂 Vancouver’s international arrivals area was a mess. 5 big jets at once is something the arrivals can’t handle at all. They really need to rethink or improve that area. Hong Kong and Singapore have bigger volumes to deal with and it seems they handle the volume so much better.
A good trip altogether. Glad to be home again. Although that Dukoral Vaccination seems to do a number on our digestive systems. I’m not sure how good that is for you. I’ll be thinking twice about taking it again.