Ko Samui, Singapore, Phuket, Malaysia. Not so different after all

I’ll start off by describing Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur was a 1 1/2 hour drive from the ship and we didn’t have an overnight stay. So, add another point to the Asian plot of getting me to return. We went to a nice mall near the ship, though. All not lost, haha.

Following the raucous and enlightening experience of Pattaya it was time for a little bit of a break in terms of ports of call (still working hard on the ship, of course). And the next destinations certainly provided that respite. 

First was Ko Samui, an island of Thailand. This small island (about three hour drive around) is a relatively undiscovered jewel in Thailand, rather untouched by the tourist boom. There are, supposedly, gorgeous beaches and a few stunning (and relaxing) resort on the island…all located on the opposite side from the ship, and beyond the accessibility of my daily break. I spent my break, however, walking around the little village closest to where we were anchored. First off…there’s a different vibe when big ships have to anchor and send tender boats to ferry guests in. Automatically you get fewer big ships, and less tourists descending on a small area. It was quite refreshing wandering around a village pretty well removed from the bustle of Thailand’s tourism industry. People are still mostly involved in fishing. A slower pace of life for them, and a more serene atmosphere to explore. Really nice! We’ll see what will come of this island in the future.

Our final Thai stop was the island of Phuket (I hope you’re not reading this blog out loud, and that you didn’t slip up just now). Phuket is Thailand’s most famous resort paradise. Famous, also, as one of the most directly-affected areas during the terrible tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. Incredibly, today you’d never know there was a tsunami, aside from the many signs marking evacuation routes to higher ground. We were reminded that visiting the island was an important part of helping the island completely recover from the huge task of rebuilding. The taxi driver who took us to the beach said he was living up on high ground and wasn’t affected, though he had to help out. He clearly didn’t really want to talk about it – and I can’t blame him. We spent our afternoon simply relaxing on Kata Beach, one of many perfect stretches of sand on the island. Some beaches are very busy and full of nightlife and young people (not quite like Pattaya, but similar, they say). There are other isolated beaches and exclusive resorts with private beaches. We opted for a middle-of-the road beach: free, and not too busy. The water was as warm (or even warmer) than the 34 degree air. Despite lots of sunscreen, I still got a burn. I’m proud of myself that I’ve only had two burns this whole trip, though! This boy does not tan well.

Sandwiched between Ko Samui and Phuket was our call to Singapore – one of the few city-states in the world (another of which I’ll be visiting soon).

In Singapore, I had the unique treat of meeting up with a university classmate, Jessica Gray. Just like when I saw Darren in Melbourne, the experience of seeing someone you know on the other side of the world is surreal and very enjoyable. Jessica is the editor of a trade magazine for the Asian Food Service industry. Comparing stories of our jobs, we realized how boring they really sound on paper (ya, Jess, I just copy and paste and edit the menus and daily activity schedule for guests). But we reminded ourselves of the big picture of working in such a way that enables this type of adventure. She is living in Singapore with her journalist boyfriend…after previously editing an english newspaper in Vietnam and doing her internship for a newspaper in Yellowknife. Adventurous and inspiring person indeed!

After showing Jess the ship and having a nice drink in the Palm Court, we set out exploring the city. I admit that I knew very very little about Singapore ahead of time. Besides being one of the most booming economies in Asia (impressive for a CITY)…it’s also the busiest port in the entire world (a ship comes and goes every 3 minutes on average). It’s also surprisingly…shockingly…gorgeous. Like picture perfect. I’m sure this comes from the fact that it’s completely efficient and perfectly planned out (right down to the no food on subway and no spitting gum laws). Jess mentions that it is a democracy, but you wouldn’t dare criticize the government. Interesting. Everyone’s happy to be in Singapore because it’s perfect…it’s controlled to a point of perfection.

Now, aside from being clean and efficient, it’s also absolutely stunning. This is where I turn you over to the photos. It was probably the most scenic city I’ve walked through at night. Colonial buildings and skyscrapers overlooking a river with walking paths and bridges. Riverfront districts of old warehouses all done up into trendy shops and restaurants – bustling with people enjoying the warm (tropical) night air. Most buildings with better architecture than you’ve probably seen anywhere (even very funky, lit-up canopies covering the open areas between the converted warehouses). We cashed in on this perfect atmosphere with a riverfront dinner at an Indian restaurant. Not only was it probably the best Indian meal I’ve ever had…it was also one of the best meals period: good food, great service, decent price, and great atmosphere of being downtown riverfront in a gorgeous city.

We wrapped up the evening with some exploration of the key tourist sights: the Merlion fountain (Singapore is a translation of “the lion city”) and the landmark Esplanade performance hall, and then went to the historic Raffles Hotel. The Long Bar in this hotel just happens to be where the Singapore Sling originated.

So, with such a completely gorgeous city you can understand why no one complains…it pretty well is perfect (or at least achieves the illusion).

But then, let’s step back for a second and really look at this illusion.

A few entries ago in this blog (round about Hong Kong West meets East entry) I reflected that I thought Hong Kong was a good starting point to the Asian exploration…a launch pad to exploring a part of the world that I was (anxiously) unfamiliar with. The “East” you know. I’d never been there before!

So, now, with Thailand, the slice of Vietnam I saw, Singapore, Malaysisa…part of me is wondering something fundamental.

Is it just that the areas I’ve seen have been very commercialized/“Westernized” Asia? Is it that I haven’t really dug deep into Asia?

Or, is it a realization (like I sort of got into with the Vietnamese exploration and its effect) that even though there are vast differences in cultures and ways of life (food/language/customs/beliefs, etc)…we’re still very similar as people…and our world isn’t that different after all?

Hmm…I’m not sure if I have the answer yet.

Remembering to sign my name this time,

Andrew

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