Asian Wonders # 7: Leaving Thailand for Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Okay, pronounce this one.  Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is portrayed as a sleepy little beach town and a claim to fame among tourists is that Angelina Jolie adopted a baby from this island. I don’t blame her after the beautiful children we saw today.

Sihanoukville was called Kompong Som when the ancient Mon Kameo people lived here. 5,000 years ago.  It was re-named Sihanoukville, in honor of King Sihanouk.  The French and Cambodian’s worked together to dig out this port and construct the rather modern looking town. Some of the city has modern buildings, but basically it is very primitive living and shanty shacks are everywhere in and around any and all of the new buildings.

It is very different we are told from many other French Colonial towns. This port where we are docked, played a role in the American/Vietnam conflict as it served as a point where weapons were transited and bound for anti-American forces. I felt hardened to be here when I heard that news, but did not dwell in the past because that takes away from present living.

If I dwelled on the anti-American past of this port, I would have missed today’s joy in being treated to this Island’s people and the beauty of the milieus.

As we drove the roads, I had a funny feeling that were in Khmer Rouge territory and seeing the sign telling us that we were on the road to Phnom Penh made me remember more and more of where we are and how much bloodshed was right under our feet.  It is easier to forget than remember.

We visited a school today and let me tell you once a teacher, always a teacher. I had my moment in their classroom and had more fun using my hands, fingers, lips, legs, feet, pats, soft pinches and lots of picture taking.  If I only had the words to make the moments with the children alive for you I would use them now, but since that would be hard, let me add some images to help.

We ventured further into a little village where the people welcomed us and enjoyed having us visit as much as we enjoyed visiting them. I have some photos of moments in the village. The Cambodian people we met today wear pride on their faces, they shine out from such meager surroundings and they want you to know they are well. There is a subtle refined attitude and a grace they have to share.

People in the village:

Homes of the villagers.

We then had an opportunity to learn about the resort life here on this Island. We had lunch on the beach with the waves crashing all around, dipped our feet into the South China Sea, and I found a little free Wi-Fi! Let me just say the sand on the beaches of Sihanoukville is the color of once stirred cappuccino foam. It is soft and silky and oozes out from under your feet as the tide rolls out.

It was so, so hot during our visit. I kept feeling droplets and thought it was raining. Nope, I was raining on myself.  I know by now you think I am “Happy House” (lavatory) oriented, but certainly, it is such an important thing to keep track of when traveling and actually at any other time.  When it is so, so hot and when you are raining on yourself, you do not need a “Happy House.”

Asian Wonders # 4: Koh/Ko Samui, Thailand

  Until backpackers came in the late 70’s, Koh Samui, one of Thailand’s sixty islands, was pretty self-sufficient and did not have much connection to the mainland of Thailand. They  had dirt roads, if any at all.  Now, in 2012 we were able to ride around the entire island as we toured the ancient temples on what they refer to as the ring road. When they say that backpackers founded Ko Samui, it is true. They came on fishing boats to get away from it all in more hectic parts of the world. This was to them a pristine paradise. They told others to come and now you have many hotels, spas and resorts on the island. The island has beautiful beaches, mountains, coconut plantations where monkeys are taught to pick coconuts. The monkeys use their hands to spin the coconut, the feet to pull at it and the mouth to bite if off.  These trained monkeys can pick up 1,000 coconuts a day. We left the island of Ko Saumi and $30.00 of our American dollars.  You should see the gaudy sandals I bought. They fit like a glove, just perfect. This is how good the Thai are when bargaining with you. The shoes were originally $75.00 American dollars all the way down to $15.00.  The show owner was so smart to bargain me down from such a lofty place. I will wear them once and all the beads will fall off. I am sure. But rarely do shoes feel good first try and rarely to you get such a deal from a professional! I was not born yesterday, but still and all, she was happy and I was happy and we hugged good-bye and a cultural exchange was set in stone. An airport services several flights from Ko Samui to Bangkok and Singapore as well as other parts of Thailand.  Sorry, sorry, I sound like an advertisement, but our guide today wanted us to let you know about Samui, which has a lot of other competition for your business since there are other islands as tourist destinations that surround it.   I thought I would add some photos of the island taken from the bus and you decide if this could be your next tourist destination. . .

The tour was about an hour late in getting started, which can throw off the spirits as they may or may not be.  In any case, I thought for sure there was a special blessing, a rite of passage or something lurking trapped in a time warp and would gladly spread its delight on me after centuries of waiting. Sure thing. All of the above is true, but a gentle and beautiful monk spread the graceful spirits of curative powers to Skip. He sprayed him with healing waters and you can see that he is tying the woven spirit of good luck to Skip’s wrist.  He could never, ever have tied anything to any part of me because a monk cannot touch a woman. So be it. It is true that the Health God is not Buddha, but in fact health is transferred from a monk to people of merit and need.

After the spiritual transfer we went to visit the mummified Monk. They say his hair keeps growing. Well, sort of. Here he is:

We continued on through Ko Samui to these sites:

The day was very special and I will always remember the sight and chanting sounds of a healthy spiritual transfer and the lovely quiet island of Ko Samui plus the privilege of being there at exactly the right time.

Asian Wonders #3: Leaving Singapore with added Knowledge

More Singapore. I was really connected there: This photo was taken as we sailed away for another adventure.

My brother Tommy from another mother wrote me after viewing my photos of modern Singapore of his observations of Singapore in the late 40’s.  He said at the time he was here, the tallest building was only three stories and when he saw the photos of the ultra modern city he was amazed at the transformation.  I asked a local lady how Singapore gets the enormous amount of money it must take to build the city that is  continuously involved in constant construction and maintenance. She said it comes from foreign investors.  Anyone interested in a good business tip, here it is.  Plus you need to know there is no unemployment or homelessness here according to our verbose Taxi Man!

Our taxi driver to the ship was so informative. He said that they have built casinos in Singapore and the tourist trade has soared 30%. He also said that if Singaporeans want to go to the casino it is a one hundred dollar fee, but free to tourist guests. They do not want their citizens gambling.  Also, if you are caught littering, the first time you are fined $150.00 plus sent to counseling and the second time $300.00 plus sent to counseling. On the third time, if there should be a third time, you are fined $500.00 plus you are put to work scrubbing the streets. The ethic of a clean city it is not just the fear of the money fine, the counseling or the scrubbing the streets, I think it is pride and a genuine caring about the look of their beautiful city that keeps everyone from littering and ruining such an important tradition which is known and  envied around the world.

The governing officials in Singapore make huge salaries, so it was just decided that they would take a 40% cut in salary. The Prime Minister makes over 4 million a year.  He can still get along with a 40% cut. Don’t feel sorry for him; don’t feel sorry for other officials, they will do just fine.

Our hotel offered an 8-person dinner with all the trimmings for only $7,000. Skip and I got a kick out of the price. We ate Mandarin Oranges and power bars in the room.  Actually our lunch was $122.00, so we economized for dinner. But you saw the photos and the view, well worth the $$$.

Asian Wonders #2: A Thank You to The Marriott Hotel for the free Wi-Fi and The Marina Bay Hotel’s Rooftop Gardens

Remember I mentioned that because of the generosity of The Marriott Hotel’s new policy, giving Marriot Members free Wi-Fi, I am able to blog. I thank them! I was also treated to a complete hotel tour given by the Communications Director, Esther. She told me of the lovely amenities of the hotel and I told her about the kind and attentive service we have received here at the Singapore Marriott.

Remember I mentioned The Marina Bay Sands Roof Top Garden that spans from one tower to the other and you can see that it cantilevers over the third tower? I said it boasts about being the largest roof top garden in the world? During the night I realized I had to see this from the top.  We made reservations for lunch at Sky 57. If you do not have reservations and are not a guest, you probably would not be allowed to take the elevators to the 57th floor.  The lunch was an Asian/French Fusion including lobster, noodles, knuckles, tendons, ribs, rice and condiments. I enjoyed squirting lime on everything. Yum. But, the lunch is not the issue at hand; it was the views of Singapore.  So, here is Singapore and doesn’t she look gorgeous?

Here are two views of the three towers and the rooftop gardens. See how the end extends over the third tower.

Now see what’s on top and what people are doing to enjoy the gardens and infinity pool.

Now we have views from our luncheon table and the walk around the restaurant:

Where’s Dave ?

Singapore is a tourist’s delight, an architectural splendor and a shopping mecca. Come and be wowed.

Asian Wonders #1: Singapore

Here is The Marina Bay Sands Roof Top Garden that spans from one tower to the other and you can see that it cantilevers over the third tower. It boasts about being the largest roof top garden in the world.

The National Flower of Singapore is an Orchid called: Vanda Miss Joaquim. It was discovered growing wild by Miss Agnes Joaquim in her garden in 1893.  How do we know this? We visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens this warm and muggy afternoon.  Many orchids do grow wild, so why is it nearly impossible to grow them myself? I have a green thumb.  Hey, Jodi, they have red bamboo growing in the gardens. Wouldn’t a couple of red stalks look great with your pot of bamboo?

Taste treat: The Mandarin Orange. It is most delicious and I we have eaten a dozen or so each . I have spit out and saved all of the seeds. Wouldn’t it be grand to grow a fruit- bearing tree from a least one of these 50 or more seeds?  I know about grafting and how you have to graft a fruit-baring branch onto the seedling to have fruit. It is true. I will have to find someone with a Mandarin Tree.  Do you now of such a tree growing in Southern California?

You really have to be in awe of this gorgeous gracious city full of people, places and things, with no trash and or graffiti. The streets are clean or if not cleaner than your kitchen floor and even the freeway railings are polished. Their entire freeway is spotless. How about that? I heard, if you drop papers, you get your hand cut off. Well, maybe not that harsh, but a big fine and jail time. They are not kidding here.  We did see a woman standing off to the side, smoking. We actually stopped and watched drag after drag until she finished her cigarette. We made bets, and you guessed it, she dropped it to the ground and stepped on it, leaving it there for someone else to pick up. Imagine that. I had all I could do not to go up and reprimand her.  Does she know we spent 26 grueling and torturous hours on plane flights to get to Singapore the spotless city of the world and she just dissed our whole touristic attitude?  The “B” word to her.

Here are some lovely sights we visited around Singapore.

The City of Singapore is on Holiday for the next two days. It is the Chinese New Year of the Dragon.  The year of the Dragon is traditionally a prosperous one. Many of the stores are not open. Good thing because as usual I am over packed, so anything we buy goes into Skip’s suitcase and he really moans and groans over putting anything into his perfectly packed case. So, not to worry, I have an extra fold out and Delta lets you check 2 bags each free when you hit Medallion status. Will we or will we not have four checked bags? Don’t ask, you already know.

We visited a section of Singapore called, Little India.  Since Skip will not go to India, I had a little, very little taste of what it is all about.  I enjoyed being in the old part of the city, visiting India. All over Singapore new construction is the norm. Cranes and building materials are at sites across the city. This is such an industrious city, so colorful and basically has everything you could ever need and want. I fell badly that I do not know enough of Singapore’s history and of the infra-structure to tell you about the economics here, and who has and does what.

Next we walked in Chinatown. We felt like this was another reality of Singapore. There were hundreds of people watching a huge Dragon dance and twirl. After all of this excitement, we had to sit down and cool down. We found a place that looked lively and the food was beautifully abundant.  There were only two seats available, and we were invited in to sit down. As we looked around, we realize we are very different from the other diners. Remember, this is a special holiday; one of hope for prosperity and everyone is out at their very best. We also noticed that we sat there a very long time with no attention, not even a glance in our direction. It was like we were invisible. We finally stood up and started flapping our wings. That flapping surely did get the waitresses’ attention.  Then we realized, that the waitress does not speak English at all. Not even one word I am convinced. How we got the food on the table, I do not know. We noticed that people in the restaurant all ordered great quantities of food. They all left some.

Our beef and tofu soup and came out quite quickly once our order was taken. The resonances in the restaurant were sharp and foreign to our ears. The sounds triggered internal registers that we relished and appreciated. We thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by authenticity and delighted in the purity of the cultural exchange.

Beautiful Singapore:

Construction everywhere:

My favorite building with many colored shutters.

A little section of the Raffles Hotel where The Singapore Sling was invented in the Long Bar around 1915.

Our Journey of Thirty-two Sleeps: # 31 and # 32! Rovinj, Paxin, Beram, Hum, Motovun, Grozjnan and Orpaltjo and the Frescos.

Sleep # 31: Rovinj and the Istria Tour:

With our local guide , Livos and car, we passed from Rovinj to Paxin, Beram, Hum Motovun, Grozjnan, Orpaltj, a fresco church/museum, wine tasting and a truffle-tasting lunch.

I really cannot think of a clever way to describe each town to you or a proper way to distinguish each sufficiently, so what I will do is lump the experience together, showing some photographs depicting the distant views of hilltop towns, the surrounding countryside and the interiors as well. Experiencing the hilltop views and then being privy to the centers of these towns is something we will never forget and something I recommend for you to experience first hand if possible.

The countryside of the peninsula of Istria was magnificent this mid-November. The colors were amply apparent and just beautiful.

The hilltop towns can be seen from a distance, raising anticipatory levels.

The town of Grozjnan poking through the clouds.

I included this different photo of one of the same towns because it struck me as very unique looking from a distance and actually, my jaw dropped when we first viewed this sight.

This is my personal favorite viewing experience among many unique and favorite viewing experiences.

Entering each town we were struck with the awe of following in ancient footsteps of inhabitants so long forgotten. Since we cannot bring back a particular individual, I hail you all who came before and hope that your life was good and you prospered.

Included here are some views of the environs of those who have come before us in these hilltop towns.

Olive press?

I wrote postcards and mailed them in this little town of Grozjnan, and just a few moments after we paid and stamped the cards, the post office closed for the day. Post office hours are from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., then the postmaster goes to another little village for two hours and then another.

Do you see the checkerboard flag? It is the flag of Croatia and there is a story, truth or legend, I do not know.  In 1062 A .D., the Venetian Doge held the Croatian King against his will. The King proposed that they play a game of chess, hence the checkerboard, for his freedom. The Croatian King won the match and won his freedom.  The Croatian flag is flown here with the flag of Istria and I am unable to remember the third flag flown.

We drove on to the outskirts of Beram to the tiny Church of St. Mary full of fading frescoes painted long ago, with an attached cemetery. Croatians take excellent loving care of their ancestors as you can see from all of the flowers, candles and other icons placed at the gravesites. All of the frescoes have important meanings and were painted so that farmers and others who did not read would be able to understand stories from the bible.  Our guide Livos explained his favorite fresco on the top of the back wall. called The Dance of Death.

The meaning of this fresco is that everyone dies and you should not be afraid because it is just a continuation in a different context.  The artist showed the highest-ranking people as skeletons, and depicted all the people of the community who will die, the oldest, the youngest, the most important rank and those with no rank at all.  No one escapes death because it is supposed to be part of life. No, I did not take any photos of the frescos. It was a very dark, very old church with fading frescos and how could I even ask? The lady drove miles to keep our appointment. She is the keeper of the keys and you have to notify her when you are coming and she will meet you at the little church with the door open, for a bit of a hefty price worth every Kuna.

Here is a photo of the unassuming church with a big special secret inside. This church is so remote that you would not be able to discover it without guidance. I think that its remoteness is what has saved and protected these magnificent frescoes that were here for us to see.

The lovely cemetery behind the church of St Mary and the frescoes.

Gate to the town of : Orpaltj

Little old lady with cane, broom and dustpan. I watched her for a while and wondered what she was doing with her tools. A few minutes later she was in full swing cleaning the street of her antique town. I smiled and waved to her, and our guide told her I was impressed with the fact that she was keeping her town clean. You can see her smiling in photo 2.

IN ORPALTJ

The olive pickers at the side of he road were only too happy to pose.  They even showed us from a distance the rake they use to gently coax the olives off of the tree.  They must pick, gather and process the olives within 24 hours of the first picking. Their first press is Extra Virgin. Our guide said the Extra virgin is the best, but they use second and third press for cooking which is good, too.

HUM

I would like to make special mention of the town of Hum pronounced (Hoom or whom), booked as the smallest town in the world.  Could be, but I think they ought to check out the town of Harmony, California. Either way it was a thrill to walk up to the heavy metal doors protecting the entrance to this teeny tiny walled and fortified town. The doors were opened and we entered to lovely sights, expected. The doors were used in ancient times to make certain that only desirable neighbors were entering either for work, visitations or protection. They say that Hum has become a touristy town with its two shops, but actually we were the only visitors.

In the vicinity of Hum the largest Truffle was found.

Doors to Hum are closed.

We made it back to Rovinj for a walk into the town to get the feel and see what we might have missed during our wonderful day in and around the peninsula of Istria.

Dark photo as it was quite late in the day.

Rovinj city street

SLEEP # 32

We slept on and off on  the two planes with major delays taking us ultimately HOME SWEET HOME.

I do have to report that the magical millefleur beads are missing. They have been missing since the hotel stay in Venice. Let me say that when we unpacked on the Seabourn Spirit (lovely ship, lovely passengers and lovely all around experience) they were gone. Let me say that maybe they were accidently left at the hotel or maybe I was pick-pocketed. They are just missing.  So those of you who were going to get magical beads will just have to wait, because not only aren’t they magical, someone else has them.  I will work to get more, the real magic.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you.

Until next time.

Sincerely,

Sheila

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Our Journey of Thirty-two Sleeps: # 30, Hvar

Sleep # 30: Hvar

Hvar is a picturesque town hugging the Dalmatian coastline amongst many little islands.  It has a striking fortress that shouts out to you that there has been trouble and we were prepared.  We immediately were drawn to the interior of the fortress walls. Inside the walls there is a quiet, a calm, and a white glow of limestone and antiquity.  Some of the doors lead to secret places we could only imagine. You can see how St Stephen’s square melts into the tiny harbor with St Stephen’s Cathedral taking the center stage as you walk into and through the square.

We began to take our upward climb to the fortress through a narrow lane full of steps. When you have finished with the steps you must follow a switchback lane up to the top. You are greeted with views that are once again, worth the trudge. The Benedictine Convent was closed and knocking usually will bring someone, but not today. The lace factory was closed as well. The museum and old prison were open for public viewing.

So for me, it was all about getting to the aerial views of the city below.  Enjoy the views.

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Most of the shops and restaurants of this resort own were closed because this is the end of the season. I was told that Hvar is highly publicized these days in travel magazines as one of the world’s ten top islands to visit. If you want to lay back and snooze all day, then perhaps you have made a good choice. I would find more than a day there, trying. The stop in Hvar was a perfectly lovely day trip into the past, the present and it does have a future in the travel business.

By the way,  Skip won the Texas Hold ‘em tournament on the ship tonight.  He won $$$, a t-shirt and a hat He is so happy and wants you to know. Remember this is is third win on a ship, but who is counting.

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