World Trip HomePost Thirteen

Post Thirteen - South to Singapore

Thai Street FoodThai Street Food

I wanted to experience true Thai food while we were in Thailand. I was happy to discover that what we get in Seattle is pretty close to the real thing. Some of the best food I found was made in stalls right out on the street. My favorite meal came from a stall in this market in Hua-Hin. It was spicy fried fish with a sauce almost too hot to eat (almost). Bliss. -- Scott

West of TrangWest of Trang

We had celebrated New Year's Eve in Bangkok, stopped in Hua Hin for a taste of a sophisticated beach resort, and now we wanted to get off the beaten track. (That's not as easy as it sounds in Thailand in high season.) We found a our spot off the west coast, just 45 minutes by boat from Trang.

When I look at this picture I see someone who's savoring the moment. It makes me laugh that I've conveniently expunged from memory the discomfort I felt as we boarded the aging supply boat, its paint peeling, its crew calling to each other in crisp, clipped Thai. We were heading out to, "oh, one of the islands on the horizon out there," we couldn't communicate with our crew, there were no life jackets or safety devices in sight, and I'm not a good swimmer.

You know, worrying might be wasted energy, but the upside is that it turns normal experiences into something just a little more exciting (there's always a bright side, isn't there?). The cruise out there was gorgeous. And as is evidenced by this writing, Scott and I, along with a half dozen bags of rice, cases of beer, and boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables made it to the resort unscathed.

Don't ask me the island name, because I can't remember anymore. I've got it written down somewhere, but maybe it's better that I don't publish it, anyways. You'll find it if you look hard enough .... -- Karen

The BeachThe Beach

I've been hearing about Thailand as a travel destination for ages. It seems before you can call yourself a real traveler, you have to do a tour in Southeast Asia. I travel to experience new things, to see how other cultures live, and to (hopefully) broaden my view of the world. Thailand was a great place to visit, but in peak season there are hoards of other western tourists trying to experience the country along with you. This influx of tourists has greatly altered the popular spots of the country, and has changed the local cultures as well.

If you want an authentic Asian travel experience, go to China. But, for a vacation, Thailand is perfect. It's safe, relatively clean, inexpensive, and certainly geared up for tourists. We found our perfect beach in southern Thailand near the Malaysian border. We took a train, then bus, and then boat out to a little island to bask in the sun in a self-contained rustic resort. They had food, hiking trails around the island, a beautiful coral reef, and the white sand beach you see in the photo. Of course, if I told you were it is... -- Scott


Tiny island, empty white-sand beaches, steamy jungle, warm-water snorkeling, five-star seafood, cold beer, a rainbow of tropical fruit, and a ceiling fan. That about sums up our Thai island experience.

But let me describe the photo. Upon arrival, we alighted onto this Gilligan's Island-style dock and walked to the reception desk under an open-air hut, where we also found gear rental and the restaurant. The tables overlooked the water, and provided a perfect perch for discreetly watching new arrivals over morning coffee.

This was the view at mealtime. For breakfast, I always ordered fresh fruit, eggs, toast, and coffee. For dinner, we chose fish, tofu, or meat bathed in intense, firy sauces of soy, broth, fish sauce, ginger, chilis, sugar, cilantro, and more - perhaps sprinkled with chopped peanuts, and served over perfumy jasmine rice. Hot, salty, sour, sweet -- the Thai mantra for perfect balance in food.

-- Karen

Kuala LumpurKuala Lumpur

Our stay in Malaysia was brief - we had one day in Kuala Lumpur on the way toward Singapore. Kuala Lumpur seemed an orderly, clean city and with the exception of the many minarets around town, it looked fairly Western. The only thing I really wanted to do in KL was to see the Petronas Towers. At 1,483 feet (113 floors) these are the tallest buildings in the world. The ride up to the connecting bridge is free and you can walk out on the skywalk which has floor to ceiling windows on both sides. Karen was a little freaked out by the height but she went up anyways. The view was spectacular. -- Scott

Singapore's Botanic GardensSingapore's Botanic Gardens

I don't know much about orchids, but the orchid garden at Singapore's Botanic Gardens has got to be world-class, if not the finest there is. Besides hosting a kaleidoscope of rare and interesting orchids, it includes a special section of orchids bred and named for famous people, from Nelson Mandela to Princess Diana.

When I think of orchids, I think of flowers like this one. But many of them are, well, bizarre, and even (dare I say this?) kind of ugly, with strange green, brown, livid colors and spindly, clawing petals. Others are almost obscene (think Georgia O'Keefe).

Of course, This only makes them even more interesting. If you want to know more about orchids, read "The Orchid Thief" by Susan Orlean. But beware of your growing interest. I hear orchids are addictive. -- Karen


After traveling through the rest of Asia, Singapore came as quite a shock. It's like a tropical version of a Western city but all the streets are clean, the people well dressed, and there is plenty of money in evidence. In a way, it's how I expect Bangkok to look in 20 years. We had a few days here before my ship left for Australia.

Singapore has opted for strict government control, sacrificing some personal freedoms. Although not without flaws, it's a system that seems to work fairly well for them. I liked Singapore. I feel that to understand Asia, a visit to Singapore is essential. It helped me to gel my impressions of the other Southeast Asian countries and to prepare for my return to Western culture. -- Scott

Hot Pot!Hot Pot!

I wish I could say we ate this delicious dish sitting in front of us, but we didn't. It belongs to two Singaporean women who were sharing our table. Good thing we already had eaten our meals when they ordered it, or we would have had severe hot pot envy. Instead, we were indulging Scott's favorite street-food dessert, shaved ice topped with sugar syrup, fruit-flavored jello pieces, and a dollop of durian, the Limburger cheese of fruit.

Whoever says Singapore is sterile has been comparing it to its many neighbors, which doesn't do it justice. This is not the Asia of earthy cultural stews or gritty, chaotic experiences. This is a sparkling city of technology, banking, business, and order, where it can cost you dearly to cross the street against the light ($100) or chew gum ($500). (And by the way, all the locals do it.) But you will find a unique symbiosis of traditional Asian culture, Western colonial influence, and global high technology.

Perhaps the cultural flair of Singapore is most apparent in its food. Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indian, and Western influences collide full force there, with mouth-watering results. We ate almost every meal in food courts like this--and don't mistake these food meccas for the fast-food wastelands you find in shopping malls in the States. This open-air market housed at least 50 booths, each of which served its own take on various Asian cuisines. It took us two turns up and down the aisles to decide on what to order. I don't remember any more what we ate, but I can guarantee you, it was delish. -- Karen

Next Up: Voyage to Australia

Copyright 2002
Scott & Karen Semyan