Welcome to the Reluctant Adventurer! Start your journey here:

Cambodia: Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
South Africa: My Cape Town Restaurant Guide
Ecuador: Quito and The Galapagos Islands
Iceland: Drive around Iceland in 10 Days
Malaysia: Pangkor Laut
Indonesia: Bali
Morocco: Marrakech

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Desert Rose

This trip has been long coming.

We've planned this ages ago. Separately.

I have been dreaming vivid hues against a background of terracotta plains. Of cacophony of sounds and assault of sights. And of oasis of calm. A juxtaposition of state of mind.

The only thing we were not planning at that point of dreaming was the fact that we got married. And had a baby.

So we packed up our 5.5 month-old baby girl and headed for Marrakech. Desert rose as it's affectionaly known.

She did not disappoint. The city. (And so did our baby - did not disappoint that is.)

We were welcomed at an international airport oozing in modern architecture. The ever so gentle breeze a surprise once we got passed the security of the glass airport doors. The desert plains and the palm trees in the distance.

We were mesmerised. Instantly.

For 8 nights, we were part of the family at Riad Porte Royale. Philip the riad's owner ensured we got a room with a bath-tub (our babe after all needs all the pampering she can get). Mohamed took care of all our needs (from arranging a trip to the Atlas mountains to finding an open pharmacy on a  Sunday where we can purchase an extra can of formula milk when the one we brought with us was running out!). Hajiba was there to ensure that we had all our meals taken care of. And for the life of me, this other elderly woman whose name escapes me - also went marketing, cooked and ensured we slept in made up rooms each time we came home exhausted from conquering yet another hidden alleyway in the souks.

Meandering the cobbled dusty streets of the old town. Tackling the crazy-near-suicidal traffic. Getting lost in the souks. Beating the heat of Marrakech with mint tea. I was constantly intrigued. Of course, my brains were working overtime - remembering that landmark of vivid blue doorway just after the passageway arch. Remembering the nth right turn we had taken on exit of the riad iron doors.

My friends thought we were suicidal to tackle Marrakech with a 5.5 month old baby. I think so too sometimes. The thought of carrying my baby in my arms crossing the at the busy traffic light with traffic that has absolutely no regard for the the amber or red lights for that matter just sends shivers down my spine. But all is forgiven when my memories fleet to the times, total strangers - local Marrakech folks (women and little girls) just came up to our baby and kissed her. (Ok, hubs freaked out after about the third kiss from a total stranger). This is the thing - everyone, and I mean E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E loves babies in Marrakech. Even the local 7 year olds - I kid you not.

There's so much to tell about Marrakech. Words escape me.

Marrakech is really a city to be experienced.

We're already plotting another return. When our baby is a bit older.

For now, please link yourself here and here for teasers of Marrakech.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Surfing Bali

Bali is a paradise island of Indonesia.

It is also the largest tourist destination of the country. It's no wonder with the many beaches of pure white sand and exotic black sand, coral reefs surrounding the entire island. Indian Ocean in the expanse view.

Post 9/11, the 2002 Bali bombings was one of the worst in our modern history. It's the worst act of terrorism in Indonesian history. But don't let this deter you from the island's beauty.

6 years later, M and I set foot on the island.

And it immediately hits you. The people. Their pride and resilience. With the many beach front hotel properties dotting the coastline of Bali (read: massive tourist crowd), I opted to put us up for the next few days, in a boutique villa hotel in the sleepy fishing town of Sanur.

Sanur is close enough to the beautiful beaches of Jimbaran, Nusa Dua and Legian, and the main town of Kuta, and only a 45-minute car ride away from the cultural centre of the island, Ubud.

We got the best of the worlds staying in The Gangsa by the unmistable Kayumanis group. With less than 20 villas, staying at The Gangsa exceeded our expectations. For someone who is working in the hospitality industry, M was thoroughly impressed.

Upon arrival, we were received by the airport's representatives and given priority clearance at the immigration upon arrival (and again at departure). Airport transfer to and from the hotel. Every imaginable hospitable gestures you could think of. I opted for a "Romance package" which includes a picnic in a higher altitude "surprise" spot on the island and a candle lit dinner in the privacy of our villa.

We were impressed (again I can't say that enough!). For anyone who is a self-disciplined vegetarian on Fridays, the people in Gangsa, ensured we had all sorts of imaginable food available for a vegetarian.

But really, it's about the island, and its people. The Balinese will go out of their way to make your stay more comfortable and pleasurable. Sure, like in all cultures and developing cities, there will be oppotunistic people but put that aside.

My word of advice when in Bali, go with the flow and enjoy what the island and its people have to offer.

You'll be dreaming of returning to the island as soon as you give that credit card to the front desk upon check-out.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cambodia Travel Blogs

Our individual trips to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Read about our different experiences of course with photos!

  • Inspira's Travel Report: (Un)reap(ed):(Un)defeat(ed)

  • Mini's Travel Report: Destination Angkor
  • My Iceland Travel Blog

    Read about my self drive vacation around Iceland! Summer (August) 2008. See photos of the sights we visited.

    My Iceland Travel Blog Index

    Day 1: Hello Reykjavik!
    Day 2: Battling Nature? Not for the Faint Hearted
    Day 3: It's a Beautiful Day (channel: U2)
    Day 4: The road to Myvatn
    Day 5: Iphone Malfunction
    Day 5: All Fossed Out
    Day 5: Jarbodin - Spa Myvatn
    Day 6: The Barren Interior and Askja
    Day 7: Off the Beaten Path
    Day 8: Hellish Driving Day!
    Day 9: Revenge of the Puffins
    Day 9: Food and Botched Reservations
    Day 9: Nuni? No NĂ¼ni ....
    Day 10: Time to Say Goodbye

    Friday, October 03, 2008

    Iceland Featured in a Dentyne Gum Commercial !

    I was flipping channels the other day and an image of the black beach at Vik (my favorite place in Iceland!) flashed across the screen. I instantly recognized the troll rocks :)

    Anyway for those of you heading to Iceland, do check out the Dentyne Ice - Iceland Commercial. It really captures the beauty of Iceland. Much better than the Dharma Initiative-esque ones on the Iceland tourism site! Haha!

    Here's a screen capture of the commercial. Love!!! Perhaps you may recognize the other places in Iceland featured. Please post it in my comments box, I would love to know!

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Galapagos Trip Report - Day 1 - Swimming with Penguins

    Locations Covered: Bartolome Island Galapagos

    The tingly feeling in my fingers finally went away as soon as we touched ground in the Galapagos on TAME airlines! I was so relieved. I'm not going to die from AMS in Ecuador after all. (You must realize I am a bit of a drama queen by now!)

    We were picked up by our guide from the airport to start our 5 day 4 night cruise of the Galapagos on the Seaman yacht. The boat didn't look that large from afar but it was quite spacious on board. Our cabin was small with a bunk bed but clean.

    Before we even got on the boat, we already had our first sighting of a seal lounging on a bench at the harbor. The animals here are absolutely fearless of humans!

    I was so excited!

    After lunch and logistics, we docked near Bartolome and hopped on pangas to the island. The Panga is an inflatable motor raft that ferries people from where the ship has anchored to shore.

    We had a couple hours here to swim and sunbathe. We're off to a such great start! This is one of my favorite Galapogos photos of all time. You get to swim with cute little penguins.

    (The beach at Bartolome)

    I have to warn that the water is a little cold however. Thankfully I'd purchased a short wet suite before hand. You can also snorkel here and see all kinds of fish!

    After the swim it was back on the boat for a little bit as we sailed to another side of the island where we could ascend the summit trail just in time for sunset. There are some wooden stairs and a sandy pathway to the top.

    The view from the top was spectacular. Here you can see all the peaks formed from volcanic activity. I'm really loving this place.

    When we got back to the boat, we had some time to lie around on the deck followed by dinner and a briefing of the next day's activities. The chefs on board cook a variety of dishes. There's usually chicken, fish, vegetables, rice, potatoes, dessert and fruit. The style of cooking is homey and healthy. They are also very accommodating if you have food restrictions.

    Deck for sunbathing and napping:


    What I wish I'd Known - Tips for You
  • You don't have to bring your own snorkeling equipment. You can rent one on the board for about $15.

  • I don't SCUBA dive but this was offered on our boat. People who'd like to scuba go out on excursions very early in the morning so it doesn't interfere with day activities.

  • Bring a short suit if you're going when the waters are cold (August)
  • Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Ecuador Travel Guide - Start your Planning Here!

    This guide is for the independent traveler. I like planning my own vacation for more flexibility and control (ok I admit I am part control-freak). No need for travel agents!

  • Mini's Ecuador Itinerary - Includes Quito and the Galapagos (Cruise + Island Stay) - 12 days

  • Ecuador Top 10 Facts- My version of Cliff Notes

  • Ecuador Vendor Review - Zenith Travel: Ecuador based agent

  • Galapagos Cruise Review - Seaman Yacht

  • Quito Hotel Review - Hostal Jardin Del Sol

  • Should I book a 5 or 8 day cruise to the Galapagos?

  • My Ecuador Trip Report | Diary
    Ecuador and the Galapaogs - A dream vacation
    Day 1: Quito - Otavalo, Peguche Falls
    Day 2: Quito - Old Town
    Day 3: Galapagos Cruise Day 1
    Day 4: Galapagos Cruise Day 2

    Cambodia - Siem Reap - FAQs

    Cliff notes for planning a vacation in historic Siem Reap:

    1)What is the difference between hiring a Tuk Tuk driver and hiring a Tour Guide?
    2)Will I need to book a tour guide before I arrive?
    3)How will I get around in the evenings?
    4)Will I need special medication or vaccinations before the trip?
    5)List of authorized guides and tuk tuk drivers (from TripAdvisor)
    6) How much does it cost to enter the grounds of Angkor?
    7) What is the weather like?
    8) Will I need a visa?

    1)What is the difference between hiring a Tuk Tuk driver and hiring a Tour Guide?

    Tuk tuk drivers can take you into the ruins of Angkor but CANNOT walk with you through the ruins. They will wait for you at a specified spot. This may or may not be a disadvantage depending on the driver. Some are very friendly with interesting stories to tell. This option is also cheaper. Price is approximately $12 a day.

    Authorized Tour Guides
    typically have their own vehicles (car or van). This is suited for larger groups. Tour guides are identified by their uniform and can accompany you through the ruins explaining their history and significance. They usually have secondary level or higher education (according to our guide). However their level of enthusiasm is not always correlated to their qualifications. Cost is approximately US$25 a day for the guide plus an addition $25-$35 depending on the vehicle you choose (car or van). Worthwhile if you have a bigger group.

    2) Will I need to book a tour guide before I arrive?

    That would be a good idea. One thing to note is that sometimes the guide you contact from the website or whom you emailed may NOT be the one who actually shows up! Verify with them to see if they are indeed the ones conducting the tour.

    (This actually happened to us. My friend recommended Mr X (I can't remember his name) as a wonderful guide. When we arrived we were rudely surprised to find that he had sent someone else. )

    3)How will I get around in the evenings?
    Tuk tuks are the way to go and cheap. Negotiate your price before getting on board. It should be approximately $US2-3.

    4) Will I need special medication or vaccinations before the trip?
    There are no required vaccinations or health certifications aside from the typical travel vaccinations like tetanus. However, malaria is common as is dengue fever. You should also take a course of malaria medication and bring lots of insect repellent!

    5) List of Authorized Siem Reap Guides and Tuk Tuk Drivers

    Here are some guides that are recommended on TripAdvisor:
    Angkor Guides - Authorized Guide
    Angkor Service - Authorized Guide
    Driver in Siem Reap - Non authorized guide
    Tuk Tuk Driver - Pik Savuth
    Siem Reap Taxis

    Please confirm that the guide advertised on the site is the one who show up on the day itself. (See #2)

    6) How much is the entrance fee to the grounds of Angkor Wat?
    You can buy the tickets on the way into the grounds. The pricing is:
    US$20 for 1 day
    US$40 for 3 days
    US$60 for 7 days

    7)What is the weather like?
    Sweltering hot and humid. Pack tank tops and light clothing. Don't even think of re-wearing anything without washing it! :) December is supposed to be slightly cooler but more crowded.

    8) Will I need a visa?
    Get one at the airport. A passport photo is required. The price is $20.
    If you want to beat the line at the airport, get an e-Visa online.

    Please leave us a comment or send us an email if we are missing any questions from our FAQ.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Domestic Airlines - South East Asia

    Here are some useful web sites. Coming from the U.S., we found that tickets booked through U.S. sites and agents were MUCH higher than if you booked the same flights via local websites. This is specifically for flights within South East Asia.

    Airlines for jetting around South East Asia

    Air Asia
    - Discount carrier based in Malaysia
    JetStar Asia - Budget carrier from Singapore
    SilkAir - Subsidiary of Singapore Airlines
    Tiger Airways - Budget carrier from Singpore - This is an aggregator like Orbitz.

    Cambodia Travel Guide - Start your planning here!

    The ruins of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap are a perfect long weekend getaway if you're based in South East Asia (Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia). The temples of Angkor are easily explored in 2 to 3 days, unless you're a temple historian! This even includes some time for a spa treatment and a visit to Tonle Sap (1/2 day trip)!

    Cambodia Resources

  • Domestic Airlines and Flight Booking Sites

  • Recommended Siem Reap Hotels and Booking Sites

  • Travel Fish Cambodia - South East Asia's version of the Lonely Planet

  • FAQ

  • Cambodia Trip Reports

    Read about our adventures with personal anecdotes and tips.

  • Inspira's Travel Report: (Un)reap(ed):(Un)defeat(ed)

  • Mini's Travel Report: Destination Angkor