Biking on Atolls

Biking on Atolls

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kochi India

As I had no tour or other plans for what to do in Kochi, I called up my new friends met while running around Langkawi

(here they are taking pictures in front of a Catholic church) and they graciously allowed me to squeeze into
a tuk-tuk with them for the day of touring. For those that may not know a tuk-tuk is really more of a two person ride, but it was great fun crowding in and zipping around seeing the city sights for the day. I learned a bit about posing for photos from these two. -
Check out my improved stance in this photo in front of St. Francis Church in Kochi.

Kochi is known for it's Chinese fishing nets which are a land fixed net that raise and lower using counter weights.

After a quick refresh back at the ship to wash off the various types of grime from the day we went back out to continue our authentic Indian experience by grabbing a beer at a nearby bar. This was an unforgettable experience as Mark bargained for a cheaper price for our beverages. He insisted we were being charged a tourist vs. a local price for the beer. I've never considered questioning the price quoted in a bar, but it did get us the beers for about half the originally quoted price. Later they brought around some snack that was something like chickpeas in a spicy sauce which they just spooned directly onto our open hands (btw - no napkins in sight) while Lenka reminded us that of all the places we were traveling we were not supposed to eat in India. I was hoping the beer would kill any germs - either in the food or that were on my hand and then got onto the food that way. Anyway - no ill effects and it was a lot of fun.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Columbo & Kandy, Sri Lanka

After a day at sea we arrived to Sri Lanka. Because I wanted to see Kandy and it is a bit far from port I signed up for another super expensive ship tour.

It turned out to be mostly a ride on the tour bus through horrendous traffic conditions - about 2-1/2 to 3 hours each way with non-stop honking, lurching, and slamming on the brakes - with the occasional audible gasp by those closest to the front who could see the close calls. It also meant that many sights were seen as we drove past them without stopping including seeing a man riding an elephant along side the road.
Upstream on this river (Kelani River) is where "Bridge On the River Kwai" was filmed.

Our first stop in Kandy was the botanical gardens. One area of this very large garden was a huge circle where famous people had over many years planted various trees and bushes. Several were planted by the British Royals.

This guy shared with us a scorpion he had found. Uh... thanks for sharing, please don't get near me.

After lunch at a local old hotel we went to the Buddhist temple that is the keeper of the tooth relic. Apparently when the Buddha was cremated they found one tooth in the ashes and it is now kept here.

View from the temple. It was raining and the ship had given us these funny blue rain covers to wear - a bit flimsy but a real help.

Phuket Thailand

Phuket is a tender in port, which means the ship can't dock and so it brings down the lifeboat boats to take us ashore that way. A bit of a pain as it takes a while to go back and forth.

The Phuket area was hit by the tsunami and there are now signs and a warning system in place. It's a very tourist focused area with lots of fun shopping including the some pretty nice knock-off merchandise. For example a large number of Tiffany products were available. They even came with the little blue Tiffany's soft bag and the blue Tiffany shopping bag. Note to self - don't buy this stuff on eBay, it's probably from the same fake source.

This stop was one of the three ports where I signed up for the pricey ship tours. It was a tough decision on whether to go to "James Bond" island or the island where "The Beach" was filmed. I went for James Bond. First they took us by bus to the east coast where we boarded a speed boat to the James Bond island. This area was featured in "The Man with the Golden Gun" which I viewed via Netflix when I got home.
The beach here is quite small and a good part of it is taken up by these stands selling souvenirs. If you actually pick anything up or otherwise show interest they get really aggressive, even to the point of holding onto you to prevent you from walking away.

Our boat also went through a cave in that same area, giving the kayakers a bit of a start to scatter out of our way. All perfectly safe I'm sure. :-|

We next went to a floating Muslim Water Village in the same general area. Interesting to see this village over the water that has all the things one might expect to see in a small town - shops,

a school with a sports court, restaurants,

and homes.

I even saw a boy riding a bike. I almost was left behind when I got lost in the maze of alleys and didn't get back to our boat on time. Fortunately someone noticed I was missing and the guide came back in and found me.

We then went to another island where we had a lovely lunch at tables set under trees (shade!) on the beach and had some beach time after lunch there too.

Really nice.

This area is really spectacular though Phi Phi island is probably equally as beautiful. Apparently there was controversy about the movie "The Beach" in Thailand. "After the film premiered in Thailand in 2000, some Thai politicians were upset at the way Thailand was depicted in the film, and called for it to be banned. The depiction of the drug culture was said to give Thailand a bad image and having a statue of Buddha in a bar was cited as "blasphemous"." This is a bit hysterical if you've been to this area of the world. Uh... are you really concerned about the drugs? What about the blatant prostitution? I went into Phuket in the evening with some friends from the ship and one street in particular there seems to be devoted to it.

Also the only place I've seen a street sign that indicated to watch out for drunks crossing the road. A very cute sign, btw. ;-)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Langkawi, Malaysia

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - Langkawi
Langkawi has a UNESCO World Geopark status. Not exactly sure what that means but the place is gorgeous.

After my success the previous day in teaming up with other travelers to see the area I decided to try this again. It’s actually quite a stretch for me to approach total strangers and ask to spend the day with them, but desperate times call for desperate measures. As it turns out the move changed the course of my time on the cruise. These people were so fun to be around that I ended up spending much of the rest of the cruise with them and I hope to be in touch for years to come.

At the port there was a list of costs to hire taxis for the day and I noticed some people talking about how many each vehicle could hold and what the cost would be. I asked if they had room for one more and they kindly included me in their calculations. The day was really terrific. The main site I wanted to see was the cable cars and fortunately this was also on the list of most of the other travelers. We refused the taxi drivers suggestion that we stop at a batik factor to ensure we got to the cable cars before a feared onslaught by the rest of the cruise guests.
The cable car ride up to the halfway point.

Me at the halfway stop lookout point.

The view from the halfway point up to the lookout platform. (This is the site I'd read about before traveling here!)

The amazing lookout walkway. This is -the- site I wanted to see in Langkawi and I was so happy to have been able to visit.

Next up were the bat caves. We had a flashlight with us and once we saw how many bats were hanging from the cave ceiling a couple of us insisted on no flash photography, so unfortunately there are no pictures to share. Uh... not that I'm afraid of bats or anything like that - there is just that whole bats caught in the hair thing I'd like to avoid.

Then we went by boat to an area on the river where they feed the eagles. Really cool to see these beautiful birds.
Next we went to a floating fishing area on the river where we all got to hold this guy - a horseshoe crab. Also saw a type of fish that spits to capture it's food. To show how this works they put a bit of bread on a rail and the fish would spit to knock it into the water. Pretty amazing! Seriously - check it out.

No really - go now to look at this YouTube clip.

Port Klang, Malaysia - but mostly Kualu Lumpur

Our first cruise stop was on Monday, November 11 at Port Klang. As it turns out there is nothing at the port – not even an opportunistic souvenir stand. Prior to reaching port I had reviewed the excursion offerings by the ship. All were in around the 100 Euro price range and as there were nine ports it didn’t seem feasible to book an excursion for all the ports. However this left me at Port Klang with not a lot of land options.

I got off the ship to take a look around at the dismal prospects and met a couple who were looking for others to share the cost of hiring a taxi for the day. So instead of paying 100 Euros for a ship tour I spent the day with this couple from southern France at a cost of 30 US$. Yippee! I’d been to KL before so that was my justification to myself for not going again, but I was very happy to have the opportunity to go in again. I found my memories were pretty sketchy even for the places I’d been before and also the Petronas towers had not been built at that time and I had wanted to see them.

Petronas towers

View of Petronas towers from Menara Kuala Lumpur (aka KL Tower). This viewing tower was also not built the last time I visited KL and I was quite happy that the couple I was with was also interested in going to the top to see the views.

KL Tower and Petronas towers (very small in background to the right of KL Tower). You can't tell it here, but KL Tower is built on a hill top.

We thought this beautiful building was the KL railway station. After taking careful photographs we were informed the railway station was across the street. :-\

KL Railway Station

Back at the port. Here is our very friendly taxi driver and Dieter with Costa Romantica in background. These two guys played off each other all day - practically like attending a comedy show!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Flew into Singapore from Kota Kinabula and cut it a bit short to get on the ship. The flight originally planned to land at 5PM was delayed by a bit more than an hour. All check-in was to be complete by 8PM. So I arrived in Singapore at about 6:15PM, gathered up my cruise bag from left luggage that I'd left in Singapore On November 2, waited for a cab. Things were going pretty well until we got into near grid-lock traffic. Still managed to get on the ship by about 7:40PM. The ship was still in port for another day, but I wouldn't have wanted to pay for a hotel night or have the hassle.

The next day I set out to see two sites

- The Singapore Flyer, like a giant ferris wheel. I think it is like the one in London though I have not been on that one.

View from the Singapore Flyer - the Marina Bay Sands hotel can be seen here. The main attraction is the roof top pool.

City view from Singapore Flyer.

- The Marina Bay Sands hotel pool -

Pretty amazing.

Singapore has changed a lot since I was last there - so much new construction and I'm pretty sure a fair amount of land fill - it seems like Beach street keeps getting to be more inland with each visit. Transportation super easy to use.

Singapore subway - Pepsi ad written on stair risers.

On a bad note - No internet! Unfortunately there was no internet cafe to be found in Singapore - not that they don't exist but more likely there are fewer available when the population all has internet at home.

Kota Kinabalu

I think when I last left off I was in Kota Kinabalu in Borneo. Not really as interesting a city as some but looks like it is on the way to improving with a nice riverside walk under construction. What the city did have that I had not seen outside an airport for a while is a Starbucks. So in my one evening there I first went to the night market and had dinner at a cost of about $1 then a Starbucks coffee for about $3.

Speaking of the night market, the Lonely Planet guide mentioned it had one of the best in SE Asia, so after walking around during the day I was just thinking about how I was going to locate the night market. I happened to look out the window of the hotel I was staying at and the streets below had magically transformed into the night market! So turns out it was not difficult to locate. There was a section devoted to dining (where I had my $1 meal) a section to selling fish, chicken, etc., another for fruits and vegetables, another for eggs, one just of racks of clothes, another for misc. - jewelry, sunglasses, and just about everything else.

Met a couple of UC Davis students where I was staying that were traveling all around the area on there own. One was continuing on her own up the Malaysian peninsula and over to India. Quite an adventure! Still I was thinking I would be very worried if it were my own daughter making the trip.

The Welcome sign - for those arriving by boat.

Kota Kinabalu Night Market (view from my hotel). The Le Meridian hotel is the building at the end of the street.

McDonalds delivers????? Click on the photo to zoom in and you can see the sign on the door for 24 hour delivery service.

This is where I took my clothes to be cleaned.