A Travellerspoint blog

Bring on the Year of the Tiger

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Josh and I closed out the Year of the Ox by visiting the Jurong Bird Park in the morning, then attempting to bring in the new year in Chinatown. The former worked out, but the latter, well, had some problems.

Let's begin with the Bird Park. The highlight of the day for me was the Lory Loft. I got to feed some of the Lory's by hand, which was pretty fun. I also got to take the typical cheesy picture of myself covered in birds.
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We also got to see many other types of birds, which I'm sure we could have seen back home at the San Diego zoo. However, the Bird Park was an incredibly peaceful place to walk through and I was very thankful to just stroll about looking at beautiful birds for a couple of hours. It was a huge contrast to the hectic evening that was headed our way.
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The Chinese New Year is a very exciting time in the city. There are decorations and signs about it pretty much everywhere. I planned the trip around being here for the New Year, but some things just aren't meant to be. Since Josh and I had such an early morning at the Bird Park, we were both pretty exhausted before 5:00pm rolled around. We went to Orchard Road, which is known for it's gigantic malls, and saw a movie. Yeah, we reached that point of the trip. It happened to us in week 4 of our Europe trip and it happened on the second to last day here. For those of you who are curious, we saw The Wolfman. Despite a stellar cast, the movie is terrible. Don't see it.

The theatre, however, was gorgeous and I wish we had amazing theatres like that back at home. Let me put it this way, it made the Arclight in Hollywood look run down and that is the best theatre I've ever been to at home. And the ticket was only SGD$9 (about $7USD). The Arclight cost me about $15.

Mall on Orchard Road
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Afterwards we headed over the Chinatown. I knew it'd be packed, but when a dozen police officers boarded the MRT with us I began to rethink my master plan. The second we exited the train car we were herded like sheep towards the exit and then greeted by wall to wall people lining the cramped little streets of Chinatown.

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The man's face at the bottom of the following picture has captured the general feeling of the place pretty well.
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Josh and I debated for about five minutes about what to do, but we were both just too tired to want to fight those crowds. We hopped on the metro back home, which seemed to be a pretty popular idea among many weary looking Singaporeans, and decided to just spend the evening at home. The news said about 150,000 people gathered there last night. That figure doesn't surprise me at all. It felt like more.

This morning we headed over to the main touristy part of the city. Yes, the touristy stuff is on our last day, which seems a bit backwards, but that's how we roll. Since today is the New Year, most other things are closed anyway, so it was really our only choice. We did get to see the infamous Merlion. What is a Merlion you ask? It's the handsome fellow standing behind me in the following picture.
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And the Merlion Cub.
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Ridiculous? Of course. But the locals are well aware of that. They even use "Merlion" as a verb. See if you figure out what it means.
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I'll give you a hint. In Melaka Josh had too much to drink and Merlioned all night long. Get it? Yeah.

We wandered around the waterfront area and got to see the giant Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (polite Singaporean term for a resort & casino), which will have a hectare sized park on top. There is also some weird spherical thing being constructed in front of it, but I have no idea what that will be.

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We also wandered across the River Bao Festival, but it didn't look like it had quite kicked into gear yet. There were a few people roaming about and a tent filled with food, but any booths, rides, and other attractions were completely closed. We only explored for about an hour before deciding to head home.

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It's just before 4:00 in the afternoon, but we are pretty much done for the day. That means we are pretty much done with this trip. It's always bitter sweet finishing a journey. On the one hand we are pretty beat and want to go home and rest. However, sometimes I wish I could just travel constantly and never stop seeing and experience new things. I don't know when or where our next trip will be. It always comes down to time and money. With grad school still pending for Josh, both of those factors are extremely uncertain. But when we decide to go somewhere we will tell you all and you can be sure there will be another blog.


Final thoughts on Singapore

-It reminds me a lot of London. Perhaps it's the colonial history or the fact that many place names are British. Or maybe it's just a similar cosmopolitan feel. Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure it's the same lady making the call outs on the metro trains.

-It's interesting to travel in a place that has four commonly spoken languages. English seems to be the dominate one on signs and is spoken by almost everyone I encountered (only a couple of people in hawker centers didn't understand me). The official language is Malay, though, and the largest population is Chinese, so Mandarin is on a lot of signs as well. The fourth language is Tamil, which I know nothing about. Many signs have all four languages on them.

-This is a Singapore suburb.
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Buildings like this are literally everywhere. These are some of the smaller ones. They get taller the closer you get to the central part of the city. The first hostel we stayed at was on top of a 25 story building. This one is only a two story building, but it's surrounded by high rises on all sides.

-There are over 100 Hawker Centers in Singapore. Josh and I have eaten at about three of them. Unfortunately we couldn't eat at the one recommended by Anthony Bourdain because it closed early for the New Year. However, I did snap this snazzy picture.
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Guess we'll just have to come back to Singapore! Josh is too much of a foodie to only visit three of these glorious foodie playgrounds. Besides, with all the construction all over the city, we need to come back and see how this place looks in a few years. Who wants to join us? Singapore is awesome. I promise we'll have fun!

-Singapore is a "fine" city.
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-But it's not a perfect city.
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-The method of doing laundry in this city is simple, but unique. It seems that most people have washers, but there clearly aren't many driers around. People will place their clothes and other laundry materials on polls and stick them out the window. Since this city is mostly high rises, this means there are rows and rows of clothes covered poles reaching high up into the sky. This also means many high rises don't have screens on their windows. Josh was slightly unnerved by this on the 25th floor of 1 B and B, and even more bothered by this when we had to hang our own laundry out to dry from the second story here at Hostel One 66.

Laundry across from our Hostel.
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Our own magical laundry drying adventure.
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It's hard to end this entry because that means this trip has really ended, but it's gotta happen. I guess I'll leave you with this picture. How will you interpret it? A nice summary of downtown Singapore? Or, with your newly learned definition of "Merlion," a clever comment on trendy coffee shops? You decide.
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Posted by slugtrek 23:08 Archived in Singapore Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Singapore Zoo and Night Safari

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Today was a very different experience contrasted with our adventure in Bintan. We went to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. First of all, I'm very much enjoying Singapore. The public transportation is confusingly easy to navigate (you read that right). We will stare at a bus map and go, "no way, it can't be that easy. We must be reading it wrong." We took a taxi to the zoo, however, but it was the most comfortable taxi ride during our entire trip and the driver was incredibly friendly.

Yes, Josh is from San Diego, a place well known for it's animal parks, but if there is a place in the world that beats it in that category it'd be Singapore. We ended up getting a pass for all three of the major parks; the Zoo, Night Safari, and Bird Park, which we will visit tomorrow. I ended up taking over 250 pictures at the zoo alone, but I promise I'll only be posting the best of the best here.

First of all, I got to see my beloved Manatees. I can't explain why I love Manatees so much. They are just adorable to me. And to worsen the cuteness factor, there was a baby Manatee in the tank. Josh attempted to drag me away, but I was far too snap happy with the camera. I probably spent an hour there, including a show involving the Manatees, penguins, and a California Sea Lion (reminded me of home).
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How can you not love this face?
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We also saw many other interesting critters. Let's just show, not tell, shall we?
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However, the most interesting creature wasn't in a cage. We exited the Fragile Rainforest exhibit and were warned by a fellow visitor, "there is a snake eating a frog over there." We assumed he meant in one of the glass displays, but no, it was in the corner of the room on the floor. I have no idea how the snake or the frog got into the room considering this is a zoo and their are all sorts of barriers keeping animals in certain places and out of others, but it was there.

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Several people came into the room and observed the creature with us, completely ignoring the nearby exhibits. Afterwards some of us informed a tram driver who called her supervisor. I have no idea what became of that snake, but it sure was the highlight of our day at the zoo.

Before we get into the night Safari, I must say that the Singapore Zoo has awesome signs.
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It was incredibly difficult to get pictures at the Night Safari because it was, well, night. We weren't allowed to take flash photography so we did our best in the ISO setting. Many people broke that rule though, but I'd rather have fewer decent pictures than disturb the animals. Josh got to see Giant Flying Squirrels and Sugar Gliders, so he was pretty happy. The former were in a huge aviary so they flew right over our heads several times. Josh had to drag me away from the Manatees and I had to drag him away from these. Fair is fair.

The highlight of the park was the big cats. We saw lions, leopards, and tigers. Keeping with tradition of getting a stuffed animal on every trip I take, I got a small white tiger plush. There are several different meanings behind this choice. First of all, the tiger was cool at the Night Safari and the white tigers were cool at the Zoo, so it's a memorable keepsake of those places. Second of all, the 14th marks the Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Tiger. Third of all, both Josh and I were born in the Year of the Tiger, so it's extra special for us.

Here are the only two pictures that came out on the Safari. The first is Hyenas and the second is Indian Wolves.
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Tomorrow we plan on seeing the Bird Park, then bring in the Year of the Tiger with the locals in Chinatown. It should be a blast (no pun intended).

Posted by slugtrek 06:19 Archived in Singapore Tagged animal Comments (2)

Islomania: An Inexplicable Obsession with Islands

all seasons in one day 30 °C
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As a self-proclaimed Islomaniac, it's kind of pathetic that it took me so long to visit my first tropical island. Sure, I visited many islands on my other trips; Great Britain, Isle of Skye, Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, even Alcatraz. Even on this trip we've been on a few moderately to densely populated islands; Ayutthaya, Ko Kret, Singapore. But there is something extraordinarily satisfying about walking along a deserted white sandy beach where the palm trees seem frozen blowing away from the coastline even when the winds are calm. It's very hard to describe in words.

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When we first arrived here on Bintan we were greeted by many overly aggressive taxi drivers at the main port in Tanjung Pinang, the capital of the Riau Islands. Thankfully our little resort sent an English speaking gentlemen to greet us at the dock. He jumped ahead of the taxi drivers and asked “Stephanie? Yoshua?” Apparently, like in Spanish, the “J” is pronounced as a “Y,” which means I've been butchering the capital cities name this entire time. He continued, “just two people? I thought it'd be three. You have very long names.”

The ride to Shady Shack on the east coast cut through the heart of Bintan. It seems like most of the hour long ride was dealing with the traffic in Tanjung Pinang, but once we were free from the city we got to see the real, rural Bintan. There were tiny shacks dotted along the road, some hidden behind clusters of lush palm trees, others placed right up against the asphalt.

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Then we hit the east coast and we began to get glimpses of the sparkling blue water and white sandy beaches. Eventually we made it to Shady Shack and got to meet the famous “Lobo” and his family. We were shown to our shack, which would be the first of three we would use during our stay. The accommodations there are basic, but that's why I chose it. Things were actually a bit nicer than I was expecting. There was electricity, though it only got turned on at night, and there was running water from a home-made water tower, though the pressure was very low. And the toilets? Well, in order to flush them you must pour buckets of water into them and then, well, something about water levels and I don't know. It's magic.

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Josh and I had the forethought to purchase goggles at the ferry pier, so we hit the water soon after arriving. The water is rather murky due to the close proximity to Singapore, but that didn't stop us from getting to see coral and wild tropical fish in their natural habitat. We've promised ourselves to get dive certified before our next trip so that we can see more. We've had a taste of diving and now we are hungry for the real thing.

We had a delicious home cooked Indonesian meal of chicken, rice (lots and lots of rice), bok choi, an omelette, and some nutty cracker of some unidentifiable origin. It was all delicious. All of our meals during our stay were home cooked. It's hard to get more authentic than that.

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At this point the sun was going down so we retired to our little shack. It was then we discovered that ours had a faulty electrical system. We made move #1 to the shack next door. Things went pleasantly for a while, but we had a rather rude awakening in the middle of the night. A rat decided it wanted to join us in bed and hopped right on top of me. In my panicked state I flung it off and my unfortunate aim placed the furry critter right on top of Josh's chest. He released a scream unlike anything I've ever heard before and flung it off the bed. The rat hit the floor with a thud, composed itself, and scurried away from our cacophony of screams.

At this point we seriously considered leaving Bintan early. The night watchman moved us to a third shack and we decided that if this shack worked out we'd stay, but if anything went wrong we were adding an extra day in Singapore. Thankfully, this shack was fine. No rats. No electrical problems. Just a very sound nights sleep. Though the rat frightened us at first and had the potential to ruin our stay here, we were eventually able to laugh it off and realize this is just another wacky travel story we'll be telling for many years. “Remember that time that rat decided to jumped on us in the middle of the night? Yeah, good times.”

I awoke early on Wednesday morning and snuck out of bed to take a look at the sunrise. There were clouds, but the sun lit them up in brilliant shades of pink, purple, and blue. Off in the distance I could see a small nearby island being pounded by rain, but our coast was eerily serene and altogether beautiful.

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We spent Wednesday swimming and taking walks along the beach. We saw many interesting things such as hilariously large dead fish being washed in by the tide, coconuts strewn along the coastline, abandoned boats, and fisherman ropes leading to what we assumed were traps further out in the ocean. As the tide went out we got to see the coral uncovered and numerous palm trees laying on the shore slowly being swept out to sea. Despite copious amounts of sunblock we still got burned, but it was worth it.

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I'm with Coco (nut).
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We asked for a “small lunch,” and were given giant helpings of fried rice. The people of Bintan seem to eat huge portions of food, but they don't seem like a particularly overweight group of people. I wonder if they have naturally higher metabolisms or they just do more manual labor and burn off the food quicker. Our “small” dinner that evening was also rather large. I felt bad for leaving behind food, but we had no choice. The portions were massive. I must say the chicken was the best chicken I've ever eaten in my life. I'm not sure if it's genuinely the most delicious chicken ever, or, as Anthony Bourdain puts it, meals just taste better when you can bury your feet in the sand.

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Though this night was rat and electrical problem free, a moderately turbulent storm did roll in in the middle of the night. The rain was pounding, but our thatched roof didn't leak. The wind blew, but the walls only barely creaked. The thunder roared, but we remained sleeping soundly in our bed. These shacks have clearly withstood worse storms, so we felt rather secure.

These buildings are handmade by Lobo and his friends, and I've got to give them points for their remarkably sturdy craftsmanship. They may look like they will blow down at the slightest gust of wind, but these things have been here for years through many storms far worse than what we endured. They are even building a new shack. A “deluxe” two storey shack far bigger than any of the others. I'd love to come back in a few years and see it completed.

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This morning there were windsurfers in the distance; the first tourists besides ourself we've seen during our entire stay. There were also two fisherman boats, which at that point became just as much of the scenery as the crashing waves and swaying palm trees. The fishermen jet around in their little long boats regularly. The first time we saw them it was exciting and novel, but we soon came to realize that it's just every day living out here. If I had a boat I'd fully take advantage of those distant uninhabited islands. I'd fish, then camp out on one of those beaches and make a meal of my catch. But alas, we didn't have the time, money, or equipment to make that possible.

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Despite the beauty of the place, Josh and I came to the realization that we are city people. It was good for us to get away from television, the Internet, and other distractions for a day, but we couldn't stay in a place like this forever. It may seem like a contradiction, being an Islomaniac and a city person, but I tend to be filled with contradictions anyway, so it's really nothing new. Maybe I'll end up somewhere like Singapore or Hong Kong, where both of my desires can be fulfilled simultaneously. Who knows where we'll end up? The future is pretty open at this point.

Posted by slugtrek 07:18 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Hello Singapore. Goodbye Singapore.

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We spent the stormy evening in Melaka doing what many young travelers staying in hostels tend to do; get drunk with people from around the world. We met a cool Dutch dude (left), British girl (middle), and Aussie guy (right) who were also seeking shelter from the storm in the common room.

Sorry about the blurry picture, but it's the only one we have of all three of them.
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They had shared a bottle of vodka the first night, but Josh and I joined them this night. We ended up going through two bottles of vodka (one of them pictured below). To put that in perspective, I had about two shots, so the rest of it was divided up between the other four happy travelers. Let me just say that Americans can't hold a candle to the alcohol tolerance of Europeans and Australians. I don't know if it's the fact that our drinking age is higher or what, but long after Josh and I had hit our limits the other three were still chugging away.

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Now that I've adequately frightened all the parental units reading this blog, I'm going to post this adorable picture taken the same night. This little girl is the daughter of the hostel owners. She's about two and a half and speaks four languages (English, Chinese (not sure what dialect), Bahasa Malay, and French). She's not completely fluent in any of them yet because, well, she's only two, but she would try talking to us in one language and when we didn't understand she'd fish around until she hit a word we knew. It was adorable.

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She really wanted to play cards with us, but clearly Kings Cup is a bit too mature for her. While our other hostel friends were out taking smoke breaks her and I would play our own game. She's hand me a card, I'd put it under the table, and we'd both put our hands in the air and gasp. Magic! Where did the card go?!

We'd also bounce around an incredibly lop-sided rubber ball. Every time she'd successfully throw it (aiming wasn't her goal, just chuck it somewhere) she'd shout "yaaaaaay" and then put her finger to her lips and go "ssshhhh" and then go "yaaaaayyy" again. I don't think she gets the meaning of "sshhh" but, again, she's two. Cutest kid ever!

This morning Josh and I slept in quite late, but still managed to catch an early afternoon bus to Singapore. Getting across the Singapore border was kind of ridiculous. We had to disembark the bus on the Malaysian side of the water, hand in our exit paperwork, get our exit stamp, get back on the bus, cross the water, get off the bus again, hand in our entry paper work, get our entry stamp, go through customs, and then get back on the bus. It makes getting into the US look easy! Despite all the shuffling around, it was still a rather painless process.

Once more we got lost trying to find our hostel, but when we did we were greeted with the most spectacular view of Singapore we could possibly imagine.

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We are on the very top floor of a 25 story building on the southwest side of the island near the port and the main train station. It's basically the penthouse of the apartment building turned into a hostel. I think this is where rich Singaporeans typically live, but instead here we are, two weary achy travelers taking a break before we head onto Bintan, Indonesia.

As I've been warning you about, we won't have any electricity in Bintan. We won't even have running water. So this will be our last post for a few days. We'll try to check the blog and email before we head out in the morning (your evening), so if you want to contact us do it now. It'll be a while.

Post posting edit: Oh, I forgot to mention that Josh and I had our first Singapore food hawker market experience today quite by accident. As we were wondering around trying to find the right bus stop to get to the hostel we walked into an open air mall. We passed several food stalls and, well, we couldn't resist it!

The old woman behind the counter seemed frustrated at first, but once she realized we'd eat anything (I specified, "I'll eat anything that won't burn my face off") she clapped her hands together and started scooping random food onto our plates. It was delicious! I think she was really excited to give a couple of tourists their first introduction to famous Singaporean hawker market food. We were pretty excited too. Can't wait to swing back by Singapore in a few days and go to some of the more famous markets, like Maxwell Street.

Posted by slugtrek 04:02 Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Plan B: Melaka. Plan C: Run to hostel through rain

storm 31 °C
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We made it to Melaka, but before I get into that I want to post a couple of cool pictures from our last night in KL.
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Ok, with that out of the way, on with Melaka.

Our bus arrive around 1:30 in the afternoon and we spent a troublesome 20 minutes wandering around the bus terminal trying to find the correct local bus to take us to our hostel. We finally found it, but had to wait several more minutes in the steaming hot bus with no AC before it finally took off. Then we almost missed our stop. Sound like I'm complaining? I'm not. It was quite an adventure.

But when we got to the hostel we discovered we had made the reservation for tomorrow, not today. Oh no! Thankfully the couple running the hostel was very kind and understanding of our stupidity. They had a room available anyway, though it wasn't the one they planned on giving us. It's still good, though. For anyone ever staying in Melaka, seriously look into the Old Town Guesthouse. Their forgiveness of this blunder is enough to get a thumbs up in my book.

After ditching our stuff in the room we took off to explore Melaka. It's a very small port town which, as I said, has a strong Portuguese influence. Most of the historic section of the city is painted red for some odd reason. It made it easier to find that section of town though as we wandered off the main path a few times.

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Since they were the main harbor of Malaysia during the colonial period a lot of their history is related to maritime explorers and ships. We got to explore a replica of one of the most famous ships, the Flor de la Mer, which apparently sank off the coast of Melaka.

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I don't expect anybody under 30 to get this joke, but I'll say it anyway.
To quote Incredibad: I'm on a boat m***** ******!
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They also had a maritime museum, but the only thing I found interesting enough to photograph was this weird sign, which I still cannot figure out the meaning of.
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No fish bombs? Don't blow up the fish? What? Anyway...

We continued to wander around the historic center, but like all other days spent in Malaysia so far dark clouds started to roll in. We decided it was time to head back to the hostel, however we didn't quite make it in time. A few sprinkles fell at first and within five minutes it became a heavy rain storm with distant thunder.

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But it wasn't finished. It kept getting heavier and heavier with every passing second until our umbrella became completely useless. Worse yet, we were lost. We approached some locals who were closing up a nearby shop and asked them if we were headed in the right direction. The answer was "no" apparently, but one of them offered to give us a ride. It was only about three blocks away, but we would have been soaked to the bone had we not gotten that ride. As it was only our feet were drenched and everything else was merely damp. Thank you kind mysterious Malaysians! You saved us weather ignorant Californians from much discomfort and unhappiness!

We took this video from our hostel window. If you watch carefully you can see lightening and hear the resulting thunder. The lightening is almost constant now, with a bolt shooting through the sky at least two or three times a minute, but I'm not about to do more filming and uploading, so you'll just have to be happy with this video.

Tomorrow we head to Singapore.

Posted by slugtrek 03:08 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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