Out Playing on Sentosa Island

Before arriving in this tiny, prosperous, SE Asian city-state, all I knew about Singapore was a few pop culture references about its strict and sometimes crazy laws.  I thought we better do a little research before going to make sure we didn’t get ourselves into any trouble.  We did our best to be good, but still managed to break a few while we were there.  Fortunately, we never got caught!

  • Spitting in Public: Penalty: Up to a $1000 fine.  One day we were walking along a path and I saw all the boys (including Jeromy) repeatedly spitting at a post.  They had never done this before and I couldn’t imagine why, in all the places, they decided to do it in Singapore.  I quickly ran up to them, whispering for them to stop, so I did not draw attention to ourselves, and learned they were spitting at a row of huge ants.  Boys will be boys, but I was just glad we didn’t get caught and fined for each occurrence or we may have to cut our trip a little short!
  • Selling Gum: Penalty $100,000 – 2 years in jail.  I did accidentally smuggle a pack through security inside my purse (much to my children’s dismay), but never tried selling it to anyone so I think we are in the clear!
  • Littering: Penalty From $300 – Public Service.  If you are convicted three times of littering you have to clean the streets with a bib that says “I am a litterer.”  Fortunately, littering has never been an issue for us, no problems there.
  • Walking Around Your House Naked: Penalty $1000. No comment.
  • Not Flushing the Toilet: Penalty $150.  I am not going to incriminate anyone in my family on this, but I think I might continue having this rule for the boys in the future.
  • No Urinating in Elevators:  This was never a temptation, but apparently in some elevators they have Urine Detection Devices (UDD) that detect the smell of urine, setting off an alarm and closing the doors until the police arrive.  The boys spent some time trying to figure out what would happen if a baby with a diaper happened to be in one…I guess we will never know.
  • Connecting To Another Persons WIFI: Penalty up to 3 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.  We stuck to public WIFI and had no issues here.

With all of those strict laws you may think that Singapore is a boring place to hang out, but we found it to be the opposite!  We spent our week there in a hotel on Sentosa Island, which is also known as “Asia’s Favorite Playground,” and we tried to live up to that slogan as much as possible! The island is about 2 square miles and is basically one huge amusement park.  Looking back, it’s hard to believe all the things we were able fit in during our stay there, but with the help of some multi-day passes, we did our best to play as much as possible.  Here are some highlights from our time there.

Universal Studios

We had a blast at Universal Studios one day.  If we didn’t pay attention to some of the food choices (squid anyone) we would have felt like we were in the USA.  We had lots of fun on the rides and watching shows.

S.E.A. Aquarium


The Trick Eye Museum

We had so much fun taking pictures at this museum!  All of these are optical illusions that make taking pictures incredibly entertaining!

Fort Siloso

During World War II, Fort Siloso was built on what is now known as Sentosa Island, as a protection against attack.  It has now been restored and is open as a military museum open to the public.

We enjoyed learning the history, seeing the cannons, and climbing through the old batteries.  We even got to play a game of laser tag while we were there, which was, of course, the boys favorite part.


Celebrating the Lunar (Chinese) New Year

While it was after the New Year by the time we got to Singapore, they still had all the decorations and activities up which was a lot of fun!

Trapeze

Sentosa Wave House

We had so much fun trying this out, but we weren’t always successful, as illustrated in the series of pictures below.

Segway Ride

Para Jumping

4D Adventureland

Wings of Time Show

Skyline Luge

Port of Lost Wonder


Southernmost Point of Continental Asia


Wow! A super busy and fun time playing and we didn’t even have time to do everything!  “Asia’s favorite playground” did not disappoint.

Sentosa Merlion

 

Out Finding “Normal” in Bangkok

*Disclaimer* If this is the first post you are reading on this blog, please go back and read any of the other posts I’ve written, where we are doing all kinds of cool things and experiencing the culture of the places we are visiting.  If you only read this post you will think we are the most boring travel family of all time.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I can let you know a little about our time in Bangkok.  As noted in previous posts, we had hit a travel burnout phase while we were in Vietnam and we really needed to take a break from the constant activity and stress of traveling and just find some sense of normal for a little while.  Bangkok was the perfect place to do this because we had already spent almost 3 weeks in other parts of Thailand, so we felt like we had seen a lot of what Thailand had to offer, and it was a big enough city to provide us with some comforts of home we had been missing.

  • We rented a three bedroom apartment with a kitchen and were able to find an “American Specialties” grocery store that allowed us to eat a bit more similar to the way we eat at home.  It was nice not having to find three meals a day at a restaurant we would all enjoy.
  • We FaceTimed with family and caught up with friends, many of which would soon be coming to visit us in Bali!
  • We went to church, where English was the primary language so we were able to stay for the classes as well as the main meeting.  It was fun to talk to fellow travelers and expats, and hear their stories of living abroad.
  • We found a trampoline park like our favorite one at home that even had dodgeball!
    Pretty good photo bomb from the worker behind Luke.
  • We let the boys play with toys (at a play place in our apartment building) and we spent quite a bit of time on school. Parker had to take his final exam for his BYU Algebra course at an international school while we were there. He got an A!
  • One of the most fun things we did was go to a Goo Goo Dolls concert.  Jeromy has loved this band for years so when they happened to be playing in Bangkok while we were there, we knew we had to go.  It was open seating and we were able to get right up in the front row!

While our time in Bangkok wasn’t the most culturally enriching, it was critical to our continued enjoyment of our travels, and gave us the respite we needed to help buoy us up for the exciting adventures that lay ahead!

Out Surviving in Vietnam

Ok, here it is, the post where I admit that everything isn’t always perfect and we aren’t always having the time of our lives on this trip.  It has truly been extraordinary, but there are times where we are frustrated, homesick, angry, and sad.  After all, if you are going to leave your home and everything you know for one year you are bound to have a few bad days.

My kids joke that after this trip, they will be able to say that they were homeless for a year, and essentially, they are correct.  We move around from place to place, never knowing where (or what) we will be eating, what the next place we stay will be like, or how well we will be able to communicate with those we come in contact with each day.  I want to make clear that we have the means to stay in nice places and find safe food to eat, so our lives are not nearly as difficult as truly homeless people,  but some of the uncertainty is still there for us and especially the boys.  They haven’t ever heard of most of the cities and even some of the countries we are going visiting, and they haven’t seen the booking.com/tripadvisor reviews on the places we are staying.  They are truly remarkable to wake up each day ready for adventure and the unknown.  It is not unusual for us to be on a plane and have one of the boys ask, “What country are we going to again?”

The reason I am writing about this in my post about Vietnam is that all the negative things seemed to combine to make our time there our least favorite so far.  Some members of the family had a harder time than others and most of the time it was just one of us who was feeling negative, but here are a few of things that were tough in Vietnam and on the trip in general.

    Homesickness

    We arrived in Vietnam soon after Christmas and New Year’s, which naturally, were times we were missing family more.  It has been great to be able to FaceTime and keep up on Facebook and Instagram with people, but the boys miss their friends, cousins and Grandparents and so do we!

    It was also just over half way through our trip and while in some ways it seemed to go fast, it also felt like we had been gone for a long time.  It can be very exhausting, physically and emotionally, to travel long term and the thought that we were only half-way through seemed a little daunting for some.

    When we sit around and are talking about feeling homesick, our thoughts and conversation often turn to the food we are missing and what we can’t wait to eat from home.  First, is always having some of Grandma Rhyasen’s amazing desserts, although we’ve debated the order we would like them served in (caramel brownies first!).  Next it goes to the restaurants we missed the most.  In no particular order because we can’t agree here are our top choices.

    1. The Blind Onion Pizza
    2. Salt N Straw Ice Cream
    3. Youskyme Teriyaki
    4. Costa Vida
    5. Black Bear Diner (pancakes)
    6. Burgerville (Jeromy)
    7. And any good solid Mexican Food

    The Food

    While I do love fresh baked desserts a little too much, I generally try to eat a well balanced diet with lots of lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  I rarely buy soda and try to avoid overly processed foods.  I like to eat out, but the majority of our meals were made at home by me.  Well, on this trip, all that went out the window.  I almost never cook, as we don’t have a kitchen very often, and if we do, it’s hard to find familiar ingredients or any variety of food at all.  Half of the places we’ve been we have avoided fresh fruits and vegetables because of the risk of them being cleaned with contaminated water, and so when we find familiar food like Oreos, candy bars, or soda it makes the boys so excited it’s hard to turn down that familiar taste from home!

    The only fish we all liked!
    When we left a big concern of family and friends was what Luke was going to eat.  He was so picky at home, they were pretty sure he was going to come home smaller than when he left.  He did have a few times so far where he has chosen not to eat, and it has caused him to be sick.  He learned his lesson from it and will try and force something down even if he doesn’t like it to avoid being sick the next time.  One item he does like is Spaghetti Bolognese and fortunately for him, it is served all over the parts of the world we have been to so far.  Luke has probably averaged one Bolognese (sometimes he will branch out and get penne pasta) a day for the majority of our trip.  Parker, although much more adventurous, went through a spaghetti carbonara phase for awhile, but since we’ve hit Asia, he’s gotten away from that, as he had a couple bad experiences with it here.  Tyler is the most adventurous of the whole family and has tried crickets, dried worms, and almost anything else someone dares him to eat.  He does hold out for a $5 bribe from Dad before giving in every once in awhile though.

    This was delicious. One of the best meals we had.
    A major part of traveling is trying the local foods of the places you visit, and in general, it’s one of my favorite parts.  Before leaving on this trip, if we traveled to a new place we ate almost entirely the local cuisine and would never eat at an American chain.  Now, we eat local, because you have to find three meals a day for 365 days, but when we see an American restaurant, if it’s been awhile, it is a special treat for all of us and we go once and sometimes twice while we are staying nearby.

    Even if it’s 10:00 in the morning…when we see Dairy Queen, we get Dairy Queen!
    Before coming to Vietnam I had had Vietnamese food a few times at a really great place in Portland (Luc Lac) and liked the food a lot.  Their Pho in particular is incredibly popular and delicious, but we learned when we visited Vietnam that it is really only served for breakfast.  The good news was that I really liked it for  breakfast everyday, the bad news was, my whole family didn’t necessarily agree with me.

    Pick your dinner!

    When you are in Vietnam, most of the people who are eating out, eat at little “restaurants” with tiny plastic chairs and tables outside.  And when I say little, I mean little.  They weren’t even the size I would consider appropriate for Luke, but the streets were lined with hundreds of these little restuarants with plastic chairs and tables sitting out front on the sidewalk.  We (or more accurately I) really wanted to try eating like this, but the major problem with the food in this type of establishment are the hygiene issues.  We just couldn’t be sure it was safe to eat and we definitely didn’t want to get sick!  So when we were in Hanoi we decided to go on a street food tour of the city.  It was a great way to try a variety of foods and be (mostly) sure that they were prepared safely.  The boys were troopers on this one because they really didn’t like any of it, but they were willing to try and smile while doing it.  Luke, of course ate nothing, as expected.  He had some spaghetti bolognese waiting for him later at our hotel’s restaurant.

    Look how excited Parker is to eat an unknown processed meat in an unknown broth…

    We did find some good food here and there along the way, and some really great food sometimes as well, but day to day trying to find three meals a day was pretty tough for us in Vietnam and added to our discomfort and frustration.

    The Weather

    We have generally tried to follow sunny weather throughout our trip avoiding winter and rainy seasons as much as possible (this makes packing much easier), but although it wasn’t supposed to be raining (everyone kept telling us this), it was.  Our first two days in Hanoi it rained so hard we weren’t even able to leave the hotel except to run across the street for dinner and we were still soaked.  

    Hoan Kiem Lake (The Lake of the Restored Sword) in Hanoi
    Fortunately, after that we didn’t have many more downpours, but we did have almost constant cloud cover and drizzle the remainder of the 3 1/2 weeks we were in Vietnam.  We are from the Pacific Northwest, so we aren’t about to let a little rain stop us, but it did put a damper on our time there.

    Our Patriotism

    We knew in planning on going to Vietnam that we would be study and learn about the Vietnam War.  This was something I was really looking forward to and that ended up being an amazing “world-schooling” opportunity.  While we were able to learn a lot, our inner patriotism came out and it was difficult to sit through tours talking about the “American War of Aggression” and hearing about the creative ways they “killed the Americans.”  It was however a great opportunity to teach the boys that sometimes history is in the telling, and that war is always a terrible thing for everyone involved.

    At Hao Lo Prison where American prisoners of war were held during the Vietnam War also known as “The Hanoi Hilton”
    Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City. Many Viet Cong lives in these during the war.
    The tunnels were so small I had a really difficult time fitting through them at all and Jeromy didn’t even try.  Even though we thought they were incredibly small, they had actually been enlarged for the tourists.
     

     

    At the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City
    Despite all those things conspiring to make Vietnam a difficult place to spend 3 1/2 weeks, we really did see some amazing things as well.

    Ha Long Bay

    The most amazing time we had in Vietnam occurred at Ha Long Bay, which was recently named one of the New 7 Wonders of the Natural World.  Thousands of beautiful karsts jut out of the ocean to form a surreal scenic experience that is hard to imagine.  We stayed 5 days on Cat Ba Island, located in Ha Long Bay, and were able to spend two days taking a boat out to go to remote beaches to rock climb, kayak, swim, and explore.

    Floating village in Ha Long Bay

    Secret Beaches

    We took a boat out to a small island in the bay and went rock climbing.  Parker and Tyler enjoyed showing up all the adults that were there with their amazing rock climbing skills.

    Tam Coc

    While in Hanoi we took a day trip out to the country and saw what they have dubbed “The Dry Ha Long Bay.”  We took a boat ride (they row with their feet!) and rode bikes through the country side, seeing rice fields, villages, and some very beautiful scenery!

    Da Nang

    While there was too much rain to appreciate the beautiful beaches of Da Nang, we were able to see the coolest bridge of our trip so far.  A dragon bridge that spit fire and water!  Now that is awesome!

    We also spent a day visiting Hoi An, which is the most intact traditional town in Vietnam.


    On our way there we stopped by Marble Mountain, which is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills representing the five elements (metal, water, wood, fire, and earth).  As you hike around you can explore caves where many Buddhist sanctuaries have been built.  These were by far my favorite Buddhist temples I had seen so far.  The combination of the spiritual and natural created an unforgettable experience.

    Nha Trang

    While we spent a week in Nha Trang, we celebrated the Lunar New Year, which is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Vietnam.  All the hotels and streets were decorated with lights and had trees decorated with coins, red envelopes, and tassles.  My favorite thing was all the citrus trees that were brought in to decorate!  Everywhere you looked there were kumquat trees decorating entrances to stores, hotels, and restaurants.

    We also spent a day relaxing in the mud baths to recover from our crazy Lunar New Year’s night!

    One of our last days in Nha Trang we took the longest over water cable car in the world (over 2 miles long!) to Vinpearl amusement park and had a really fun time.  Our favorite ride was the amazing alpine slide!

    As we ended our time in Vietnam, in Ho Chi Minh City, we all started to pull out of the funk that we had been in the past few weeks (it helps that we were able to find a Dairy Queen and a Hard Rock Cafe.) Jeromy even conceded that we shouldn’t fly over to Hawaii for a couple weeks to visit his family who were all there on vacation.  It helped that we had some exciting times ahead in the next few weeks and a one month stay with lots of friends and family visiting in Bali, just around the corner!

     

    Out Exploring in Cambodia

    At first when we talked to the boys about going to Cambodia to see ancient temples they weren’t too excited.  After all the temples in India, Thailand, and Vietnam, they were getting kind of burnt out on visiting them.  We promised them that these weren’t like any temples they had seen before and prepped them with scenes from Indiana Jones and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to get them excited.  It didn’t take them long to realize this was going to be a great adventure!

    While the temples of Cambodia are magnificent, their recent political history is a tragedy.  Under the regime of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot, a genocide was orchestrated on the people of Cambodia and in less than 4 years almost half their population had been murdered by the hands or policies of the Khmer Rouge.  While Pol Pot was defeated in 1979 guerilla warfare continued in the country until 1994.  Due to the gruesome nature of some of the sights, we did not feel comfortable bring the boys to them, but there was still evidence of the destruction around including signs like the one below identifying areas that had been cleared of land mines.  It is estimated that there are as many as 4-6 million active land mines in Cambodia still today.  In the most recent statistics I could find (2013), it stated that there were 111 casualties, 22 dead and 89 injured, because of land mines just in that year.  While this is terrible, organizations like the one shown below have really been saving lives.  In 1999 there were over 1200 casualties, so that number has gone down significantly.  The current organizations working to clear the landmines function on about $30 Million a year and experts estimate that if they are able to continue at that rate, it will take another 10-20 years to clear all the mines.  

    Despite all this tragedy, we were surprised to find Siem Reap a bustling town full of restaurants, shops, and all kinds of activities to keep us busy and well fed when we grew tired of exploring temples.  It was amazing to see the resilience of the people living there and their hopes for the future as tourism helps to shore up their economy.

    We hired a driver to take us around to the temples in a van, but this was the perfect way to get around town!
    Our class was only a couple hours so we had to learn fast. Our teachers were all deaf, this was actually a much easier language barrier to gap than Cambodian to English!
    We all loved our pottery class and ended up with some decent finished products!
    We opted out of trying any of these, but there were plenty of other people who did!
    At night this area was packed with people and loud music coming from all the restaurants and pubs! I didn’t expect Siem Reap to have such a wild nightlife, but I guess there is something for everyone here!
    One evening we went to a dance and music show with dinner.  The show was a little slow (the style of dance is very technical, but there is not a lot of movement) and the boys have vowed to not attend another dance show on our trip.  I think with a little time, we will be able to talk them into it again though.  You can see Luke eating his “traditional spaghetti” for dinner while the rest of us feasted on local Cambodian food.
    We had so much fun feeding the monkeys that were on the sides of the road and all around the temples.
    While all of those things were fun and helped to entertain us, the temples were the main attraction!

    We spent the next few days exploring through a variety of temples each less restored than the previous one. This was a great way to go through because at Angkor Wat we were able to see what the temple was supposed to look like and in the others we could see the varying stages of destruction as over hundreds of years nature did it’s best to swallow them up.

    Angkor Wat

    We started with Angkor Wat which was built as part of the Khmer Empire in the 12th century.  It was originally built as a Hindu Temple but transitioned over to Buddhism which is how it still functions today.  It is the most famous of the temples and considered one of the New 7 Man Made Wonders of the World.  Not only is it beautiful, but it is also the largest religious monument in the world.

    Angkor Thom

    This complex is the most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire.  It was built in the late 12th century is spread over 9 square kilometers.  My favorite part and one of the most famous sections is Bayon Temple shown below.  There are 216 giant faces made of stone that gaze out with a knowing smile.  It is fascinating.

    Bayon Temple

    Bayon Temple

    Banteay Srey

    Ta Prohm

    This temple is also known as “The Tomb Raider Temple” because this is where part of the movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was filmed.  While the movie is one of the worst I have ever seen, the temple is magnificent!  We loved exploring through and pretending like we were on our own adventure of discovery.

    Beng Melea

    Beng Melea was probably the favorite temple we visited.  It was further away and not part of the usual tours but it came highly recommended by our driver.  I’m so glad we took the extra time to go out there.  It was much less restored than any of the other temples we had visited so you could really see nature’s destruction.  Also, because the crowds were much less, they rules weren’t as limiting regarding where you could go, so the boys were able to really feel like they were really explorers as they climbed up, over, around, and through.


    Others

    In our three days there we saw a lot of temples and as I went through the pictures, I couldn’t remember what they all were, but here are a few more of our favorite pictures from our temple visits.

    We all really enjoyed exploring the variety of temples, but all of our favorites were the ones that had the least amount of restoration done.  Those temples left plenty of rocks to climb on and vines to swing from.  It was so fun to imagine ourselves as adventurers exploring the ruins for the first time.

    New structures are still being discovered that have been covered with layers of dirt over the centuries.  I look forward to going back and visiting in the years to come to see what other treasures still lay underground.

    It was all truly magnificent.  That a civilization could be so powerful and advanced to create such amazing structures and then fade into obscurity and destruction gives anyone pause to consider what our world will look like in another 1000  years.

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