Visiting Asia in January

Celebrity Cruise from Singapore: A wonderful trip!

We just returned from a lovely vacation to Asia!  Wow!

First of all, I must say that internet ads are such a thing, aren’t they?  We were peacefully reading the newspaper in our home, when an ad came on sight: “65% discount for B.C. residents” on Celebrity Cruise Line for a 15 days itinerary in Asia!

Dear husband said: Let’s go?  

“Oh YES… let’s do it”,  I said.  In fact we said it, almost instantly!  🙂

We bought the cruise tickets and found that Japan Airlines was the company offering the best rates to reach our destination.  Although we have been traveling extensively, it  would be our first time flying JAL. The roundtrip tickets were:  Vancouver to TokyoTokyo to Singapore and back.

Our first idea was to stop a few days in Tokyo on our way back. Unfortunately, as Brazilians we need a Visa to visit Japan and there wasn’t  enough time to get a Visa.

If you stop in Tokyo as part of a trip to another country, you  do not need a Visa.  Of course, in this case  you can’t leave the airport 🙂

The trip:

We flew JAL‘s  beautiful  Boeing 787 from Vancouver to Tokyo. Great trip!

Flight Vancouver to Tokyo

After ten hours flying we felt like “new”!   Not tired at all, thanks to the excellent service offered!  Food served on board was awesome and I found the “shells” (flat beds) of the Business-First class very comfortable, although customers taller than 5.8 ft will probably feel a little  “cramped”.  🙂

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 Narita Tokyo Airport is very modern, super clean and with clever and beautiful signposts. It’s very easy to find your way around, although it’s a huge airport!

Narita International AirportWe waited for our next flight drinking wine and eating Japanese food in the special lounge for business/first class passengers. It was so pleasant that the two hours we stayed there looked like no more than fifteen minutes! Time really flew!

Our flight from Tokyo to Singapore (another 7 hours on the air) was also excellent.The cabin was very comfortable (Boeing 737-300) although not as comfortable as on the previous flight.

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Singapore Airport is modern, many signposts very easy to follow. After a brief stop at the airport’s Free Shopping where we bought one bottle of  Johnnie Walker, we were on the long (and fast) line to get a cab to the hotel. The local time was 1.30AM.

The twenty minutes ride along super modern,  clean and well lighted freeways and streets was very pleasant,  although I must admit that we felt tired!  🙂

Our arrival at the modern Oasia Singapore Hotel made me happy with my choice. I had few hours to plan the entire trip and managed to choose an excellent place to stay! We love modern accommodations and the hotel lobby was already a sample of what we would get inside!

Oasia Singapore Lobby

Oasia Singapore Lobby

I don’t need to mention that although we were able to lie down and sleep during the long flights, we were “more than dead”  when we got there!

After a long hot shower we jumped to the bed! Oasia’s mattress and pillows are awesome!

***

On the next day (January 17, 2015), we went on a sightseeing tour. We like to go on hop-on hop-off tour buses on our first day in a new city. It’s an opportunity to get the sense of the place and get ideas of the most interesting places to return by ourselves.

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Ready to explore beautiful Singapore

Singapore is  super modern / contemporary and the first thing that caught my eyes was the cleaness as well the “wealthy smell” _ if you can understand what I mean. Everything is new there! The taxi driver told us that the cars must be no more than ten years old. After the car reaches ten years  the owner must sell it to another country, or do whatever he wishes, but the car can’t stay in Singapore!  Just imagine?  A city with no old cars!?!?  Sure, there are less traffic jams as there are  no “old cars” breaking on the middle of the roads!

Singapore is also very expensive. You must keep a close look on your expenses otherwise you can get a  bad surprise when reading your  credit card statement! 🙂

Below you will find some images I took on our first day in Singapore.

SingaporeWe had one more good  night of sleep in our beautiful hotel,  and on  Sunday,  January 18, we took a cab to Marina Cruise Terminal to check-in with the “cherry on the cake” (and reason of our trip): Celebrity Millennium.

After checking-in our two pieces of  luggage (one of them with one bottle of  Johnnie Walker Black Label hidden inside  haha), we entered the ship.

***  If you don’t read the entire post, make sure you give a “search” on “scotch”  or “black label” to know the “bad end” of this “smuggling-scotch” story….   🙂   ***

As soon as we stepped inside the ship we were greeted with champagne bubbles and went to the restaurant upstairs to have lunch.

Bubbles when we entered the ship

Greeted with champagne @ Celebrity Millennium

At 1pm we heard the announcement  that the cabins were ready to be occupied.

Wow! We loved our cabin! Despite buying the cruise less than one week before the sail date, we managed to get a very good spot on the vessel!

Celebrity Millennium would sail only on the next day, so after leaving our documents inside the cabin,  we went out of the ship to continue our personal tour around Singapore.

Marina South Pier covered path

Marina South Pier covered path

Going from the cruise terminal to the city center is a breeze! All you have to do is walk a short distance along a covered path to the super-modern metro station (Marina South Pier).  From there the world is yours!  🙂   Marina South Pier is served by the red line _ the one that covers most of the touristy sights on the island.

Below you can see some of the places we visited by night.

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We slept in our cabin (9199)  and found it very comfortable although the next time I will avoid a cabin located right below the deck where the tables and chairs are located.

Once in a while we could hear noise of the chairs being moved, although this didn’t bother us too much.  Mostly the noise was during the morning, and it remained like a “wake up call”  for us to leave the bed and go to have breakfast!  🙂

 ***

On January 19, we woke up after an excellent night of sleep and went to visit Chinatown. As I said before, the metro station is located close to the port (approximately 400 meters).

Singapore Metro Station

Singapore Metro Station

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We returned to the ship around 3 pm to have lunch and get ready for departure!  🙂

Celebrity Millennium set sail and started it’s journey towards Bali, Indonesia.

I am not going to write “5000 words”  telling everything that happened on board during the “sea days”, or you would become tired of reading and would close this post.

All I can tell you in one sentence is:  Excellent entertainment, excellent cruise director (Hi Steve!!! __ had to be good… the guy is Canadian!!! ).

Amazing service and excellent food. Also very good cultural presentations in the theatre and awesome  instructors during the Mac sections in the morning.

Three days on the sea  passed like in a blink of an eye.  We didn’t fell bored one single minute!

***

Bali

On January 22nd, we arrived on Bali Island.

Another good thing about this itinerary is that the vessel stays docked  two and a half days there. This is good because we had more time to explore this beautiful island.

I booked a private driver over the internet, before leaving Vancouver.  I highly recommend you do the same. If you leave it to choose by the time you get there, you will be disoriented:  the place looks like a zoo with dozens of guys offering their services,  and you will never know who are the  good drivers / guides!

Choosing a good driver that will take you on a  great sightseeing tour maximizing your time is the goal that should be achieved.

How to find a good driver in Bali? This question will be answered after you perform a deep search on Google, using the best keywords,   The driver  I chose, based on good reviews on a forum, was busy for the day and would be available only on our second day in Bali.  So, we pre-arranged that he would send one of his colleagues on our first day, and he would be our driver / guide on the  the second day.

Fact is that after having both of them, we could compare and the “colleague”  was much better than him!!!  🙂   We loved his simplicity, his desire to help and to transmit the most he could about cultural habits, traditions, etc.  He has no website (like the other one has) and I told him I would tell the world about his marvelous services!

If you need an excellent driver and guide in Bali do not hesitate to contact Mr Nyoman Jaya.  His mobile phone is +62 81 936 206 762.  His home phone is +62 361 274 0304 and his email is nyomanjaya73@gmail.com

I am confident you will, like us, have a great time!

Bali's best driver

Nyoman, our private driver. Best of Bali!

When I have  time I will create a webpage for him.  It’s not everyday that you meet a very good person that deserves to progress in career and in life!

Ah yes, I was forgetting to tell you: To have a private driver in Bali you will pay  IDR 500,000.00   (yeah, half a million Indonesian Rupia!!  That is a little bit less than  50 USD (yes FIFTY American dollars) for the ENTIRE day __  from 8 AM to 5 PM, or even later if you wish and your schedule permits!  The car is big (it’s a van) and can fit more family members or  a group of friends. This price is not by person, ok? It’s for the entire group! 🙂

***

I was astonished by the number of scooters in Bali!  OMG! There are too many!!  It’s like having  a cloud of insects around you!   You will see all kinds of scooters and drivers,  some of them carrying one small child in the front plus one adult on the back seat, or even one adult and two children on the back seat!  We also saw scooters where the drivers carried  ladders, animals, large boxes… you name it!

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Scooters in Bali

On our first day we visited many places including the marvelous Tanah Lot Temple on the Sea.

The butterfly farm was also very interesting

blog-13-6We went to two different rice terraces (one in each day we were there) but if you have time to visit just  one, I recommend you choose Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, It’s very scenic! We saw it from a point on the road (where most of the tours stop for pictures) but our driver,  Nyoman,  took us to walk inside the rice field. Amazing! We had lunch at the restaurant located just across the rice terrace,  called Billy Cafe.

We had lunch here

We had lunch here

After lunch we visited  Ulun Danu Beratan Temple.

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On our second day in Bali we visited a Balinese Compound House and some village temples along the way to the Craft Village. After visiting the craft village we went to visit Tirta Empul Temple (Holly Spring Water Temple), Kintamano the volcano (where we had lunch watching the views). After lunch we visited Tegallalang Rice Terrace and Ubud Monkey Forest. Wow, what a busy day!

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Craft Village

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We enjoyed everything although the volcano didn’t impress us. If you have never seen a volcano, go for it.   In our case, we have  seen  many volcanos  in our previous travels. We had been “close to” or “into”  some of the  most famous volcanos on Earth, like the Etna, the Vesuvio, the Stromboli (Italy)…   also  many volcanos in Akureyri (Iceland)  and… last but not least we walked inside the great  Haleakala in Maui,  also inside the Diamond Head on Oahu…  etc etc etc

As for lava fields we walked along  the Laperouse lava field on Maui Island, Hawaii…

I would have skipped Kintamano if I knew that there’s no road to the volcano  and that the lava fields can be seen from a very long distance. Also, the views although beautiful, are not “impressive”  at all.

The restaurant we ate,  with a view to the volcano,  wasn’t good too. The food was “ok”  but tasteless. Service was friendly but this is the rule in all Indonesia. The people there is super sweet, always with a smile and friendly attitude.

The last attraction of our busy day was a visit to Ubud Monkey Forest where we had a great time watching the monkeys!

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@ Ubud Monkey Forest, Bali, Indonesia

On our third day in Bali we had only half day available, as the ship would sail to Komodo.  We decided to hire the driver (Nyoman) in order to visit the beaches and do some shopping. We visited Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, the fish market and also the sad place _ the monument erected to honor the memory of the people killed during a terrorist attack. Below you can see some of the images.

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Komodo Island

We booked the excursion from the ship and I guess this is the best way to go. No one is allowed to walk along the trails without a ranger from Komodo National Park.  If you go by yourself you will be restricted to the area where the tenders dock, where there’s absolutely nothing to see.  There’s only a  small souvenir market carried by the locals and nothing more.  To see the dragons, the vegetation and so on, you have to book an excursion. Period.  🙂

If you are the kind of person that don’t  like groups and excursions I am afraid I must tell you that in Komodo you will need to be in a group! 🙂

There are approximately ten people with one guide and they give space between the several groups, so you don’t feel like following a procession!  🙂

Rangers @ Komodo Island

Rangers @ Komodo Island

I did’t count the exact number of people in each group, but it was a decent number.  We were able to hear the guide during the brief stops along the way.  Everyone fine despite a couple from Australia who was always stepping over everyone in order to be “attached” to the guide,  asking 9278267151  questions to the guy along the way…   🙂   Oh… excursions….    🙂

The guide was very friendly (with an excellent English). There are mosquitoes there but the guide stopped near a plant whose leaves are a natural repellent. If you go there and  the mosquitoes start to eat you alive  (haha, just kidding, they are not so bad), ask the ranger for the plant that you rub on your skin and its smell (don’t worry it’s a nice smell) keeps the mosquitoes away.

Here are some pictures of our adventure on Komodo Island.  And… yes… as everyone say…   “we lived to tell the tale”!  🙂

Komodo dragon

Komodo dragon

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Komodo dragon

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***

Another three days  on the sea,  from Komodo to Phuket.

Again, I will not bother you with many details. I can say  the days went fast with many attractions on the ship, not only during the day but during the night as well.

***

Phuket, Thailand

We booked the excursion through the ship. There are many tour options. We chose to visit Phang Nga Bay.

I’s far from the place where the tenders dock, and the trip has nothing  special regarding views,  until you get there.

Our guide  (Anu) was really nice and she was able to entertain the group with a lot of interesting comments during our long trip.  She has a very long name,  I can’t recall it. She told us that her nickname is Anu and we couldn’t  forget it because we always can remember the name of  “that word”   keeping the “s” off!   haha…   So funny!

So, Anu, if someday you read this post, please send a comment with your full name and it will be a pleasure for me to write the full  name of a great tourist guide of  Phuket Island!  🙂

Bellow you can see some pictures of our tour along Phang Nga Bay. 

Phang Nga Bay

Phang Nga Bay

James Bond Island, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

James Bond Island, Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

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Boats that tour the bay, Our was the same.

Phang Nga Bay

Lunch was included and it was taken by the end of the boat tour (in fact it was almost dinner due to the time!).   Simple and clean place with very good food. We had a great time!

***

Next stop after Phuket was Penang, Malaysia.

Penang

Penang is “ok”…  It’s not pretty but… anyway…  it’s part of the trip.

Once more we were with a Celebrity’s  excursion. Between the options available,  we chose to go to  Penang Hill and  to Kek Lok Si Temple.

Our guide was not good at all. He was all the time stating that he is Chinese but does not look Chinese in his way of living and believing. He spent his time telling about his family (how many children, etc) and also that he is an organ and blood donor (good for him, but visiting Malaysia I am interested in the sites I am seeing from outside the bus window,  and not on his personal life,  or if his wife wants more children or not).

Also, the guide  said many times that Malaysia does not produce anything. “No rubber, no agricultural products, no rice, no nothing”. Those were his words,  In any moment he told us about Malaysia being a large and respected  producer of computer chips and other electronic items.  At that time, my husband told me: “this is strange… I am quite  sure that Malaysia has become very technical and produces computer parts…” .  I told him that he must be wrong about the  country being Malaysia.   No!  In fact,  he was right! On the next day we visited Kuala Lampur and the guide there told us about Malaysia’s role on the electronic production for the world!

All by all we didn’t find Penang an interesting place. We found the Kek Lok Si Temple (with its many steps), very “commercial”.  There’s not the same atmosphere of religiosity we find in other religious places. I felt like being in a bazar.

***

Kuala Lampur

Kuala Lampur was the last stop before returning to Singapore. It’s quite a big city. We were taken along tourist spots in order to have photo opportunities. It’s not a pretty city (sorry, this is my opinion) although the avenues were well kept and clean.

Chinatown has  everything you can possibly think regarding fake brands.  There you can see “everyone” on the streets wearing Polo Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Rolex, Gucci, etc.  I can’t imagine how pissed-off the designers can be,  seeing their products being copied and sold for “nothing”. We took some pictures but didn’t buy anything (of course!).

First, because I don’t want to support the fake industry,  and secondly because the articles were very poorly finished.

Fake Polo Ralph Lauren

Guys transporting fake Polo Ralph Lauren

The meeting point for the group was the Central Market. Before meting the group we changed dollars and were able to buy meal  and some souvenirs.

Tip: The Cafe Restaurant called “Old Town” (inside the Central Market) is excellent!  We had  crispy french fries  and delicious spring rolls there! I must mention that we were starving as it was almost 3PM and our breakfast on the ship happened in the early morning.

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Old Town Restaurant, Kuala Lampur

The Central Market in  Kuala Lampur has many stores, mostly of them selling local crafts. We found interesting potteries there.

If you are going  to visit  Kuala Lampur, I recommend you visit the Central Market first, where you will be able to buy genuine crafts.  Don’t waste your  time along the streets that sell only fake stuff.

On our way back to the ship we were GLAD we were attending the ship’s excursion! There was a giant traffic jam on the road back to the port. The traffic was very slow and during some periods it completely stopped! We were beyond the time to be on board for departure!!! Imagine if we were by our own?!?!  Imagine missing the ship?? Oh no…

The reason was a large truck that flipped on the road, just a few kilometers before the port. All other tour buses were late as well and this fact delayed the ship departure.

***

Singapore 

The arrival in Singapore occurred on the morning of February 1st. After breakfast we waited less than half an hour to listen our tag number  be called. We exited  the ship and went to pick up our luggage.

Remember that on the  beginning of this text  I told you keep an eye on the story of the Black Label scotch ?

Well… the Black Label story is:  As soon as our luggage was delivered  to our cabin (day 1 of the cruise), there was a note stating that one of the pieces of the luggage was downstairs to be opened because the x-ray showed there was one bottle with liquor  inside it…

Oh no!

I thought we were going to be able to drink a good scotch while enjoying our beautiful veranda,  without paying the ship’s prices and taxes and tips…..  hahaha……

It was not possible.  The scotch was confiscated by the ship’s crew and would be in their possession during the whole cruise. We would be able to pick it up only when leaving the ship.

Sad story?  By one side yes, haha,  as we were not going to be able to enjoy our drinks while on the ship. But… we always could enjoy our scotch after the cruise, right? Wrong!!!

What gets bad can get even worse!!!  A few days before returning to Singapore the passengers got the news that NO alcohol is allowed on the disembark in Singapore unless you pay  88 SGD  (this is about  80 USD)  BY LITRE of alcohol!!!  Can you imagine??  Paying 80 USD  of  taxes for one bottle that cost less than 30 USD ??   INSANE!!

That’s the reason the free shopping on the ship almost didn’t sell any alcohol. Who was going to buy it to pay such high taxes when disembarking?

So…  our “smuggled”  (haha) Johnnie Walker didn’t go outside the ship.!!!    We were the “pirates”  without success in our  little “smuggler operation” !  haha

Tip:  If you are traveling to Singapore, don’t even think about hiding a bottle of liquor inside your suitcase when you arrive to the port!!!   Meaning: don’t buy alcohol in Indonesia, Malaysia or anywhere along the route because Singapore’s officials WILL GET YOU!

We were happy to “forget” our bottle inside the ship!!!  We saw that ALL luggage that arrives in Singapore, regardless the size _   if it’s a carry-on or a large suitcase _ e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g  goes in the x-rays machines and if the person is carrying alcohol or tobacco without declaring it to the local authorities there will be many problems, including high fines!

***

We had already planned to stay three more days in Singapore before returning to Paradise City (that is the nickname I call my city, Vancouver).

We went to the same hotel as before the cruise (Oasia Singapore Hotel) and  this time, as we were already familiar with public transit, we went by metro.  So convenient!  There’s an underground station under Oasia Hotel (Novena Station on the red line) and in a few minutes we were there without the need to change stations, trains,  etc!

Oasia Hotel Singapore

Swimming Pool @ Oasia Hotel

We spent three lovely days going to the most famous attractions.  I highly recommend  you visit the Botanic Gardens (don’t miss the Orchid Collection!).

The Singapore Zoo is also awesome and the best way to go there is by bus!  The zoo is located a little far from downtown and although many people go there by cab, I searched the web and found that the bus # 138 is just perfect. It goes from the city center yo the zoo, stopping  at the zoo’s main entrance!!!  Why pay ten times more to go by cab?  Go by bus and you will see a lot of interesting and well kept neighborhoods  on the way!  We also returned by bus.

Our visit to the beautiful Singapore zoo

On our last day we visited  Sentosa Island, whee we had a pleasant time.

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On our way to Sentosa Island (by foot)

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After such a delightful trip it was time to pack and return home!

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Singapore Airport going back home

Flights back home were from Singapore to Tokyo and from Tokyo to Vancouver.  Again, Japan Airlines did an excellent job and we loved it so much that we are already reading a book about Japan’s history and  planning a visit!

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I hope you enjoyed our travel as much as we did!

Feel free to drop me a line if you need any information /  advice or if you want to complement anything I missed on this post.

Happy travels everyone!  🙂

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About CeciliArchitect

World Traveler ~ Photographer ~ Social Media Specialist ~ Tourism Vancouver Certified Specialist ~ Independent Tour Manager and Events Coordinator ~ Blogger ~ Architect & Interior Designer (in my previous life)
This entry was posted in Asia, Blog, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Visiting Asia in January

  1. Nicely done! Thanks for the description.

    On the Marina Bay Cruise center, this is a useful video, maybe you can share with your readers too!

    Like

  2. ron yano says:

    Thanks, we were on the cruise and enjoyed looking at your pictures and the comments. I’m glad I didn’t try to take liquor on board the ship.

    Like

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