My Travels – Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia

So in 2015 alone, my tush has been in 10 different countries. Funny thing is, every year, I think I’m only going to be in one or maybe two. Life just keeps on surprising me indeed! There’s no point in planning in my case, I just need to go with the flow.

In this post, I’ll post about the first three countries I was in this year, and continue in other posts.  Part 2 I’ll post on Monday, December 7, and Part 3 on Tuesday, December 8.

1. Singapore:

10818283_10155088315455646_2329088070445085057_o.jpgSo, 2015 began for me at the border between Malaysia and Singapore, where my friends and I rang in the New Year as we were crossing over into Singapore, admiring the firework display from the bus. It was my second time in Singapore, so this time, I tried to do things I didn’t do the last time.

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Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

The first time I was here in 2010, my friend and I went to Sentosa Island, Universal Studios, the botanical garden – a must see by the way, and then the rest of the time, we hung out eating and shopping. We had high tea at Raffles Hotel, had dinner mostly at Clarke Quay, and window shopped at Orchard Road.

 

Sounds very not Asian, right? That’s because Singapore, while it’s in Asia, is one of the financial capitals of Asia so it has a booming economy, which is evident in the country. It’s actually considered an English speaking country – a fact I learned when I was there. Most people think Singapore is only a city of skyscrapers, but there’s more to Singapore than that. If you get out of the financial district area, you’ll start seeing more ‘authentic Asia’ so to speak (or what we foreigners would presume to be “Asian”.

My trip, this time around, was more of a cultural trip, which was great. We walked through Chinatown with it’s old Singaporean architecture houses, Little India with it’s aroma of exotic spices and burning incents, and checked out Haji Lane where the Central Mosque (I always like visiting the Central Mosque everywhere I travel) is… and then once we did that, we spent the rest of our days there shopping and stuffing our faces. Of course, we hung out at Marina Bay and had a bite at Clarke Quay and Riverside.

2. Malaysia:

Ahh, Malaysia. So I lived and worked in Malaysia until mid March, when my contract ended. And while I was working there, I had the opportunity to visit 9 of the 13 states there. Malaysia is such a lovely country indeed. From the white sandy beaches, the jungles, the waterfalls, the animals, the people, the cultures, the food, and the colours – you can’t possibly get enough. I was happy to call it home the 9 months I lived there.

 

One of the most memorable experiences I had in Malaysia was when I was in Borneo, Sabah to be more exact, and my friend and I went on this sunset river cruise. We began our afternoon with high tea, followed by seeing proboscis monkeys in the jungle, and then dinner… and ended off the evening being mesmerized by millions of fireflies lighting up the night sky. Time just stood still. They were everywhere, and from time to time, we’d even catch them with our hands. I could stay there for hours on end.

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A cheeky macaque

And the monkeys in Malaysia, they’re everywhere – literally. Macaques, baboons, you name it. You’ll be jungle trekking and whoomp there it is. If you’re not careful, they’ll attack you. My friend Gloria and I were nearly jumped at Telaga Tujuh Waterfall in Langkawi by a pack of macaques. As cute as they are, when they want something, watch out! The Crips and the Bloods have noting on them.

 

What is there to do in Malaysia? Plenty. If you love adventure, nature, learning about different cultures, water activities – then this place is definitely for you. I urge you though, if you aren’t already, try to get PADI certified so that you can go scuba diving there. Worse case scenario, it’s also a snorkeling heaven!

Well, there’s much I can say about Malaysia, but I’ll stop it here and reserve that for a post on it’s own.

3. Cambodia:

Now this was an interesting trip. For the first time ever, I decided to just buy a plane ticket and just go without making any prior plans. The only thing I did was book a place to stay for the first night. Another first is how light I traveled. For the first time, I traveled with my bag only weighing 5 KG. And this trip would last for a little over 2 weeks. And a third first – I’d be staying in hostels. My friends always make fun of me and call me the three star or more traveller as I would only stay in a hotel with a minimum of three stars when I travelled (Except if it’s like an ecolodge or cabin, etc). But living in Malaysia, I’ve learned to let my standards down a bit and realized that hostels aren’t that bad after all. In fact, some where even better than the hotels I’ve stayed at!!!

Alright, now back to Cambodia. So yes, one of the things I’ve learned was that there was Genocide in Cambodia in the 70s. I never heard about it until I landed in Phnom Penh and was looking at what there was to do in the city. My goodness, it was truly a heart wrenching experience when my newly found hostel friends and I went to the prison where many Cambodians were being tortured, and then later to the killing fields where many of them lost their lives to the brutal Khmer Rouge Party. Phnom Penh was a somber visit. Outside of that, they have a lovely riverside where we walked and stopped by a couple of places along the way, visiting the Buddhist Temple and the Royal Palace – admiring their architecture, and the Central Market.

 

After two days of being in Phnom Penh, I caught the night bus and made my way to Siem Reap to go visit the ruins of Angkor. A piece of advice to those planning to go there: If you want to only go for a day (they have 1 and 3 day passes), the best way to do it is to go just before sunset (around 5 pm) when the temples are about to close to buy a ticket for the following day. They let you enter to watch the sunset. So this way, you get both the sunrise view and sunset view of Angkor Wat. ☺

So of course, I spent two days visiting the Temples of Angkor with the same friends I met in Phnom Penh as well as another one we picked up at the hostel in Siem Reap. Walking around the different temples, you just can’t help but admire the craftsmanship. It’s truly remarkable how they were able to build that in the 12th century. The temples are quite impressive as are the carvings.

I also visited the Muslim village there in Siem Reap. While the majority of Cambodians are Buddhist, there are about 250 Muslim families living in Siem Reap, most in that area. It was nice to be able to find Halal food and be greeted with the familiar, “Assalaamu `alaikum”.

What else is there to do? They have amazing markets there that you cannot miss, including the night market. Great food, and perfect for buying all those touristy stuff you’re friends and family will love.  And, they’re cheap!

 

Dear eighteen year old me,

Eighteen, eh? Wow – you’ve got the whole world ahead of you! You are definitely up for quite an interesting journey. There are many things that I can share with you, to help avoid major hiccups and heartaches in the future; but to be honest, I don’t think I’d like to change anything in our life, as I like it just the way it is – the good, the bad and ugly too. Besides, there’ll be too many butterflies if I do. (You’ll understand this at some point in time later in the future when you end up watching this TV show.)

However, if I could share one thing, it would probably be this:

Don’t be in a rush to go into university. Take a gap year or two even. Travel the world alone, abroad somewhere. Pick a place where the language is foreign to you, and the culture is different. Volunteer; get a job halfway across the globe, do whatever – just keep moving and exploring and learning about the world first hand.

You may think you’re pretty big right now, but honey, you’re only 18. How could you possibly know what you want to be in life or what career path you’d like to take if you haven’t been exposed to life yet? You need to know yourself better and see the world out there first.

The world out there is quite big and there’s much to learn. No textbook will ever teach you in the same way.

So what are you waiting for? Book that ticket now. University can wait.

Lovingly Yours,

The Hibster

Traveling? Why it’s in my blood!

So, I’m 34 and travelled to … 41 countries so far. When people hear this or see the pictures I share with family and friends on social media, after the initial shock, one of the questions people always ask is, “How did you start travelling?”

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Halong Bay, Vietnam

To be honest, I was born a traveler – wasn’t even in my hands. Before my first birthday at 6 months, my parents, siblings and I travelled to London, England. Growing up as a kid, people always thought we were a military family or one of my parents worked for the UN or something, since we moved around a lot. But the reality was and is, my family just kept moving to look for better opportunities, or sometimes, because the homeowners wanted to sell the house we were renting.

To explain my existence alone, I have to at least mention three different countries on three different continents. I was born in the United Arab Emirates, raised in Canada, but ethnically, I’m from a third country – Somalia. And of course, I LOVE the “So where are you from?” questions people always ask me – NOT.  By the age of 14, I lived in 5 different countries (and let’s not even mention the cities and houses!).  As of now, my tush has lived in 8 different countries.  So I guess it’s safe to say that traveling is pretty much in my blood.

But when did my love of traveling start? It first started in my grade 4 social studies class when we were learning about early societies, different ways of life around the world, etc. I remember learning about Kublai Khan and the Chinese Dynasty, Christopher Columbus and his travels, learning about the Japanese emperors, the spice trade in India, and wanting then to travel the world, go to India and see the impressive Taj Mahal and immerse myself in the rich culture there full of colours and smells as the poets spoke so vividly of, check out the Colosseum in Rome, go on a romantic stroll on a gondola in the waterways of Venice, go to Japan and drink tea from small cups and wear a kimono, and walk from one end of the great wall of China to the other. But of course, at that age, you can’t just pick up and go, right? But this is when my love of other cultures started.

So my traveling was put on the back burner until I finished university and started working, until I took up a job in Saudi Arabia. After being there for 4 and a half years and living quite a sheltered life, I realized that there was much that I was missing in my life from new experiences and just living my own life. I’d hear stories about my colleagues travels, the places they’ve been, the places they’ve worked, and the wealth of experiences and knowledge that they had gained from it; and here I was, living – of all the countries in the world as my father would always say – Saudi Arabia. I was pretty much a babe in the woods, much younger than the majority of my colleagues at the university I worked at, and lacked all the life experiences they had. So, when I completed my contract there, I decided that I’d go out of my comfort zone, face my fears, and go travel somewhere, even if it meant that I’d go on my own. At the time, my sister had a friend of hers who was sharing pictures from her most recent trip where she went on a European tour with her husband, so she told me about it, and asked if I wanted to know more. Of course, I was like – hell ya!

So, after getting all the details, I checked the tour group’s calendar, and decided I’d sign up and just go. I called a friend of mine who was living in Yemen at the time and not working, and invited her on the trip. Luckily, she said yes!

We went on this amazing Western European tour where we visited: Austria, Belgium (only drove through it though), England (where I’ve already been and worked), France, Germany, Italy, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the Vatican. After this trip, it was clear that I had caught the travel bug cause all I could think about was where my next destination would be and when!

During my travels in Europe, I took note that most of the people who were traveling were senior citizens. They had all the money and time in the world, but not the energy, unfortunately. And because many of the places in Europe don’t have elevators, etc. and you have to walk up and down flights of stairs, they couldn’t make the most of their trip. It was then that I decided that I wouldn’t just save up for my retirement like most people did and wait to travel, but that I would work, save and LIVE. I set a goal for myself – 30 by 30: To travel to thirty countries by my thirtieth birthday. Any time I had a vacation; I’d search for cheap deals, flights, etc., and travel to a new country. And the rest is history!

30 by 30

NZThirty is one of the most dreaded numbers for people to turn.    We all remember the episode on Friends where Rachel was turning 30 and they showed flashbacks of Joey’s, Chandler’s, etc. equally depressing 30th birthdays, right?  I guess when we’re 20, we still consider ourselves young and feel like we still have our life ahead of us, to get ourselves together, but 30 however, seems to be a milestone.  By this age, your expected to have finished post-secondary education, have a career, and on the family track.  It’s an age were many reflect on their own development.  Basically, it’s a harsh reminder that we’re no longer kids and if we don’t have our life together, we need to get it together.

To mark my 30th birthday, I decided to make a goal for myself before I turned thirty: to travel to 30 countries before I turned thirty – 30 by 30.  Being a TCK, it wouldn’t be that hard.  🙂  At 29, I was living in Dubai as an expat and life was good to me – truly blessed.  I was already at 23 countries but had less than a year to go to 7 more countries to meet my mark.  Could I possibly pull this off?

Luckily, I had one month vacation coming up, which meant if I played my cards right, I could possibly reach my goal before my 30th birthday.  🙂  Just so you know, my rule is, I had to have slept in the country for at least one night, and spent at least 24 awake hours in the country in order for it to be added to my list.  I also could not add countries that I’ve transited through.

So, I put my planning hat on, as I had one month vacation coming up, which was 5 months before my 30th birthday, started doing my research, asked some of my travel buddies about the best places to go and how long to stay in each place, made a travelling calendar and walked into a travel agency with my calendar in hand to see if I could find flights on the days I planned on travelling…  to my surprise, I was able to get ALL the travel dates I wanted, all for an amazing price, which was equivalent to a return ticket from Dubai to Toronto!  Six countries that I haven’t been to now awaited me. 🙂  Now that I had my flights booked and paid for, I started looking around for hotels in the areas, booked them, and I was READY for an adventure.

I travelled to 6 different countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.  Living out of a suitcase was hectic, but I ensured I had my R&R time throughout.  The least amount of time I spent in a country was 4 days, which definitely surpassed my rule.  I travelled with a good friend of mine who decided to join me in this journey of mine, and then another friend joined us in the last part of our trip, and we had a hell of a time. 🙂

But I wasn’t done yet.  I’m 29, 29 countries in, and turning 30 in two months time.  Didn’t have any major vacations ahead, and could only squeeze in a long weekend, where I had 1 extra day off and a day were I “worked” from home – giving me 4 days.  Yet another friend decided to embark on this last leg of my journey, with me, and we looked around for the cheapest getaway, which ended up being… Kathmandu, Nepal!

And BAM – just like that -I reached my goal.  So when I turned 30, I had nothing but SMILES.  🙂  My friends and I went to Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, went on the world’s fastest rollercoaster at a top speed of 240km/hr to celebrate this awesome day, and a memorable day and time it was!

So what’s your goal for 30?  And what’s my goal for 40, which will be in another 7 years.. hmmmm?