Published: January 29th 2012January 13th 2012
Singapore, the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur and the island of Langawi, and the Thai islands of Koh Phangan and Koh Samui were where I spent 3 wonderful weeks travelling over the holidays this year. These five destinations proved to be an interesting mix of places to visit, with each having their own flare and unique quality of experiences to offer. These beautiful spots included everything from conservative Muslim life, party-hard and rebellious tropical island scenes and posh living amidst big city glitz and glam.
I left the serene Thai island of Koh Tao and went to Malaysia for this three week sabbatical from my Dive Master Training duties to meet with a wonderful guy from Canada named Jay. My first stop was Kuala Lumpur, where I showed up a couple of days prior to Jay’s arrival so that I could take advantage of some of the big city perks and clean up my backpacker self a bit by doing things such as getting my hair done and a pedicure. Seeing as how the guy was graciously traveling across the globe to hang out with me, I felt that this was the absolute least that I could do
in return. For themost part I’d gotten quite accustomed to my low-maintenance appearance and laidback way of living; however, I felt that maybe I could use a little polishing before being in the company of someone who was lprobably not accustomed to the borderline grungy backpacker lifestyle.
Visiting the capital city of Kuala Lumpur was my first experience traveling in the Muslim country of Malaysia. This country’s conservative nature was immediately apparent and in stark contrast to the rebellious and somewhat scantily clad venire of the majority of the other places that I’ve traveled to during this incredible journey of mine. Local women in Malaysia were often covered from head to toe, sometimes with only a slit in the black fabric draped over their heads for their eyes, and sometimes their faces were actually covered entirely. I found it absolutely surreal to see these women walking around covered from head to toe in black with not even their eyes showing. They seemed sort of like ghosts to me draped in their flowing black clothing.
I found this display of religious conservatism most surprising in the younger couples. The men donned funky haircuts and wore
modern, designer jeans paired with brand-name shirts, while their female counterparts remained cloaked head to toe in black. It seems I expected people who appeared to be changing with the times to abandon what I honesty found to be a conservative and oppressive practice and replace this behaviour with more forward-thinking attitudes and displays of equality and mutual respect. However I fully appreciate that religion and culture are highly sensitive topics and seeing as how I don’t wish to offend, perhaps I better leave it at that.
Jay arrived in Kuala Lumpur exhausted, yet relatively on time after his marathon of flights from Canada. It was bizarre to see him in the flesh after months of having only emails and phone calls for communication. After a wonderful, although slightly awkward hello and a hug, we hopped in a cab and headed to the guesthouse that I had booked for us in KL’s city centre. I was somewhat embarrassed to show him his room, seeing as how it was very basic (to put it mildly) and likely not the sort of accomodation he was accustomed to staying in. Over the past few months I had actually become used
to these barebones sorts of guesthouses, however I wasn’t sure how he would react to the somewhat depressing room I booked for him containing only a mattress on the floor which was closely framed between the shabby four walls. Thankfully it turned out that there’s surprisingly not much that fazes this guy and he adjusted to his new backpacker lodgings with admirable ease.
From Kuala Lumpur, we traveled to the stunning island of Langkawi where we would spend a tropical Christmas together. We had a picturesque dinner on our balcony hanging over the ocean Christmas Eve and went scuba diving while wearing Santa hats on Christmas Day. For me it was a holiday season like no other and I was grateful for and loved every second of it.
Next on the agenda was a trip over to Thailand to settle into our hut on the beach in Koh Phangan and prepare for the 40 000+ people expected to be in attendance for the New Years Eve celebrations at the infamous Haad Rin Full Moon Party beach. The much-hyped bash did not disappoint and hosted a NYE party like no other. Jay and I both
concluded that this was the party to top all parties, surpassing anything that either of us had ever experienced before. After the New Year’s shenanigans were over we hopped over to the neighbouring Thai island of Koh Samui. We had some more fun enjoying the bustling nightlife, spent more time at the beach and even did some more diving.
Although my utter lack of desire to be in a big city these days inevitably rendered our last stop in Singapore my least favourite destination in those few weeks, I did end up finding it the most fascinating. Singapore was so small that it felt more like it should be the capital city of Malaysia as opposed to an independent country in it’s own right. Singapore was also the name of the only city there, which strangely encompassed this entire tiny Asian country.
However, what this country lacked in size and geographical diversity, it more than made up for in wealth and extravagance. Only half of Singapore’s population of 5.2 million people is made up of actual Singaporeans, with the remaining half made up entirely of expats and foreigners. The government tackles some of the
challenges this country’s small size brings by building endless rows of sky-scraping apartment complexes and virtually eliminated traffic jams by requiring residents to buy a $70 000 permit before being able to purchase a car. Needless to say, the taxi business is booming in Singapore seeing a how most can’t afford the outrageously costly car permit. Everywhere else I’ve been in South East Asia, the various forms of taxi drivers are literally begging for your business. In Singapore it’s the complete opposite, with the city having numerous marked areas for people to stand in long lines (they call them queues out here) to wait for one of the highly sought after cabs.
The Orchard Road district of Singapore overwhelms with its over-the-top extravagance and is also host to one of the world’s most impressive shopping epicentres. There was a maze of underpass tunnels that I embarrassingly got lost in repeatedly while attempting to cross the 10 lanes of Orchard Road traffic above. The glamerous streets were lined with endless high-end stores such as Gucci and Chanel. As I declined my complimentary photo with the shirtless male model at the Abercrombie and Fitch store, I discovered that unlike
it’s North American counterpart, this Flagship location carried only top-dollar items and even this normally affordable store was unfortunately still beyond my rapidly dwindling budget.
Many restaurants in Singapore were open 24hrs and the notoriously harsh laws on littering in this country ensured that the streets remained impeccably clean. In fact, Singapore had alarmingly strict laws about many things, with fines in the hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the specific infraction. Hanging laundry form your balcony in the city’s centre will land you a few hundred-dollar fine, seeing as how this county apparently has an image to uphold that doesn’t include messy looking balconies. Drug trafficking can result in the death penalty, a sentence that is carried out within one year of conviction in this no-nonsense country. Simply jaywalking in Singapore was an adrenaline-filled activity for me, knowing that if caught the fine would likely wipe out my bank account and send me packing.
However the silver lining of this country’s no-nonsense attitude towards crime was that it made Singapore one of the safest places to travel in the Asia. Locals told me repeatedly that even as a solo female, I could
feel safe wandering alone in pretty much any area of the country. This sense of security was definitely a refreshing change for me when compared to other South East Asian countries, where when in public I constantly had a death grip on my bag while obsessively looking over my shoulder.
It’s also somehow illegal to be gay in Singapore. I’m not sure exactly how that works, seeing as how that’s about the equivalent of making it illegal to be a redhead. Although surprisingly prostitution was legal, with Singapore even having it’s own Red Light District, even if it was nowhere near as flashy as Amsterdam’s notorious and better-known version.
I got somewhat confused when I attempted to understand what Singapore chose to disapprove of and condone. Apparently being gay goes against Singapore’s pristine family values; however selling sex is somehow aparently morally sound. A tour guide explained this acceptance of prostitution as a control issue, and that after Singapore’s previous attempts to squash the oldest profession in history were not surprisingly unsuccessful, they decided that the lesser of the two evils was to officially allow it so that they could regulate and control it.
Another fascinating way that Singapore battled its size issues was by bringing in copious amounts of sand from neighbouring countries in order to extend their beaches and literally make themselves bigger. Locals tell stories about swimming in the ocean in areas that are now paved, covered in skyscrapers and blocks away from the shore. Singapore was definitely an intriguing and unique place to visit and I suspect that not many places in the world can be compared to it.
However, I’m going on and on about the places I visited when the focal point of my trip was actually the person that I was travelling with. I opened the door to my personal life in a new way by sharing that this person named Jay would be meeting me; however I am no longer sure that I want to reveal these intimate details of my life with the World Wide Web. I will however say this: He turned out to be even more than I hoped for and our time together was absolutely amazing. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that he will be a constant in my life that those
Koh Samui, Thailand
A little different than the travel agencies I'm used to in Canada lol.
who are close to me will continue to hear all about in the future. It was a life changing experience that I am confident will lead to many more shared adventures and exciting new chapters together. All in all I had an amazing Christmas and New Years and I am thankful, as always, for how blessed I am for having the experiences that I have had. Life is a great and wonderful adventure that I cherish. Ghandi said that the future depends on what we do in the present. If that's so, and it makes sense to me that it is, I'm quite confident that these three weeks spent traveling with this incredible person built the foundation for one hell of a future.
There are more photos below