Our cabin on the boat
Get ready for a long read... this posting is full of info!
Our journey to the Phi Phi Islands (koh = island in the Thai language) started early with a one-hour van ride across Phuket to Ratsada Port (Le Meridien is on the east coast of Phuket and Ratsada Port is on the west). We booked a day tour through Easy Day Thailand, which I highly recommend. We took a larger boat for the initial ride to Koh Phi Phi (rather than the cheaper speed boat option, which would have been a long, bumpy ride!) and spent a little more to sit in the VIP cabin of the boat. The extra comfort was well worth it. We had complimentary refreshments for the 1.5 hour ride as well as air conditioning. Additionally, our private tour guide, Jame, was fantastic. He was really concerned about our comfort and took extra care to make sure we had the best experience possible. He made sure we were always the first guests off the boat at all the stops and the first back on.
The views throughout our journey to Koh Phi Phi were stunning as we were blessed with great weather. The sky was a rich shade of blue as was the ocean. Every once in a while we passed small islands that seemed to appear out of nowhere, and they were covered with vibrant, green foliage. We spent most of the ride at the front of the boat, enjoying the wind in our hair and snapping what seemed like a million photos. Click the photos below to enlarge the images (all of the photos I post are clickable for a larger image).
View from the front of the boat
Island in the Andaman Sea
Enjoying the view
Our first stop was the Koh Phi Phi Port and the ride into the port was spectacular. I captured video because pictures didn't quite do the experience justice (sorry the audio is a little rough... it was really windy!).
At Koh Phi Phi Port, all of the passengers on our boat made transfers to their final destinations. I noticed many guests had luggage and were staying at resorts on Phi Phi. They were picked up and shuttled to their hotels by really cool wooden Asian boats. Each one had a small engine and was steered by hand. We had a different ride, and were picked up by a speed boat for our day of island hopping and snorkeling.
Boats in the harbor
Our speedboat and Jame (in the yellow shirt)
Monkeys on Monkey Beach
Our island hopping started with a visit to Monkey Beach. I'll admit, I was a little weary of going to Monkey Beach, considering my history with monkeys (read the MacRitchie Reservoir post for more info). In short, I think monkeys are kind of mean and they scare me.
As our boat approached the beach, Jame threw bananas on shore to lure the monkeys our way. Joe and Rick also took part in the feeding, and the monkeys eventually made their way onto our boat. As they scurried around, I made sure to run the opposite direction on the boat (which, as you can imagine, was quite comical because the boat was really small and there wasn't really anywhere to go). Di was also unsure of the primates.
However, Joe, Rick, and Raul were highly entertained and didn't think the monkeys were aggressive. In fact, they got really close to them. Joe told me they had soft fur. I took his word for it.
Underwater view of fish
The next stop on our journey was Bamboo Island where we had an amazing time snorkeling! This was only the second time I had ever snorkeled and it was far different from my last experience (which was when I was 13 and I snorkeled with manatees). We had an underwater camera to capture the experience on film.
Jame threw some bananas into the water to attract a school of fish towards our boat. Even from the boat, we could see the hundreds of vibrant, neon fish because the water was crystal clear. Then, we geared up and hopped into the water.
At first, it was a little weird to jump right into the middle of the school of fish because I felt like I was going to smash into them, but the fish just swam around us as if we were one of them. I'm guessing they are used to humans from the thousands of tourists that flock to Koh Phi Phi. In any case, it was neat to swim alongside the fish. And, the sights in the ocean were awesome. We saw coral (including a vibrant blue coral), big spiky sea urchins, neon fish, tiger fish, rainbow fish, and other sea creatures. I could have spent hours just wandering around and exploring the ocean floor if it wasn't for the fact that swimming is exhausting! I had to take several breathing breaks back on the boat.
I'll be sure to post more photos to the "photos" section of this blog soon. For now, here's a few for you to look at.
Four big fishies
Coral and sea urchin
Joe, Rick, and I masked by our snorkel gear
After an hour of exploring the deep, blue sea, we made a pit stop on Bamboo Island for lunch. We ate a fabulous buffet lunch at one of the resorts. We were greeted by the delicious seafood platter you see to the left, which included crab, prawn, calamari, and fried white fish. Yum!
The Phi Phi resorts looked incredible, and I would love to go back to Thailand to spend more time in the area. After lunch, we hopped back on the speedboat which took us out to sea where we were transferred back onto the big boat for a quick journey back to Koh Phi Phi Port.
Our new friend, Twinkie the kitten
View of the ocean from Bamboo Island
Relaxing on Bamboo Island
Jame led us off the boat at the port for a quick walking tour of the main island of Koh Phi Phi. I was amazed at how clear and clean the water was at the port, despite the number of boats in the little harbor that go in and out every day. We could see the many fish in the water that lurked around the port for bits of food from tourists.
Again, Jame had some bananas handy and we fed the fish. Raul loves fishing, and got a kick out of having the fish eat right out of his hands.
Welcome to Koh Phi Phi
The small town on Koh Phi Phi was like many others we've seen in Asia, with narrow winding paths and dozens of vendors selling touristy trinkets. As Jame led us through town, he explained that many of the hotels on Koh Phi Phi offer cheap accommodations. Some were only about $60 a night, although I'm not sure if these were nice places because we couldn't really see any of them from the town.
Within about 15 minutes we had walked through the town (it was pretty small) and came across a beautiful beach in a little cove. The scenery was spectacular, like most of the scenery we had already experienced earlier in the day. Vibrant, green hills surrounded the beach, which had soft, white sand and crystal clear aqua water. I wanted to jump into the ocean and spend the rest of the day there!
Edge of town... the beach in sight
Strolling through Koh Phi Phi
Saying goodbye to Koh Phi Phi
The end of our excursion came all too soon and it was time to say goodbye to Koh Phi Phi. On our boat ride back to Ratsada Port, we passed Maya Beach, which is now famous because it's where Leonardo DiCaprio's movie, The Beaches, was filmed (see photo below).
I highly recommend traveling to Koh Phi Phi if you ever visit Thailand. Let me know, and I can help you plan your trip!
Jame and Raul on the boat ride back to Ratsada Port
Goodbye Koh Phi Phi... until next time!
Rick admires the ocean
Next on the Lopez adventure itinerary was a visit to Phuket, Thailand for some fun in the sun. The beaches in Thailand were some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.
We stayed at the Le Meridien Resort near the town of Patong. The best part about the hotel is that it has a private beach, away from the hustle and bustle of Patong. We spent our first day in Phuket relaxing on the beach and in the pool. The highlight of day one was a visit from the resort elephant... which we lovingly named "Baby Beluga Whale."
Rick's new friend
Baby Beluga lives on a hill next to the resort and visits the resort's guests twice a day. He's actually a quite talented elephant. His handler would say different things in Thai, and Baby Beluga would sit, lay down, walk a different direction, and even give people kisses with his trunk (the kisses looked really snotty and wet... ick!). I've included a video of the elephant below.
Day one in Phuket ended with a relaxing dinner at the resort's beachfront restaurant. Perhaps it was a little too relaxing... because Diane literally fell asleep at the table :) (Okay, maybe it was the jet lag hitting her). In any case, it gave us a good laugh. We all happened to be looking at her when her head snapped back suddenly and she awoke, surprised. Definitely a funny family memory!
Fun family dinner!
My favorite part of the trip took place on day two. We took a tour of Koh Phi Phi (thank you Ashley for the wonderful suggestion!). Boat rides, snorkeling, and beautiful islands... a true paradise! More to come on this...
In the middle of Chinatown
Day two of the Lopez family adventure took us to Chinatown, which was also an adventure for Joe and I as we hadn't explored the area yet. Although Chinatown is only a few subway stops away from Orchard Road, the area is extremely different. It almost felt as if we had left Singapore.
The Chinatown MRT stop spits you out right in the middle of Chinatown's hustle and bustle. We wandered the narrow streets, browsing through the cheap trinkets and knick knacks in the vendor stalls and admiring beautiful lacquered goods in some of the more high-end stores.
Walter entertains the Lopez family
While we were walking around, we were randomly approached by a little, old Singaporean man who ushered us to a little juice store. So, we took a time-out and enjoyed some mango juice and coconut water. I want to say the man's name was Walter (I'm not sure if this is right!), and it turns out that he is a Singaporean tour guide. He happened to be on a break while his tour group had free time in Chinatown, so he sat down and entertained us for a bit. We learned that Chinese settlers lived in Chinatown when Singapore was a British Colony, and that one of the streets in Chinatown was known for death houses where old, sick Chinese people would go to die. Apparently, dying in one's home was bad luck for the rest of the family, so the dying were required to pass elsewhere. Kind of morbid, huh?
Chinatown MRT station
Dr. Lopez and a Chinese medical hall
After our meeting with Walter, we checked out a few famous landmarks in Chinatown, including a Buddhist Pagoda, a Hindu Temple, and an Arab Mosque. Then, the Lopez culinary adventure continued with a stop at Togi, a popular Korean restaurant in Chinatown. We had been told to check out the Korean food in Chinatown as it is some of the best in Singapore (allegedly). DRR (remember, that's Diane, Raul, and Rick) got to try bibimbap for the very first time (it's one of Joe's and my favorite dishes). Bibimbap is basically rice, vegetables, egg, and beef in a hot stone pot. The pot continually cooks the food in the bowl, keeping it deliciously warm. It was a hit with the Lopez family.
After lunch, we headed back to 8 on Claymore for a dip in the pool as well as some rest and relaxation. Then, we added another chapter to the Lopez culinary adventure. Joe and I took DRR to the 313 Somerset Mall Food Republic food court to try one of our favorite foods, murtabak.
In Singapore, murtabak is considered an Indian dish. However, I've read that it's actually more of a middle eastern food. In any case, it is delicious! Murtabak consists of thin prata bread that is filled your choice of filling (we always get shredded chicken). It is fried into a flatbread and is served with a spicy curry dipping sauce (I know I've explained this before, but I thought the reminder would be helpful!).
Day two ended with dreams of Phuket, Thailand... which was the next stop in our adventure. The scenery there was stunning! Stay tuned... our story continues soon!
In front of the Chinatown Heritage Center
Raul, what are you looking at??
Good morning Singapore! - Along Scotts Road
The Lopez family's first major trip outside of the US was an adventurous one! They braved the 20+ hour flight across the world to spend a week with Joe and I in Southeast Asia. It was awesome having Diane (my mother-in-law), Raul (my father-in-law), and Rick (my bro-in-law) in town to share our Singaporean life and to do a little traveling as well.
Day one started with a "day in the life of Ana and Joe" tour. Di, Raul, and Rick (DRR for short) met us at 8 on Claymore for breakfast and experienced the Asian fare as well as the hospitality of the staff. When Joe left for work (unfortunately he had to work that day), I took DRR on a little walking tour of the Orchard Road area. From the huge malls to the efficient MRT, Di and Raul were amazed by the infrastructure of Singapore.
Lunch at Madam Saigon
After we meandered around, we met Joe for lunch near his office at Suntec. The Lopez clan's Asian culinary adventure started at Madam Saigon, a great little Vietnamese restaurant. After lunch, we hit up one of my favorite juice stands along Orchard Road for some dessert in the form of fresh, tropical juice. I, of course, stuck with my favorite... mango!
The jet lag finally hit DRR and they went back to their hotel for a quick nap. When they met back up with us at 8 on Claymore, we had a surprise waiting for them...
Vermicilli with stir-fried beef
The boys after lunch
... a birthday/anniversary cake to celebrate all three of DRR's birthdays as well as Diane and Raul's wedding anniversary. The cake was decorated by yours truly (hence the chaos haha). I found a really cute cake shop at the Somerset MRT station where you can decorate your own cakes.
After dessert, we headed out for dinner :) The next stop on DRR's culinary tour was Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, a famous hawker center in Singapore. The highlight of Lau Pa Sat on the weekend is its satay street. Stalls of satay vendors line up along the road and their "salesmen" rush up to visitors to get you to buy from their truck. Diners sit on plastic chairs at plastic tables in the middle of the street, similar to Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We had dozens of chicken, beef, and lamb skewers, and Raul and Rick tried the shrimp satay.
Our little celebration
Lau Pa Sat
Enjoying our satay feast
Visiting the Merlion
After Lau Pa Sat, we took a stroll along Marina Bay to show DRR the famous landmarks of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum and the Merlion. It was a great end to a great first day in Singapore for DRR!
Part of the Lopez clan is in town visiting from the US! It's been a lot of fun showing them around Singapore, and we took an exciting trip to Phuket, Thailand with them. Our travels have kept me busy and away from my blog for a few days... but don't worry, I'll have lots of stories to share soon. Stay tuned... :)
My first Singapore Sling
The Singapore Sling is Singapore's famous alcoholic beverage. It was concocted by a bartender at the landmark Long Bar at Raffles Hotel sometime before 1915 (according to Wikipedia). I first heard about the drink from a couple Joe and I met while vacationing in Jamaica this past summer. Sue and Graham from the U.K. had traveled quite extensively and loved Singapore. They said we MUST try the famous cocktail while in the far east.
The drink was good... it tasted sort of like fruit punch with a hint of alcohol (see photo below for list of ingredients). But the highlight of this experience was checking out Long Bar and visiting the Raffles Hotel. Raffles has an interesting history (click here
for more info) and the bar is a tourist landmark.
Long Bar is a very laid back establishment with sort of a "beachy" Key West vibe to it, wicker chairs, and an older crowd. The thing that surprised me the most was that the bar provides peanuts with shells and allows patrons to throw the shells on the floor. This was a stark contrast to the sterile environment of Singapore and I was really shocked to see something like this here!
Joe and I enjoying Long Bar
Singapore Sling ingredients
Ambiance at Long Bar
As I've mentioned before, the staff at our serviced residence is AWESOME! This afternoon, I got a random knock on the door and two staff members presented me with a box. They said, "We heard you like chocolate and we just wanted to thank you for being awesome guests." Inside the box were some of the best cupcakes I've ever had in my life (sorry for the "after" photo - I greedily dug into these before thinking of taking a picture).
Needless to say, this made my night. Our friends at 8 on Claymore are wonderful!
Cupcakes with chocolate sauce in the middle and on the bottom... and DELICIOUS icing!
The nice note that came with the cupcakes
Joe and I explored the Marina Bay area this weekend, and went to see the famous Merlion statue in Merlion Park. According to what I've read on the internet, the Merlion's fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village and its lion head represents Singapore's original name, Singapura, which means lion city.
The Merlion turned 40 years old on September 15, and Singaporeans are still celebrating the occasion. Merlion Park looks like a little shrine with candles and birthday cards from children. Speaking of children, we saw a little boy pretending to drink the water from the fountain in a photo, so of course, Joe and I wanted to try it as well!
Silly photo with the Merlion...
... Joe's turn
Candles for Merlion's birthday
Marina Bay Sands hotel
Marina Bay is a really nice area to walk around and there are many restaurants along the water offering a great view of some of Singapore's most famous landmarks.
As you can see here, I captured a great shot of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. This hotel houses a casino as well as several clubs (a few weeks ago I wrote about visiting Ku De Ta at the top of the hotel). I love how the top of the hotel looks like a boat.
Other landmarks we saw from afar include the Singapore ArtScience Museum (the lotus-shaped building, which is part of Marina Bay Sands) and the Singapore Flyer (the ferris wheel). I plan to visit both of these in person before we leave Singapore!
The ArtScience Museum
Singapore Flyer and a cool shot of the moon