Hello friends! Since we’re stuck inside quarantining from the COVID-19 virus, what better way to spend the time than catching up on our blogging? We have now been back in the States for almost a week since we got back from our most recent trip and we’re so excited to share our experiences with you! As some of you may know, we were supposed to go to Beijing, China on the 72 hour visa-free transit program. Unfortunately we had to change our plans due to the virus, (as China was the epicenter at the time) and decided to re-purpose those first three days between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia instead, and kept Cambodia and India as originally planned. Even with this change of plans, we are happy with how the trip turned out and would definitely recommend a visit to these 4 places. Read on to find out how we spent our amazing 17 days in Asia!
After a long journey from New York, we finally arrived in Singapore in the evening after almost 2 days of flying (yikes!). We had just one evening and the next morning to spend in this fantastic city, so we wanted to see and do as much as we could with the short time we had.
Day 1: Singapore
After we dropped our stuff off at the hotel, we headed over to one of Singapore’s famous Hawker Centres, Lau Pa Sat Food Court. We were famished after many many hours of flying and we knew Singapore was famous for its food! Some of the must haves are Fish Ball Soup, Satay (chicken, beef, pork, and prawn), and most famously, Chilli Crab. The Hawker Centres are a great way to try a lot of really high quality foods in one sitting and the centres are everywhere, so no matter where you are staying, you can find one nearby! Each stall at the Hawker Centre perfects a few dishes and serves only that, so the food is top notch. We also found it be to really clean and safe to eat from, even with a virus going on, so if that’s a concern for anyone, hopefully this eases your mind. (Singapore is a really clean city in general!).
After our delicious meal, we headed over to Gardens By The Bay to see the famous light show. The times for this light show are 7:45pm and 8:45pm and it is 15 minutes in length – do not miss it, it’s really quite spectacular! After the light show at the gardens, we headed over to Marina Bay to try and catch THEIR light show. Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus, that light show had been canceled :(. The Marina Bay light show is best seen on the other side of the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, so if you are lucky enough to catch it, that is where to do it. The times for that show are 8pm, 9pm, and 11pm. We wish we could have seen it but the show at the gardens was amazing, in lieu.
After the lights show(s), we went back to the hotel and changed clothes for a night of partying at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. At the top of the hotel, there is an infinity pool which overlooks the entire city (only open to hotel guests) as well as a restaurant, and a couple bars. The bar we decided to go to is called Ce La Vi Rooftop Bar/Club on the 57th floor. We had only planned to go up for a drink or two, but we were pleasantly surprised they actually had a party with a live DJ that night, and so a couple drinks turned into partying all night long! SO MUCH FUN. We had a great time and definitely recommend a visit, a bit of warning though the drinks and cover charge were a bit steep, but for us, it was our only night on the trip to party and indulge, so we partook. If you do not want to spend the cash, you can just go up and take a couple pics of the view without actually going into the club. And while there is a cover charge, it does go toward your first drink.
Day 2: Singapore / Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The next morning we had a few hours before our afternoon flight, so decided to explore Singapore’s Chinatown. Luckily, too, this was very close to our hotel. Chinatown during the day was very quiet at first, but started to pick up as the day wore on. Chinatown was filled with shops and food stalls, many of which you can (& should!) try Singapore’s national dish, Chicken Rice. If you have time we recommend visiting at night, but if you only have the morning/afternoon, it is still worth a visit.
After wandering around Chinatown, it was finally time for our flight to Malaysia!
Where We Stayed:
210 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058759
We arrived in Malaysia in the late afternoon. After settling in, we decided to check out the infinity pool atop our hotel, which was pretty much the whole reason we booked that hotel. The pool was just as beautiful in person as it was in the pictures! It was breathtaking how it appeared, like the pool just went on forever over the edge of the hotel. The views of the Petronas Towers didn’t suck too much either 😉
After a couple hours of lounging by the pool, we headed over to Little India for dinner. We heard about this place called Vishal Food and Catering, where they serve you your meal on a banana leaf. We walked in to this little hole in the wall place with no other tourists in sight, we sat down unsure of what to do. It was pretty confusing at first, but eventually a staff member came over and started serving us. There was definitely a language barrier, but once we had our meal in front of us, we have to say it was one of the best Indian meals we have ever had! (and that speaks volumes, considering we were actually in India on this trip!) When finished with your meal, you just fold your banana leaf over and, they know you are finished.
Our last stop of the night was the famous Petronas Towers. The towers from the outside were breathtaking! Inside the towers was a mall with familiar stores like Tiffany’s, Sunglass Hut, etc. You can go up the towers to the skybridge for about $20 pp, but we skipped out on that, as we thought the towers looked way better from the ground.
Day 3: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Day 2)
The next morning we woke up super early and took an uber to the Batu Caves. The Batu Caves are an extremely popular tourist attraction, although you would not know by the lack of tourists that were there (probably because of the virus and also because we there right as it opened). The caves themselves are said to be some 400 million years old! The caves are open from 7am-7pm. To get to the caves you walk up 272 colorful steps. Inside the caves you see some temples, as well as the limestone walls that make up the cave. The caves were beautiful and the best part, is that they are free to visit! There is, however, a part of the cave you can visit (at the base) which does require an entry fee. We chose to just visit the main caves and for us it was enough. It was cool to see the little monkeys walking around too, but make sure to safeguard your stuff. While they’re seemingly very cute, they can be quite the little thieves!
After a few hours at the caves, we headed over to the Central Market, which was on the way to our ultimate destination, Chinatown. At the market you will find shops and food. While at the market, we noticed that there was a shop that actually had Kopi Luwak Coffee. Kopi Luwak Coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world oz per oz. The coffee is famous for its delicious flavor. A small single shot espresso set us back over $10. What gives the coffee its amazing flavor is that the coffee beans are eaten, digested by the Kopi Luwak animal and then pooped out (yes it sounds gross, but it was actually very good!).
After the market we made our way to Petaling Street (Chinatown) for lunch. Just like the Chinatown in Singapore, the streets were lined with shops and delicious food, however it was much more lively and bigger than its Singaporean counterpart. Although we originally planned to eat in Chinatown, we ended up saving our appetite for traditional Malay food instead, which we found wandering the streets near our hotel. We ate Beef Rendang and Chicken Tomato Sauce at Nasi Lemak Wanjo. The food was great and this was more of a locals joint, than for tourists, so that’s how you know the food is pretty legit!
For dinner, we heard about a street called Jalan Alor which was an extremely popular food street. The popular foods to try here are Roti Canai, Wings (we recommend getting them at Wong Ah Wah), Dim Sum, Satay, Char Kuey Teow noodle dish, and Ice Cream in a coconut shell.
Where We Stayed:
Ibis Hotel City Centre
32 Jalan Yep Kwan Seng, Kampang Baru, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
http://www.ibis.accor.com (for all Ibis Hotels – we LOVED this hotel!)
Day 4: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Early the next morning, we had our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Upon landing, we met our Tuk Tuk Driver, Mr. Sokthear, who was sent by the hotel to pick us up. We spent most of the first day eating and lounging at our hotel. We ate some popular favorites like Khmer Noodles and Beef Lok Lak (Shaking Beef). We also spent time poolside; the cold water was very refreshing in the hot weather! Our hotel had an amazing pool with elephant jets and a pool bar. It was a great way to relax and take in the amazing Cambodian hospitality.
That first day we also spent some time touring Pub Street. Pub Street is the main drag in Siem Reap, with bars, restaurants, shops etc. While we did enjoy the ambience here, one thing we did not like was being asked if we wanted a tuk tuk every couple minutes. Simply just be polite and say ‘no tuk tuk today’ and sometimes you have to say ‘no tuk tuk tomorrow’ as many drivers know you are there for Angkor Wat, which is really only seeable with a tuk tuk, so they’ll and try get you to make the journey with them. Also on Pub Street, there are inexpensive massage parlors. Lower end massage parlors (like Master Feet) can cost $6-$8 for a 1 hour full body/oil massage. Higher end massage parlors run around $18-$20 for a full body/oil massage. We had both done one at Master Feet, which we thought was excellent and then Sam did of the higher end ones as well, which we booked through our hotel. Both massages did the trick, but the higher end ones afford more privacy and a more relaxing/intimate environment. In addition to human massage parlors, they also have fish massage tanks, in which the Garra Ruffa fish eat the dead skin off your feet; we did this in Thailand – it tickles a lot but leaves your feet feeling baby smooth. I don’t know that we’d do it again, and probably not during a virus outbreak, but it is definitely an experience you should do at least once while in Southeast Asia.
Day 5 – Siem Reap – Angkor Wat
The next morning was what we were excited to see the most, Angkor Wat! Though we got up at 3:30am, it was so incredible to see the sunrise here! This was a bucket list item for us so we were also excited to finally get this crossed off our list. We were able to book this experience right through our hotel and again have Mr. Sokthear take us around the complex. The hotel offered 2 Angkor Wat packages – one was a smaller one where you saw a bit less of the complex and the other was a larger one where you saw more. We opted for the smaller package and found it to be perfect for the kind of experience we were looking for. We paid $22 USD for this package (+ $36 for Angkor Wat entrance ticket), which took us to the main temples, as well as the famous one from ‘Tomb Raider” and as a pleasant surprise, the hotel also packed us breakfast. If you are in Cambodia and looking for a driver, Mr. Sokthear is amazing!. His email is (firstname.lastname@example.org). He drove us around for the entire day and we even stopped along the way to eat the breakfast the hotel packed and have some coffee and tea. Mr. Sokthear was very accommodating throughout everything.
It is recommended to get the your Angkor Wat ticket beforehand, otherwise the morning of the excursion, the driver can take you to the booth. We went the morning of and the wait wasn’t bad. It is $36 USD for the entrance ticket and they do take credit card. See below for some amazing shots from the day! (These really do not do it any justice, so we definitely recommend going to see this for yourself!)
Where We Stayed:
Le Chanthou Boutique Hotel
Bakheng Road, Krong Siem Reap
Day 6: Full Travel Day – Cambodia / India
Not much to post about on this day. We had a long day of flying and layovers. We arrived in Delhi at Night and made our way to our hotel via the metro. Delhi has an easy and convenient metro system. We found it pretty seamless to navigate and arrived at our hotel with no problems. They were also super accommodating and were able to book our tickets to Agra for us 2 days later.
Word about train tickets: we have heard it is difficult to book any train tickets from outside India. Many people use an agent to book it for them, but we do not know how reputable that is. We recommend staying at a hostel, which are typically very accommodating to travelers and having them do it for you. Because we traveled during Holi, the trains were pretty booked so we didn’t really have too much of a choice as to which train we could take. We were able to get 2 seats in the sleeper car of the Samta Express but unfortunately all trains from Mathura going back to Delhi were booked. (We ended up taking the bus – more on that later).
Day 7 – India (Delhi)
This was our first full day in India, which is where we spent the rest of our trip. Since we only had one day in Delhi, we decided to make the most of it. Our first stop was to Akshardham Temple. In the spirit of conserving time, we took our picture of the temple and kept moving. If you have more time than we did I am sure the inside is worth a visit as well.
Our next stop was Bangla Sahib Sikh Temple. The temple was beautiful. They are also extremely generous, as they provide meals at no cost to anyone who shows up. Everyone eats together in a large room, where you sit on the floor. They feed hundreds of thousands of people each day. The meal consists of chapati (bread), dhal (lentils), and rice. This was an awesome experience to be a part of. We were also able to go back into the kitchen and help prepare some of the food. Everyone who serves the food or cooks here is a volunteer.
Next we made our way to the India Gate, which was very cool. Not much to do here but take a couple of shots. Also the weather turned out to be not so good, so we didn’t spend too much time here. All in all, a nice thing to see while in Delhi.
After India Gate, we headed over to Raj Ghat which is the burial place of Mahatma Gandhi. Raj Ghat is a beautiful park built around his memorial – a very beautiful and peaceful place filled with many of his powerful quotes.
After Raj Ghat we went over to Red Fort, just like we did with Akshardham Temple, we took our pictures and moved on. If you have more time then we did, I am sure the inside is worth a visit as well.
Our last stop of the day was Chandi Chowk which is in the heart of Old Delhi. Chandi Chowk is teaming with street food, shops, stores, hustlers, pretty much anything you can think of! We were also able to pick up a couple of kurtas to wear for Holi (as we didn’t want to ruin any of our nice clothes. We bought the kurtas cheap here, with the intention of leaving them in India when we were done).
Day 8 – India (Delhi / Agra)
Next morning we made our way to the train station to catch our train to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The hostel we stayed at was able to get us 2 tickets on the aforementioned Samta Express. The train ride took about 2.5 -3 hours, which was not too bad, but the train was really crowded.
Where We Stayed:
1/49 Lalita Park, Laxmi Nagar, Main Vikas, New Delhi 110092
Once we got to Agra, we made our way to our hotel, settled in, then ventured out to see the famous Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was just as impressive as it was hyped to be, this is a definite must visit if ever in India! Also another bucket list item for us, so we were excited to have been able to check this one off as well!
Where We Stayed:
538, Taj East Gate Road, Near Shilp Gram, Forest Colony, Tajgani, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 2822001
Day 9: India (Vridavan)
The next morning, we got an uber and headed over to Vrindivan, where the Holi celebration is a major deal. We were supposed to do 2 days in Agra, but while incredible, we didn’t find a whole lot to do there other than the Taj Mahal. We decided to add on Vrindavan and found a last minute hotel, so we checked out of our Agra hotel a day early and headed there. The main place to experience Holi in Vrindivan (other than the streets) is at Banke Bihari temple. There are many events in the days leading up to the main Holi Day in Vrindivan. Vrindivan is thought to be the birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Krishna. Banke Bihari temple is dedicated to him. It is recommended to tourists to visit the temple the morning before Holi, but we were here and the locals also told us that the evenings were good to visit, so since we were there a day early we decided to check it out. Some words of advice when visiting this temple during Holi:
NUMBER 1: Do NOT wear shoes or sandals into the temple. It might sound gross, but seriously, barefoot is the way to go. They make you take your shoes off outside the temple and with the sheer number of shoes being left outside, this leads us to …
NUMBER 2: Do NOT count on finding your shoes once you leave the temple (our sandals were nowhere to be found when we left the temple). It’s just a mass chaos of people trying to locate shoes, shoes being stepped on … it’s just better off forgoing shoes altogether. We saw most people just walking around the streets of Vrindavan barefoot … well, now we know why!
NUMBER 3: It can get pretty rowdy and “pushy” trying to get into the temple; if this is too much for you it may not be wise to visit this temple.
NUMBER 4: Cover your mouth and eyes, or you will be eating the powder. It’s non-toxic but can hurt if it gets in your eyes and is unpleasant to eat.
Once you are inside it is an amazing experience to share and worship this holiday with the Indian people. It can be a bit overwhelming, but the locals are very welcoming in sharing the experience with them.
Where We Stayed:
Hotel Shubham Holidays (We don’t recommend this hotel)
Gandhi Road, Vrindavan Vidyapeeth Crosing, Vrindavan Uttar Pradesh 281121
Booked through Goibibo
Day 10: India (Mathura)
After the first day of Holi experiences, we headed to Mathura for day 2 of Holi. This day, which is the last day of Holi in Vridivan, concludes at the temple in the morning. We skipped this as we were at the temple the night before. In the afternoon, around 2pm, Holi proceeds to Mathura, where a procession begins at Vishram Ghat and ends just after Holi Gate. We met up with the procession somewhere in between the two landmarks and partied in the streets with the people, throwing colored powder around and dancing. The procession was wild, crazy and fun, and in our opinion, more enjoyable than Holi at Banke Bihari, however we have some more words of caution:
NUMBER 1: Cover your mouth and eyes, or you will be eating the powder. It’s non-toxic but can hurt if it gets in your eyes and is unpleasant to eat.
NUMBER 2: As a white person in India celebrating Holi, you are seen as a celebrity to the locals. Many of the locals will ask you to take a selfie with them. This can seem harmless at first, however after a while it can get overwhelming. Also it became apparent that some of the men were taking these selfies and targeting the white women. At a certain point, it became too much and we started to refuse the selfies. A concern that we had, too, is we didn’t ultimately know what they would be doing with the photos. There seems to be a hashtag on facebook #SelfieWithAForeigner where a lot of pics end up. The best bet is to maybe take a few selfies, then after a while just kindly refuse.
In the evening is Holika Dahan, a celebration where they burn the evil “Aunty” Holika throughout the town. Holika who was a woman who apparently tried to kill a young prince by burning him. The Aunty had a spell that prevented her from getting burnt, but somehow the tables turned and she was burnt instead of the prince, who was spared and saved. This was the story told to us by the locals and could be inaccurate, but it seems legit, lol.
There were many effigies for the burning around town, most beginning around 10pm or 11pm. We were able to catch the burning right outside of our hotel.
Day 11: India (Mathura – ‘Official Day of Holi’)
On this morning, most tourists went to Dwarkadeesh Temple. We however decided we were holi’d out and instead decided we wanted to visit Vishram Ghat. We decided to walk to the Ghat from our hotel. This is where our Holi experience turned from fun and overwhelming to downright ugly. We had heard rumors that during Holi, some women who were alone were targeted and touched inappropriately. We had so far been fortunate enough to not experience that, most likely because we were a couple. Well all that changed on this day on our way to the Ghat. Adolescent boys decided that it was ok to run up and do this to Jackie. It was an extremely traumatizing experience and is an ugly side to Holi in India as a white woman. Vishram Ghat was otherwise beautiful, calm and safe .. but the streets are unfortunately where women are targeted. We suggest having a tuk tuk or uber bring you from your hotel to wherever you want to go and avoid walking on the streets.
After Vishram Ghat, we made our way back to the hotel and shared our story with other tourists that were staying at our hotel, and found that they had the same unfortunate experience. They did share with us however that they went to the temple and inside the temple it was much safer and it was only in the street that they had such experiences. With that we recommend the following for the Day of Holi:
NUMBER 1: If you are a woman and you wish to visit the temple or even the ghat take a tuk tuk to your destination to avoid time in the street.
NUMBER 2: Avoid interacting with groups of adolescent boys as much as possible, it was those groups that we noticed and heard were the main culprits.
NUMBER 3: If you are a woman who is alone we recommend avoiding Holi altogether unless you can find local women, families or some other trustworthy group to celebrate with.
We spent the rest of the day inside the safety of our hotel. We don’t regret celebrating Holi in India, it can be an amazing experience, but we definitely recommend taking precautions so that you can ensure you have safe and positive experience.
Where We Stayed:
Madhav Muskin Residency
58/169 Krishna Puri Road, Sadar Bazar Mathura Uttar Pradesh 281001
Day 12: India (Mathura / Delhi)
The next morning we had to get from Mathura to Delhi but since we could not get train tickets, we went to the bus station and took a bus to Delhi. The bus was very cheap but also very crowded. Unlike the train, you don’t need any tickets ahead of time. Just show up and get on the bus and go. There was a bit of confusion which bus was the one going to Delhi, but when we got to the bus station, helpful locals pointed us to the right bus.
We booked our hotel next to the airport since we had a flight the next morning to Varanasi. Once back in Delhi, we spent our time hanging out at a local “secured” mall. The mall gave us a much needed break from the loud and crazy atmosphere of the streets of India. Sometimes when you are traveling for long periods of time you need to experience some of the comforts that remind you of home and that is exactly what we did that day. It was great to just sit in a coffee shop, order tea & coffee and be in a relaxing quiet space. We were also able to find Subway for lunch, which was nice since we were a bit ‘over’ Indian food.
Where We Stayed:
Street Number 10A, Block RZ, Mahipalpur Village, Mahipalpur New Delhi Delhi 110076
Day 13: India (Varanasi)
The next morning we arrived in Varanasi. The first thing we did was walk around the Ghat which is where our hotel was conveniently located.
We heard that one of the popular things to do in Varanasi is to bathe in the spiritual Ganges River, so we dipped our feet in. We were not brave enough to fully bathe in the river. With all the cremation ashes that are thrown in the river on a daily basis, we just couldn’t get ourselves to fully immerse in the water. All in all, it was refreshing and beautiful.
Later that evening we booked a boat tour which went up and down the Ganges and visited the two cremation sites. It was very spiritual and romantic. Varanasi was definitely what we needed to lift our spirits after some of the negative things we experienced in India. After the boat ride was over, we went back to the main Ghat to watch the candle ceremony, which is performed nightly. The ceremony is 45 minutes long from 6:45 pm to 7:30pm. It was enjoyable to watch and consisted of singing and dancing and drew large crowds.
Day 14: India (Varanasi)
We spent this day walking around Varanasi and spending time on our balcony which overlooked the Ganges. While on our balcony, we were accosted by an angry little monkey who decided to grab and hold onto Jackie’s hair. Like the ones in Malaysia, these guys are pretty sneaky! Sam, being the awesome husband he is trying to defend Jackie, squared off with him. He let go of Jackie’s hair, and proceeded to show his fangs to show he was the alpha. With Jackie back inside, we decided it was better to give him the win that day, so that we all may live to see another day :).
Where We Stayed:
22/16 Chausatthi Ghat Dashaswedmedh Varanasi 221001
Day 15: India (Varanasi)
Since our flight back to Delhi was not until 7pm, we had the entire day before we had to be at the airport, but with the Coronavirus news getting more and more dreary with India suspending Visas, and the US beginning to suspend overseas travel (like flights from Europe), we went to the airport early, as we were anxious to get home. We were able to get on an earlier flight, which was nice, but that meant sitting in Delhi Airport for many hours. We just wanted to know were underway and not having the uncertainty looming on us for many hours, plus there was more to eat and drink at Delhi Airport, Varanasi Airport was very small with limited food and drink options. We finally made it back home the next morning. Arriving back home was very weird as the roads which were usually packed with traffic were desolate. We were home, but not the home we recognized.
Days To Follow:
The next week New York began shutting down and we were self-quarantining at home to help flatten the curve and just incase we were exposed to anything while traveling, but so far we feel good.
Our trip to Asia was bittersweet in many ways. The trip was amazing for the most part except for a few instances, but mainly it was bitter sweet because usually we come home and share our stories with friends and family, but with this pandemic engulfing our lives it seems odd to share our exciting stories of our travels, so we decided to just leave it all hear in our blog so that our friends, family, and followers can decide when they want to hear our travel stories.
We wish everyone the best of health in this difficult time for our country and know that we are all in this together, in support of eachother.
Have you been to any of the places we talked about in this blog? If so we would love to hear about your experienced. We love you guys and as always Saif-Travels!