My family has been traveling around the world for a while
and I was able to join up with them after my finals were finished as they stop in Southeast Asia. Like every trip I’ve been a part of it was full of its ups
and downs and I’ve experienced moments that really broadened my worldview
through it all. And now here are some of those moments.
Our first stop is the Maldives, an archipelago of islands
just south of India and Sri Lanka. I arrive by myself at Malé International
Airport after a nearly daylong trek from Los Angeles as my younger brother
picks me up by tender. He then drops me off at the boat he’s been working on as
a crew member named Minderella, a cross between Cinderella and my stepmom’s
name Mindy. I’m the first one aboard and spend time relaxing before taking a
jet ski over to a nearby sand spit where the entire family arrives via
helicopter and we eat lunch there on the beach.
I have to say that the main city of Malé leaves much to be desired. This densely packed island-city has very little to offer by means of attractions and we’re put off by the Islamic country’s sharia law. We see many of the local women covered up as we’re walking around and the people working at the airport certainly don’t help matters by holding one of our Christmas gifts up at customs. The gift is a Buddha statue from India, which is meant for my mom but because it’s an “idol” they won’t allow it into the country. We are able to retrieve it when we eventually leave the Maldives fortunately enough.
For the most part we just explore the various small islands along with a few resorts (including one with a cool observatory). The other islands offer more in their relative simplicity and tropical backdrops, so the main focus really is swimming and snorkeling through the shallow coral reefs. We spend our last day in the Maldives on Christmas as we open presents in the living room, take pictures, and do all the usual festivities before leaving for our next destination that night. Not the most exciting part of the trip, but I can at least say that I went there once and got to relax for a bit.
A. Siem Reap:
Our next stop is the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia, which is
near a series of Khmer temple complexes built almost a thousand years ago. We
mostly focus on the artistic and cultural aspects of the country by going to the
Angkor National Museum on the first day, where we learn about the Buddhist and
Hindu traditions that influenced Cambodia. This is before visiting the large
temples just outside the city, including the legendary Angkor Wat at sunrise. I
feel like I’m Indiana Jones as I’m examining the wall carvings and climbing up
flights of ancient stairs, only without the booby traps of course.
Among the other activities we do while we’re in Siem Reap is
take a boat down a river past a floating market and towards a big lake where we
watch the sunset. I must also mention the vibrant nightlife of Pub Street,
basically the Bourbon Street of Cambodia, where I am able to test out my
negotiating and deal-making skills in buying a bronze Buddha statue for 10
dollars instead of 18 dollars. A picture of it unwrapped at home will be
featured at the end of the article.
B. Phnom Penh:
After we see enough of Siem Reap, we take a four or five hour drive down to the capital city of Phnom Penh and learn more about Cambodia’s recent political history. We begin the day by touring the king’s palace grounds and gazing at the beautiful architecture and jewels inside the buildings. When that’s done however, we shift our focus to the country’s dark side, learning about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror through our visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the “killing fields” of Choeung Ek.
Choeung Ek is one of the more harrowing stops on our trip and
I deem it to be the Cambodian Auschwitz. I walk down the trail and listen to an
audio guide recounting stories of guards smashing children against trees, using
palm leaves to slit the throats of laborers, and even installing loud speakers
in a tree to muzzle the sound of agonized screams. I must also note that the
drive over to the killing fields is just as eye opening as the destination
itself, having never seen such poverty and poor conditions outside of
exaggerated news coverage on places like Haiti. I find myself drifting between
two worlds of extreme polarity as I witness the run-down shacks and people
bathing in polluted water down the dusty road before ultimately retreating to a luxury hotel later in the evening.
After a haunting, but poignant end to our trip in Cambodia,
we lighten the mood by flying out to the restless city of Bangkok just in time
for the New Year. My older meets with his girlfriend at the airport and we all
venture out to the same hotel that was in the second Hangover movie. The hotel
(Tower Club at Iebua) just so happens to be home of the highest ball drop in
the world as well.
We spend our time mostly exploring the urban environment via river-boat, walking, rickshaw, taxi and metro as we see some of the city’s coolest attractions. We are only there for about 20 minutes or so but Bangkok’s palace already blows Phnom Penh’s palace of the water, as every building seems to be adorned in either gold or jewels. We make up for the small amount of time at the palace by seeing two Buddha statues that are quite notable, a giant reclining Buddha and a mystical sculpture made out of solid gold. To top off our trip to Bangkok, the adults among us decide to check out the city’s nightlife district Patpong where we see some things too inappropriate for me to mention in this article, but are quite interesting to say the least... I’ll just leave it at that.
B. Island Cruise:
We land in Phuket and reunite with the Minderella along with a smaller boat called the Grand Duke, which is used for fishing and transport to the various islands off the coast of Thailand. These islands are unlike anything I've seen in real life, giant cliff sides and mountains that just protrude out of the water like magic. I can see why this is a popular area for filming movies, like The Beach featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and one of the James Bond films, as seen in the photo above.
The natural scenery of these islands is way more spectacular than the flat shorelines that make up the Maldives and that point is emphasized by the helicopter ride we take turns on. Soon enough however, my older brother and his girlfriend are about to leave for the states, but not before my mom coaxes the whole family into jumping off the nearly 30-foot bow of the boat for a photo op. I hesitate personally because of the height, but ultimately go through with it. The landing is a bit painful as my hand slams the surface and water rushes down my throat, but I survive, and that's what matters.
After my brother and his girlfriend leave, we depart in the night and wake up near the island of Langkawi off the coast of Malaysia. From there we meet with a tour guide who shows us some of the country's agriculture, checking out rice fields and going through an Agro Technology Park where fruit orchards are grown by bus. We then go to a local mall, eat at a McDonald's, and do a little shopping before heading out to the dock. Our stay is incredibly brief but the ride back to the main boat is quite adventurous as we hop aboard a tender and rush back as the monsoon rains pour down harder and harder. The boat then sails off down the Andaman Sea for the next day and a half.
We emerge from the pirate-infested waters (they’re real, though not the fun kinds) and arrive in the metropolis of Singapore, my final destination on this trip. We explore the city, walk around Chinatown, and try out the exotic durian fruit (which I'll admit to have not liked at all) before heading over to the otherworldly Gardens by the Bay and topping the whole night off by looking out over the skyline of Downtown Singapore. When all is said and done, I wave goodbye to my family and head back for California. I love traveling the world, but sometimes I need to relax at home and reflect on my experiences. This was an adventurous trip to say the least.