by Ben Willmore | May 30, 2014
Yep, even though I’m physically on a multi-stop domestic trip at the moment (more on that in the next post), the blog is still in Southeast Asia. I wanted to show you some images from two very different ports in Malaysia. It was interesting how so many of the ports we visited contrasted with each other. It was actually refreshing for me and Karen, as we embrace all kinds of experiences. We would spend a few days in one place that was maybe a bit more rugged and not set up for visitors, and then we’d be in a bustling city with Louis Vuitton stores and Starbucks. That was the case as we went from Yangon in Myanmar (Burma) to Kuala Lumpur, which is the most bustling city in Malaysia. This was actually one place where we wish we had more time. It was a one-day stop for us, and we had wished it would be more like two or three.
We explored as much of the city as we could in that short time, and the first place we headed was, of course, the iconic Petronas Towers. I think that when post people think of Kuala Lumpur, they visualize these towers. Whether that’s because they were the tallest buildings in the world for a while, or because they were featured in the movie “Entrapment” a while back, I don’t know. But they’re pretty famous, so we wanted to photograph them. You can actually get some nice compositions there because the neighboring park makes for some beautiful foregrounds. Then we took the light rail to Kuala Lumpur’s China Town, where we wandered for a bit. We actually weren’t into this China Town because it was mostly cheezy souvenirs and knock-off labels, but we did find a really funky reggae bar and stopped for a drink. Then we continued to wander around from there, exploring some historic buildings and temples. Like I said, had we more time there, we would have gotten a much better feel for the city.
After Kuala Lumpur, we stopped at the beautiful little town of Malacca. Malacca is not only tiny in comparison to Kuala Lumpur, but it is a UNESCO Heritage Site, so many of its historic areas have been preserved. It has a quaint, relaxed feel with shops and restaurants lining a little waterway, lots of artists and craftsmen, small cafes and very old, historic buildings. And then there are the pedicabs. Boy oh boy. A pedicab is basically a 3-wheeled bike with seats in the back and a guy who pedals you wherever you want to go. There were pedicabs in most of the ports we visited, but none like the ones you’d see in Malacca. It’s kind of like they take pride in decorating their “rides” to the nines, with fake flowers, uniquely-shaped umbrellas, and Hello Kitty… LOTS of Hello Kitty. Just check out the photos and you’ll see what I mean. We really got a kick out of these guys. In Malacca, we spent the first part of the day visiting St. John’s Fort, which is a VERY old structure at the top of a hill near the port area. We photographed here for a while and then spent the rest of the way walking around the historic town, visiting art shops and shooting the old buildings. Despite the heat (it was easily over 100F) we spent the whole day exploring and shooting and had a blast!
Here are some images of Kuala Lumpur and Malacca:
by Ben Willmore | May 13, 2014
As you can tell, this post is focused on another one of our many stops in Southeast Asia last month. After sailing out of Phuket, Thailand, we headed north and docked at Yangon, Miramar (formerly known as Burma). We stayed at this port for three days, so we were able to do a lot of exploring. Two of the days were spent exploring on our own, and the other day was spent on a tour.
Like some of our other ports on this trip, Yangon does not really cater to tourists (except at some of the major sights) so you better have a good map if you want to get around. The language doesn’t even have characters that we recognized. The signs look more like swirly hieroglyphics! We did have a map, and we used it to walk ALL over the city. We literally walked about 10 miles the first day… in the 100-degree heat! As tiring as walking can be, it gives you a better idea of what a place is truly like. If you just cab it from one major sight to another, you miss all the “life” that’s happening in between.
The biggest attraction in Yangon is the insanely huge Schwedegon Pagoda, and we spent a good three hours exploring it. The place is like a buddhist village in that it’s so big, with a giant 325-foot stupa, surrounded by loads of temples, shrines and Buddhas. It was actually hard to photograph because there was just so much going on there, visually. We started exploring in the morning and had to stop by 1pm or so because the sun was making the marble floors so hot that we literally had to run from one shaded spot to another (as with most Buddhist temples and pagodas like this, you can’t wear shoes or socks while inside.)
On the day we went on a tour, we took a 2-hour (ish) bus ride to Bago, where we made several stops, the first of which being a monastery. That was really interesting because we got to see the daily lives of the monks, including the very young ones. They were very gracious about letting us take their photos, so it was quite a treat. We then walked through a small village where some of the young monks lived and saw some fabric weavers. They were so young, yet so skilled at operating these huge looms.
Finally, we walked through a few of the local markets up in Bago. It was interesting, because the people were SO not used to seeing tourists (Westerners, especially). The markets were so colorful and full of things I had never seen before. I think we were looking at some of the produce there with a similar expression to how they looked at our cameras!
Here are some of my (and Karen’s) images from Myanmar….
by Ben Willmore | Apr 18, 2014
If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you can see that we’re just checking off one country after another on this incredible trip! My last post covered the photogenic, Malaysian town of Penang. From there we sailed north and docked in Phuket, Thailand. (Pronounced poo-ket) We decided to do a tour at this port as many of the interesting things to see were a ways from our docking location.
Our tour took us north from Phuket to the province of Phang Nga, where we visited a temple that was actually built inside a cave. The entrance to the cave was crawling with these goofy little monkeys looking for handouts…and with all the visitors there, they certainly got them! Once inside the cave, it opens up into a very large area with a huge reclining Buddha and several seated Buddhas, all in vibrant gold. If you continue on, you get to a more narrow and inclined part of the cave where you can explore the interesting rock formations. We spent about an hour exploring and photographing here before moving on to our next stop.
We then got on a small boat and cruised around Phang Nga Bay, which is a national park and home to many small islands, the most famous of them being James Bond Island, named after the two films that were shot there. The island is tiny but amazing to look at, with giant rock spires shooting up out of the water. After cruising around for a while, we visited a floating village, which was interesting because the whole “town” was build over the water on dock-like platforms. There was a market, a school, restaurants and homes. It was all pretty rugged, of course, but it’s amazing to see how differently some people live.
Finally, we finished our tour with a delicious Thai lunch at a hotel in Phang Nga. You just can’t visit Thailand without having some of that amazing food!
Our next stop would be Myanmar (Burma) so more on that soon! For now, here are some of my images from Phang Nga:
by Ben Willmore | Apr 15, 2014
As our South-east Asian adventure continued, we sailed from Singapore to the Malaysian city of Penang. Like many of the other ports, we explored on our own here instead of taking a tour. This town was amazing for street photography, so I’m going to let the photos do most of the talking, but there was such a great mix of color, texture and light here. Many of the buildings were old and worn but still charming, and the temples were colorful and plentiful. We also found some fun and unique shops in the town, including “Ben’s Vintage Toy Museum” (not kidding) and a store dedicated to owl things, which Karen went nuts for.
After exploring the town, we took a cab up to the Kek Lok Si temple, which is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It was situated on top of a huge hill and consists of several structures surrounding the 7-story main pagoda. It was truly a feast for the eyes and the lens! If there was anything worth pulling ourselves away from the amazing street photography in Penang, it was this.
Here is Penang in photos. Enjoy!
by Ben Willmore | Apr 4, 2014
Some of the busiest days we’ve had on this international trip so far were spent in Singapore. There is just so much to do there that we were often off the ship first thing in the morning and returning late in the evening. We were lucky in that the Crystal Symphony was docked there for three full days, and then made a round-trip voyage returning to Singapore two weeks later, this time docking for two full days. That made for five days of exploring time, and it gave us the chance to really get to know the city.
Our arrival into Singapore was really interesting in that it was one of the few times the two Crystal Ships have ever shared a docking location. The Crystal Serenity had docked there a day earlier and on the morning of our arrival, we pulled up alongside her on the Crystal Symphony. They had arranged it so that all guests and crew could move between the two ships that day. That was pretty special, and we’re lucky to have been on board when the two ships met like that.
The ship’s shuttle bus dropped guests off at the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has become one of Singapore’s iconic buildings, with its three towers topped off by a massive sun deck that contains a bar, restaurant, viewing deck and infinity pool. Attached to the bottom level is a massive, high-end shopping mall. We would quickly see that this is a theme in Singapore, as there are more shopping malls per square mile here than any place in the world. I have never seen so many Louis Vuitton stores in such a small area! Karen and I aren’t really the shopping type, though, so we were happy to find that there are loads of other things to see and do in the city. On our first day, we visited the historic Raffles Hotel, and had the obligatory “Singapore Sling” cocktail. The hotel is beautiful, and named for the explorer who founded the city.
We then took a ride on the giant observation wheel, which is located right on the water and offers spectacular views of the city. Each car is like its own glass room that you can walk around in as you slowly make your way up and around. The only unfortunate thing was that, during the time we were there, Singapore was experiencing high levels of smoke and haze. This was a result of the plantation burning that takes place at this time of year in Indonesia. It made for hazy photos that were less than ideal.
On that first day, we also had the unique experience of trying out a fish spa. This is where you dangle your feet in large tanks of water that contain hundreds of these little “doctor fish” which nibble away at dead skin and are supposed to heal all kinds of foot ailments. It’s a very strange experience, especially so if you have ticklish feet. Karen could barely sit still while we were doing this!
On our second day in Singapore, we spent a lot of time walking around Chinatown, which was extremely visually interesting. There are loads of vendors selling everything from cheesy souvenirs to fine chopsticks, teas and antiques. There is also a “food street” there that is just wonderful. It is mostly covered and is completely lined with beautiful food carts selling all kinds of asian food. Being that it’s Singapore, it’s also extremely clean and well-maintained. This was a very different kind of Chinatown experience than you’d get in other cities. Everything in Singapore is clean and beautiful. The residents take great pride in the cleanliness of their city, and we were just thrilled with that. Even the public restrooms are spotless!
In the evening, we took a river cruise on the waterway that runs through the city. It was narrated by a guide that showed us many of the historic parts of the city, throwing in some history as well. Part of this waterway (the Clarke Quay area) is lined with beautiful restaurants, bars, pubs, etc. and it really comes alive at night. All of the restaurants have waterside dining, and we couldn’t resist spending an evening away from the ship’s dining room to try one of these great local places. There are loads of ethnic options, and we ended up going with Indian.
Singapore also has some great garden locations, and we spent a lot of time at them. First, we went to the Botanical Gardens, which are located close to the edge of town. It’s a huge park, separated into different areas like the Ginger Garden, The Orchid Garden (which is huge), etc. And then there is Gardens By the Bay, and I would really recommend visiting this if you’re ever in the area. Located right on the water, Gardens by the Bay is a HUGE expanse of gardens, parks, conservatories, etc. And then there’s the “super trees.” These are gigantic tree-shaped structures completely covered in different types of plants and flowers. You can take an elevator to the treetops and follow a walkway around the canopy as well. One of the super trees even has a restaurant and bar, and we spent a sunset at the top with a cocktail, watching the city light up. There are many different gardens within Gardens by the Bay (the Chinese Garden, the Indian Garden, etc.) and then there are two gigantic conservatories, one for flowers of the world and another called the Cloud Forest, featuring a mini mountain with a waterfall coming off of it and walkways on all the different levels. Everything is covered in plants. It’s kind of like a man-made rainforest under a gigantic dome. To be honest, it’s quite hard to explain to someone who has never been there. Hopefully some of the photos do it justice!
As you can tell, we did a lot in Singapore, some of which I didn’t even write about (including the Duck Tour, Little India and the Jurong Bird Park). It’s definitely the kind of place you can spend a lot of time exploring in. Now, I’ll leave you with some photos: