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 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:
by Ben Willmore | Mar 31, 2014
After visiting several Indonesian ports, we finally moved on and stopped at Kota Kinabalu, our first port in Malaysia. We decided to explore on our own here, as we did for many of the other ports. What’s nice is that Crystal usually runs a shuttle service from the ship to the center of town. (The only exceptions are when the country we’re visiting has restrictions against it.) This makes it easy to explore a lot on foot… if you don’t mind long walks in the Southeast-Asian heat!
In Kota Kinabalu, we first walked to the local market and actually ended up spending a lot of time there. Markets in different parts of the world can be fantastic for photography, and this one was especially good. It took up an entire city block, with the stalls facing the street making for the best photography (because of the light). There were crazy meat stalls, vibrant spices and loads of colorful chilies. The people were also great, and generally open to having their photos taken.
After exploring the market for a while, we took a taxi to a Malay museum and heritage village. The village featured different kinds of homes and structures that you would have seen in different places and time periods around the country. I didn’t shoot as much here, but it was nice to visit a place less bustling than many of the downtown areas we had been exploring.
Finally, we returned to town and went up to a viewpoint that overlooks the city. It’s at the top of a very large hill that you can hike to via a series of staircases that wind through the trees. There’s a little cafe at the top and that’s where we spent the final part of our day in Kota Kinabalu.
Here are some of the photos I shot there, many of which were from the local market:
by Ben Willmore | Mar 16, 2014
Hi gang! In my last post, I left you in Komodo Island, home of the famous dragons. Well, after sailing a short distance west, we found ourselves on Lombok, Bali’s neighboring island. In fact, some people call Lombok the “untouched Bali” because it hasn’t been touched by tourism quite as much. We knew it would be harder to explore on our own here, so we went on a tour titled “Parks, Palaces and Temples.”
Driving through Lombok, we immediately noticed how dramatically different the lifestyle was compared to what we’re used to. It would have felt like we were going back in time, had it not been for the hundreds of motor bikes zipping through the streets in a seemingly unorganized fashion. Of course, there were plenty of horses pulling covered carts on the streets as well. Small homes are built lining a narrow waterway where the villagers bathe and clean household things. We actually read that, while the locals are very conservative, they bathe naked along the streets because they believe they are “invisible when doing so.” Interesting, for sure.
Anyway, our tour took us to a water palace and two temple complexes that housed dozens of temples. We found ourselves running out of time trying to photograph them all! Many of them are so old, covered in “greenage” and have overly unique statues at the entrances.
Here is a visual snippet of what we saw in Lombok:
After leaving Lombok, we sailed the short distance west to Bali, where we stayed for two days. Karen and I did tours on both days. On the first day, she went to go ride an elephant and visit a bird park, while I went on another temple tour and orchid garden visit. All was beautiful, but I especially liked the “floating temple” we visited that was located on a beach. You actually had to walk through the water if you wanted to enter the temple.
On our second day, we did another tour that visited, you guessed it, more temples! We also visited the Bali Art Museum and had lunch at a place called The Dirty Duck Diner. We later learned that “dirty duck” is actually a type of dish you can order in Indonesia. It was also in Bali that we got to see a traditional dance show, with overly unique music and elaborate costumes and makeup. We were lucky enough to sit in the first row, which made for great photography!
So without further ado, here are some images I shot in Bali:
Our next stop would be Surabaya, on the island of Java. More to come!