Singapore is an island that is also a city and a country at the Southeastern tip of continental Asia. The locals call it the “Red Dot” because it is so darn small… It sits close to the equator, ensuring a predictable 12-hour sunlight everyday of the year, and an amazingly humid tropical weather year round. This is where Priscilla grew up and on this trip, Tom the hapless husband, was about to discover his new extended family and a whole new culture. Priscilla’s Journey Back Home to Singapore Singapore was a place I wanted to escape, but now that I had left, I look forward to every chance I get to return. Growing up there, I ran out of what I considered to be fun things to do on the little island. I wanted to experience winter, be in the mountains, explore rural countryside, experience new cultures…the list goes on. And so, I took a gamble and left home for the other side of the world. In the first few years, I was absolutely exhilarated, full of wonder for the world outside. Never once did I feel homesick. But, as I visited Singapore every two years, each visit started to weigh on me. With each visit, my parents and grandparents seemed to age tremendously. My siblings had carved out new lives of their own that I wasn’t a part of. The many amazing friends, who had graciously kept in contact with me virtually, had exciting moments of their lives that I could not be present for, or that I simply could not spend time with in person. It dawned on me that I was starting to get homesick. At the same time, Singapore seemingly matured and became a lot more cosmopolitan and sophisticated with each visit as well. The food scene blossomed, with many unique eateries offering local fusion to intricate Japanese desserts, and the many fine dining options readily available. The faces in the crowd appeared more diverse, with Europeans, and other Asian ethnic groups living in areas typically only inhabited by locals. The most obvious change was the many new and sparkling modern skyscrapers that dominated the downtown skyline today. Singapore had taken on a new big city personality. For this trip, I took Tom on a touristy trail. We visited the Botanical Gardens to check out the vast collection of orchids; walked the Marina Bay area, known for the now iconic Marina Bay Sands casino hotel connected at the top by an infinity pool; hung out at Clarke Quay, the traditionally expat area full of bars and seafood restaurants; and strolled through the myriad of malls on Orchard Road, the biggest pastime my family and I shared. We did a lot of walking, exploring historical neighborhoods like Chinatown and Joo Chiat for the colonial style shophouses. And of course, eating local snacks and desserts that were on every corner. All super dangerous for the weak-willed – out goes the dietary concerns! Food is an essential part of the local culture. The ubiquitous hawker centers, basically open-air but sheltered marketplaces for street foods and groceries, were part and parcel of my life growing up. I had often accompanied my Mom to get groceries, and while waiting for the groceries to be packaged up, we would grab food and chat about life. Naturally, Tom was dragged to all the hawker centers we loved. Since Tom was our guest of honor, we wasted no time to introduce him to local favorites ranging from Roti Prata to grilled stingray and chili crab. So of course, Tom and I had a great time with family and friends. And, most valuable for me, was the chance to look at Singapore with a fresh pair of eyes and through Tom’s perspectives. There will certainly be many more trips to this city country and I can’t wait to see what other changes I will find next. -Priscilla Travel with Tom to Singapore – Tom’s Eating and Cultural Journey Through Asia: Off to Singapore for my first travel foray outside of the Great US of A to meet the new family members. I would have to say Singapore was a great way to ease into Asia travel for this Missouri boy as many of the signs are readable and the lifestyle is quite modern. Ok so at first you think, this is just another big city with some high rise buildings, but as we got on the ground and began exploring it proved to be truly a unique world all together. Let’s just start with the weather. They have three types of weather, hot, HOT, and rainy and hot with nearly every day coming in around 85-90F. This sounds warm to Midwest folks, but not impressive, but it’s the relentless heat plus humidity plus extra strong sun that gives this place the uniquely warm feel. At night, it just slightly cools down to a balmy 81F. Singapore is located nearly on the equator so this is to be expected, but experiencing the general sweaty-ness 24/7 was an adjustment maybe because most people don’t really use AC! The exotic trees and lush landscaping remind visitors that Singapore is a city that spawned out of a tropical jungle. It’s completely “normal” here to be walking down the sidewalk and see trees sprouting mangos, jackfruit, and durians. Don’t think about snagging one for your lunch though because people are quite protective of their fruits here. The fruits in Singapore were one of my favorite parts about visiting the tropics. The variety of exotic new flavors like durian or mangosteen and even the tastiness of old favorites like pineapples provide a regular reminder that you not in Illinois anymore. What do you do when you want to have a little fun in Singapore? Eat of course! While getting to know my new family and learning about the place Priscilla grew up, we basically ate our way all the way across …
The Journey to Japan
We had heard a lot about Japan, but knew nothing of it. Priscilla attempted to learn Japanese while in college, and growing up in Asia meant consuming a good amount of Japanese TV shows that were popular in the 90s. Besides that, she would say she did not know much about the culture. Tom, as always, loved the adventure and a chance to take a five-day long break before the next flight to Singapore (Japan was our long layover).
Japan wasted no time to show us how efficient and orderly they were. Courteous immigration officers stamped our passports with precision and high speed. At the Japan Rail office, we got our train passes within minutes despite the 20 plus people ahead of us. In the next two minutes, we were on the train platform, where the train was about to depart in five seconds. Told to stick to our seat assignments, we giggled and thought, “These Japanese take their rules too seriously.” But lo and behold, the train would split in half at some point, in which one half would go south, the other west. Once we knew, we scrambled with our clumsy suitcases, dragging them from car 16 to car 3. Thankfully, these trains were nothing like the Chicago L, where each car was separate and connected by a clunky cable. Going across these cars was more like walking down a really long hallway, all seamlessly connected like a tunnel, where glass doors separating each car whizzed open as you approached. We managed to make it to the right section and survived our first train ride.
Bali Indonesia Adventure with Tom & Priscilla
Bali was a short getaway from the city of Singapore, where we escaped the concrete jungle for a little oasis of greenery on the Indian Ocean. It is one of thousands of islands that make up Indonesia, where it had for years, attracted a low-key group of tourists who came for the surf and unique Balinese culture.
Santa Fe – Artsy City Adventure – Tom and Priscilla
Santa Fe is the capital of New Mexico. At 7,198′, it is at a higher altitude than Albuquerque, and is the highest capital city in the US. Recent travel literature on Santa Fe had been pretty negative, with grumbles about the high concentration of retirees from all over that made the city a staid place for the young, and the authentic cultural experience that had since turned into a kitschy tourist destination. But was that true? We were going to find out for ourselves.
We headed straight to the well-known Santa Fe Plaza. Right on one end of the Plaza was the iconic Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. The other side of the plaza was the equally iconic Palace of the Governors where Native Americans sat displaying their wares by the sidewalk. Both these places made up the majority of photos that one could find on Santa Fe.
Tom and Priscilla Explore the Mysterious Ghost Ranch
Ghost Ranch was located in Abiquiu, and was owned by the Presbyterian Church who ran it as an education and retreat center. We had chanced upon this obscure place while looking into popular hiking trails in the state. Interestingly, Georgia O’Keefe had lived here, and the beautiful layered rocky canyon had inspired and influenced her art.
There was barely anyone around when we arrived at the ranch, and it appeared mostly deserted, if not abandoned. We found the office to register ourselves, grabbed a map, and started off on the Chimney Rock hiking trail. We soon found ourselves completely alone, the ranch far behind us. The hike was strangely quiet, except for the sound of our footsteps as we put one foot after another, slowly ascending the steep hill. As we trudged forward, a massive cliff face loomed in front of us, and it felt so close as though we could touch it with our hands outstretched. But, in between us was an abyss, made dark and intimidating by the cliffs that closed in around it. Our voices echoed as we hollered. Uncontrollably, the fear of slipping and falling circulated in our minds as we clambered upwards on a ledge. Thankfully, the trail flattened out to a path on the ridge of a hill, providing beautiful views in all directions. The trail ended as the hill dropped off into a vertical cliff, and right across, was the aptly named Chimney Rocks, which jutted out against a backdrop of desert and hills with azure sky.
Day 3 in New Mexico – Bandelier National Monument
Bandelier National Monument was about an hour drive away from Santa Fe, and was highly ranked on the list of places to visit in New Mexico. It was an ancient site dating back over 11,000 years, where the Ancestral Pueblo people carved dwellings into the rocky canyon and lived there for about 400 years.
Just ten miles short of Bandelier, signs abound at the town of White Rock to inform visitors that the monument could only be accessed via shuttle bus. We had clearly missed that information while planning our visit. A little confused, we walked into a brand new museum-like visitor center, where the staff informed us of the shuttle schedule and fees to enter the monument. We quickly parked our car and caught the monument-bound bus just before it left. The bus took us through winding mountain roads before ending at another visitor center, which sat at the entrance to the monument. A staff greeted us and gave a quick overview of what we could see and do once inside.
We bought our entry tickets, ventured through the visitor center, and right before exiting into the monument area, we came upon a group of Native Americans performing in their traditional costume. Another group of Native Americans was silently sitting on the floor against the wall, displaying handmade jewelry for sale. Bandelier was certainly tourist-centric.
As we stepped onto the trail, it quickly became apparent that no strenuous hiking was expected. There were families with young children and visitors in flip-flops. The monument appeared to be designed as an outdoor getaway for families.
Tent Rocks was a national monument with unique conical rock formations. We saw pictures online that piqued our curiosity, and right away, we knew we had to hike the trails no matter how tough it was going to be. Tent Rocks was also conveniently located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, making it a good detour as we headed towards Santa Fe.
Slot Canyon at Tent Rocks National Monument
At the Top of Tent Rocks National Monument
Travel to New Mexico with Tom and Priscilla
New Mexico was a spur of the moment trip. A friend who had visited a year ago came back with gleaming eyes and charming description of her time there. The excitement was so contagious that a year later, we found ourselves on a plane heading for Albuquerque. The green and luscious landscape of the upper Midwest summer gave way to the southwestern landscape of brown sand, rocks and cactus. Adobe homes hinted at an unfamiliar culture that existed in New Mexico, and most buildings were of a brown hue that blended into the desert. The sharp color contrast from Chicago’s scenery was a hard reset for our minds.
ABQ – Petroglyph National Monument
Sandia Mountain, 10,378’ – Just outside of Albuquerque New Mexico
Exploring the “Old Town” area in Albuquerque New Mexico
We had an amazing afternoon in Pondicherry as our final stop on our voyage South in India. The city has a uniquely European and cosmopolitan feel with an abundance of history tucked in every corner. Take a walk through the town with us as we explore Pondicherry!
Priscilla had found the Eco Village Resort as a pretty well rated place to stay, but at $40 bucks a night, I was let’s just say a bit skeptical… Wow was I wrong! This is true paradise that feels as if you have been dropped onto another planet of beauty and lifestyle.
To find the Eco Village, you turn off the paved highway to a pothole ridden dirt road passing by a few less attractive residences… Then you pass through a large gate to circle drive and gravel parking lot to check in. At this point you still don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into… “Alright let’s try it out” and we parted with our driver for the night and jumped aboard the mini-van fully equipped with a tiger painting.
Bumpty bump on into the resort along a small one lane dirt path lined with palm trees and mini cottages with thatch roofs. We were really into the village now! As we approached our lodge, the “Flex House” as it is named, was magnificent little rustic cottage with an other worldly feel. Pop open the padlock and enter to a spacious room with a boxed-in bed, high cieling that exposed the natural roof, and totally cool translucent walls with flower photos printed on them. Wow.
We only had one night here, so we were off right away to explore the property. Exotic trees and plants fill every view as we walked through the property at sunset. It was amazing, each “house” on the property was unique and had an authentically different experience. Some had outdoor showers, one was built high above the rest to give the ultimate view of the Indian ocean, and all had a feeling of true India. As we explored the area, we found the farm on site with a number of cows and fresh vegetables. The village was developed to be generally self sustaining, minus the beers and a few other modern conveniences.
One of my most vivid memories from this stay were the sounds. Our lodging was located just off the beach from the Indian Ocean and the sound of the waves breaking set the baseline for the atmosphere. Then early in the morning, the temple just outside of the village began with chants that remind you that you are definitely not in Illinois any more. Check out this video for a snippet of sound from the early morning hours.
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