Time Flys

LAX to Tokyo to Singapore
Aug 25/26/27, 2019

Los Angeles to Tokyo and onward to Singapore is a lot of time in the air. It was 11 hours to Tokyo with a 3 hour layover and then 7 hours to Singapore. We left one day and arrived yesterday, or something like that.

After multiple time zones, several cheesy movies on the planes and lack of sleep our stiff bodies arrived at the Hotel Jen Orchardgateway in Singapore exhausted.

We woke up around 6:00 am after 3 hours of sleep, then stumbled down to breakfast in a brain fog. I noticed my cognitive and motor skills were delayed more than usual. Two double espressos later the fog lifted and we felt alive and ready to take on Singapore.

Orchard Road

The hotel is located on Orchard Road which is a major shopping area. Name a designer and they have a shop here or two: Herme, Prada, Jimmy Choo and Rolex. We have the taste and the budget for Costco and Casio, so onward we went.

Watch This! Now you see it, and now you don’t or the watch story.

Orchard, Singapore
Aug 27, 2019

Watch Spring Bar

A spring bar is the little bar on a watch case that the strap passes through. As we approached Singapore on the plane I was putting my wallet into my back pocket when my watch clipped the arm rest, pulling the spring bar off. The tiny bar was still in the strap as I maneuvered my free hand to catch it and it disappeared before my eyes. Poof! It had to have slipped out onto the floor, yet without getting down on all fours with a flashlight I couldn’t find it. I routinely buy Nato styled nylon straps for my watches because they are so comfortable. The strap companies always include two extra spring bars and the little tool to slip them in. At home I have about one dozen extra spring bars. But I was in Singapore now.

Certainly a watch store would have it, so we popped into the shopping mall next to the hotel and walked into the Watch Shop. Nope. Two more watch stores emphatically said no. Really? It is a Seiko watch and we found a Seiko store, perfect! Nope. This was getting a little weird, every watch shop should have hundreds of these in stock. Was I supposed to buy something first? I was asking very nicely but I’ll admit after the third shop not having any spring bars I gave then the skeptical “ you’re full of crap” look in hoping to make them feel bad.

The Seiko sales clerk did direct us to the Lucky Plaza which had about a hundred of the small booth vendors (our kind of people ).

The first watch store easily put on a new spring bar for 8 Singapore bucks, about the same as US dollars. However we did get to tour a few high end shopping malls in the process. One store was the flagship Rolex store where you could see several watch makers servicing watches of the rich and shameless. The waiting room, yes they had a waiting room, was on the other side of the service area. The clerks looked down their noses at us hillbilly nomads and didn’t even bother to ask us if we needed help. I asked where the Casios where, the nice ones.

It turned out that later the last shop put in a spring bar 1mm too short and it popped out later that day so I took the needle from the hotel sewing kit inserted it through the drilled holes, broke it off and then tied it in with thread to complete the DIY hillbilly MacGyver look.

*Follow up to the watch story and a happy ending. I later sold that watch to a fellow and I told him the spring bar and later the Seiko Thailand special edition story. Turns out I sold it to Ripley from Bob’s Watches ( see Bob’s Watches on YouTube) and later bought my first Tudor and then Rolex submariner from Bob’s with Riple

Singing in the Rain in Singapore

ION Orchard, Singapore
Aug 27, 2019

After the watch was firmly back on my wrist we continued our walkabout and ended up at the Marriott hotel to take a needed break in their lobby. Our feet were killing us and jet lag was setting in like an ocean fog. We had bought a cheap umbrella for the intermittent rain showers and made a note to pack one for all future trips.

Marla had read about a multi media show at the top of the Ion Orchard Mall, which was across the street. We crossed the street via another underpass and walked into another mall. The tickets were $20.00 each or free for every $20.00 spent in the mall. We were hungry and hit a restaurant to eat $24.00 club sandwiches and double espressos. Or does that make them $2.00 sandwiches?

ION Orchard

The Ion in the Sky exhibit was on the 56th floor which offered a 360 degree view of the city. It was spectacular. Then the curtains lowered over the windows allowing the computer animated show to project the history of Singapore.

Well done Singapore. 

Afterwards we limped back to the hotel not realizing how far we had really walked and took a nap.

Our hotel had a special lounge for the high rollers and Marla’s savvy room purchase at the top floor qualified us for entry. They had various snacks 24 hours a day which became our dinner. The Club Louge also had our own conseairge and waiters who would snatch your plate away at the slightest hint of you being through.

Hotel Jen Orchardgateway rooftop infinity pool

We then hit the swimming pool as the sun set. It was an infinity pool that could give you the heebee jeebees at 20 stories up, which was part of the fun. The jacuzzi helped our sore feet and knocked us out for the night.

It’s Hip to Hop on and off!

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Aug 28, 2019

Today we had breakfast and I discovered a new fruit. It looks like a speckled watermelon with a hint of strawberry. It’s quite good and was set up on an auxiliary fruit bar with these chilled sunken stainless steal canisters holding ice cream. To keep with the fruit theme I scooped up some mango ice cream. I’m on vacation not a diet. I will ask the name of the new fruit tomorrow but fear I won’t be able to pronounce or spell it. For now, it’s speckled watermelon.

The hop on hop off bus was right across the street from our hotel inside the visitor center. We picked out our combo ticket and hopped on the bus. After a short ride we hopped off at the icon of the Singapore skyline, the Marina Sands Hotel.

The hotel has three vertical towers topped by a horizontal deck spanning all three towers. It is said that the design was to look like the Chinese symbol for good luck.

We then walked through the atrium interior and out through the back into the Singapore gardens. The landscape design was fantastic with many different species of plants. Many of the trees were hundreds of years old, transplanted and lovingly cared for here.

Our path eventually took us through the Chinese and Indian gardens to get us to the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

The Cloud Forest is a rain forest of various plants and featured a artificial mountain to show the plants that grow in “different elevations”. It was about fives times bigger and more detailed than I expected. All of this is kept in a glass dome structure. We climbed our way up the mountain via the flying walkways suspended around and through the mountain. After walking down the mountain there was a short movie showing how we are screwing up the planet. Spoiler alert, humans are idiots.

For a break we had a quick lunch of fruit bowls, eating them with a toothpick while people watching from a bench on a jogging trail. Many schools kids were visiting on field trips learning about the environment and climate changes. They were cute.

With our feet rested we headed to the Flower Dome, which was exactly what it sounded like, again with impressive examples of plants and trees. I was awestruck at the age of the trees. Some were hundreds of years old, big thick and probably chosen for their aesthetics . Even the rocks were cool. Very feng shway .

Side note, many of you know about my foot problems and now a blister was slowing me down. Marla was having a plantar fasciitis issue which was keeping her at my pace. We were a matched couple. Marla’s fancy new running shoes were helping her, but I was fighting these cursed feet and losing.

We made it back to the bus stop and after a few minutes wait we hopped on. We noticed that the traffic was very light and flowed smoothly before I said something about how easy the driving looked for a major downtown city. This was partially due to the traffic signals which are computer run with input from each car’s transponder, then charges you for traveling on every major road. Surprisingly unlike Rome, Paris or Madrid there were hardly any motorcycles or scooters buzzing about.

The bus now toured the financial district and informed us about car buying in Singapore. Our audio guide said that to own a car in Singapore you must pay for a permit which is roughly the price of the car and it’s only good for ten years. This explained why every car seemed less than ten years old. This may also be why Singapore exports more used cars than any other Asian nation.

We then rode downtown where our audio guide now talked about the apartments going for around 3 million for a basic three bedroom unit. Eventually we made our way uptown near the National Orchid Garden and where those apartments by contrast are about 6 million. Fortunately most Singaporeans live in more affordable high rise buildings that are government subsidized.

After a long day of hopping we made our way to a massive food court located in the mall that we would use to cut through to the hotel’s street. We both ordered clay pots of chicken and rice. The meal had that burning clay pot smell and was still sizzling on the tray. None of the food vendors had drinks, you purchased them from the lady at the drink kiosk.

With our bellies full and on our way back to the hotel we bought this magnet that read, “Singapore is a fine city” you are fined for littering, spitting, chewing gum, etc. So true. Singapore is beautiful, clean and quiet.

Singapore’s Underground

Island Nation of Singapore
Aug 29, 2019

Many things are fascinating about Singapore. It’s a wealthy sovereign nation that is also lush, clean, small and has a population that has tripled since the 1960’s. To create space for this dense population, Singapore has been converted into an “Island of Skyscrapers”. This transformed vertical landscape was pretty cool to view from our comparatively short hotel of 20 floors, but still offered a spectacular city view.

The limited space has also resulted in the country’s development of its “Underground” with a possible subterranean water plant. Currently most of the Islands existing pipes and power grids as well as subway systems are already below the surface.

There are also master plans for large underground shopping malls, residential units and expressways. Even the possibility of subterranean farming could be a thing in the “not so far” future.

Something’s Fishy

Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
Aug 29, 2019

It was 3:00am and we were sleepless in Singapore. Insomnia and jet lag mixed with Allan’s stiff back and my sore foot could’ve resulted in one bitter recipe, but instead we popped Tylenol and laughed and eventually rested before the sun rose.

I was looking forward to our day and had purchased tickets for the S.E.A aquarium. Allan’s not so favorite thing to do, but I like fish so…..

Resorts World Sentosa Island

The aquarium is located on Sentosa Island. Actually it’s part of Sentosa’s Resort World which includes Universal Studios, Adventure Cove Waterpark, The Maritime Experimental Museum and something else called the Albatross. All these attractions are connected together by a “Disney Walk” kind of thing and we’d no idea it was such a big deal. Surprisingly the park wasn’t crowded and that was probably because it was off season or monsoon season to be more specific. We were lucky, the weather was great!

The S.E.A. Aquarium has over 100,000 marine animals and is one of the largest in the world second only to China’s Chimelong Ocean Kingdom.

This underwater world is organized into a series of zones such as the “Shipwreck” zone, which was the first exhibit we encountered, with an enormous glass wall and a …… sunken ship.

This is connected to an underwater glass tunnel that makes you feel as if you’re walking underneath a shipwreck on the ocean floor. A very good start!

There were other areas such as the “School of Fish” and ….

a “Jellyfish ” zone that used impressive special lighting to highlight these umbrella shaped translucent jellies.

With its huge variety of fish, the aquarium has created interesting viewing platforms like the “Ocean Dome” where you’re essentially underneath an aquarium with a water dome on top.

Then there is the “Open Ocean Habitat” that is designed like a huge theater and feels as if your peering out into the South China Sea. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I also particularly enjoyed the “Shark House” as well as the “Manta ray” exhibit. I still can’t tell the difference between a Manta ray and its close cousin the dangerous Stingray, but still get the Heebie-jeebies when I watch these exotic marine animals. RIP to Steve Erwin.

There were many exhibits dealing with the various aquatic ecosystems, discovery pools, colorful live corals (that is currently the largest display in the world) and adorable seahorses.

Yah I really like the fish ……

We left this 45 million liter Underwater Ocean Kingdom by way of an escalator and eventually exited out to Sentosa’s Resort Worlds walkway ….then ……

Hmmm….. and what is this? Fish and Food? Shameless? Perhaps. But before heading back we chowed down at the Hard Rock Cafe and it was delightful! It doesn’t get much better than that!

Let there be Light…..

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Aug 29, 2019

Supertree Grove-Gardens by the Bay

One of the most iconic sites of Singapore are the Supertrees located in the Gardens by the Bay. We visited the Gardens during the day but were told not to miss the show at night. So, after a short respite we made our way back to watch these trees lite up to music.

There are about 18 of these large looming vine covered tree like structures that range in height up to 160 ft. And although beautiful during the day are even more amazing with their twinkling lights and the music at night.

We weren’t sure where to stand in this forested grove and even joked about being in the wrong area, which was confirmed as the show began. We then hustled and followed the throngs of people toward the sound of music which was essentially on the opposite side.

Once there it was hard for us to walk around or even get an ideal viewing spot because of the crowds, but it was still pretty impressive.

Between the Supertrees there’s also something called the Skywalk that is basically a walkway between the trees allowing you to view the gardens below. Unfortunately we weren’t able to climb these trees due to the limited number of tickets. Definitely next time!

Taxi Cab Confessions

Island Nation of Singapore
Aug 29, 2019

We’ve found the taxi queues to be a bit confusing here. For instance there is the usual designated taxi line where you stand and wait for your taxi. At the front of the line you’ll hop in a taxi or not….. depending on whether the driver is going in your direction. Then there is the …. let’s call them the “gypsy drivers” who slowly pull up to the back of the queue and offer you a ride…. or not….. depending on where you want to go. Ugh! I also downloaded the “Grab” app, which is an Asian equivalent to Uber or Lift, but hadn’t used it yet. Frankly I had a hard time distinguishing who were the Grab app cars and who were the regular taxis.

Tonight after the light show we took a taxi… I think…. back to our hotel. The driver who we initially thought was a younger chap confessed his love of the U.S. As it turned out his alma mater is Oregon State University as he proudly showed off his “Go Beaver” tattoo on his forearm. He was very enthusiastic about his travels through Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Utah and even up through Vancouver. He said he would love to live in the states if it wasn’t for his parents.

Our conversation soon ventured into politics as he pointed out places we hadn’t had time to visit such as Little India, China Town, The Clark Quays as well as affordable places to eat and what foods to try.

He spoke about how safe Singapore is and how you can walk around at night and feel secure, which may be due in part to the country’s strict laws. Murder of course but also kidnapping and drug trafficking are all punishable by death….. and caning is still a thing here as well. Allan brought up the American kid who was sentenced to six strokes for graffiti and theft 1994.

After arriving at our hotel the driver mentioned that he was 58 years old. Wow! He had spoke with such youthful fervor.

Allan paid the man in cash and we felt fortunate for his good company and impromptu locals guide to this amazing place. Tomorrow we bid a-due as we travel onward…..

From Sing Town to Thai Town

Singapore Changi Airport
Aug 30, 2019

It was time to leave Singapore and fly to Thailand and leave this amazing top floor corner room. After four nights, we still hadn’t figured out the light switches. It was counter intuitive causing me to leave Marla in a darken bathroom many times and giving a bolt of lightning to the eyes at bedtime. I would hit a switch labeled “night stand” and nothing happened, I thought, until the next night I notice a small light around the base of the night stand would turn on and give a glow for the nightly visits. The “reading” light was a small over head spot light mounted 12’ high in the ceiling.

Enough first world problems, on to Thailand. The Singapore airport is two years old and is the nicest and most high tech airport us vagabonds have ever been in. There was self check in and self checking in of luggage. The luggage machine informed me that the suitcase was in the wrong position, to adjust the strap and that I clearly was not my stated weight on my passport. There was self emigration via scanning our passports and smiling into the camera to compare. So far so good.

* An occupational hazard for nurses is that you wash your hands about one hundred times a day and that is a good thing, except when it’s time to take your fingerprints. Marla has had this problem renewing her nursing license, she doesn’t have any fingerprints. Was she a Russian spy? Apparently they had to rule that out by having them scanned and then rescanned, and a little water boarding.

Raise your hands if you can guess where this is going?

Check in done, luggage done, emigration, not so fast Russian spy! Eh comrade?

Nyet! I scanned my passport , smiled to the camera, one gate opened, scanned my thumbprint and the next gate opened. Easy as getting on the subway.

My Russian spy of a wife was cock blocked at the thumb print. I thought maybe she was using her finger and not her thumb and took three steps back towards the gate causing an international incident. A customs lady scolded me in an unknown language, (probably Russian), and told me to step back (or be caned).

* caning involves stripping naked, bending over a wooden trestle and getting your butt whacked with a rattan cane by a doctor no less. They will count how many whacks to go as a curtesy.

In a moment of manly overprotective stupid husbandness, I told her to “ chill out, that’s my wife”. Later she laughed covering her mouth with her hand, but Marla had to go aside to the Bad Fingerprint counter for some ad hock water boarding.

Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 4

She passed, we passed and entered the nicest damn carpeted airport terminal we’ve ever seen. High end shopping and fancy artsy chairs and a 3 D movie that appeared out of a wall.

We had about two hours to kill so I restarted my David Silva novel that I hadn’t picked up in weeks and we used their free WiFi allowing Singaporean hackers access to our computers as a return curtesy.

Our Villa Awaits

Singapore Changi Airport to Amphoe Kathu- Kammala, Phuket Island, Thailand
Aug 30, 2019

We flew AirAsia airlines from Singapore to Phuket without a hitch, except that my luggage had been thrashed so much that it was now missing a wheel. C’est la vie! My suitcase had been well-worn and the short flight only cost $74. I decided to suck it up for now.

After gathering up our belongings we found our prearranged driver holding our name on a placard. We hadn’t used this service before and were pleasantly pleased as we settled in during our transport to the hotel allowing us time to soak in a bit of the local Thai culture.

Wyndham Grand Phuket Kalim Bay

I booked the Wyndham Grand which is a huge resort that is built on a terrace and located on Kalim Bay. Reaching our accommodations required being dropped off at the lower level, then shuttled up to the upper lobby where I arranged a few excursions before we settled into our “villa”.

Yep! That’s right! For the next 5 nights these budget nomads would call this villa home. I was going to surprise Allan but instead blurted out that our 1200 sq foot luxury retreat also came with a private pool with an amazing view directly overlooking Kalim Bay.

However, our room did come with a few quirks such as once again being in light switch hell. I mean how hard could it be to flick on a switch? There were switches for everything and everywhere. Some worked for the fan outside while others worked for different areas of the villa with no rhyme or reason. At one point we were awoken ….. twice ….with all the lights popping on. It wasn’t until we were checking out that we found this “master switch” that reset everything. Yeah, well. Whatever.

Elephant Sanctuary

Kathu, Phuket Island, Thailand
Aug 31, 2019

Just outside of Phuket is The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary where we had an opportunity to dedicate our time in the caring of these gentle beasts. There are about 9 of these retirement parks in Thailand.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket Camp 4

Upon arrival at the sanctuary we were led up to a shaded encampment with long picnic tables and an area to choose our colorful Karen cloth or traditional hand woven ponchos. There was also a section to buy elephant trinkets.

Shortly after being seated we began our immersion course into what I dubbed “Elephant Handling 101” and were educated about the 8,000 remaining elephants out of the 100,00 that once roamed Thailand. We also discussed the abuse of these animals for the benefit of tourism, such as the circuses and riding camps, as well as the purpose of this camp which is to rescue these elephants and place them in sanctuary. Today more people visit these rescue sanctuaries then riding camps.

Next in preparation for the care of these animals we were introduced to a few of the camps 50 female elephants, males are too aggressive, ranging in age from 41 to 74 years old. The elephant handlers talked about their different personalities and which ones were social…. and which ones weren’t. Just like people.

Food Preparation

We then got to prepare elephant food, which was some type of mush that we rolled up into balls. There were also baskets of sliced watermelon and sugarcane.

Food Delivery

Right before feeding time it started to rain….. well pour, but it didn’t deter our altruistic souls from hosting their lunch and thankfully we had brought the recommended rain jackets.

Mud Bath

Next we suited up for the mud bath which is basically a large mud pit. A group of us descended into a this hole while filling up buckets with wet dirt . Then as we coated our pachyderms wrinkled skin, the mud clumps went flying and Allan made a joke about mud wrestling at a frat party or a food fight or something… which got a good chuckle.

There were about 4 elephants in the pit with us and the possibility of being crushed to death was an ever present possibility. I kept falling to the rear of the animal and the words of the elephant handler to “Stay away from the hind legs! … That’s where they’ll kick!” kept racing through my head. I found it difficult to move in the pit though because my feet kept sinking in the mud. At one point I locked eyes with the woman next to me and said something like ……. “I don’t want to die today!” Shortly thereafter we were able to help each other away from the danger zone.

After mud wrestling with our pachyderm friends we were eager to hose them as well as ourselves off with water. I wondered what else, such as elephant poop, may have been smeared on our bodies during this activity and decided it was best not to dwell.

Paper Production

Speaking of elephant poop and before leaving the encampment for the day we were shown how the elephants waste is recycled. About 60 percent of the poop is used for fertilizer which is given to the villagers. The villagers in return grow food for the elephants whom eat about 100 pounds a day, which is sold to the sanctuary at a reduced cost. Another 30 percent of the waste product is used to produce paper which is sold to the local schools and shops.

What an amazing day!

James Bond Island

Phang Nga, Phuket Island, Thailand
Sept 1, 2019

I checked an item off my Bucket list today.

It was pouring rain and kept pouring. By the time we got to the harbor the wind was blowing the rain sideways. The tour company announced that due to the weather we could reschedule our visit to James Bond Island and about 40% of the people did just that. The Browns didn’t care. We already had our bathing suits on and could not be stopped or bribed with cookies and juice. We come from hardy hillbilly stock.

The boat pounded through the ocean for about 45 min before arriving at Phang Nga island with our bruised backs, butts and kidneys.

We beach landed and traversed a short cavern to the other side of the encampment, where we peeked out through a small opening before retracing our 200 yard slippery walk through the dark. The tour operators were winging things out of the usual order to compensate for the rain, and off we went.

After that we motor boated to a ring of these rock pillars and sea grottoes called Hong island, where some locals rowed us around in canoes. The scariest part was transferring in and out of the boat to the canoe while the boat bobbed in the sea. We managed that oh so not gracefully and with grunting noises.

Our guide got us extremely close to the grotto walls and overhanging volcanic rock that we nearly missed banging our heads on. Cool! Marla got the point on photo duties here because my iPhone decided not to work in the new waterproof case. Luckily the sea was calm within this little cove, yet the canoes still rolled with the waves that found their way through. 

We entered one small grotto and looked up to a heart shaped opening above. Our guide would routinely say “excuse me sir, excuse me” before pointing out a rock that looked like a dog, an alligator or one rock that looked like the droopy eyed ghoul mask from a Halloween movie.

Next we docked on Phang Nga island where our group had about 45 minutes to explore….. and find the bathrooms. There is no running water so you dip a bucket of water from the barrel and pour it into the toilet to flush.

This has always been a grail location for me to visit and it was stunning to see. There is a plaque commemorating a James Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, that was filmed here showing a scene on the beach.

There is a prominent First Aid Station there as walking around can be evil.

The island is a National Park and ironically, no guns are allowed.

The high tide was coming in and flooding the docking area up to the vendor booths. Other boats were also approaching and sadly that was our cue to leave.