Welcome to my blog (Leah Sweet), you can follow me as I explore the wonderful new country of Singapore.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Americans Guide to Singapore

Since my finals are luckily over I have a few days off before I am heading to Hong Kong on my last adventure. I decided to compile a list of a few things that I wish I knew before I came to Singapore. Not to say that this is an "idiots guide" but I sure did feel foolish in some cases here, so I would like to help avoid that for others. Most of these little differences I picked up within the first few weeks, but i honestly feel like I learn something new everyday. Well here it goes...
1. queue = wait in line... if a sign says "Q Here" you obviously have to wait in line there. They tend to write just a q instead of spelling the word correctly

2.mrt = the train

3. Ez-Link = Card scanned for the buses and mrt - which you purchase at the mrt station

4. Cash Card = Not sure the exact purpose since you can only use at vending machines... but I have one anyways and you just put as much cash on it as you want

5. Top-Up = Used in reference to reloading your phone/ez-link/cash card with money

6. Nets = Singapore's debit sort of system (Visa is not used much here) and your card has to have a nets logo on it... I have been asked if I want nets when I hand my Visa but it doesn't work like debit, trust me

7. SMS/Message Me = text NOT facebook messaging

8. Take away = to go
take away iced coffee

9. Plain is not understood and you must specifically say no sauce no veggies etc. or you will get something very different from what you imagined

10. DON'T order a caesar salad, the dressing is most always mayonnaise instead of what you would think, caesar dressing

11. If the bottle looks like it has ketchup, it will more than likely be spicy chili sauce... beware

12. If there are two soy sauce like bottles one will be vinegar and one will be soy... mix them both together

13. Mock meat = some sort of tofu or vegetable that has the same texture but not too appealing taste, I would stick with the real stuff

Mock Prawn

14. Any sort of Indian food that they say is "not too spicy" normally makes me tear up, so make sure to have a beer ready

15. Carrot Cake is not your traditional cake with cream cheese frosting, it is a dinner made of radish and rice mixture sometimes served with seafood

16. Kopi = coffee with sugar, black coffee is not easy to get, and Kopi-O is coffee with sugar and condensed milk

17. Toast is most always served with kaya spread which is a coconut and egg mixture, and remember plain toast is not understood

18. Drinking session = pregaming

19. Although I do not eat hotdogs they are always chicken hot dogs

20. White chicken breast is not normal unless you are at a nice restaurant, so no you didn't get a bad piece of meat it is always brown and quite stringy

21. Bao = bun so chicken bao is a chicken bun... they do not look appealing but they really are surprisingly delicious

22. Char Sui = barbecue pork so char sui bao is barbecue pork bun

23. Xiao long bao = steamed soup dumplings which are the best from Din Tai Fung Restaurant... they are amazing dumplings but you have to be careful of the piping hot soup inside and make a small hole to drink the soup before eating the dumpling or you will have a nicely burned palate

24. Chicken Rice, not chicken and rice is the staple of Singapore and will be consistently good

25. Always bring your ipod on the mrt, literally every child/adult will be on their iphones or ipads

26. Don't drink on the mrt or at the station it is a fine... I was barked at on my first day by a lovely lady to put my drink away before I took a sip

27. Coke light = diet coke, slightly different flavor that takes time to adjust but just as addicting

28. If you fumble with your chopsticks a set of silverware will magically appear, so make sure to practice

29. Hot tea is normally served instead of complimentary water

30. Dim Sum is always family style so often 10-15 dishes are ordered to share

31. Milo = still haven't quite figured it out but similar to nesquick it is a chocolate malt powder served hot or cold... you can get a milo dinosaur which is served with extra milo OR a milo godzilla which is served with ice cream

32. Everything is spelled incorrectly or with poor english, including country wide ads

33. There are plenty of strict laws but do not get too worked up about them, follow the rules and don't cause a scene... I have seen many Singaporeans j-walk and chew gum 

Hopefully these will help if you ever end up in Singapore! I will add on as I am sure more will come to me soon! Until next time...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vietnam Highlights

Since it is finals week I am going to keep this post short and go into more detail soon in the future when all of the stress has been removed from my life. Overall Vietnam was my favorite trip so far, I know that I say that every post, but looking back now it is a top spot contender. We arrived in the lovely country on Saturday, we luckily did our research and knew that we needed to get visas approved before we arrived in the country. After a $25 dollar fee and a good 45 minutes we were allowed into the country with a beautiful page filling visa. The outline of our trip was supposed to start right away to Mui Ne (a coastal village about 5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City) but due to their Labour Day holiday all of the buses were full, so we switched things around and started with Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). At first while doing research before the trip I was confused to see Saigon listed some places and HCMC for the same sights. Saigon was the original name of the 18 district city and HCMC is the name that it received in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. The most popular tourist district where we stayed, district one is still referred to as Saigon, hence the confusion. It is a name that can be loosely used either way. So here goes the top moments from my Saigon and Mui Ne adventure.

1.)Mekong Delta Full Day Tour- We got to ride down a local islands river in authentic boats and rice hats. It was amazing to see how these people live with such limited resources and how they rely on the Mekong River so much. The day was beautiful but very humid and it was the perfect introduction to Vietnam.
Mekong River

In My Rice Hat!

Boat Traffic Jam

2.)Sampling the local food. Vietnam is known for their spring rolls and soup called pho. So that is what we had for the majority of the trip. Pho Bo is essentially beef noodle soup and Pho Ga is chicken noodle soup. The pho is served piping hot with dishes on the side to add bean sprouts, chilis, fresh herbs, or soy sauce to your preference. I enjoyed my soup with just the simple helping of scallions. The soup was filling and delicious with plenty of meat and noodles to keep me happy. The US has nothing on their chicken noodle soup haha The spring rolls were as well amazing yet with a larger taste difference between restaurants. Some were had a more peppery flavor and others had more veggies, but all served with a spicy chili sauce.
Where Bill Clinton Ate Pho

Pho 200 Food...yummmm

Spring Rolls

Lots of Pho

3.) Cu Chi Tunnel Tour- These tunnels were constructed by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war to fight against US soldiers. They could not afford weapons so they created deceiving poisonous traps in the jungle and amazingly 500 km worth of underground tunnels. The Viet Cong lived in these tunnels for up to a year in order to keep their locations secure from the US army- and let me tell you they were very tiny! We got to explore a tunnel for a few minutes, and I was hot and sore from just that.
On an old US tanker

Kara squeezing into a tunnel

Tiger trap with poisonous spikes inside

inside tunnel

4.) Shooting an AK-47-After the tunnels we went to a firing range and took turns shooting an AK-47. It was feeling I will never forget, the power of this machine is unbelievable and actually pushed me backwards. I did not want to think about the destruction they caused.
Heading to the range

choice of guns?

GI Jane

So much power

5.) War Remnants Museum- A pictorial self guided museum on the Vietnam war in HCMC. It was a necessity to gain more knowledge on the Vietnam war while there. The museum was a little overwhelming with graphic photos and information. Kara and I did almost the whole museum in silence. We noticed no hostility towards Americans while on our trip. We sensed more of an accepting air that the people would never forget that time, but they were ready to move on.
Fighter Jet oustide

Very Scary photos

US photographer

Propaganda Posters

6.) Sand Boarding in Mui Ne- Mui Ne s a beautiful fishing village in Southern Vietnam with incredible yellow and white sand dunes. Unfortunately the white sand dunes were 25km from the town and not quite accessible on our motor bike. The yellow sand dunes were just as stunning, I felt as I if I was in the Sahara. Surprisingly there was a comfortable breeze from the water, and I think it was cooler in the dunes then in the town. We were taught by local children how to master and boarding and afterwards they kept saying "madame, tip please?". Since they took hundreds of pictures of us and taught us the ropes we made their day.


Had to...


7.) Fairy Creek in Mui Ne- This beautiful area was what we named "Mother Nature's Most Confused Place". This beautiful creek ran through yellow sand dunes, next to lush grass, next to white sand, and surrounded by yellow and white canyons and the jungle. Trying to think how this place was made boggles my mind. It was great relaxing hike just in time for sunset.
Starting out

White Cliffs

So confusing...

I don't get it

Beautiful Grand Canyon/Jungle


8.) Ostrich Riding- On the way up the Fairy Creek a local up to us gesturing towards a paddock. We followed him up much to our surprise to find ostriches milling around. He then goes "you ride?". We were so shocked and excited we stammered out a yes. The man helped us onto a make shift saddle on this ostrich. There was no way of controlling the animal, and I thought it would twist its head around to peck at me. Luckily he did not and I completed my one lap excited to return to the ground. It was the strangest thing I have ever done and something to be checked off the bucket list. (Even though I had no clue it was there)
My turn

so crazy

Kara's turn

I am planning my next trip to Vietnam and very excited to one day return to HCMC and Mui Ne. I would love to venture up the coast to Northern Vietnam and see Hainoi and the Halong Bay. Next time around I will. Until next time...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thailand Time Two

This past week was e-learning week for my classes, which means class is not mandatory. Attendance was not taken and notes were all posted online, that meant only one thing.... travel time!! Kara and I got a great deal on a flight to Krabi Thailand so we headed out bright and early thursday morning. Although we allowed three hours to get the airport we somehow just made it. The flight departed from the budget terminal which is not connected to the actual Changi airport and requires a bus to get to. That slowed us down finding the bus and waiting for it. By the time we go there it was 45 minutes to the flight. Apparently 50 minutes before Tiger Airways closes the desk and shouldn't allow people through. We managed to plea/beg/cry to get on the plane. It was hilarious because security took 3 minutes and we got to the terminal and on the flight within three minutes of that. We then proceeded to sit on the plane for 30 minutes watching everyone else board. We made it there, and that is all that counts. We saw three fellow NTU friends on the plane and made planes to travel together. The flight was about 1.5 hours and due to the time change it is as if we traveled for a half hour. The next decision with the NTU boys was probably the worst of the trip. Instead of splurging 200 baht (about 6 dollars) for a direct cab we opted for the 100 baht bus to Ao Nang beach. Ughhh the bus did not have aircon and we had to wait until it was full. Then proceeded for over an hour to drop everyone off at their hotels. Of course we were the last stop. 
Longest Bus Ride

After the madness we checked into our beautiful Vogue Resort. There was a fabulous deal on agoda.com and the hotel was not much more than a hostel. It was completely worth it, there was a TV (which we severely miss) Aircon, a porch, comfy bed, and a TUB! Little things that only girls would miss hahahah. Kara and I headed straight to pick up some pad thai and then to Ao Nang Beach. The beach was perfect we tanned, listened to music, and drank singha. There was a boy that walked up and down the beach with ice cold chang and singha and would ask us every three minutes if we wanted another. We finally had to just tell him we were done. We took a few laps in our beautiful hotel pool and showered. Then dinner with the NTU boys and our second pad thai meal. 
Ao Nang Krabi

Vogue Resort

Ao Nang Beach


We wandered around Ao Nang and went to a few bars, but they were pretty quiet for a thursday night. We ended up sitting on little stools on the sidewalk chatting with locals. The major form of transportation are tuk tuks (motor bikes with passenger carts attached). We experienced our first tuk tuk ride, and they are my new favorite form of transport. Ours was pretty awesome because it had speakers and was blasting some great hip hop  for us. 
Crazy Tuk Tuk

The next morning we woke up early and headed straight to Ao Nang beach to get a long tail boat. We had seen maps of the small islands off of Krabi and we desperately wanted to explore them. We got a longtail boat for a half day and our great driver took us out. The first stop was Koh Poda about twenty minutes from the beach. The island only has one small outbuilding and a bar. Although there were a lot of tourists we got there early and could stake out our spot on the beach. Most of the tourists on the island were asian and they tend to stay in the shadier areas so we had our own private beach for quite some time. The water was unbelievably clear and beautiful. It was probably the most gorgeous beach I have been to in all my travels. Around noon our private beach was starting to be invaded so we headed back to our longtail. 
So Many Longtails

Private Beach- Koh Poda

Poda Island

Stunning Water


The next stop was tub island about fifteen minutes away. Our driver brought us to a cave to watch the rock climbers over the water. Tub Island was gorgeous too, the water was about a foot deep for most of the area. This shallow waterway connected two small land masses each with only bars. We adventured down the beach for a little bit but then the intense Thailand sun got to us and we decided to return to the boat. We reluctantly headed back to Ao Nang beach for lunch. 
Crazy Rock Climber
Tub Island

Our Great Driver

One side of Tub Island

After lunch we wandered around and went to all the markets. The great thing with Thailand is it is so easy to haggle prices. You can easily get something for a quarter to half the original price. I got a beautiful braided leather bracelet for two dollars and three great hippie headbands for three dollars. That night we took a Tuk Tuk to a local night market. I am not sure if our driver didn't understand us because first he brought us to one that was closed and then to another that was a little creepy. There was one store that sold everything for 10 baht (about 30 cents). It was funny to look around at all the random stuff, we ended up getting scrunchies. 
Market Time

Cutest Tuk Tuk

Then since our flight was so early we went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool and caught up on some TV. It is ironic because we have watched real TV three times: In Bintan, one night in Bali, and then in Krabi. Every time the same has been on so we actually know what is happening. The show is called Junior Masterchef Australia, and is a competition show between kids who are somehow amazing chefs all under the age of ten. I don't understand how they are cooking half the things they do! Anyways quality show to catch up on at some point. Until next time...