It is difficult to list down the events, and impressions, of 11 days of such a colorful trip in a few words. However, I will endeavor to do so without taking away from the charm and wonder of a truly memorable trip:)
At the Mumbai airport, when I first beheld the tour members approaching our rendezvous, (recognizable from the scarlet Kesari hand luggage!) I must admit that I was a bit disappointed. I am a people person and generally enjoy in a group. However, the members seemed to be much older and one of the younger families had kids so they probably would not have much time for others I felt. Appearances and first impressions can be so wrong sometimes! Kesari impressed me there itself, when they thoughtfully handed us packets of dry snacks and Diwali 'faral', and also caps, at the airport.
Our first stop was Hongkong and we met everyone properly only when we landed at the Hongkong airport. Our tour guide had everything in hand and he introduced us to the local tour guide- Veronica. She spoke English in a thick Chinese accent, but she had a wacky sense of humor. We reached Hongkong in the evening and were given just an hour to freshen up before being taken to the Avenue of Stars. It reminded me of Marine drive of Mumbai in the evening. The laser show with lights shining in various patterns from the high-rise buildings lining the lake in tandem with music was mind blowing! I had never seen anything like it before. Dinner at the Indian restaurant was really good - it felt as if we were eating in India only. On the second day, we did a city tour and there was a brief self-introductory session in the bus. It felt good to match names with faces and find out more about our fellow travelers. The second half of the day was spent at Disneyland and the various shows- Lion king show, the Disney parade and the Fireworks show really made our day. Urged on by our group members, I somehow plucked up the courage to go on the Space Mountain ride which is a high speed roller coaster in the dark. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience as I plan on NEVER taking such a ride again:)
On the 3rd day, we left for Malaysia and landed at the Kuala Lumpur airport. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant again (excellent food!) and then went on to Genting Highland. This is a weekend getaway kind of place with casinos, and a theme park for day-time entertainment. After depositing our heavy luggage in lockers at the foot of the hill, we traveled the last lap to the top in cable cars. The panoramic view of the verdant, and almost vertical, cliffs from the cable car was breath-taking! Genting means 'in the clouds' in the Malay language, and we were literally among the clouds when we reached the place! We had to lug our overnight bags up and down a maze 0f escalators to reach our hotel. This had been by far the most hectic and tiring day of the tour and it was not yet over! After freshening up for an hour, we went for dinner at a multi-cuisine restaurant. This time we partook of other cuisines such as Thai and Chinese food.
Post dinner, we were taken to a casino where some of us tried our luck at the various tables. But apart from one lucky member, no one made any money. Our tiredness soon saw us trudging back to the hotel room for a much-needed shuteye. The next morning was Diwali day. We had been given the 'utna' (scented herbal powder) with which to take a bath. And we had been asked to don our best clothes as today there was to be a group photo session. So, after our elaborate ablutions, and a sumptuous breakfast, we headed out to the theme park at Genting. Now, I'm not a adventurous person when it comes to rides at amusement parks. There was a ride called as Space shot, where they take you up a tall tower and then just drop you from the top. For a few seconds, it feels as if this is the end, but then the free fall is checked and you reach terra firma safely. Everyone was singing praises of the ride and since I had not garnered the guts to experience it, I can only repeat from hearsay that this was the highlight of the trip so far :) After lunch at the same multi-cuisine restaurant, we headed back to Kuala Lumpur. However, our cable cars on the way down stopped for the longest, and scariest, half hour and we were literally suspended from the ropes with the cars swinging in the wind for that time. I must have hummed all the prayers I knew under my breath in this time!
After a city tour of Kuala Lumpur we finally checked into our hotel at 10 pm. A couple of ladies still had the energy to perform Laxmi pooja! We met at their room and at 10:30 in the night, all of us sang aartis and offered our prayers to Goddess Laxmi in Malaysia. The following day we started for Singapore, this time by road instead of by air. Our first stop after reaching Singapore was the Jurong bird park. We were fascinated by an astonishing variety of birds at this park. There was a bird show where birds actually sang, played basketball and flew through hoops held by random members of the audience. After that we went for the Night safari. We were taken for a ride through the jungles in a tram where we got to see animals in their natural habitat during night time. There was also an animal show where they introduced some animals and a snake was actually 'found' under the seats among the audience! This was part of the show, by the way.
The breakfast at our hotel was oh so good, I can still taste it:) Post breakfast the next day, we visited the Orchid park, the Gems gallery and undertook a river cruise through Singapore. I had never seen orchids in so many varieties and colors before. What's more, I discovered that orchids had a subtle fragrance only after seeing them there in full bloom. The life-like 'paintings' made of gems and precious stones in the Gems gallery was a novelty, though expensive. We went to Sentosa Island in the second half. This is well-known for its Underwater World, one of the largest oceanariums that has an 83m long acrylic tunnel for a spectacular view of marine life. We also visited the Images of Singapore gallery and then did the Louge ride which involved driving small cars down a slope with hair-pin curves and then coming back up in cable cars. The simulated roller coaster ride (Cine blast) and the 3D movie on Pirates were a blast. The final attraction at Sentosa was a light 'n laser show called 'Songs of the sea'. It was a spectacular show of water fountains, lights and figures & patterns made of laser beams over the backdrop of sea. On the way back from Sentosa to Singapore city we had an hour's halt for shopping at the Mustafa mall by popular demand.
The following day we left for Bangkok by air. After reaching Bangkok, we traveled by road to Pattaya. On that first evening, we were taken to see the Alcazar show, which had cultural dances by beautiful 'ladies' in colorful costumes. The songs were all in Thai, but there was one in Hindi which we could identify and understand. Later, the 'ladies' stepped out among the audience and posed for photos for a price. It was only after we left for our hotel that we were told that they were not ladies at all but 'ladyboys' and what we saw was a ladyboy cabaret. Dinner at Pattaya was a bit of a letdown. The next day saw us speeding in a boat to Coral Island for some water sports. We did parasailing and underwater walking to feed the fishes. The latter was a really interesting experience. We rode the water scooter and then shopped for souvenirs at the stalls on the beach. After a bath, some rest and a wholesome lunch, we set out for the Nong Nooch village on the outskirts of Pattaya. There we were entertained by yet another cultural show and then by some impressively well-trained elephants. Did you know that elephants can bowl, play football as well as paint? Well, believe me, they can! After posing with some interesting sculptures in the garden at Nong Nooch, we went for the much-awaited and anticipated Thai massage in Pattaya. The hour-long scientific massage based on acupressure was heavenly to say the least! We were all floating on scented air post the massage and all 'loosened' up to taste the night life of Pattaya:) The walk through the Night market was a sad sight as the flesh trade is so blatant and in-your-face. I felt bad for the ladies who were being openly solicited by their pimps outside bars and restaurants. The next day was the most relaxing one of the entire trip. In the morning we spent 3 hours doing some serious shopping at a jewelry gallery. Yes, we ladies celebrated a belated 'padwa' :) after which we had lunch and then proceeded for Bangkok. The hotel at Bangkok was the best and the hotel property was awesome. The view of the river with a bridge across it from our room was amazing. However, we could not spend much time in the luxury of the hotel as some members couldn't wait to explore the shopping at Bangkok. So off we went to the MBK mall. However, we got a good taste of the famous traffic jams of Bangkok en-route and were stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours! But we put the time to good use by playing a game of Dumbcharades and generally enjoyed the break. Having lost valuable time, we only checked out all the important stores at the mall for some serious shopping on the subsequent day. The next morning had us walking the most as we flitted from various shows(dolphin show, sea lion show, orang utan show and the James Bond show) in the Safari park of Bangkok. The wild-life safari was scintillating, but my ambitious plan of pulling the hair from the lion's mane was thwarted as they wouldn't allow us to alight from our bus :( We spent the latter part of the day shopping again and took an adventurous ride in the sky train, and later in a taxi, in crime-ridden Bangkok.
And then on the last day of the trip, we visited the temples of reclining Buddha at Bangkok. It was a serene experience and the splendor and hygiene at the temple held us enthralled. We took a 360 degree view from the revolving deck on top of the Baiyoke tower of Bangkok which showed that there was a shady part to the city just like our Mumbai. The latter half of the day was spent in bargaining at Indra square market. On our last journey to the airport, we gifted a diary to the tour guide thanking him profusely for making our trip so comfortable. The speeches got a bit emotional.
And so ended our grand tour of south-east Asia. It was a much-needed break from routine, a refreshing change with hardly any head or heart ache and worth every penny we spent! I whole-heartedly recommend the destination, the tour as well as the tour company -Kesari!!
Small gestures that made some moments unforgettable-
- Calls of 'Ganpati bappa moraya ' whenever we started for any trip in a bus.
- Singapore guide Helen's naughty sense of humor on bird(butt) park.
- 'Thumka' given by one of our senior lady members on a song during 'Antakshari'.
- Dumbcharades game played on the bus.
- Good natured ribbing of Joshua on his shoppaholic nature.
- The camaraderie and looking-out-for-each-other spirit shared by all group members.
- The uncomplaining and adjusting nature of the senior members as well as the youngest member, Soham, in the group.