During our recent trip to these two enticing places we experienced a number of amazing things and had our eyes opened to sights we will never forget – the glitz and glamour of orderly, polite, uber-wealthy Singapore in stark contrast with the crumbling ruins of mysterious Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia set amid the poverty stricken, red dirt countryside that surrounds that site.
Sometimes, however, it is the smaller discoveries on a trip that stick in your visual memories and linger in your heart and soul. My traveling companion and I are both artists and I am a writer – we cannot even comprehend how NOT to be visually oriented. We take thousands of pictures; we describe scenes, light, color, people and smells using a different vocabulary known only between the two of us…we store away ambience, mood, a fleeting happening there or a dialogue overheard here that will later fuel a painting or a paragraph in the book I am writing. We absorb everything, keeping it all in the loft of our minds for later use.
Here are ten things both large and small that impressed us, amid the hundreds of overwhelming experiences we had:
1) In the Singapore airport there is a special dimmed area of grouped reclining chairs for the purpose of giving travelers a place to sleep. Such a civilized, valuable addition…
2) In a different area there is a long table, supplied with free paper and crayons, where children and adults can do colorful rubbings of raised designs – perhaps a dozen or so – in various Singapore-related images. It is easy, it is fun, and for weary travelers it is certainly a welcome change of pace.
3) All over Singapore on various street corners you will notice a lattice-roof area which shelters a sort of courtyard perhaps as large as your living room, with sturdy wires, arranged in a grid, hanging down about 20 inches with hooks on the end, and each hook is numbered. What could this possibly be, I ask ? Well of course these places are there for people’s caged household birds, so that they can enjoy an outdoor afternoon.
4) Do not go to Singapore without eating Chili Crab – it is messy, best eaten outdoors, perhaps at a restaurant along the water. Spend a long, leisurely amount of time for this dinner; it is an experience! Bring friends; keep ordering food.
5) Go to the Marina Bay Sands resort hotel in the city, have a cocktail on the top floor and take in the view, but sneak around to the infinity pool (that is just for guests) – you must have a good look at it! The pool is located on the top floor, visually losing its edge as you swim, and the top of this building, at closer glance, is the shape of a long, sleek ship balanced atop a logic-breaking skyscraper in three sections. It is the iconic image one remembers of Singapore.
6) Siem Reap is a short flight from Singapore to the sweltering interior of Cambodia.You are transported to another time and place. Hit your re-set button and dial it down a bit so that you can understand and appreciate the wonderful people there and what their brutal recent history has dealt them. Buy things – they depend upon tourism and they have lovely silver jewelry. Talk with the people – they are hungry for information from the outside world.
7) If you are not faint of heart get yourself an authentic Cambodia massage. Lovely wafer-thin young women who cannot weight more than 70 lbs will walk on you, pull your limbs until you fear they will come off, bend and twist you like a pretzel and give your muscles a wake-up call the likes of which you have never experienced.
8) The most expensive restaurants in Siem Reap are not necessarily the best – you can have a gourmet Cambodian meal for about $12-15 per person, beautifully presented and delicious. The fruits and vegetables are delightful.
9) Do not spend less than two days touring Angkor Wat – if you do you will miss a lot and you will not be getting all the history and information you need in order to comprehend the vast importance of the ruins. It could not have been possible to construct such an enormous complex of temples and buildings were it not for the 40,000 elephants who hauled the stone.
10) Embrace the immense curiosity evident everywhere you go for the United States. People crave conversation – they want to understand you, where you live, what it is like there and why you came. You will love the people.