A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Feb. 23 - THURSDAY ISLAND, AUSTRALIA

semi-overcast 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We've worked our way up the east coast of Australia and turned west, at the "Top End". Our port today is supposed to be Thursday Island. And it is Tuesday! (Ha, Ha!) Of course, back home it is Monday - and I'm actually writing this on Wednesday!

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I say "supposed to be" because we had to skip the port. Island boats tried valiantly for an hour to come alongside safely. Finally, our Captain deemed it unsafe for guests to transfer from the tender platform to the ferries and so, cancelled the visit.

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We had been advised that the current here, in the Torres Strait, is very strong. It separates Thursday Island from Papua, New Guinea by about 100 miles.

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The little island lies just 24 miles northwest of Australia's Cape York.

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Thursday Island was important in World War 2 as it was Australia's defense center. Before that, it was once one of the world's great pearling stations. So - today became a day at sea as we steam full ahead to Darwin, our final port in remarkable Australia.

Posted by Swenigale 00:55 Archived in Australia

Feb. 25 - DARWIN, AUSTRALIA

sunny 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We walked from the port into the city of Darwin along the new Waterfront. Mounted police caught my eye, as they almost appear posed in a ship’s rigging.

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Darwin has had a hefty share of disasters. Just one week after Pearl Harbor was bombed the same Japanese pilot mercilessly bombed Darwin.

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We went into one of the World War 2 oil storage tunnels that had been started in 1943 after the Japanese bombed Darwin'’s above-ground tanks. The tunnels were not completed before the end of the war, so they were never used.

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Personal stories of the men and their labors lined the walls of the tunnel. It was so hot in there. What those men must have endured. And we had fans!

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Christ Church Cathedral -– rebuilt after cyclone Tracy slammed into Darwin in 1975.

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The original church was built in 1902 in the style of an Old English Country Church designed for the tropics. The cyclone struck one hour after the midnight service on Christmas Eve. Over 70% of Darwin's buildings were destroyed.

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This is where we are- at the “Top End”, the Northern Territory. It is the rugged, tropical part of Australia (picture Crocodile Dundee), and still a bit of a frontier out-post.

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The new Parliament House is specifically constructed to withstand cyclones, as you may imagine.

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Northern Territory Coat of Arms

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Legislative Assembly Chamber – tabletop croc skin on loan from Crocodylus Park.

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This is monsoon season – really hot and humid! Even for residents! Taking a loca'l’s advice for lunch we gratefully went into the blissful “air-con” of Salvatore'’s restaurant.

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Red Horse – Hästa – huh, who knew?

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Top enders enjoy their reputation of devil-may-care attitude and eccentricity. And we enjoyed a lot of ribs and wings!

Posted by Swenigale 19:15 Archived in Australia

Feb. 27 - KOMODO ISLAND, INDONESIA

semi-overcast 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We are anchored far from shore near Komodo Island, but these boys are strong paddlers.

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A guest from Australia leaning over to the kids from deck seven, pulled off his own shirt and tossed it down to them! The kid caught the shirt and put it on.

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Komodo Island is in the center of the Indonesian archipelago. We are surrounded by breath-taking beauty as we await our turn to go ashore. Four of these nearby islands are home to the Komodo Monitor, or Komodo Dragon, the largest living species of lizard. Komodo is a National Park and the dragons (which can grow to almost 10 ft. and 150 lbs.) roam freely.

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Holland America's Rotterdam was visiting today, as well.

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Local villagers come to the park to sell handicrafts when ships come in.

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Crystal prints this warning to guests: "We have been advised to inform you that should anyone have any cuts or open wounds, they should not venture ashore. The dragons have a strong sense for the smell of blood and can be attracted to the source. It is imperative that guest know that they cannot freely come ashore to walk around and MUST follow our instructions to insure that you're safe while interacting with these prehistoric reptiles".

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Dragons cower in fear in the presence of the GIANT RED HORSE!

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I'm watching you!

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We were waiting for the tender to bring us back to the ship and some of the adorable children came to wave goodbye. Didn't they read the warnings?!!

Posted by Swenigale 21:45 Archived in Indonesia

Feb. 28 - BALI, INDONESIA - part 1

semi-overcast 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We are in mythical, mystic Bali for 3 days. One of Indonesia's smallest islands, Bali is home to 3 million Balinese, more than 90% of whom are Hindu. Temples are everywhere, including household temples for daily offerings to "placate ancestors and appease the gods".

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This first day we traveled to Bali Bird Park. There, we huddled in the tropical rain like these pea hens.

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Guests wandered around the lush park, with beauty around every corner. And, the rain was letting up.

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Heavy lifting - and they each poked those big beaks in Ed's pockets!

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Ed named it the "paint-by-numbers" bird.

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Our visit concluded, we returned to our buses to drive into the foothills of Mt. Agung, the larger of Bali's two active volcanoes.

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Bali is proud of its reputation in the arts. We passed these stone carvers on our way to our 2nd destination: the Elephant Safari Park in the National Rainforest. Wait till you see these pictures!

Posted by Swenigale 00:55 Archived in Indonesia

Feb. 28 - BALI, INDONESIA - part 2

semi-overcast 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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Bali's allure brings many international visitors; yet simple country life continues outside of the cities and resorts.

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Picturesque rice paddies are everywhere. Export crops as well as daily consumption crops are grown - since the Balinese eat rice for every meal. Mom cooks the rice for the day early each morning.

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Here come our rides! The highlight of the day -we are at the Elephant Safari Park, 2 hours north of the port of Benoa where our ship is docked.

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That's me in the hat. Park elephants were rescued from the deforestation in Sumatra. Guaranteed we are a much lighter load than the loggers gave them (even after a month on the ship!)!

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In the midst of the rain forest trails live farmers who grow grass which they then sell to the park for elephant food.

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We have no pictures of Ed and his elephant experience - so, I guess it's all about me!

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Hugs

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Kisses

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The three babies put on a show - .

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And then surprised their audience!

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After a lovely buffet dinner - time to leave with our delightful memories!

Posted by Swenigale 01:25 Archived in Indonesia

March 1 - BALI, INDONESIA - part 1

sunny 90 °F

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Ed and I escorted two very different-all day tours today - Ed got the one with the scary dancers!

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It is the start of the 3rd segment of the World Cruise, subtitled "Food and Wine", with guest chefs and wine experts.

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The traditional Barong Dance depicts the fight between good and evil.

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Ed's tour also visited Ubud's artist colony, the Neka Art Museum and Pura Kehen Temple complex.

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My tour started at the Royal Temple complex of Pura Taman Ayon, the 2nd largest temple complex in Bali.

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The area inside these walls is not open to visitors.

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Today is a very important festival day, so only men do the cooking at the temple.

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Chicken-butchering assembly line

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Something is cooking

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Men and women doing the festival preparations are all volunteers, but they reap many blessings. These men are also having a good time!

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Not everyone was laughing.

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Elaborate pork strip sculpture - the director of all the pork preparation is the man in the foreground.

Posted by Swenigale 20:25 Archived in Indonesia

March 1 - BALI, INDONESIA - part 2

sunny 90 °F

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Leaving the royal temple, we walked back to our bus to continue our tour, surrounded by interesting photo ops.

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Security guards parade to their duty at the temple festival.

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We've reached the coast and the temple of Tanah Lot.

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A populate site for wedding photos amidst the volcanic rock and the sea,

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There are five temples built along the water's edge to pay homage to the guardian spirits of the sea.

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Inside the temple rock is a fresh water pool revered as containing holy water.

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The tide rises and soon the temple will be surrounded by the sea.

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Time for this snake to go back in his basket.

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I've climbed back up from the beach - yes, the tide is higher still. Can't stay to watch, though - it's lunch time!

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Washing up at the restaurant

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My group ate at this lovely restaurant, just a few minutes' walk from the seaside temples. There was a soothing Koi pound.

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.and yummy buffet.

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Ed, on the other hand, ate lunch here, at the Dirty Duck Diner (hee hee).

Posted by Swenigale 23:55 Archived in Indonesia

March 3 - SEMARANG, INDONESIA

all seasons in one day 85 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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Early this morning we arrived on the north coast of Java (we are still in Indonesia) and made our way through the city Semarang and low land rice paddies and villages. Our goal, some 3 hours' drive into mountains.

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. Borobudur, a wonder of the ancient world.

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This amazing stepped pyramid was built over a period of 80 years in the 9th century and is among the best preserved ancient monuments in the world.

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The Buddhist shrine was the greatest and largest the world had ever known. No mortar joins the stones and it measures 403 square feet and is 100 feet in height.

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The stone carvings are so well preserved because for 8 centuries Borobudur was abandoned and buried by volcanic ash and jungle vines.

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Carved stone panels line the walls depicting the life of Buddha. Our guide walked us through the story and around the levels until we arrived at...

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. "Nirvana", the highest level of human existence, according to Buddhism.

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And here we are; privileged to have seen the amazing work of ancient artists. BTW, the matching sarongs are required!

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We had a crazy drive through driving rain (it IS the monsoon season!) and arrived at our second destination, Prambanan temple.

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Also built in the 9th century, this is the largest Hindu temple complex in Indonesia.

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Reconstruction is ongoing - the original complex consisted of 240 temples.

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We donned our matching Smurf ponchos- the six of us making quite a sight!

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High up inside the towers we entered unlit chambers that house stone statues of the Hindu gods.

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A final look back at Candi Siwa, the highest temple at about 150 feet. (It was difficult choosing just a few pictures for this post. What incredible stonework!) Our police escort joined us with sirens blaring for the return ride and our crazy driver got us back in plenty of time for the sail-away! We only hit the bus in front of us once! Whew. What a trip!

Posted by Swenigale 23:45 Archived in Indonesia

March 6 - KUALA LUMPUR/PORT KELANG, MALAYSIA - Day 1

sunny 94 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We had a full day of butterflies, flowers and fish in the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is called (BTW, we are now in the Northern hemisphere once again).

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Our tour also included photo stops at the major sites of the city, but let's save them for tomorrow. We will be here one more day.

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The largest butterfly park in the world.

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.great for families - there are flowers, waterfalls and Koi, as well.

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We visited the Hibiscus and Orchid Gardens.

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While boarding our bus after a photo stop these long tails caught my eye.

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In Aquaria, another stop on this all-day tour, a piranha display

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Posted by Swenigale 05:35 Archived in Malaysia

March 7 - KUALA LUMPUR/PORT KELANG, MALAYSIA - Day 2

sunny 95 °F

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We're up! Yesterday we toured at ground level - today, on our own, we headed up - high up in the KL Tower. Here's a look over to the famous Petronas Towers.

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Yesterday, at ground level, I got a great shot - tallest twin towers in the world. We also have lovely pictures of the many beautiful buildings from colonial days and Kuala Lumpur's stunning new architecture. Of course, you can goggle KL to see those!

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You may not see this, however. We were high up in the outdoor observation platform. Somehow, I don't think we would be allowed up here back home! Where's the glass?!!

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Maybe this is why we had to sign that long release form!

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What a view!

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Back down to earth - the KL Tower has a small hands-on zoo.

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Momma meerkat feeds her babies. Ho, hum.

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We fed corn to the greedy spider monkeys.

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The lowly groundhog.

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.poster child for a thoughtful Charles Darwin quotation.

Posted by Swenigale 06:15 Archived in Malaysia

March 8- PENANG, MALAYSIA

sunny 93 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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Malaysia's largest Buddhist shrine, Kek Lok Si Temple

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Also known as the temple of the ten thousand Buddhas

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Stairs led most of the way up and then there is a short incline rail ride for the final ascent.

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The complex is crowned by a 98 foot bronze statue of the Kuan Yin.

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Later, back down in the city of Georgetown, at the Thai Buddhist Temple, we saw the 4th largest reclining Buddha in the world.

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Inscriptions at each Buddha statue in this temple tell the faithful what to expect for their prayers.

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Dragons guard the entrance.

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These guys are in a temple across the street.

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Our full day tour had many stops and we drove along the coast and into the mountains of this beautiful island. Where are we? Just off the Malay peninsula in the Malacca Strait.

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Exploring a Batik workshop

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Steady hands!

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Local fruits and spices

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Our final stop was at the Chung Keng Kooi Mansion, once the home of a Chinese captain.

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In the mansion, a couple prepares to pose for their photographer.

Posted by Swenigale 03:05 Archived in Malaysia

March 9- LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA

sunny 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We are in the path of the March solar eclipse, just a bit too far north to see totality. The timing was great - this was around 7:30 in the morning - looks like Pac Man!

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Without the eye-protective glasses you would never know an eclipse is occurring.

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Our two island adventure started from the island of Langkawi where Serenity docked for the day. Until just recently, guide books described this beautiful area as a well-kept secret. It has now been discovered. An archipelago of 104 mostly uninhabited islands in the Adaman Sea off the coast of northwestern Malaysia, the official name is Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah.

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Small boats zip across the calm waters to bring us to Pregnant Maiden Island. There she is with her head on the right and her hilly profile with bumps in all the right places.

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Leaving the boat, we climbed 200 stairs up the hill and down to our destination, a fresh water lake!

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The lake was formed when the roof of a limestone stone cave collapsed and the doline filled with rainwater. I floated on my back and gazed up at the surrounding cliffs, amazed to be here.

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The only inhabitants of most of these island have four feet and very long tails.

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Back in our boat we zigged and zagged our way to another island. The men steering the boats raced each other and gave guests heart failure by aiming for the rocks!

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So - first a swim in a fresh-water lake, and now at a calm seaside beach

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These girls are comparing their selfies.

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Forgetting our guide's warning about cheeky monkeys, we left our stuff unguarded as we went for a swim.

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Oh, oh!

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Ever bolder, the monkey with the bag had just snatched it from an unsuspecting tourist and made off with her cookies!

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Natural wonders have earned Langkawi a UNESCO World Geo Park designation. Hopefully, it will help to preserve this special place.

Posted by Swenigale 01:45 Archived in Malaysia

March 11 - SINGAPORE

sunny 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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The Merlion, symbol of the city-state of Singapore - a close-up picture from the top deck of the Crystal Serenity. We are docked here for 3 nights and 2 days.

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Sky cars and a monorail run between the city and Sentosa Island, home of Resort World and Universal Studios.

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Singapore is a modern success story, due mainly to the policies of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister. Singaporeans love to eat and shop - yet they abide by strict social rules. (No gum chewing, no spitting, death for drug offenders, stuff like that.)

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We are just 90 miles north of the Equator so, yes - it is still 90 plus degrees and 90% humidity, but - there are ways to keep cool at Universal Studios Singapore.

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Universal is having a giant Easter Egg hunt this month.

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Not all employees seem thrilled.

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Sesame Street rules!

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The return of Bumblebee and the Transformers.

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Very few Westerners here - perhaps because it is so Far, Far Away!

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The castle from the movie "Shrek"

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Love this!

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We had our own personal dragon.

Posted by Swenigale 22:45 Archived in Singapore

March 12-13 - SINGAPORE

semi-overcast 90 °F

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My tour today (March 13) with ten Crystal guests went to the 50 acre Jurong Bird Park. First stop, the "Birds of Prey Show".

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This is the start of the 4th segment of the World Cruise.

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The "Monarchs of the Skies" are trained to re-enact their hunting prowess. (The carcass isn't real, by the way.)

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Passing posing flamingoes on our way to the next show

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The "High Fliers Show" features free-flying performances by colorful birds and the most amazing vocal renditions by an Argentinian parrot that I have ever heard! Would you believe counting in two languages and singing songs in three different languages! I got a great video!

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This is the first and largest aviary in Southeast Asia; over 8000 birds represent some 600 species. Inside, is this 100-foot waterfall, the tallest in the world inside an aviary.

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Unexpected walkway companion

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While I was communing with the birds, Ed escorted a "Spirit of Singapore City Orientation". This is our 4th visit to this fascinating city, so our past blogs highlighted much of what he saw today. The beauty of the orchids in the National Orchid Garden can be enjoyed again and again.

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This variety is the National Flower of Singapore, which blooms all year long.

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The Dancing Lady - see her dress?

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Singapore's Chinatown is extremely clean!

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Last time here we went on one of those canal bum boats, went to the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and rode the Singapore Flyer (the Ferris wheel).

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Ed's tour brought him back to the famous Raffles Hotel.

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.where he helped celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling .with a Singapore Sling and peanuts!. The peanut shells are traditionally discarded on the floor, making it possibly the only place in Singapore where you can legally litter!

Posted by Swenigale 17:45 Archived in Singapore

March 15 - KOH SAMUI, THAILAND

sunny 90 °F
View SERENITY 7 on Swenigale's travel map.

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We are in Thailand, where 90% of the population are Buddhists. Koh Samui is an island off the mainland.

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This is the Temple of the Big Buddha; at the top you can see the beautiful blue waters that lure visitors to this island from around the world.

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Much restoration has taken place, and continues.

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A different temple visit: Wat Plai Leam

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Guanyin, the goddess of compassion and mercy (with "duck boats" floating nearby)

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Also here is the Fat Chinese Happy Buddha, who represents wealth and prosperity.

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Wandering fowl

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Lunch break (this is a full day tour, after all)

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A beautiful beach resort with a tempting Thai buffet

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On to more adventures / education: at this coconut plantation we learned how Pigtail Macaque monkeys are "sent to school" at the age of two. They are taught to harvest ripe coconuts for their owners! In this photo, a man makes coconut cream.

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Still more Thailand adventures: a visit with "baby elephants"

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Ta Da!

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Back massage, anyone? And a sucky head kiss!

Posted by Swenigale 07:55 Archived in Thailand

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