RTW Review: January 2015

RTW Review

A monthly summary of life on the road for a traveling couple on a trip around the world. 

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Sydney set a pretty high bar for the rest of 2015.

Fortunately, January more than lived up to expectations, minus a few small hiccups. After relaxing (and recovering) on New Year’s Day, we bid a fond farewell to Sydney and made our way west to Melbourne, where we learned that five days is nowhere near enough time to experience everything the world’s most livable city has to offer. But the vineyards were calling our name, and so we journeyed on to Adelaide, which served as our base for exploring the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s oldest and most famous wine regions.

After a lengthy delay at the Adelaide airport and a missed connection in Denpasar, our itinerary was sidetracked by a one-night stop in Bali. We gained an unexpected Indonesian passport stamp, but lost a day in Singapore, making our already short stay a bit too brief. Our next stop was mainland Malaysia, with the colors and chaos of Kuala Lumpur providing an interesting contrast to the calm sophistication of our previous destination.

An overnight train carried us briefly to Penang, where a few days later we hopped a ferry to Langkawi and another to the Thai island of Koh Lipe, which had one of the most heavenly beaches we’d ever seen. Bangkok, on the other hand, brought us quickly back to earth.

Days on the Road: 62

Miles Traveled: 15,676

Destinations Visited:

  • Sydney, Australia
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Adelaide, Australia
  • Bali, Indonesia
  • Singapore
  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  • Penang, Malaysia
  • Koh Lipe, Thailand
  • Bangkok, Thailand
RTW Review, Itinerary

RTW Itinerary for January 2015: Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Favorite City: Singapore

Our three-night visit barely scratched the surface, and we left with a strong desire to return and spend more time getting to know this culturally diverse city-state. Singapore wasn’t exactly a budget destination, but it was the perfect introduction to Asia, and we loved the modern architecture, the upscale amenities, and the amazing (and cheap!) food at the local hawker centres. But what really grabbed us were the fascinating neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam, the Malay Muslim quarter, which gave this shiny metropolis an unexpected depth.

RTW Review, Singapore

Singapore: It’s easy to see why they call it the Garden City.

High Point: New Friends

The best part of this worldwide adventure has been the opportunity to meet so many incredible people along the way. In Sydney, our new friends Francis and Nick and Richie helped us kick off the New Year in epic fashion. In Kuala Lumpur, we connected with fellow political consultant CW, and spent the evening talking shop and chowing down on some fantastic Malaysian food. We so enjoyed our longtail ride with Jaz and Adam in Koh Lipe that we met up again in Bangkok, where we also had a chance to hang out with fellow travelers, and some of our favorite bloggers, Amber and Eric and Hannah and Adam.

RTW Review, Koh Lipe, Thailand

Koh Lipe, Thailand: Sometimes you can make new friends in the most random of places.

Low Point: Bangkok

Oh, Bangkok. We wanted to love you. We really did. But your heat was oppressive, your streets were filthy, your touts were relentless, and you just made everything so damn hard. We spent eight consecutive nights in the city, and despite some really positive individual experiences, we left feeling completely frustrated, generally disappointed and mildly disgusted by our time there.

RTW Review, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand: Why we now rate cities on a scale of “Bangkok to 10.”

Biggest WTF Moment: Watching “Titanic” on the Ferry to Langkawi

We departed Penang on a high-speed ferry to the island of Langkawi, where the on-board entertainment turned out to be a screening of the film, “Titanic.” Seriously? Clearly, someone in charge had a wicked sense of humor.

Biggest Splurge: The 1975

We dropped nearly $125 on two tickets to see the English indie rock band The 1975 at the Center Point Entertainment complex in Bangkok. And they killed it. Everything about this show was awesome. The crowd. The vibe. The venue. Even the Thai teens pre-partying before the concert at the corner 7-Eleven had us (briefly) rethinking our love-hate relationship with this city.

RTW Review, Bangkok, Thailand, The 1975

Bangkok, Thailand: The 1975 concert was so awesome it almost made us like Bangkok. Almost.

Best Value: Dahra Beauty & Spa

On a tip from our friends Amber and Eric at With Husband in Tow, I booked a full day of pampering at Dahra Beauty & Spa in Bangkok. For less than $90, I spent five hours in total bliss, getting an herbal steam treatment, a body scrub, a body wrap, an aromatherapy massage, a facial and a pedicure, at one of the top spas in the city. Plus, by booking online, I received a 50 percent discount on the Full Spa Package (an ongoing monthly promotion) and a 20 percent discount on the pedicure. You really can’t beat a deal like that.

Best Thing We Ate: Singapore Chili Crab

We ate so many amazing things this month, it was almost impossible to narrow it down. But we’ve got to give this one to Singapore’s signature chili crab, which scored major points for taste, presentation and the pure entertainment value of watching the two of us completely demolish our meal while literally up to our elbows in sauce and crab parts, as the couple next to us used only their chopsticks and never even needed a napkin. Also, it’s accompanied by bread that’s been fried. (Which basically covers two of our favorite food groups.)

RTW Review, Singapore, Chili Crab

Singapore: The world-famous Singapore Chili Crab at Jumbo Seafood. So messy. So good!

More Memorable Moments:

Seeing Brock, a lifelong baseball fan, catch his very first foul ball at the Melbourne Aces game.

RTW Review, Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne Aces

Melbourne, Australia: A lifelong dream, finally realized.

Replacing the contents of my entire makeup bag after Brock left it behind at a bus stop in Adelaide. Whoops. (And in case you were wondering… yes, MAC is lot more expensive in Australia.)

Spending four gorgeous days on the beach in Koh Lipe, in a bamboo hut without A/C or hot water.

RTW Review, Koh Lipe, Thailand, Lipe Beach Resort

Koh Lipe, Thailand: So gorgeous, we were willing to forgo air conditioning. And hot water.

Racing through the malls of Kuala Lumpur in search of “Western-sized” clothing for Brock, after Tigerair somehow managed to lose his luggage on the 25-minute flight from Singapore.

Hanging with the high rollers at the casinos in Melbourne, Adelaide and Singapore.

Getting a chance to introduce my baby brother and his girlfriend (our very first visitors!) to Thailand.

RTW Review, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand: After 36 hours of travel, they still managed to put their game faces on.

Missing an email with an invitation to meet the United States Ambassador to Singapore, which was a total travel fail for two political nerds like us.

Drinking our way through the best wines (and beers!) of the Barossa Valley.

Museum-hopping in Melbourne, with a special trip to see the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria.

RTW Review, Melbourne, Australia, Jean Paul Gaultier

Melbourne, Australia: Fashion = Art at the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit.

Watching “American Sniper” at a theater in Thailand, where the entire audience stood for the Royal Anthem and a video tribute to the King before the show began.

Sipping on a Singapore Sling where it was first invented, in the Long Bar at Raffles Singapore.

Discovering the street art and hidden bars in Melbourne’s lively alleyways.

RTW Review, Melbourne, Australia, street art

Melbourne, Australia: Get off the streets and into the alleys.

Visiting the Garrett popcorn shop at the Siam Paragon mall. Twice.

Eating chicken rice in Singapore, ice floss in Kuala Lumpur, nasi kandar in Penang, massaman curry in Koh Lipe, and quite possibly the greatest gnocchi I’ve ever had in Melbourne’s Little Italy.

Accidentally finding ourselves in the middle of two Buddhist prayer sessions, first in Singapore, then again at the Golden Mount in Bangkok.

RTW Review, Bangkok, Thailand, Golden Mount

Bangkok, Thailand: A peaceful moment at the Golden Mount.

What’s Next?

In February, we explore more of Thailand, move on briefly to Cambodia, and then finally slow things down in Vietnam.