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November 2014
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March 2015

Recap 2014 - our most traveled year to date

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We had a wonderful year of travel.  We took 21 trips, visiting 12 different countries.  We added three new countries to our list;  Philippines, Australia, and Timor Leste bringing the total country count to 53 for me and 54 for D.  This is my year to sneak off and visit a new country without him! 



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Countries we visited this year:  Australia (new country), Cambodia, China, Indonesia (6x), Japan, Philippines (new country)(2x), Timor Leste (new country), Thailand (4x), USA (2x), and Vietnam (2x).  D also had several trips alone this year (too short for me to go):  Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia (2x), New Zealand, for a grand total of 27 trips for him!

We kicked off the year by being published in Somerset Studio's beautiful magazine  Artful Blogging...





And in July, we were published in our local Singapore Magazine, ExPat Living - The Travel Guide - featured with three articles!





As in previous year end reviews, we pick one photo to recap each trip to best represent our experience/memory of that county.  It is not necessarily "the best" photo of the trip.  If you click on the link in blue, it will take you to the full blog post.




Cebu & Moalboal, Philippines







Melbourne, Australia







Japan - Tokyo, Nagoya, Nara, and Kyoto







I don't write posts on our US trips, but will share a special photo of D's mom and Dad.  His father was inducted in the Virginia Wrestling Hall of Fame.


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Bali, Indonesia - with Tammy!






Bangkok, Thailand - with Tammy!



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Singapore - with Tammy!



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Chaing Mai, Thailand



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Phnom Penh, Cambodia



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Borabudor & Yogyakarta






Phuket & Khoa Lak, Thailand



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Hong Kong, China  








Jakarta & Bandung, Indonesia



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Bangkok - with Daisy and Noel







Bali Indonesia - Cathy's girls trip!





Hanoi, Vietnam with Erin





Sapa, Vietnam with Erin






Dili, Timor Leste








USA (Cathy only)


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 a visit to see my mom!




Manila, Baguio, Vigan and Lauag Philippines







 Saigon and the Mekong Delta, Vietnam


New years eve






Thank you to all of those who have stopped by for a visit and left a message.  And an eXtra big thank you to our loyal readers - you know who you are !!  Sometimes I ask myself if this blog is worth all the time I spend on it,  then I receive an encouraging note from you .... and I realize it is.  Happy New Year!


Where will 2015 take you?



Timor Leste - the youngest country we have visited


October, 2014



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Timor Leste was a fascinating place to visit.  It had crystal clear water and beautiful beaches.  Also called East Timor, this small island country is located between Indonesia and Australia.  It shares the island with West Timor, which is still part of Indonesia.  Timor Leste has a very tumultuous history and has only been a country for 13 years.



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Timor Leste was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century, but they invested little in TL and in 1975 Portugal walked away from it.  Timor Leste declared its independence, but within days it was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. 



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Guerrillas fought for independence for years.  It was not until 1991 that the rest of the world started to pay attention when Indonesian forces opened fire on a memorial procession in the capital, Dili, killing at least 250 people.



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In 1999, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, but it was May 20, 2002 that Timor Leste became its own country. 

The country is not set up for tourists and receives relatively few visitors.  You can only fly there from three other countries: Singapore (lucky for us); Darwin, Australia; or Bali, Indonesia.  From Singapore, there are only two flights per week.  



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It is hard to describe TL.  I have to admit, when we first arrived I felt a bit unsafe.  Maybe I read too much about its history and that the United Nations had only pulled out 2 years ago, in December of 2012.

After the first day, we could see it is simply a laid back, peaceful country.  As I said earlier, they just don't cater much to tourists.  I even had a difficult time researching the country for things to do.  



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Timor Leste's population is around one million.  It is a very poor country with about 52.9% of people living below the international poverty line - less than U.S. $1.25 per day.  Sadly, 50% of the population is illiterate, especially among the younger generation; which is very unusual.



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Their natural resources are oil, gas, gold, marble, sandalwood and coffee.  They need to figure out how to export these products to bring money into the country.  You can purchase coffee from Timor Leste at Starbucks.



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We only visited Dili, the capital.  Surprisingly; hotels, restaurants and car rental are very expensive for such a poor country.  Again, due to lack of tourists.  The roads are very rough and it takes hours to get anywhere.  Because of this, we chose to only visit Dili.  For our first two nights we stayed in a sweet little B&B on the outskirts of the town.






October is the dry season so we saw a lot of dust, dirt, and brown landscape.  




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The next photo shows a woman selling milk.  You can see a few bottles on the table. 

*update*  A reader informed me that this is not milk, it is tua mutin, a palm wine brewed locally.  And he said it is very potent stuff! 



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 People, trucks, and taxis



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Young men would stand out on the main road selling fish.  The one above had a beautiful smile, but when I asked to take his photo, he became very serious.



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These girls were digging for sand crabs.



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They stopped to let me take their photo.  Very little English was spoken.  The official languages are Tetum and Portuguese.  Indonesian and English are also spoken. There are 16 indigenous languages of Timor Leste including Tetum, Galole, Mambae, Kemak, which are the largest ones.






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Here is a young mother with her children digging for food.



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This woman is collecting rocks...



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and sorting them into piles of "like" rocks.  We had no idea for what?  A wall or walkway? 






Public transportation was very limited.  What we did see were trucks filled with people standing in the back.  As we like to say "safety first"!



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Look closely at the point of the arrow, they are carrying a piglet on the roof!



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And this one - there is a fish on the front of the car.  We have not seen this before!



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The taxis were VERY interesting.  We had to negotiate for every ride as there were no meters.  It was a bit scary riding in them as they all looked like the photo below.  Dark, with a black opaque strip halfway down the front glass.  Most had things hanging across the front windshield.  Fortunately, the roads were so bad they could only go around 20 mph.  And I am pretty sure this driver was 14 years old  :  )



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 The Sights


Timor Leste has very few tourist sites, but what they do have is some of the best dive and snorkeling spots in the world.  With its warm waters, minimal tourist trade and lack of commercial fishing or heavy industry, the coral and sea life have been able to thrive.

We went snorkeling twice (D went three times).  You can walk right off the beach and see amazing coral in crystal clear waters.



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Unfortunately. we did not get many good underwater photos, not because of lack of amazing sea life - but more operator error  :  )  And we do not have an underwater camera - just the plastic pouch.



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The Cristo Rei of Dili statue (Christ the King of Dili) is probably TL's most popular tourist attraction.  Way off in the distance you can see the Fatucama peninsula with the statue.  We dove off the other side (see first photo for the place we snorkeled).



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The statue is 88.6-ft-high was unveiled in 1996 as gift from the Indonesian government to the people of TL, at which time it was still part of Indonesia.  You can climb 550 steps to the top to get a beautiful view.  



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Timor Leste is 98 percent Catholic, one percent Protestant, and less than one percent Muslim.


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I visited the Santa Cruz Cemetery.  This is the site of the bloodiest day in their history - 250 (mostly young people) were killed by the Indonesian Army.  There are no guides or any signs, and most of the tombstones are unmarked.  The second and third photos are of a small cemetery off the side of the road near our first hotel.




As you leave the airport, one of the first images you see is a statue of Nicolau Lobato, a national hero.  He was prime minister of TL in 1975. Upon the arrival of the Indonesian military Lobato fled into the Timorese countryside to fight against the occupying forces.  On the final day of 1978, Lobato was ambushed by Indonesian Special Forces and killed.  Lobato became the symbol of the Timorese Resistance  



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More of the beach


On our last day we moved back to the hotel on the beach (Beachside Hotel).  The hotel itself was basic, but the beach was so relaxing.  Below, D contemplating this great big world....






As for food, there really was not a local cuisine.  What we did enjoy, was the food cooked by the Australian owner/chef at the hotel.  On our last night we had a romantic bolognase dinner with wine on the beach.  Not what you would associate with Timor Leste or the beach - but it was perfect!



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We almost had the beach to ourselves!



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This photo of the sunset was straight from the camera - we did not alter it.



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Timor Leste is a country that is learning.  At a business dinner, a young man sang John Lennon's song "Imagine".  It made me cry....  he sang it so beautifully and with such passion.   It captured what I was feeling about my experience in Timor Leste.....

With all the political unrest and war that this little country endured for so many years....



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Bali: the girls trip - pure fantasticness!


Ubud, Bali Indonesia

October 2014

"a trip of fantasticness"


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From the very first restaurant until the last; the tours, the shopping, and the villa... it was all-perfect!  But how could it not be with four girlfriends on holiday in Bali?  This is my Art Girls group - in photo above, left to right: Helena, Jenny, Barbara, and me.


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(lunch in a hut with a first-class view of the rice fields)



Our villa was AMAZING!


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The Villa, "A River Runs Through It", was in Ubud.  It was designed by David Seligman, a set & furniture designer for Hollywood movies.  

There was artwork everywhere, fabulously quirky furniture and even a door that we were tempted to try and put in our suitcases (photo below)... a Feast of Fantasticness (Barbara's term - love it).  A perfect place for the "art" girl's getaway!


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The villa was perched in the treetops - really!  The top floor had no walls, interior or exterior.  It had fabulous spaces to eat, relax, and dance!  Which we did do one night... after a few bottles of champagne.



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The kitchen with one of the many tables we could choose for our meals.   



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There were two women who made us breakfast every morning (pancakes shown below) and one evening they cooked us a wonderful dinner with local cuisine.  They also provided housekeeping.



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"mirror selfie"


This floor had two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a sitting room with wrap-around windows where you could look out onto the treetops and the river.



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I want this door too!  It was the bathroom door in my room.



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This was the lower bedroom.  It had a very nice bathroom through the door.  



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Another bedroom with a Balinese sofa that shared the art studio.



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More vignettes of art.  Two Americans own the villa and one is an artist.  Most of the paintings are hers.  We fantasized about running off to Bali to live in a villa and create art  {BIG SIGH}!!



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Bali is always all about the Buddha!


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The grounds...

Jenny, painting one morning while in the little hut in the garden.



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A small but nice pool that, we enjoyed in the evenings after the sun went down.



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 Barbara posing in front of "the door" while Helena practiced her photography.



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Mornings were about coffee and chatting.



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We had a nice mix of touring around Ubud, along with spending quiet time at the villa doing what we each love...


Helena taking photos and reading from "Rojak", the book that her short story was published in.  The book signing just happened to be in Ubud the same days we were there so we all were at her book launch to support her!





Barbara writing, reading, and spending time with the resident dogs.






Jenny painting and shopping...





Okay this one is a bit corny - but I really like it.  Look closely in the "O" and you can see Jenny painting.



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Creating the daily offering at our Villa...


Offerings are daily devotional gifts to the Balenese belief system.  They are primarily made of palm leaf, flowers, and food and are usually created by the women. 





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The sights of Ubud





We opted to stay in Ubud - a quieter part of Bali, famous for its arts and crafts.  Much of the town and nearby villages seem to consist of artists' workshops and galleries.



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It is also home to the stunning Tegalalang rice terraces, which are postcard perfect.  This is a tourist destination, but if you arrive early you pretty much have the paddies to yourself. 



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"Subak" is the name of the irrigation system used for the rice fields.  Created in the 9th century, today they are considered a UNESCO world Heritage Site.  The system consists of 5 terraced rice fields and water temples covering nearly 40 acres.  


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In Indonesia, and especially in Bali, rice is a very important part of the people's lives.  No meal is complete without rice as well as rice is an essential part of social and religious ceremonies.  A scarecrow guarding the entrance to the terraces.



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A juice break with a view of the terraces....


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Our guide - how did he keep track of four women, all talking at the same time ???  He even sang traditional music to us while he drove us around. 



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Odalan - the temple festival


They say that there is never a day in Bali without a ceremony of some kind - baby ceremonies, coming of age, weddings, cremations, and temple festivals.  We happened upon a temple that was preparing for Odalan.


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Odalan is a Hindu festival to observe a temple’s anniversary.  The celebration occurs every 210 days, as the Balenese calendar is 210 days long.  This temple ceremony usually lasts for three days, but larger ones (which occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years) can last for 11 days or longer.



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The decorated poles are called Penjours.  Made of bamboo, they symbolize the dominance of good (dharma) over evil (adharma).  They also serve to offer thanks to God for the fruits of the earth.  I love how they create an arch over the walkway.


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The decorations for the Odalan were quite extravagant.  I have been in many temples but this was the first one I have seen decorated to this degree.  It was wonderful!  I wished D was with me to see it.



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These lion/dragon like figures represent Barong and Rangda, characters in Bali mythology.  Barong is the king who symbolizes good spirits and he is the enemy of Rangda (bad).   At the ceremonies they recreate a colorful dance that tells the story of their eternal fighting. 


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The masks of Barong and Rangda are considered sacred, and a priest must offer blessings by sprinkling them with holy water taken from Mount Agung.



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 Placing flowers on the statues for the upcoming ceremony.



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The festival had not officially begun, but many people were at the temple praying and making offerings.



Temple 2

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Although there is dancing and food, the celebration is really for religious reasons.  The Balinese honor the deities that rule over the temple. 






The people of the community


 I had fun photographing this father and son.  How adorable.




The father knew I was taking the photos, but not the son.  As soon as the son realized it, he hid from me.   He then followed me around the temple, but each time I tried to take his photo, he would hide.  Helena captured this photo of me interacting with them (I did not know she was taking it).





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Respecting their traditions by wearing our sarongs and traditional adat (sash).  Both men and woman should not enter a temple in Bali without both. 






There are so many colorful ‘tedung’ or umbrellas decorating Bali.  The word tedung means ‘to guard or protect’.  In the temples, they use them for auspicious occasions and holy Hindu ceremonies.  In earlier days, they were always associated with temple activity, but today they are "in vogue" and you can see them at every hotel and many homes. 



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There are five main colors of umbrellas (red, white, black yellow and black & white checked).  They symbolize dedication to the Hindu religion with each one honoring a different God.


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The black-and-white design symbolizes dualism in life, such as good and evil, brightness and darkness, as well as men and women.



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To me, the tedungs are a symbol of Bali.


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As we were walking around a side path from the main village, I made a new friend.   This gentleman asked me where I was from - I always say Singapore which usually gets a big smile and a "you don't look Singaporean"!  Than I say "America".  When you say the United States - they always ask - "where?"  He then told me he worked at the monkey temple.  We chatted for a while and then I asked to take his photo.  Several of the local women around were getting a big kick out of the exchange.  I love this photo.



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We then saw this group of workers taking a break.  They wanted us to take their photo.  The women were especially giggly asking us to take the young man's photo.




A local artist working on a traditionally styled Bali painting called Kamasan, named for the village where it originated.  They use muted colors with strong outlines and figures painted either in profile or three-quarters view.  They are usually images of everyday life, traditional costumes, and animals.




This was my very first "girls trip" and it could not have been more fun!  Thank you Helena, Jenny, and Barbara....  where will 2015 take us  ???



Art girls