I love to travel but I hate to fly so I tend to plan trips that involve few flights but tons of territory. My most recent trip was to Southeast Asia, beginning in Indonesia and ending in Cambodia. It began with a land tour of Bali before I hopped a small ship owned by Voyages to Antiquity to travel to Java, Indonesia, Singapore, Malasia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The trip took all of February 2015 including flights to and fro.

After a 20 some hour flight to Denpasar, Bali, I was escorted to my hotel, the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel, on the southern peninsula of the island. The hotel was absolutely stunning and only a 15 minute trip from the International airport, which was such a relief after the long flights. Bali, which lies just south of the equator, typically has hot and sunny days with beautiful beaches and plenty to see.

Gate into the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel Bali, Indonesia

Gate into the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel
Bali, Indonesia

I started my tour, as most tourists do, by attending a Barong and Keris Dance in a small nearby village. The Barong and Keris Dance illuminates the battle between Barong, a lion-like creature in Bali mythology who is King of the Spirits and his sworn enemy, the demon queen, Rangda. The dancers in full regalia, dance to the music of a gamelan orchestra of traditional Balinese instruments and act out the eternal struggle of good and evil.

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Next I traveled to a water temple. The Tirtha Empul Temple is a Hindu Temple, located in a valley between two hills with large springs, considered sacred by the local residents as a place to melt away all bad influences in the body and purify the soul and mind. Tirtha IMG_0949Empul Temple, better known as Tampak Siring Temple or Holy Water Temple, is a place to purify oneself from the bad influences in life. It is a place where we can discover the traditional showers sourced from the springs. The water that comes out of the shower is believed to eliminate all kind of diseases and adverse effect in life. This place is famous in Bali and often visited by locals, as well as tourists, since it has been appointed as one of the major tourist destinations.

 

Another temple that I visited was Tanah Lot .

Tanah Lot Temple is one of Bali’s most important landmarks, famed for its unique offshore setting and sunset backdrops. An ancient Hindu shrine perched on top of an outcrop amidst constantly crashing waves; Tanah Lot Temple is simply among Bali’s not-to-be-missed icons.

The onshore site is dotted with smaller shrines alongside visitors’ leisure facilities that comprise restaurants, shops and a cultural park presenting regular dance performances. The temple is located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan regency, an approximate 20km northwest of Kuta, and is included on most tours to Bali’s western and central regions.

 

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On my final day in Bali, I spent time shopping in the arts community of Ubud. An exciting and active town, Ubud, in central Bali, is far removed from the beach party scene in Kuta, and is regarded as the cultural centre of Bali. It is famous as an arts and crafts hub, and much of the town and nearby villages seems to consist of artists’ workshops and galleries. There are some remarkable architectural and other sights to be found, and a general feeling of well being to be enjoyed, all thanks to the spirit, surroundings, and climate of the place.

After three days in Bali, I boarded a ship to the island of Jakarta and the temple of Borobudur. High on a mountain in Central Java, Borobudur Temple rises up towards the sky. In Buddhist belief, the closer you are to Heaven, the closer you are to the gods. And as you climb the steps of the temple, the jungle landscape of Indonesia revealing itself in every direction, you can understand how the people who built this masterpiece felt more connected to the ethereal than the earthly.

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Next stop: Singapore. The city state of Singapore is like no other. While Asian in location and the predominant culture, it’s temperament is purely International. A British colony at one time, it’s now a thriving, metropolitan city that is governed like no other. People who live in Singapore rave about their lives. Even in a city of ten million people, the transportation runs on time and the streets are navigable. The government has a hand in making this work so well. Everything is regulated down to taxicabs drivers, who would be in serious trouble if they overcharged or broke the law. While the square miles are few and the population, dense, citizens have to purchase a permit before buying a car…and permits are quite expensive. Because of this, only a small percentage of the population has a vehicle. With extensive public transportation, it’s easy to make your way around Singapore without wheels.

 

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Besides being a spectacular urban experience, Singapore has some of the most amazing gardens in the world. Travel along Orchid Road to the Gardens by the Bay, with its sci-fi metal trees and gargantuan biospheres.

 

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The closing days of my trip to Southeast Asia were spent in Cambodia. Cambodia lies due west of Vietnam, but is still light years behind Nam in terms of emotional, social and economic recovery from the war years…and the Pol Pot regime. The people of Cambodia still speak of Pol Pot and the devastation of that time as though it happened yesterday. Because of this, Cambodia is still reeling from the loss of over one million people and is only beginning to make a halting recovery. It is a land of magnificent temples and industrious people, who are slowly limping back from unbelievable loss and devastation.

My visit began in Phnom Penh and ended among the mind-boggling ruins of Angkor Wat and the nearby town of Siem Reap. I must say, Cambodia was the high point of the trip for me, in spite of its struggles. I can’t say enough about Angkor Wat. The pictures could never do justice to the ruins. And to think that at one time, these same ruins arose out of the jungle covered with paint and gold and jewels and mirrors is almost beyond comprehension. What a sight that must have been!

 

 

Notes from trip to Israel, Jordan, Egypt  February to March 2016

First day in Israel. Stayed in Tel Aviv and walked to Jaffa the old city and port, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.… It was a beautiful walk with parasailers on the way. Jaffa is quite impressive with old stone buildings on narrow streets that twist and wind, but is actually now more of an overgrown fleamarket with shops overflowing with antique goods for sale and restaurants featuring Middle Eastern food. The port had been used for 4000 years, although it is no longer in use ,and is the oldest continuously used port in the world. It started to pour later in the day and I took the city bus back to my hotel on the Ben Yehuda Blvd

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Second day in Israel went to Yad Vashen, The Holocaust Museum. It was very painful to experience the extent of the horror and see so many pictures and listen to so many accounts of what went on during the Nazi regime. Beyond being Jewish, just being human and realizing someone could have the ability to convince so many people to take the lives of millions of others, and to do it in such a cold, calculating, horrific way, touches your heart and your soul. It’s hard to believe anyone can suffer so much and still fiercely yearn to survive.

Later in the day we met up with an Arab guide who took us into the West Bank to the Church of the Nativity where we had a chance to see where Christ was born, to stand by the spot where the manger had been and  where he was visited by the three wise men. The Church of the Nativity is not one church, but rather three, with different levels, beginning with the cave-like below ground grotto over which was built two  other aboveground segments, as the sect flourished and spread. Finally, we passed the Wall Israel built between the West Bank and Jerusaem which is covered with interesting graffiti, most of it surprisingly hopefully and upbeat, while sprinkled with  angry words and aggressive images. Below is the place Jesus was born.

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Day three: we visited Masada today which is a Roman palace built by King Herod during the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. It later served as the holdout for what is referred to as the Jewish zealots or rebels, who tried to break the Roman rule and ended by committing suicide en masse rather than surrender to the Romans. The ruins our amazingly intact and there’s a fascinating aqueduct system that moves water into sisterns for preservation. We also went into the dovecote where they kept doves for food and communication purposes.

On the way back to Jerusalem,  we had a chance to soak in the Dead Sea, to cover ourselves in its mud and to float in the mineral rich water

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Day four: Jerusalem. We began today on Mount Scopus with a terrific overview of the old city and the surrounding areas especially the Jewish mausoleums, strung like beads on the hillside.

We then drove down to the IMG_0104Gethamane church and entered the old city through the Jaffa gate . The old city is a marvel and is made up of Jewish, Christian and Arab quarters.  At the Wailing Wall, we left notes in the crevices asking for good fortune. Next we followed the stations of the cross through the old city to the Church of the Annunciation where Christ was believed to be crucified and resurrected. An amazing day in an amazing city.

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Day five: we made our way to the ruins at Bet She an. This is an absolutely gorgeous Roman  ruin with an amplitheater, shops, housing, bath houses and public toilets. It is unbelievably intact and was just breathtaking.

We next traveled to Nazareth to visit the well where Gabriel told Mary the prophesy and to a church dedicated to her. We proceeded the Sea of Galilee to a Baptismal center and watched baptisms.

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Day six: Today we drove to the Golan Heights where we visited the Syrian fortifications before the Six-Day War. We passed tons numerous areas where there are still landmines that the Syrians left behind near the present day border between Israel and Syria. at a coffee shop not far from the border probably heard the last Syrian bombings the day before the ceasefire on Feb 27 2016. Next we visited Druze villages where we had lunch and learned about the Druze culture. Finally we went to the waterfalls at Banias which is the source of the Jordan River. And for icing on the cake, we drove up to the northern border between Israel and Lebanon

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Day seven: Last day in Israel we visited the site of Old synagogue which was more a place to study the Talmud and Jewish law than to pray. On to Haifa afterwards and the beautiful center of Baha’i learning. We wound down the day with a visit to Cesarea, widespread Roman ruins also built by Herod. When we returned to the car, the window had been smashed and the thief had gotten away with all my souvenirs. Since I was leaving to fly to Eilat that evening, it was too late to replace what was lost. It was a disappointing send-off.

Day eight: If it’s the eighth day, it’s Jordan, and the spectacular Petra ruins. What an amazing Roman city. This is one of the main reasons I chose to make this trip, but in the middle of the outing, I was informed that I no longer had a room for the night and I’d have to pack up and leave my hotel. Which totally stressed me out and almost ruined my time. Add to that a disinterested and uninvolved guide who left us to wander on our own, and you have the formula for a disappointing afternoon. But the ruins themselves were so spectacular, they compensated for any and all distractions and disappointments. Imagine walking through a red rock canyon in Zion National Park and coming upon intact Roman ruins. That’s Petra!

When I returned to Eliat, the staff had packed up my gear because the tour company forgot to make my reservation for the night and the hotel was full. I was forced to make the crossing into Egypt at 10 that night, but it went smoothly and before I knew it I was in Taba, Egypt at the Taba Hilton. Only problem, the staff in Eliat misplaced my charger and I was without one. That threw me into a tizzy. How to survive without a charger on the road in Egypt? A true dilemma.

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Day 9: Day of traveling today. I drove from Taba to Sharm el Sheilh and then flew to from Sharm to Cairo. Cairo is a city of 25 million people and the traffic jams attest to its size. It’s a mixed city of old and new with two separate sections, Cairo and Giza,  divided by the Nile. The hotel in Giza has an extra charger so I am saved for the moment from cell phone hell. Tomorrow the pyramids

Day 10: I visited the 3 pyramids at Giza and entered one of them, before being taken by my guide to see the Sphinx. Then it was on to Saqqara to visit the open air museum/ burial grounds, another pyramid I could enter and the Step pyramid of Djoser. At the end of the day, I entered a tomb with walls covered in incredible inscriptions and even some remaining paint

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Day Eleven: Started today at the amazing Egyptian museum, with the collection of treasures from King Tut’s tomb. Next went to Old Cairo to see the Hanging Church and Ben Esza Synagogue. Visited the Citadel of Saladin and the Mohammed Ali Alabaster Mosque. Finished off the day in the city market where we shopped, ate and said my farewell to my wonderful guide Manor. Tonight I fly to Luxor to start the Nile cruise

Day Twelve: Today I toured the amazing Karnak and Luxor temples with another wonderful guide, Mohamed. At night, I attended a sound and light show at the Karnak Temple

Day Thirteen: I visited the Valley of the Kings and entered 3 tombs. Then on to Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple

Day Fourteen: Sailed toward Aswan. Stopped at Edfu to visit the Temple of Horus and at Kom Ombo to visit the double temple dedicated to Horus and to the crocodile God Sobek. Visited the crocodile mummies and saw evidence of the advanced medical expertise of the ancient Egyptians.

Day Fifteen: Visited the Philae Temple in Aswan and the High Dam on the Nile that created Lake Nasser. Later took a boat ride along Elephantine Island and had tea at
a Nubian village

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Last Day: Up at 2 A. M. and out by 3 to take the trek to Abu Simbel. Well worth the hassle. These are two of the most amazing temples I have ever seen. Both were built by Ramses II, one for himself and one for his wife, Nefertiti. A few years ago, they were in danger of being destroyed by the river and, to save them, they were moved inland brick by brick. It’s difficult to conceive of moving these temples and restoring them to their prior condition. It was an engineering feat. Today they are built into the side of hills three hours drive from Aswan. They towered over all of us mere mortals below and were replete with hieroglyphs and inscriptions inside.

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All in all, this was a marvelous trip. All three countries are chock-a-block with historical and socially significant sites and experiences. And contrary to popular belief, I never felt threatened or harassed. Au contraire, especially in Egypt, the people were lovely, warm and welcoming and I was well taken care of. The Egyptian people begged me to carry the message back home that their country is now safe and secure and ready for more tourists.

Disclaimer:  This was written before the last plane crash in May 2016. Hopefully, that will be attributed to mechanical failure, but if it’s a terror attack, I’m sure you’ll use an abundance of caution. It is a marvelous time to travel to Egypt because there are so few tourists (I had personal guide for group rate), but if it’s not safe to fly, I can’t advise you to take the risk.

 

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