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Southeast Asian travel journal

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Fire, water, earth and air: an immersion in the essence of eastern wisdom

Experienced travellers to exotic lands, Christine and Laurent Lévêque dreamed of travelling to Southeast Asia and climbing a volcano to celebrate Christine’s birthday. They embarked on a journey between Vietnam and Bali, concentrating on immersive experiences, unmissable sites but also on more unexpected discoveries. They are sharing some of their impressions with Escales, taken from their travel journal.

The cultural and natural riches of Vietnam

On their arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, a teeming and tumultuous metropolis, Christine and Laurent were soon bowled over by the charms of old Saigon: “We enjoyed exploring picturesque places and were amazed by the precise and singular gestures of the craftsmen in a lacquer workshop, and strolling through the colourful alleyways of the markets that were filled with the intoxicating scents of spices,” says Christine. “I could have stayed in the Fito Museum for hours. Located in an old house with typical Vietnamese architecture, it is dedicated to medicinal plants and secrets of the traditional medicine to which the Vietnamese are very attached. It was fascinating!” The unspoiled archipelago of the Con Dao Islands, in the China Sea, also left an indelible impression on the couple, with its wild landscapes that stimulate the imagination, and fishing villages that line the sandy beaches and crystal clear sea.

Fascinating cultural fusion in Singapore

As soon as they landed in Singapore, the couple fell under the spell of this multicultural city-state. “You go from Chinatown to Little India, or Arab Street in a few minutes. You alternate between neighbourhoods with architecture shaped by ancient Asian influences and futuristic districts with avant-garde skyscrapers.” The couple made sure they visited the Botanical Gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage site – which is home to more than 10,000 plant species, some of which are rare and endemic. The urban part of their journey ends with cocktails and a breathtaking view from the city’s most famous rooftop, the Marina Bay Sands.

The unique marine life of Karimunjawa

Off the coast of Java, Indonesia, Christine and Laurent were thrilled to go snorkelling and marvel at the idyllic underwater environment where tropical fish, sea turtles and coral flourish. “Victor, one of the naturalist guides, found a wonderful spot right away. He was so enthusiastic about the beauty of the sea that we jumped straight into the water. We had never seen such a beautiful underwater garden and so many different types of coral!” »

A sense of inner peace in Borobudur

At 123 metres square, 34.50 metres high, with 500 statues of the Buddha, and five kilometres of bas-reliefs that tell the story of Buddhism, Borobudur, built in the 9th century, is one of the largest Buddhist monuments in the world, rising amid a lush-wooded park. “As the monks reached the top of the temple, the rain began to fall, instantly emptying the site of visitors. We stayed until the rain eased off… It was as if time stood still, just like in the account by the journalist Roger Vailland in 1950, which I had brought with me in my luggage!” Laurent tells us excitedly.

The spellbinding spectacle of the Mount Bromo volcano

Mount Bromo is an active Indonesian volcanic cone that rises to a height of over 2,300 metres above sea level. People often go there at night to witness the sunrise from its summit. The 360-degree view is unforgettable. “After crossing the sea of black sand at its foot, we took our time climbing the 250 steps to reach the edge of the crater. The closer we got, the more persistent the smell of sulphur became. But the sight on arrival was amazing… we were literally hypnotised: a crater in the hollow of which we could make out a jade green lake from which a dull noise and thick smoke were escaping. Fire, water, earth, and air..’ I’ve never felt so close to the bowels of the earth. You feel so small and fragile in the face of these giants of lava and ash,” recalls Christine with emotion.

A spiritual and cultural immersion in Bali

The island of Bali has preserved its Hindu traditions and cultivates a gentle way of life enhanced by a variety of magnificent landscapes: terraced paddy fields surrounded by temples, tropical gardens where orchids grow in abundance, refreshing waterfalls, hot thermal springs nestled in lush green valleys… This stopover was an opportunity for the Leveques to immerse themselves in the way of life of a Balinese famil. “We purified ourselves with water from the sacred springs of a temple before helping to prepare the offerings and the daily meal. The Balinese make daily offerings of plants to the dead and the deities. They honour them by building richly decorated altars in the courtyards of the houses.” The rest of the day was punctuated by learning about rice harvesting, coconut oil making, weaving with bamboo fibre, and dances to the sound of the gamelan (traditional instrumental ensemble).

The mysterious Komodo archipelago

The Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard (over 3 metres long and weighing up to 70 kg), is an endemic, rare and fascinating species that can only be seen in Komodo, Indonesia. For Laurent, “being able to get close to these shores to observe these famous dragons on their wild island, in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, was a particularly striking experience. A real leap in time and space.”

 

Photos credits : ©iStock

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