A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Merry Christmas from Bali

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After a night out in Djakarta, I can tell you that the Indonesians know how to party. You totally forget that you’re in a Muslim country. Apart from the nightlife, Djakarta is a heavily trafficked and polluted city. Often lacking pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, it can take up to five minutes to actually cross the streets.

Last month in Kuala Lumpur I met Hamish and Victoria, two interesting characters. Both of them from London, though Hamish is brought up in New Zealand. After having a couple of days together in K.L. we decided to catch up in Indonesia, since all of us were going there in December. So it happened, after a long over night train journey I finally arrived in Yogyakarta. Having met other travellers along the road, we were now a group of eight hanging out.

The volcano of Ganung Merapi near Yogyakarta had a massive eruption just a month ago, destroying an entire village with its brute force. Hundreds of people lost their houses after the hot lava leaked down the valley. Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to go up and see the devastation.The town of Yogyakarta is however worth visiting only for its street art. I remember spending hours on a walkabout just enjoying the small colorful alleys, filled with art in shapes of graffiti, old Vespas and paintings. Mainly concentrated to the artistic area, the vibe was visible even throughout the town.

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After a couple of days two people left the group, following their own path. The mix of guys traveling on towards new adventures now consisted of six people. Apart from me we have Alex and Thomas (both from the extremely small German speaking community in Belgium), Will (a young bloke from London traveling solo) as well as Hamish and Vic. The next natural stopover before reaching Bali was Ganung Bromo which also is an active volcano in east Java. Unfortunately we didn’t see the famous beautiful sunrise due to bad weather, but after driving down from the viewing point we found ourselves in a near dreamlike environment.

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The only bad thing with the whole volcano experience was the temperature; I literally don’t have any long trousers or long sleeve shirts apart from my wind jacket. At night and early morning it was only three degrees above zero. Not ideal when you’re dressed for the beach. Now everything is back to normal again though, being on Bali. Even while I was prepared for full power tourism, it came as quite a shock to me. I haven’t been in this high a degree of commercial environment in a long time; if it wasn’t for the surfing and the friends here I would probably leave as soon as possible. Having said that I bought myself a surfboard for my birthday. It’s my new baby and she´s 6.8ft.

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If you rent a scooter on Bali you can easily ask for one with a surfboard rack. It’s really convenient choosing your break of the day; strap your board to your scooter and go for it. The only issue is that you apparently need a document that states you’re driving license is legit. The majority of the foreigners do not have this and the police take the advantage. I’ve been stopped twice already and they almost force you to bribe them, now I don’t carry more than five € worth of local currency which apparently is the fixed rate of bribe.

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I got really hooked on the sport back in Sri Lanka, now I’m dedicating the next four months to it. Rather than heading up north and jumping aboard the cold Trans Siberian railway, I’ll have a four month surf trip in South East Asia. After Bali and its surrounding areas, I’m off to some beautiful breaks in the Philippines, a short stopover in Bangkok and then to Sumatra and the legendary world cup breaks of Nias and the Mentawais for two months. The tickets are booked as well as a flight to London in April (260 € for Kuala Lumpur to London). The following flights are as follows:

Denpasar – Djakarta, 21st of January
Djakarta – Manila, 22nd of January
Manila – Bangkok, 10th of February
Bangkok – Medan, 12th of February
Kuala Lumpur – London, 15th of April

I need to do a one day visa run from Indonesia, so I’ll probably book a flight in and out of K.L. the same day just to get another 30 days in on Sumatra.

Me and the guys are really enjoying ourselves, having found a quiet retreat with an almost surreal luxurious feeling. After staying in the most shady hotel rooms in India, this place is just off the scale. We’re staying in the three bedroom villa for one week to recharge our batteries in Christmas time. Have a look and tell me what you think: http://www.villa-lalu.com/

Merry Christmas and happy New Year to everyone!
Thank you for reading.

Posted by Patrick_K 09:17 Archived in Indonesia Comments (3)

The road of contrasts

overcast 32 °C

It’s been hectic, but very diverse during the last week. After coming back to Kuala Lumpur I hooked up with some other travellers in the hostel and basically saw the rest of that city, at least what I wanted to see. I managed to squeeze in a bouldering session at a climbing gym in the outskirts of K.L. Good thing I had my camera with me, the view of K.L.’s skyline from that metro station was unbeatable.

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For you guys that haven’t been to the capitol, the tall building to the right of the Petronas twin towers is simply known as KL Tower. It’s almost as tall as the beautiful twins, but with a classical (pretty boring) observation tower type of architecture. It feels like you’ve seen it before, somewhere else...

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Since my passport hadn’t arrived (do we recognize that statement?), I wanted to do the most of the time rather than just sit and wait. When I heard of some people going to an island I’ve never heard about before, I wasn’t late to say yes. Pulau Pangkor was the perfect weekend escape from the big, polluted city. Four days of laziness on the beach along with fresh fish and prawns every day. I met some nice people in the hostel I’m planning to hook up with for Christmas on Bali. From what I’ve heard it’s going to be super crowded.

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After coming back to KL and reality, I finally got the message that my passport had arrived. Since I had a flight from Singapore just three days later, I checked out early the next morning and went straight to the embassy to pick my passport up. Over a month of lacking peace of mind and 400 € later I was finally on my way to Singapore. At least I had a souvenir I actually could use for five years! Singapore is so much of a contrast to the Asia I’ve seen, not at least on the Subindian continent. Having been in around 40 countries, I can swear I’ve never seen such a clean, modern and multicultural city all at once. I haven’t been to the Emirates or Japan; the only countries I believe have a similar approach. It felt like someone took the architecture of Manhattan, combined it with the cleanness of Switzerland, filled it up with middle class Asians from India, China and Malaysia along with western expats and finally put it on an Island in a very strategically correct place.

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Having only one and a half day to spend, I only managed to see bits and pieces. Maybe it was destiny for my wallet, it already had too much to handle. Spending 7 € for a pint and 13 € for the cheapest dorm bed, it’s hard not to break your South East Asian budget. I however managed to get great deals on some camera equipment, felt I needed some more range rather than the standard 18-55mm lens. I left Singapore with a 60-300mm manual lens (Paparazzi style!), a 0.45x wide angle lens (attached to my standard lens it goes as wide as 9mm), an extra set of batteries and an 67mm UV-filter for a grand total of 100 €. Ridiculous. The best thing is that it all fits in my camera bag.

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Landing in Djakarta two days ago, it was quite a contrast from my port of embarkation. I sort of missed the craziness actually, so it’s about time. I got pretty bored of Malaysia for that reason to be honest, everything was simply too easy and expensive compared to the crazy countries. My wallet is happy now as well, buying meals for 1, 5 €. I didn’t plan to hang around in Djakarta for too long, since there’s apparently not much to do here. For that reason I’ve booked a train ticket to Yogyakarta, a city surrounded by the active volcano of Gunung Merapi and the ancient ruins of Borobudur.

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Peace out
Patrick

Posted by Patrick_K 12:13 Archived in Indonesia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises buildings skylines air_travel Comments (1)

Land Rovers, fish spa and interesting people

overcast 33 °C

I spent three nights in the great city before heading elsewhere. The first impression of Malaysia (or at least the small parts of it I’ve seen) is that it’s a model for multi cultural countries. Here people dress very freely. Having in mind that it’s a Muslim country it’s remarkable. In Kuala Lumpur and Penang you have almost an equal share of Chinese, Indians, Indonesians and Malays. The diversity of religions and cultures has created something I haven’t seen before (not even in Europe to this extent). Of what I’ve heard from talking to locals is that regardless of your origins you are indeed a proud Malaysian. Indonesian girls with veils walking amongst with Chinese girls with miniskirts; nobody cares how you look. Apparently there is racism, according to the locals, however it’s hard to spot. Probably it’s a totally different story in the deep country side. Nevertheless, when it comes to the parts I’ve seen, I’m impressed. After applying for my passport last week, I’ve been quite busy trying to make the most of the surroundings of K.L.

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I went to Cameron Highlands, an area in the mountains north of the capital that is known for its tea plantations since the colonial times. It was a great escape from the humidity of Kuala Lumpur, which often hovers around the 80% mark. Up there (1500 meter above sea level) the air was dry and the temperature lower. It truly felt like a typical north European summer day. At night it got pretty cold, a blanket is a must! The climate and nature was quite similar to the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, India. The thing that stood out the most was all the old Land Rovers still running across the valleys, one got an impression that they would fall apart any time. I’ve never seen so many type 1 and type 2 Land Rovers in my life. If you’re into classic cars, you should pay a visit.

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In the Highlands I met some great people. Me, a Dutch guy, two Frenchmen and a girl from New Zealand made some very beautiful hikes in the area. Rather than paying money for the organized tours around the area, we hitchhiked everywhere. It was incredibly easy to catch a lift, mostly on the back of pickups and lorries.

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The highlights of this area were the tea plantations and a tea factory where you could see how the tea is made. If you’re in the area, don’t forget to pay a visit to the butterfly farm. There you can see loads of butterflies, reptiles and really cool insects.

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Also in the Highlands, I met this 80 year old American Arnold that totally blew my mind with travel stories. He ran away from home when he was 16, forging his identity to get into the US army before he got sent to China. This was all back in 1947. Imagine a 16 year old American alone in China nowadays. When he and his wife were backpacking through Europe back in the seventies, they came to Spain and stayed for 40 years! After his wife past away he’s been traveling on his own, when I met him he’s been on the road for three years and has no plans whatsoever to come back to Europe.

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I told him about my travels in India and Sri Lanka and he got really keen on going (he hasn’t been on the subcontinent for almost half a century). Last time he went to India was with “the magic bus” that went over land from Europe, that’s proper hardcore in those days. Respect. When I told him about that American citizens can obtain a ten year visa for India, he booked a ticket to Colombo straight away in order to apply for it there and also to see how the island itself has changed.

After Cameron Highlands me, one of the French guys (Simon) and the girl from New Zealand (Melanie) went north west to the island of Penang. Staying in Georgetown we made a lot of miles walking the giant air conditioned malls that basically were connected to each other, creating some kind of mega mall. If you’re into colonial architecture it’s a water hole for the enthusiasts, apart from that you really have to be creative to prevent boredom.

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We found two really amazing sushi restaurants, me and Simon were really pleased. I think we had 24 pieces each in two days, and that was only the dinners. Compared to Europe it was really a “good bang for the buck”.

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The most outstanding though was a foot spa we had all three of us. Ever heard of “Fish spa”? It’s an amazing thing that does wonders to your tired feet. You put your feet into a giant aquarium full of small hungry fishes. On you dip your feet; the fish comes and bites off tiny pieces of dead skin from them. The first five minutes were really ticklish and then you got used to it. People say it feels like acupuncture (I can’t say). After half an hour of being fish food, I can say that the result was amazing. I don’t recall my heels being as soft as they are now. If you’ve been on the road for a couple of months like I have, don’t hesitate!

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I’m currently on a “super VIP coach” from Penang back to K.L. It’s a normal size long distance coach with only 18 wide cockpit seats, making it really spacey. When it comes to entertainment, every seat is equipped with a flat screen TV along with a game console and headphones. We actually managed to hitchhike with one of these back in Cameron Highlands. That’s hitchhiking in style!

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Here’s Simon enjoying the free ride.

My passport hasn’t arrived yet (of course), hopefully it will arrive in the beginning of next week. If not, more money down the drain for me (I have a flight from Singapore to Jakarta on the 9th). I get upset whenever I think about how bureaucratic western countries are when you’re in trouble. In order to think about other things, I’ve found a climbing gym in K.L. I plan to visit. Probably the passport won’t arrive before next week; however I don’t want to be too far from it if it does. Maybe I’ll pay a one day visit in the old colonial city of Melaka. We’ll see what happens.

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Roger and out
Patrick

Posted by Patrick_K 10:14 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

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