A Travellerspoint blog

Malaysia - the early days!

From Singapore to Melaka (Malacca)

Melaka

The journey from Singapore city into Malaysia is very simple - buy your ticket at the bus station near the Raffles Hospital, hop on board and wait. Pretty saoon after leaving the city centre you can see the long causeway/bridge that crosses the Straits of Johor, the newest gateway into Malaysia.
Our route out of Singapore

Our route out of Singapore


After going through the usual customs formalities the bus continues on to Kuala Lumpur via Melaka, which was where your scribe opted to alight for a few days. Whilst in Singapore a couple of people had told me that Melaka was not worth visiting and that I should head straight to the Capital but, me being me, I decided to delay my trip to KL and experience a smaller town. It turns out that Melaka is actually quite a fair size so I was somewhat surprised to find very little competition for my custom at the bus station - only one guy touting his pad in fact. After his spiel about running the cleanest, most popular and best value acommodation in town (complete with ring-binder file full of photos and blurb) and that, as I was on the late bus, there would be no other hostel owners coming for the rest of the day. Having just left the bus I sought refuge, some thinking time and a coffee at the fast food place in the bus station. Some 30 minutes later I was wandering around the now deserted bus station seeking out mine host who had, true to his word, remained nearby. Thus it was that I ended up at Ajid's "Travellers Planet" homestay.

My room was an internal one with the only window opening on to the corridor to the communal facilities so, despite having a ceiling fan, it was always pretty hot in there - my own little night time sauna. The communal areas were as pictured in his publicity folder with light and airy spaces and on-the-floor seating but the pictures were obviously taken just after decoration which appears to have been several years ago. That said our host was super friendly, knowledgeable and helpful and his liking for various recreational and exotic substances was glaringly obvious. Like the eclectic environment (a relaxed muslim/european fusion) the clientele turned out to be equally diverse - Luce the delightfully challenging french madamoiselle, Nils the tall german fella, Doug the (very) old colonial perv and Moja, a delightfully innocent and enthusiastic rastafarian Japanese lad (true!!)

In the early afternoon I decided to do my usual "first day, find my bearings" stroll around town, accompanied by Moja. The first thing that hit me was how damned hot and humid it was and within minutes my damp tee shirt bore testament to this. The homestay is conveniently situated for such a perambulatory excursion, being just off the town square and close to the river (complete with a full sized replica sailing ship docked near its mouth), the ancient fort ruins, the big old church on the hill, some original settlement red Dutch buildings and the iconic clock tower. Even chinatown and the coast are relatively nearby. After taking in most of the inland sights it was back to the abode for some fan time and a meal in one of the cheap and cheerful eateries around the block.
Moja is fired!

Moja is fired!

The remains of the 500  year old fort

The remains of the 500+ year old fort

The old dutch clocktower

The old dutch clocktower


Next day my nomadic wanderings took me to the coast where I came across what is apparently a man made island. Underneath the connecting bridge there was a little hive of activity going on. Despite the water being murky, relatively shallow and fast flowing there was one old fella catching prawns with a net, another digging up shellfish on the shore and yours truly catching inedible little balloon fish using my telescopic tackle!  All these endeavours were abruptly cut short with the afternoon rains setting in so it was back to the homestay for conversation and food.
Prehistoric fish face-off on the muddy bank

Prehistoric fish face-off on the muddy bank

Most dangerous catch!

Most dangerous catch!

Day 3 dawned and we (Moja, Nils, Luce and I) decided to tackle the heritage trail which runs inland up the river up to a "traditional" village - there are numerous boats which plod genteely up and down the river ferrying the sensible, if lazy, tourists both ways but we intrepid foursome opted to walk. The route mostly follows a sort of pathway between the river bank and the assorted dwellings and businesses that crowd in on both sides. These buildings ranged from ancient bedraggled wooden shacks, which were still lived in, to mural decorated units which drew the eye. Further up the trail the onslaught of tourism raised its head in the form of huge hotel complexes that are being erected as fast as the concrete can set. The village was quaint, picturesque and very clean with many residents filling their gardens with brightly coloured flowers and shrubs or with fountains, niknaks etc.
The river walk

The river walk

A new holiday complex springs up by the river

A new holiday complex springs up by the river

One of the recently reintroduced Malacca Monitor lizards

One of the recently reintroduced Malacca Monitor lizards

One or two flags on the bridge to the traditional village

One or two flags on the bridge to the traditional village

One of the traditional village gardens

One of the traditional village gardens

On the way back we stopped off at a riverside eatery which had been recommended to us as it serves the best chicken sate in the area, it was so popular that we had to wait quite some time for a table to come free. Needless to say the mixture of the stifling heat, the large fans they aim at seated customers, several cold beverages and the great food made a fitting end to what turned out to quite a long trek.
Relaxing after lunch

Relaxing after lunch

Moja moved on

Moja moved on

Posing with the local hero

Posing with the local hero

Nothing politically correct around here - named after the mother-in-law perhaps

Nothing politically correct around here - named after the mother-in-law perhaps

The Body Shop

The Body Shop

Evening came and we decided to venture into town for what our host informed us was ladies night - apparently the bars would be full to bursting as female customers would get free drinks and the guys would get access to all of the lovely ladies. The reality was somewhat less than underwhelming - most of the bars lacked any clientele and in most cases we were the whole crowd. Fortunately we had Lucei with us so we were not without feminine charms for the evening although the local bar staff did hit on her wherever we went.
Ladies night drinks - fortnuately we brought our own lady along

Ladies night drinks - fortnuately we brought our own lady along

Funtime in the deserted bar!

Funtime in the deserted bar!

My last day was a somewhat lazy affair with the only notable event between checkout and my afternoon bus to KL being poor Luce having to have a tooth extracted.

I really liked Malacca and am so glad that I decided to stop off there. The town has quite a number interesting sights and sites (many of which are not mentioned here), the people are friendly and my new homestay friends were an excellent and eclectic troupe.

Mext stop ......... the bright lights and dizzy heights of KUALA LUMPUR!!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 08:58 Comments (0)

Singapore

My return after 50 years!!

When he was an all action Marine Commando my dad was posted to Singapore way, way back in time and, as an army sprog, I and the rest of the family were flown out there to live during his tour. Now this happened when I was about 2 years old so I thought it would be nice to try and revisit some of the places my parents remembered. Although I had always planned to visit Singapore as part of this whole epic trip my exciting week travelling with the girls in Java, and the kneejerk reaction of booking the first flight out to escape joyless Jakarta, left me a bit unprepared.

My few days there were a mixture of full on activity, torpor inducing fishing, extensive bi-ped perambulation around the City's nooks and crannies, drinking during monsoon rains etc, etc and are detailed/summarised as follows:

The Unplanned Diary of a Fool in Singapore:

21st November 2012
After disembarking at the airport I met Ryan, a young Aussie from Cairns and together we quickly sussed out how to use the legendary Singapore MRT metro to get us into the downtown area. Although our passage into the heart of the city was quick and simple enough, the heat, humidity, the weight of our backpacks and the distance we ended up walking (our first two hostel selections were full/shut) proved somewhat sweaty and draining. When, eventually, we found our way to the highly recommended Inn Crowd Hostel I was pleasantly surprised that they had beds available and that the (male) staff on duty turned out to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Another bonus was that the nightly cost of a bed in the dorms included free tea and coffee all day and a breakfast of two boiled eggs and unlimited toast and jam - so that was one of my 3 square meals a day sorted out nicely!!
The hostel is located in the Indian quarter and this was interesting in that we were close to both a very elaborately decorated and extremely busy mosque and that the small restaurants in the surrounding streets served indian food the traditional way - without cutlery. Thus it was that I took Ryan to experience his first ever chicken massala biryani while I tried eating my first meal "by hand". Now, I am left handed but eating with that hand is a no-no so, using only my right, it took me some time to finish my meal as the rice kept falling out between my fingers just before it should have been tumbling into my mouth.
Our local muslim temple

Our local muslim temple

22nd November
Being on an island and having located a couple of nearby fishing tackle shops (where I bought some bait and lures) I decided to test out the local transport system to head to Bedok Jetty to join the local worm danglers for a spot of fishing.

At the time of my visit th2ere was a lot of major road remodelling work going on around the area where the hostel is located which resulted in many of the bus stops being temporarily relocated and, although finding some of the stops was a bit of a challenge, once you have mastered this, then exploring the city, or indeed the whole island, is relatively simple. It is also very comfortable as they have an excellent and efficient air-conditioned bus service.

The area along the whole waterfront near Bedok is really well maintained with both a good road/cycle path and a pedestrian/rollerblading walkway, tended gardens and assorted foodstalls, bars and shops (where you can buy hats, ice creams etc or even rent a bike for the day). Once again the late morning weather was searingly hot so being out in the sun on a long jetty proved a challenge, unprepared as I was without an umbrella or any other form of shade. Despite being armed with the right fishing gear (I also bought a couple of hand made lures for catching baitfish from a 70 year old chinese guy who fishes there successfully every day), catching said small tiddlers and occasionally seeing much larger fish swimming around the jetty, I didnt catch anything worthy of a photocall. The view from the pier is quite odd as, whilst looking inland you see the expected "island" scene of trees, sand and beachfront in the foreground with the city and it's skyscrapers in the distance etc, looking out to sea you will espy a panoramic and very busy "shipping park" with literally dozens and dozens of ships, tankers, tugs and boats moored a little way offshore. In fact there is not even a glimpse of the distant ocean horizon, only ships of all shapes and sizes.
Bedok fishing jetty

Bedok fishing jetty

Ships as far as the eye can see!

Ships as far as the eye can see!


Heading back mid afternoon towards the bus stop I ventured into the small touristy visitors area comprising food and drink vendors huddled around some shaded outside seating. Having ordered a large ice cold beer I settled down to watch 4 local guys playing a very active and boisterois card game which included much waving of arms, slapping down of cards and laughing at their colleagues expense. Almost without warning the sky darkened with bruised clouds and then suddenly the rain started bucketing down. Despite being huddled under umbrellas we were all soon very damp as the rain bounced off of the ground (which was almost instantly flooded) or was blown sideways onto us by the strong offshore wind which had suddenly arisen. Dressed as I was in shorts and teeshirt there was no way I was going to brave the 1 km walk to the bus so I settled in to ride out the early evening monsoon. The card players dissipated and were soon replaced by Patrik, a european guy who was seeking shelter whilst he was waiting to meet up with his son. It turns out that he is the logistics director for the region for Ikea and a thoroughly nice fella he was too. Sharing beers and our stories of how we came to be in Singapore, he was called away all too soon as he had to rendezvous with his lad at their car, leaving me to finish his last, untouched beer. By now I am still cold and damp but the alcohol is gently warming me from the inside. Very soon I was joined at "my" table by an affable asian fellow, Peter, and it turned out that he is the MD of Hasbro for the whole region, talk about meeting movers and shakers!! Well, further beers and chat followed with Peter (what a lovely, easy going and friendly guy) before he too had to disappear at which point he offered me a lift to the bus stop in his executive motor which, of course, I readily accepted. Bus back into town, a meal at a local resto and then into an early bed - great day done!
Monsoon time

Monsoon time

23/11 One of our hostel's advertised events was a weekly scooter tour around the city. Despite hanging around with my fingers crossed for most of the morning there were insufficient takers so eventually it was cancelled! Somewhat at a loose end I mooched around the assorted shops that inhabit "Arab Street", wasting what was left of the day, not the most exciting of follow ups to yesterday!
One of many beautiful temples near the hostel

One of many beautiful temples near the hostel

24/11 Apart from the usual city based highlights Singapore's other famous tourist mecca is the island of Pulau Ubin which is easily reached by water taxi from the small old village of Changi. The beauty of this island is that there are no private vehicles allowed so, apart from a few tourist jeeps and military vehicles, everyone gets around by bike. The choice of cycles is panoramic with singles, 2 and 3 seater tandems (is a 3 person bike still called a tandem??), kids tow-alongs etc, etc as most of the businesses here are either bike rental or food and drink vendors. Having secured a cheap and poorly maintained two wheeler I set off to explore, heading initially towards the nature trail area. Riding here is pretty straightforward as the island is fairly flat as long as your gears and legs work (one or two inclines are definitely testing) and, as there are very few roads, getting lost is unlikely.
View from Pulau Ubin

View from Pulau Ubin

Bicycle anyone?

Bicycle anyone?

Hope they had insurance!

Hope they had insurance!


The nature trail begins at a quaint old tudor style colonially built cottage residence which now serves as a visitor centre for the wetlands mangrove park and leads onto an extensive walkway which initially goes out onto the sea, around the coastal head and then back through the swamp/jungle. Sightings included a variety of wading birds and a standard looking crab, both better at fishing than I, crazy mud crabs with one huge brightly coloured claw, mud-hopper fish skating from puddle to puddle waving the crests on their backs like warning flags, shy monkeys and brazen wild pigs as well as varied flora found in wetlands.
The start of the nature walk

The start of the nature walk

The fearsome one clawed crab

The fearsome one clawed crab

View from the nature walkway

View from the nature walkway


Having completed the walk which I thoroughly enjoyed I relocated my untrustworthy two wheeled steed and traversed the island to find the off road bike circuit highlighted on my map. This proved to be more mentally than physically challenging in that, whilst I found it easily enough, I was unable to follow the route marked on the signs dotted about - in the end I missed more than half of the alleged course!
The far (northwest) end of the island, accessed by a road clearly marked on the map, was blocked by fences and barriers with prohibited entry signs everywhere so I have no idea what I was not supposed to see there. After a good look round the rest of the accessible parts of the isle I popped aboard a return water taxi to head back to the hustle and bustle of "civilisation" in the city.

25/11 My last full day comprised an early start to go fishing followed by an extensive walk around the city. Again my fish hooking exploits proved pathetic, catching only more of the tiny bait fish. I did however see one very big fish enjoying a feeding frenzy by the pier and also witnessed a local lad land a very good sized gar fish. Back in town I secured my onward coach ticket to Malaysia and sought out some historical and architectural highlights, starting with the Raffles Hospital. I also espied, from a distance, a most unusual structure that resembles a huge concrete ship resting atop three tower blocks which turned out to be the Marina Sands Bay Skypark (see photo below).
At this point my camera battery died leaving me bereft of any further quality photo record for the rest of the day!! D'oh!
Fortunately the old ipod came to the rescue to capture the beautiful Raffles Hotel, the correspondingly tasteless Raffles mall and an appropriately sited McDonalds amongst others.
Crazy, inventive and impressive architecture!

Crazy, inventive and impressive architecture!


Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel

Xmas at Raffles Mall 2012

Xmas at Raffles Mall 2012

Spot the street name?!?!

Spot the street name?!?!

26/11 Leaving day dawned and over breakfast I discussed in finer detail my rough Malaysia and Borneo plans with the knowledgable guy on reception - sadly I dont recall his name. With him having been to both of these places he made numerous suggestions of places to see which were duly noted down - you will have to keep reading to see if the Fool made it to any, many or all of them. Soon afterwards it was a short walk to the coach stop, climb on board and head across the bridge to ........Malaysia!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 10:30 Comments (0)

Java part III - Jakarta and a sorrowful Parting of the Ways

Making the journey from hell to arrive at Hell on Earth

Our onward destination from the temples was the metropolis that is Jakarta which would mark the parting of ways for our triumverate as Sarka and Jana had to return to Czechland whilst I would then head off into mainland SE Asia. First things first however, we had to get to the city and this turned into probably the most harrowing journey this Fool has ever taken - and it was nothing to do with the bus, the driving or indeed the roads.

The Bus Journey From Hell
Boarding the night bus from Yogyakarta, I sat behind the girls and opted for the aisle seat as experience has told me that my random seating partner will be larger than his seat and being squashed against a cold window for 14 hours just didnt appeal. As expected my bench buddy was the biggest (and I don't mean tallest) person on the whole coach and he looked a little disappointed that I made him squeeze past me into the window seat.
Anyway we eventually sorted ourselves out and the bus headed into the night. After a short while, my neighbour and I struck up a conversation of sorts as he knew a little broken english and had the usual international hand gestures. Having established that he had twin boys of around 5 years old he pulled out his mobile and showed me a video he had made of his boys playing happily with a bucket of water. It was about 3 years old (the boys looked very young) and he was obviously very proud of his family.
He then offered to show me another video which, naturally, I readily agreed to watch, thinking it was a more recent film of his boys, when they were a little older. The clip was again filmed on his phone in black and white, it was very shakey and dark, and opened with a close up of a guy lying on his front on the ground, obviously being restrained by several people. Then his head was pulled back by his hair and a knife blade came into view and was held against his neck before being withdrawn again. At this stage I was not sure what I was watching but I thought it might be some sort of play similar to the exorcism show we had seen at Borobudur so I was not too concerned. Well, back on screen, the scene was repeated with the guy's head being pulled up and back and the knife again pressed against his neck. This time however the knife was used to slice his neck wide open and suddenly a whole torrent of black blood spurted out at tremendous pressure. I involuntarily cried out and looked away trying to work out what the hell I was watching. Appalled, I was ashen faced, I gave him his phone back and told him it was insane to give this to a stranger to watch. He was disappointed that I didnt want to watch the whole thing as, at the end, they hacked the guys head off completely, something he showed me by mimicing the cutting action and then holding up an imaginary head by it's hair! Somewhat traumatised I then asked him what had happened and he explained that the guy had had a gun, had gone crazy and shot 5 people in their village. The villagers had then chased and caught him and then dealt out summary execution which he had filmed from no more than a couple of feet away.
At this point I retreated into my shell a little until, a little later, he offered to show me some more pictures which, he assured me, were not like the video. Thinking I would see more recent photos of his twin boys or his wife I agreed to have a look so he searched around, loaded a picture and gave me the phone again. The scene was not very clear so it took a moment or two to work it out. It was not one of domestic or familial bliss but the scene of a fatal road accident, with a crashed and broken motorbike lying on a pedestrian zebra crossing and two dead bodies laying in the road. Again revolted by the images I was seeing I shoved his phone back at him at which point he went to load another photo for me to look at!! It turns out that he works for a hospital in Jakarta and his job is to go out to collect the dead bodies at fatal traffic accidents so he took the photos as a personal momento! Needless to say the remaining 13+ hours of the bus journey were fraught and I dont think I actually managed to relax at all whilst my two lady companions slept line babies in the seats in front of me. Even now I still shudder when I recall those bizarre moments, thankful that the video was in monochrome and not very clear.

After our 14 hour (non)sleeper we transferred to another coach for a 2 hour jaunt up the Transjakarta Express Busway and then, there we were, in the Indonesian capital.
Having booked a hotel room for me and after we had all freshened up we set off to explore the city in the searing midday heat. We managed to find our way on foot to and up the Nacional Monument (hard to miss given its height), then negotiated the crazy streets absolutely teeming with tuktuks and taxis, to find a place that served a decent coffee and to have what was our big "farewell meal".
Cool Jakarta street art

Cool Jakarta street art


One of Jakarta's few high points

One of Jakarta's few high points

Guardian gargoyles abound

Guardian gargoyles abound

Tuktuks close in on a foreign tourist

Tuktuks close in on a foreign tourist

SAM_6019.jpgSAM_6020.jpg
Bye bye ladies.

Wilting somewhat, we returned to the hotel and, all to soon, my one week adventure with my two wonderful new friends was over as they headed off into the traffic to fly home to Prague. Although we had only travelled together for seven days much of our time was spent either laughing or eating - two of lifes simplest but rewarding pleasures. One day I will get to traverse Europe and, if either Sarka or Jana are at home, I hope that we will have a great reunion in their beautiful city.

As a backpacking destination Jakarta was hot, dusty, noisy and not very welcoming. The Lonely Planet had nothing good to say about either the city itself or the whole surrounding area of north west Java so, once the girls had gone, I went online and booked the first flight out to Singapore, luckily it was departing the next morning. The trip to the airport was simplified by the express shuttle buses that run from central Jakarta and, soon afterwards, I was bidding farewell to Indonesia - for now!!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 09:15 Archived in Indonesia Tagged sarka jana Comments (0)

Java part II - Yogyakarta, Kaliurang and the amazing Temples

No room at the Inn, the amazing hostel cafe and Prambanan & Borobudur.

Our very early start from Gunung Bromo was just the beginning of what turned into a marathon travel day which comprised a rediculously fast bus down the mountain to Probolingo (he he, mentioned it again), an executive coach to Surabata (very nice), a local bus to the train station and then a 6 hour train ride to Yogyakarta.

Executive style travel!

Executive style travel!


Once we arrived it took us ages (even with the assistance of a wonderfully helpful and generous local chap) to actually find the tourist/backpacker area of the city and then another 2 hours of tramping the streets to discover that Java's second city had exactly NO rooms, beds, mattresses, floors or even stables available, again due to the muslim holiday weekend!! Fed up and dispirited we eventually referred to the Lonely Planet and phoned Vogels Hostel in Kaliurang, some 32 km away up near Mt Marapi, where the proprietor Christian Awuy (already famous through his mention in the LP) said that he had room available and agreed to wait up for us. We finally arrived after midnight to find the place being heavily renovated but we happily took the triple bedded veranda room and collapsed for some much needed sleep.

Awakening the next morning we took stock of our surroundings - a good sized hostel in a very small village with mountain views and complete with it's own cafe/restaurant ( also praised in LP). At breakfast we took advice from Christian himself and had an amazing feast of toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches (on home made bread)  and banana pancakes. In hindsight this was a big, BIG mistake as the portions were absolutely huge, the plates and dishes completely engulfing our decent sized table for four!
Our heavyweight breakfast

Our heavyweight breakfast

Toastie smiles

Toastie smiles


After following the backpackers code of NEVER leaving any food and stuffing ourselves stupid, we wandered literally next door where we were lucky enough to witness the Kaliurang International Food Festival, in which a couple of dozen plucky teams of cooks prepared dishes of rabbit, to be judged by the chef of a 5 star Yogyakarta restaurant. There were many beautifully presented entries, some of which looked good enough to eat!
One of many fabulous entries

One of many fabulous entries

Vegetarian crocodile???

Vegetarian crocodile???

Sweet

Sweet


Later we strolled to the Ullen Sentalu Museum for a delightful tour and history lesson on the four kingdoms of Yokyakarta and the development of batik designs for which the region is famous. On the way back to the hostel we encountered the traditional afternoon monsoon thunderstorm which kept us penned in the hostel but with the food being so good this was hardly a punishment. Sadly the rainy season was well and truly underway and had already claimed its first victim, with an enormous landslide making Mount Marapi unapproachable for hikers, so we had to settle for views from a distance, the pictures in Christian's dining room and using our imagination about what the hike would have been like..
Ganesh at the museum

Ganesh at the museum

A beautiful and serene spot

A beautiful and serene spot

Our view of Marapi

Our view of Marapi

The next morning heralded departure day for us and Christian's brother/cousin/neighbour/friend (or maybe he was all of the these) was procured, for a reasonable fee of course, to take us to Prambanan, the Hindu temple complex and then on to Yogyakarta. So after a more modest breakfast and purchasing some of the small local bananas we departed Kaliurang - my last memory being our exiting the town past its only roundabout which had a huge sculpture of crayfish or lobsters as its centrepiece! Very strange these hill folk!!
Playing with food - again!

Playing with food - again!


Kaliurang's only roundabout - dedicated to the Crayfish!?!?

Kaliurang's only roundabout - dedicated to the Crayfish!?!?

Prambanan:
This is the largest, and probably the most stunning, Hindu temple complex in Indonesia. The point of entry point is large, somewhat clinical and very strictly controlled - also you can see nothing of the complex until you have paid your (expensive) entry fee. That said, once you have paid, been processed and entered the grounds you get your initial sighting and, as you approach and your field of view becomes wider, the full scale of the temples are revealed in all of their splendour, the number of temples and shrines seeming to multiply right in front of your eyes. This site is a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back some 1200 years or more, as well as being of significant religious importance. Understandably buildings of this age can be somewhat structurally suspect and Prambanan is no different, with some areas having been restored and others being supported whilst remedial works are conducted - some sections are less stable so numbers and visiting times are limited and hard hats are provided to all visitors. The complex is visually impressive on many levels - not least in terms of its concentric square layout, the sheer size of the central building which scales some 47 metres high and the incredibly detailed stonework on most of the individual shrines and temples. As a foreign tourist one thing to bear in mind is that many, many schools arrange for coachloads of their pupils to visit and all of them are encouraged to talk to anybody who even looks like they speak english in order to improve their language skills. As a result you will be continually approached by individuals, small and large groups who want a couple of minutes of your time to complete a short questionnaire - they all ask the same questions and it can be repetitive but, if you do say no, they do take rejection extremely courteously. After clambering around the complex for a few hours it is always nice to be able to stroll around outside and, whilst the place has some nice neat grounds and a reindeer enclosure, there is little else to do until you decide to fight your way through the large commercial crafts, souvenirs and tat village which you have to walk through to get to the exit.
The girls arrive at Prambanan

The girls arrive at Prambanan

Its bigger than you think!

Its bigger than you think!

Gargoyles guard the entrances

Gargoyles guard the entrances


Reindeer in the park

Reindeer in the park

Once we had exhausted the photo opportunity and run the gaunlet if the innumerable stallholders we rejoined our driver who took us into the heart of Yogyakarta and dropped us in the backpackers area. This time our search for a hotel was easier and much more fruitful this time and we booked into a room at the very nicely appointed Monica Hotel (a double room with a 3rd mattress squeezed in on the floor for yours truly) before we headed into town. Walking around in the intense heat was enegry sapping but we did manage to fit in a good few sights before heading towards the bus station to get our tickets for the onward trip to Jakarta the next evening. We were still some distance from the ticket office when the afternoon rains began and we got caught in an absolute deluge which instantly had the streets flooded and saw us wading against the flow. We huddled under any available shelter (along with the hundreds of locals) and tried waiting the rain out but it soon became apparent that this would not happen any time soon so, in the end we hopped, soaking wet, into a tuktuk and even this was occasionally in danger of being swept off the road by the torrents of water. Tickets procured we again battled the weather to return to our hotel to dry out.

Some time later we followed the recommendation of the LP and dined at the Bedhot Resto where the food was good but the decor was the star. In addition to some amazing murals on the walls the star of the dining area was a beautifully restored Lambretta scooter which we all had a wee sit on for photos.
A surreal mural in the Bedhot Resto - viewed without the aid of "special" mushrooms

A surreal mural in the Bedhot Resto - viewed without the aid of "special" mushrooms

The fabulous Lambretta in Bedhot

The fabulous Lambretta in Bedhot

The next morning saw us head off to the Buddhist temple at Borobudur.

Borobudur:
The early start saw us all packed into a minibus and on the road in the pre-dawn light. The journey of around 40km didnt take long and we arrived at around 6.00 am. After queueing briefly to buy our tickets, we headed into the complex in the early morning mist to seek out the temple. The grounds are extensive, very well laid out and beautifully maintained so our first sighting of the temple itself took several minutes and was seen through the trees. As with Prambanan this temple was built around the 9th century and it is also absolutely enormous. Where it differs from the hindu complex is that this temple is effectively one single huge edifice as opposed to the 240 shrines and temples originally built at Prambanan. Oh, and look out for the steps at Borobudur, there are about 100 as you approach the East Entrance and then more inside the complex as you follow the route up the various levels to the top. There is ongoing repair and restoration work going on but, given the sheer scale of the building, you dont notice this too much.
Two things that really grabbed my attention here are 1) that the whole temple is built of millions of interlocking pieces, like an enormous 3D puzzle and 2) there are literally thousands of beautifully detailed carved stone relief panels depicting everything from sailing ships to birds and elephants to court scenes.
Borobudur - the worlds biggest 3D puzzle?

Borobudur - the worlds biggest 3D puzzle?

Heffalumps! <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Heffalumps! :)


We followed the tourist route round and through the whole temple (steps, tunnels, ramparts etc) to the top where we played among the beautiful stupas (containing figures of Buddha) and even saw an advert for tv being filmed. As with our hindu experience there were large groups of schoolchildren but they seemed less of an interruption than Prambanan - indeed they preferred to have their photo taken with the white folk to asking loads of questions.
Borobudur in all of its glory

Borobudur in all of its glory

Not ugly - but hardly beautiful!

Not ugly - but hardly beautiful!

We're sexy and we know it!

We're sexy and we know it!

Now you see us......

Now you see us......

...and now you dont! Fun among the stupas

...and now you dont! Fun among the stupas

The beautiful gardens, barely visible in the morning mist

The beautiful gardens, barely visible in the morning mist


The views from the top are panoramic however we were somewhat limited by the lingering morning most. The grounds are much bigger than at Prambanan and they include two museums and a number of what can best be described as side-shows. We stopped to watch one of these shows which appeared to be the re-enactment of the excorcism of possessed or crazy young people - it was very convincing and lifelike, and quite disturbing, sufficiently so for me to move on rather quickly. We wandered around the Kapal Samudraraksa museum which houses the Borobudur ship, a full sized replica based upon a ship relief carved into the temple walls. It was built in the 1980s, built using traditional methods and materials and completed a journey from Jakarta - Madagaskar - Cape Town - Ghana before being returned to Yogyakarta and retirement in the museum. Our tour to Borobudur also included stopping off at a much smaller temple (in some disrepair) and another site where we were able to wander (briefly) amongst statues, lotus pools, bells, shrines and flowering trees and shrubs - visually stunning and very relaxing!
The full scale traditional boat

The full scale traditional boat


Indonesia - where huge bells abound

Indonesia - where huge bells abound

The peaceful garden

The peaceful garden


Stunning!

Stunning!


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Overview of Yogyakarta:
This is the second city of Java and is a large, sprawling mass which, in itself, has little or no real charm or beauty. It is redeemed however by the close proximity of the Marapi mountain range and the two extraordinary temples.
Unfortunately for us the recent heavy rains had caused a very large landslide which effectively shut the mountain to visitors, even from a distance!! 
Prambanan is a fantastic example of Hindu temple architecture but, for the price, it was a bit of a disappointing experience for this scribe. Hugely commercialised, you are treated like a number (or an ATM) and there is really only the temple complex itself and a huge tourist market to see there.
Borobudur however was a complete experience by comparison. Although the entrance fee was the same, in addition to the temple itself there are the beautifully designed, planted and maintained extensive gardens, oodles of space to wander around, side shows enacting bizarre exorcism plays, a couple of museums and the tourist trinkets and food village markets. Wonderful!

Our onward destination was the metropolis that is Jakarta and getting there was a harrowing experience in itself...........

Posted by RoystonBoyston 07:22 Comments (0)

Java part I - The Volcanoes of Kawa Ijen and Gunung Bromo

Czech Mates, the DIY tour and the start of food fun

The ferry crossing from Bali was both straightforward and wierd at the same time. Whilst we could see Java quite clearly across the narrow Bali Sea strait the currents there are so strong that the trip takes considerably longer than one would expect. Initially the ferry merrily chugs out into the channel with the bows heading into the oncoming current, after a while they cut off the power and let the boat just drift sideways and backwards, using the current to travel laterally. Next they fire up the engines once again and start heading forward once more before cutting and drifting, a process that was repeated several times and which provided a feeling of deju vu because the same piece of Java coastline (in our case on the right) and other boats and ferries that we had already passed kept reappearing ahead of us. Eventually, at least an hour later, we steam into the very busy harbour area to tie up and disembark.
Java ahoy!

Java ahoy!

Post my arrival at the ferry terminal in Ketapang I found my way to the only "recognised and reputable" tour operator in town and discussed the price of his "all inclusive" Kawa Ijen (an old volcano), Gunung Bromo (a mountain complete with caldera) and onward travel to Yogyakarta package which started at Rph1.5 million for a single customer and dropped to around 750k per person if he managed to bag a group of 6 or more punters. I agreed to stay at their local homestay and checked into a beautifully appointed room for just 100k for the night, had a spot of lunch and then a cleansing shower. Returning to the tour office for an update on group numbers I was just in time to chat to a couple of girls who, like me, couldn't justify the prices the agent quoted. They decided that they would do the whole trip themselves using local transport and agreed that I could join them so, literally 10 minutes later I had re-packed and vacated my room and we were on the street looking for a shuttle to take us to the bus station!!! The two ladies in question were Sarka and Jana from the Czech Republic on a real whistle-stop 3 week tour of Indonesia.
My room, for about 90 minutes!

My room, for about 90 minutes!

Kawa Ijen:
The journey from ferry port to the town of Bondowoso involved a local shuttle, a full sized coach to Sitobondo and then another smaller bus for the final leg. The first two went well although we were hustled to board the final shuttle only to sit, without moving, for a full hour until the driver and conductor turned up. Arrival at Bondowoso heralded the end of our 4 wheel transport as we transferred to 3 wheel pedal power to be whisked off to our hotel for the night. Our food for the evening was exclusively fruit based and included eating a huge papaya, several snakefruit and a few dragon fruits.
Fruit overload

Fruit overload

Cheese!

Cheese!


Next morning, after a traditional Indonesian breakfast, we agreed to shell out about 180k each for the services of a friend of the owner and his trusty 4x4 to take us to the Kawah Ijen volcano. This journey definitely warranted an off-roader as some stretches were pretty rough. What it didnt really need though was the old boy's constant, incessant use of the horn - I think it must be a part of his driving style because he even used it on flat open roads with no oncoming traffic in sight. On the way up we passed through forests of fir trees which were being milked for their sap as well as numerous coffee trees/bushes bearing the bright red berries that contain the beans that eventually end up in our breakfast mugs.

Sap collecting

Sap collecting

Buzz does a quick workout

Buzz does a quick workout

The Petrol Station

The Petrol Station

After a few backhanders at the various barrier points along the way we arrived at the base point for Ijen where we suntan lotioned up for the 3 km hike to the craters rim.
All along the dusty and sometimes quite steep path we encountered local men coming down, laden with baskets or bags stuffed with bright yellow sulphurous rock which seemed rediculously heavy considering how small the carriers were. I had the opportunity to try and lift a typical load, somewhere around 55-65kgs, far too much for this softened western tourist! Bear in mind that these guys weight in at under 50kgs and you can see how strong they are. At the rim the view was pretty spectacular but the wind was ferocious making the photo opportunity somewhat challenging. it was here that we met one of the "porters" who offered to guide us down the one kilometre goat track inside the volcano to where the sulphur was mined. At the bottom the sulphurous gas spewed of the rock in a continuous thick cloud and when the wind changed and blew the gases in our direction our home made bandana face masks were little protection against the poisonous yellow smoke. After such an edifying experience we were all three glad to return to the car park unscathed to enjoy a hot cuppa and reflect on how easy our jobs and lives were!
Kawa Ijen from the top

Kawa Ijen from the top

The sulphur pit

The sulphur pit

On the way back down we stopped off at a large coffee plantation to enjoy a quick tour where we saw the whole process, from the manual sorting of the beans through to packing and on to despatch, before getting back to town. Interestingly they had a large fenced and caged compound in which they kept numerous Civets - the wild cats that eat the coffee berries and from who's pooh the digested beans are collected and processed to make the extremely expensive Luwak coffee.
Civet alert

Civet alert

No, he is not home!

No, he is not home!

Tea for two, madam!

Tea for two, madam!


Gunung Bromo:
Back in town again, we collected our baggage before embarking on the journey to Gunung Bromo, the first leg of which was from Bondowoso to Probolingo (I love the crazy alliterative and onomatapaeic names in this region). Here they got us all off the bus and then herded us straight back on again before heading up to Cemoro Lawang village where we had planned to stay the night before the next morning's legendary sunrise. Unfortunately our visit had coincided with the muslim new year holiday so we were told that there were no rooms available at all, anywhere. Trudging around the whole village we were first offered a Harry Potter-like under-the-stairs dungeon but eventually ended up in fair rooms which had crappy shared toilets and no showers. I roomed with an affable walking machine from Spain called Pedro while the two girls shared a room with a view on the upper level.

Before dawn the next morning we gathered together and set off in the dark to walk to the viewpoints up on the hillside. This turned out to be a pretty dangerous move as 1) literally hundreds of small 4WD jeeps sped past us on the ill lit and poorly made road and 2) the exhaust fumes from so many diesel engines in such a small area were overpowering. Being walkers we were very much in the minority and, as it turned out, we were unable to reach the higher viewing spots because the road was almost impassable, it was literally choked with parked jeeps! As dawn broke we managed to secure a reasonable vantage point and enjoyed a pretty good sunrise.
The Caldera at Bromo

The Caldera at Bromo

The sun approacheth

The sun approacheth

Our epic Bromo sunrise

Our epic Bromo sunrise

Once it was light we trudging back to our overnight lodgings, again through the crazy 4X4 traffic, to collect our bags and start our onward journey towards Yogyakarta.

Death by diesel from the 4x4s

Death by diesel from the 4x4s

The Caldera was absolutely huge!

The Caldera was absolutely huge!

Posted by RoystonBoyston 05:31 Comments (0)

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