A Travellerspoint blog

Made it to Malaysia!

Kuala Lumpur, 25 - 29 November

overcast 25 °C
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It's so clean, so efficient, so different to Indonesia! Slightly more expensive though (always a flipside to that coin).We decided to stay a few days in Kuala Lumpur before flying to Thailand - will come back to Malaysia once the monsoon has evacuated.

Found some great accommodation on Jalan Petaling - the central street in China Town which is ladden with shops and stalls to entice the tourists. "Oasis" Guest house, a steal at only 30 Ringgits ($15) for a double room. Friendly, vibrant place - with all the movies we could ever want to watch at our disposal in the lounge (all bootlegged DVD’s of course!). A good time and place to entertain ourselves - especially during the huge thunder and lightening storms that prevailed every night - the loudest we've ever heard and makes for very impressive sights from the balcony overlooking the city. The road transformed itself into a rippling river... looks like we still haven't escaped the monsoon! Made ourselves at home at the local food court, the fiery curry laksa becoming our staple diet.

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On foot we explored the nearby area - Merdeka Square and some larger, impressive historic buildings, such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (1897) and the National Mosque (rather unremarkable – especially since no visitors are allowed inside). The KL tower looms in the distance… not quite the Sky Tower though (ever so loyal). Guido is keen for more mosque action so we visit the “Masjid Jamek” a pretty mosque set in a grove of palm trees amidst the skyscrapers, and filled with people sleeping in between prayers. The volunteer who shows us around reassures us these folks are actually on their lunch break and not from the local salvation army (oops). Also, since girls have to don a headscarf and cloak to cover up (as if it’s not hot enough already!) – Alana looks ridiculously out of place with her fluoro pink and yellow slushy in hand (I love the 7-Eleven).

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Close by is the "Central Market" - a refurbished Art Deco building filled with arts and handicrafts that we can’t take with us (packs are way to heavy as it is!). At least the nearby malls don’t tempt us… filled with cheap brand-alike clothes and pirated movies & music, mostly in pigeon english. Some of it even sells at western prices – how cheeky!). None of this comes as a suprise of course – we all know the Orient for its rampant piracy by now. The abundance and availability of it is, however, way beyond expectation. Even legitimate shopping malls floors are crammed with this stuff – whole floors selling nothing else.

It’s so easy to get around KL with their exceptional rail system – underground and above. We head out to “Sunway Pyramid” for a laugh – an Egyptian themed shopping mall with a giant lion sculpture at the pyramid entrance, hieroglyphics and pharaohs decorating the buildings. This monstrosity has 2 domes – Orange Atrium which is inspired by the sun god “ra”, and the Blue Atrium which is themed by the Great River Nile. Four floors of shops around a loop corridor (so you can never get lost), with different shopping precincts within. So new and immaculate, an aesthetic treat! This mall even has onsite hotels, a “Sunway Lagoon Theme Park”, and an ice skating rink – with an ice hockey game to entertain us. Giant xmas trees and decorations remind us that the festive season is upon us. Because we are traveling and can’t buy presents, we eat ourselves silly – so many taste sensations (and way too affordable).

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The rail also takes us to the impressive Petronas Towers – although we are too late to get up for a view, we browse the mall and wander through the park before heading to the Golden Triangle – KL’s premier business, shopping, and entertainment district comprising of flashy high-rises and malls malls malls. After Sunway Pyramid, we’re hard to please, but Times Square is pretty impressive – complete with “Cosmos World Theme Park” on the top floor – home to the longest roller coaster in Asia, apparently. There’s something relaxing about drinking coffee while hearing the screams as the roller coaster flies past.

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Catch the bus out to Batu Caves – the best know attraction near KL (15km north). Towering Limestone Caves at the top of 272 steps (yes, every step is labeled). We enter the “Temple Cave” – the largest cave, at 100m high (actually that sounds ridiculous…but it’s really high!). Once you get past the tacky souvenirs and man with a posing snake, you enter the dark, dripping cave – it’s immense! Natural light breaks through, bats fly overhead, monkeys run down the cliffs for food, Hindu statues adorn the walls – this place has it all! On our way down the stairs a monkey takes a keen interest in Alana’s plastic bag – and so begins a tug of war, rough and tussle, both too stubborn to let go until the monkey plays dirty, knarls its teeth, and gets agro (darn maqaques!)… Alana drops the bag and the monkey rubs insult into injury and bites into the full water bottle that has fallen from the bag. Cry me a river... Guido finally stops playing paparazzi and shoos away the agro monkey. By now there is quite the audience crowding around – monkeys and tourists alike enjoying the scene.

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Posted by beefnlamb 05:41 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jetting around Java - Bandung

Bandung - Jakarta

overcast 25 °C
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Bandung & Jakarta 22-24 November

Six hour bus trip from Pangandaran to Bandung (50.000 Rupiah). Each stop getting pestered by merchants to buy food and drink, pay for singers/guitarists, some sellers even stay on the bus between stops and repetitively ask you every other minute if you're really not interested in that mank bit of fruit. The city is in complete gridlock. We arrive, settle in & explore. …Festering people, seedy streets, grubby, rubbish laden, manky cats without tails, beggars ever present alongside clean glitzy shopping malls. Reality check – all the famous franchises are present from Starbucks to Gucci. The grinding poverty can be discouraging. Lots of homeless mums send out their flock of children to beg us for money – often using empty beverage cups from the McDonalds just up the road – the epitome of a third world country eagerly trying to latch onto the "glamorous" West. New movies releases are playing for only 15000 rupiahs ($2.50) - James Bond 'Quantum of Solace' provides a welcome distraction.

Java is well known for its bakery delights so we sample a fair bit of it. Head up Jeans street- 200m of shopping centers lined with cheap tacky clothes, shop fronts adorned with colossal plaster giants of all the favo superheroes – Rambo, spiderman, superman – they’re all here! Just around the corner we find a meticulously clean shopping mal. A sudden transformation to a sanitary environment with high security, rich teens on ‘young street’. A city of harsh truths indeed.

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Happy to leave Bandung, a 3hour train ride to Jakarta, past rice paddies, coconut plantations, workers in the field. As we approach Jakarta we see people sleeping & living on the train tracks, kids playing, entire villages constructed from garbage, men enjoying a game of chess on the tracks! So many people with nowhere to go and nothing to do…

Posted by beefnlamb 21:56 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jetting around Java - Pangandaran

Pangandaran

sunny 25 °C
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Pangandaran 19-22 November

4hr train ride to Banjar, Becak rides in the pouring rain, 2hr death defying bus ride through jungle (doesn’t really stop to let people on or off – you just have to jump), careering around the corners at full speed, taking up the whole road and then we’re dumped in the middle of nowhere. We negotiate scooter rides to “Delta Gecko Village” in Cikembulan (4kms from the tourist hub of Pangandaran) despite the adamancy of our drivers that Delta Gecko no longer exists and that they could take us to their mates place instead. We insist, and set off along the rough coastal road, stormy seas, pouring rain, path of destruction and hotel ruins, remnants of the 2006 Tsunami. We stop outside a pile of rubble – apparently Delta Gecko. Thinking they’re having us on we go check out the area and find 1 house and a European among the carnage. “Is this Delta Gecko?”, “That’s Delta Gecko” he says pointing to the rubble. I guess it does pay to have an up to date (post Tsunami) guidebook! Off to their mates place within the tourist hub (despite the knowledge that we’ll have to pay the commission that the becak mafia get off the losmen).

Oh well, we’re here – Pangandaran, a seaside town with crashing surf, beaches, coconut plantations, and a forested national park at the tip of the peninsula. The streets are deserted, apart from locals energetically rebuilding a life from the rubble – the destruction is still so vivid. We scope out the fish market, the freshest seafood around! Simply look through the polystyrene iceboxes outside the warungs until you find what you want and they cook it up how you like it. Delicious! Fish, squid, prawns, scallops… and the assorted by catch that comes with bottom trawling -even 2 baby hammerheads, and some crayfish so undersized even the most avid poacher would be ashamed to take – overfishing at its prime. The King Prawns are a winner however!

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The beach is covered with blue prahus (boats), nets, fish drying on the footpath, fishermen, souvenir shops, and locals barbequing prawns over an open fire. There are deer and monkeys playing and eating crackers on the beach (?) – the gateway to the National Park (5000R entrance fee with includes insurance – eek). We see black monkeys, macaques, iguanas, deer, caves, and finally some peace and quiet! We watch the sunset from the beach, and at dusk the skies fill with mammoth fruit bats. Apparently people still eat them – they catch them by snagging their wings on hooks attached to kite strings.

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We hire a scooter (50.000R), put 2litres of Benzin (petrol) in the tank (6000R/Litre) and head out of town to the Cituman Dam – children calling out to us “hello” and waving, locals showing us the way – happy, friendly people! Several pooldrops and limestone caves later, we see some local boys swimming above a big drop in the river – Guido joins them. Then off to Pangandaran’s most famous site “Green Canyon”. 75000R for the 2 of us to charter a longtail boat up the Sungai Cijulang River, forested river banks, iguana’s basking in the sun, stunning butterflies and birds, and then the banks steepen into limestone cliffs, waterfalling, stalactites and a narrow gorge. The boat can go no further so we swim up hard and fast against the current to avoid getting sucked over the rocky drops below us, to see the ‘gorgeous’ scenery and rapids upstream. As we swim we run into a blue snake swimming right by the rope we’re supposed to grab onto – aargh! Who needs a rope anyway!

Posted by beefnlamb 21:42 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jetting around Java - Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta

sunny 25 °C
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Yogya (Yogyakarta) 15-19 November

Yogya ranks as one of the best-preserved and most culturally attractive sities in Java and our first impressions were good – bigger, busier, and way more vibrant than Solo. We run around the nearby gangs (alleys) and find “Bedhot” – a funky café that does good food and delicious ginseng coffee, with cruisy reggae tunes reverberating around us. Drinking Big Bintang beers on the deck is the perfect way to unwind! The main street is packed with clothing/souvenir stalls on one side, the other side lined with lots of warung stalls that pop up for night time feeding – we enjoy tasty Nasi Gudek Telor (local specialty of jackfruit drenched in coconut milk with egg on rice, sauces, chilli). and become big fans of the streetstall lumpia (spring rolls) and fresh donuts (1000R). Tempted to try the local burung (fwhole fried pigeon) as well but it really doesn't hold that much meat so no go unfortunately (it cost a whopping $2 anyway). The horse and carriage/becak drivers hassling us for transport is unrelenting… sigh

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We enter the maze of the Sultan’s Palace (grounds covering a mere 200 hectares) and a guide – lets call him Pepe. he shows us the Princesses quarters (usually closed to the public). Another downpour when we’re at the pool area (torrential rain every day now around lunchtime for an hour – monsoon to blame!). Alana felt sick (since Bromo) so drifted off to sleep while Guido talked to good ol' Pepe, a royal palace gamelan player by day, who proceeds to explain that the palace servants are passed down by generation and his son is next in line (7th Generation). Somehow he also slips into the conversation that the local Javanese rice wine is a particularly good aphrodisiac and that he consumes plentiful to please his wife (and of course if we want any). Meanwhilst I stare into the heavy monsoon rain which blocks any foreseeable escape from this conversation which further unravels the palace servants sex life in full detail. When the rain eases we go to the gallery to see batik clothing being made, then onto the Wayang Kulit puppets being carved from buffalo hide (that ithey specifically import from Sulawesi for this purpose). Such intricate designs and detail - no wonder it takes weeks to make one. We leave the palace grounds and check out the bird market and water palace on our way back.

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We watch a Wayang Kulit performance (shadow puppet show) where one man works all the leather puppets and speaks for them, playing the drums with his feet, while the gamelan plays in the back. Being the only ones in the audience we couldn’t understand a word but it was entertaining for sure!

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Head off to see Java’s number 1 tourist attraction “Borodudur” – the largest Buddhist Temple in the world built in the 9th Century. We arrive at the silent hours of dawn, shrouded in mist – very enchanting (until the hords of language students try to interview us to practice their English - “excuse me, what are your hobbies?”). They are amazingly organized though – donned in full suit with corresponding name tags and ear to ear smiles. They must get up at like 5am to intercept us. We ascend the multiple tiers in a clockwise direction – following the Buddhist pilgrims' journey through the stories delicately carved into the walls. The base represents the real world, the summit is Nirvana, so as you ascend the tiers you are symbolically following the path to enlightenment.

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On to Prambanan complex – the largest Hindu Complex in Java, to look at the main temple area – 3 giant rocket-shaped andesite temples, all covered in intricate narrative carvings, dedicated to the 3 main Hindu deities – Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu. Facing these are 3 smaller temples housing the animal statues or “chariots” that accompany the gods. The structure suffered greatly from the 2006 earthquake – reconstruction is incredibly tedious as each granite block is once again intricately hand carved by local labourers. Many of the minor temples still lie in ruins.

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Posted by beefnlamb 21:15 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Jetting around Java - Surukarta

Surukarta

overcast 25 °C
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Surukarta (Solo) 13-15 November

We settle into Istana Griya Homestay in the city centre and head off to a Wayang Orang Sriwedari Performance (costing 50 cents!). The gamelan (Solonese Orchestra) performs and the curtains draw for a play acted out by Javanese artists in elaborate costumes. Graceful fluid movements telling a story that we can’t understand. The gamelan is particularly impressive – an extensive ensemble of tuned percussion instruments – mainly gongs, metallophones and drums of varying sizes. We eat random street food (costing 50 cents!) and snack on Krupuk (prawn crackers) while a little old lady beats a child with a broom to get him to cook for us – he refuses and goes back to sleep. Our food is served cold and raw – who knows if it’s supposed to be that way!

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At side stalls you can eat the local specialty “srabi” a combo of pancake and sweet rice served with various mouthwatering toppings (3 srabi for 50 cents!) - this place is so ridiculously cheap! The town’s main source of income is from textiles, gamelan sets, and tofu production, not tourism so we don't see many western folk around. We explore the indoor/claustrophobic/overwhelming batik market and walk around the royal mosque (not allowed inside as we’re not muslim). Eat Gado-gado (tofu satay and vege dish) and walked Solo in a day looking at the palace exteriors “kraton” and the Radya Pustaka Museum (costing 50 cents!) – built by the dutch in 1890, one of the oldest and largest museums in Java. Nothing in English so we used our vivid imagination! Geared up for a Friday night out but found NO nightlife! Near impossible to even find a beer or a place to drink… outrageous! Time to leave… we convince an old becak driver to cycle us to the train station with all our packs – so loaded up we thought his bike might break under the pressure...Oops!! Also finally figured out what all those places with stacks of amber coloured liquid bottles represent - cheap benzene (petrol) for sale. Not unnecessary either with all the scooters around!

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Posted by beefnlamb 21:05 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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