Weekend Nomads

Travel Without Quitting Your Life
MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpur – Petronas Twin Towers

By on 12th April 2016
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers

From Singapore we made our way to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur for a super short visit. Flying would have cost too much compared to a relatively short 6 hour coach journey which cost us S$25 per person. The coach station was at the Golden Mile Complex which was only a 10 minute walk from our accommodation. We bought the tickets only the day before we had to travel, so it was a really convenient way of moving on from Singapore. As we were crossing a border between two countries we had to take along our passports when buying our coach tickets.

The following morning at 6.30 am we left our lovely hotel and walked the 10 minutes in the already sweltering heat with our huge backpacks to the coach station at the Golden Mile. I refused to get a taxi for that distance much to Adams’s dismay. We left the city on what proved to be quite a comfortable coach (if a bit too hot) at 7am and only stopped once before we got to the Malaysian border to stock up on coffee/tea and snacks. At the border everything went really swiftly and we got our 30 days tourist visa on arrival without a question.

We arrived at the central bus station of a humid and bustling Kuala Lumpur by about 1pm. We spent the rest of the afternoon finding our hotel and getting some food and planning out our next day as well as our onward journey to Phuket. Then got an early night so that we were fresh and ready to roll early the following morning.

It could be said that for the next day we lived a fairly ordinary life in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to not go crazy and try and pack everything into this one day, because it was going to be impossible. And that’s ok. We made our peace with the fact that we only came here to fill a couple of days before going back to Thailand, we made our peace with not being able to explore Malaysia. We decided to just enjoy ourselves for the one day we had here and that’s what we did.

Ok ok, we did actually start with something touristy and that was to visit the Petronas Twin Towers. I will be honest one of the main reasons for us to come to Kuala Lumpur was to see the Petronas – I love architecture and the towers are so iconic, I really didn’t want to miss out on seeing them. If you want to get tickets for the tour of the building and you haven’t bought them in advance make sure you get there as soon as the ticket office opens in the morning at 9am.

We left our hotel in the morning which according to Google Maps was located only about 20 minutes walk from Petronas. Well let me tell you it may only have been 20 minutes, but that was the sweatiest walk of my life at 8am in the morning. By the time we got to the towers I had to take a few minute to compose myself – not a great way to start the day, but luckily the day only got better and better.

After queuing up for a little bit we managed to get our tour tickets for 11am that morning (tickets cost 85 Malaysian Ringgit per adult, about £15). To fill the time we got breakfast and coffee in the shopping centre that is attached to the towers and then ventured outside to get the most fabulous view of the building. The Petronas are the world’s largest twin towers and from the square at the front we almost couldn’t get far enough to fit in all of the building in our photos (I only had my 16-50mm lens, of course savvy photographers with a wider lens will have no problems taking photos from this angle).

The tour itself was really fun, well-organised and informative. Security was strict and we had a hologram for a tour guide 🙂 We walked across the bridge between the two towers on floor 41 and the made our way to the observation deck at floor 85. From the top, as far as the eyes can see over Kuala Lumpur – an urban jungle of rooftops, road networks and the hustle and bustle of a megacity.

Believe it or not we did not venture much further from the Petronas Towers for the rest of the day. We could have gone to see Batu Caves and in a way I do wish we had done so, but in the extreme heat and humidity of the day we didn’t feel like we wanted to make the journey. Sacrilege, I know as Batu Caves are possibly the best attraction in KL and would have been well worth the visit. You can also pay for a tour and get pickup from your hotel for a guided tour of the caves, but we simply could not afford this on our budget.

At this point we were also just so tired, all we wanted was to have an easy day and so decided to stop being travellers for a day and just be like normal people. So we went to the shopping centre, ate lunch and watched 2 movies back to back in the onsite cinema complex. Before sunset we walked around KLCC Park and then returned to watch the sunset over the two towers. I loved seeing this magnificent building illuminated after the sun had gone down, a real treat for architecture lovers.

When you are on the road for a long time it is nice to take out a few days every now and then and just recharge. At the same time by the end of our day in Kuala Lumpur I was ready to get back on the road and be travelling with a destination in mind, with clear plans and on a mission to achieve them!Sometimes it is those lazy days that psyche you up for the next part of your journey.

Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur Petronas Twin Towers

Continue Reading

SINGAPORE

Singapore – Gardens by the Bay

By on 10th April 2016
Walk on the streets of any big city, London, Paris, Budapest or Barcelona and you may come across beautiful gardens, or lush parks, outside spaces where the locals can congregate and take a respite from the daily grind. Some cities are better at this than others. Singapore’s aspirations are ambitious. It does not want gardens in the city, but wants to be known as the first true City in a Garden. The plans may be ambitious, but they are certainly underway. A good friend of mine visited Singapore 7 years ago, when Gardens by the Bay was just being constructed. I could not imagine the city would have had as big an impact on her then it had on me. Gardens by the Bay was a big part of that impression as well as the rest of the careful green city planning.
Successive governments here have been carefully designing the city in the past decades. They have established world-class gardens like Gardens by the Bay, rejuvenated streetscapes and urban areas, and also wanted to enhance the city’s biodiversity. Drive along any road and you’ll find miniature gardens by the roadside or the central reservations. Roof gardens or skygardens are in abundance here crowning the city’s skyscrapers and trees and plants are bursting out of the balconies of hotels and residential blocks.
Of course the most visited garden of all is the Gardens by the Bay – a relatively new attraction, which is already such an iconic landmark of the city like Hyde Park to London or Central Park to NYC. The domes of the botanical gardens and the skybridges across the canopies of the supertrees are truly a sight like no other – a futuristic vision of a green city that has come to glorious life. The Flower Dome holds the world record title for the Largest Glass Greenhouse. The Gardens are still being developed – 2 out of the 3 bayside gardens have been completed, so I can’t wait to return to Singapore one day to experience all 3 garden areas in their full glory.
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
I mentioned in my previous post about the insane hot and humid weather we experienced while in Singapore. So entering the temperature controlled dome of the flower botanical garden was a welcome relief from the sveltering heat. Tickets to the Gardens can be bought online or at the gates. Price will depend on whether you are a local resident or not. For visitors to the city the combined Flower Dome and Cloud Forest tickets cost S$26. Admission to the Supertree Grove is free and to the Skywalk it is S$8.
Believe me when I say, you do not want to miss this! We could have easily spent our whole day here, it is awe-inspiring, inspirational, educational, with stunning plants and beautiful views from the tops of the Supertrees over Marina Bay Sands and the rest of the Singapore skyline. Adam and I both agreed that Gardens by the Bay was possibly the best attraction we have ever visited anywhere.
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden / Gardens by the Bay
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Unfortunately we did have to move on, we didn’t have that long left in this amazing city and we still wanted to explore. Most people will tell you that 2-3 days are more than enough for Singapore, some will even say that you can do Singapore over a longish layover. Well I’m here to tell you the opposite. I would have much preferred to extend our stay to 5-6 days, we could have easily filled it, the city has so much to offer, you really cannot do it justice in 2 days.
We spent some time just casually walking along the river, taking in the views over the Financial District, grabbing some food, and just generally having a nice relaxed afternoon. Singapore of course is also well-known for its fantastic food-scene especially the wide-variety  of food-courts scattered around the city, especially in malls and some underground stations. Yes, Singapore is quite a bit more expensive than other countries in the region, but you can still enjoy the city on a budget, especially if you stick to food-courts, like we did. We ate like kings on S$4 per dish and the food was delicious.
Another excellent day out in Singapore with activities for all the family is Sentosa island. Here is a full list of attarctions on the island if you are thinking of going. We chose to visit The S.E.A. Aqurium, as Adam loves diving and fish and underwater stuff, and it seemed fitting. Also escaping from the heat of the day into a dark, cool place really appealed.
You can get to Sentosa Island by getting the Sentosa Express train from VivoCity (which is a huge shopping mall). You can also get to Sentodsa by cable car. We chose to get the train there and the cable car back, which offered beautiful views of the harbour at dusk.
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
Singapore - City in a Garden
After 3 days our short stop to Singapore came to a quick end. I wish we had stayed longer, but we still wanted to visit one last place before heading back to Thailand for the rest of our Asia adventures, so we decided to leave.
However as I said in my previous post I personally don’t think 2-3 days are enough to fully appreciate Singapore. I personally would have liked to have spent an extra couple of days there, but at least I have that excuse to go back again one day! 🙂
If you are thinking about visiting the city because you will have a long layover for example, here is a fantastic deal:
‘You may just be passing through this tiny island-state, but let Singapore’s sights and sounds, colours and beats, energy and electricity enthrall you on the Free Singapore Tour. If you have at least 5.5 hours (or at least 6 hours for City Sights Tour) to spare till your connecting flight, join one of our free 2.5 hours guided tours with 2 short stopovers. The Heritage Tour runs 4 times daily and the City Sights Tour runs 2 times daily. Find this deal here: http://www.changiairport.com/en/airport-experience/attractions-and-services/free-singapore-tour.html

Continue Reading

FEATURED | SINGAPORE

Arriving in Singapore

By on 7th April 2016
Arriving in Singapore
We flew from Jakarta an hour and a half north and arrived in a different world. As if we exited a time machine we got off the plane walked into the airport of the future. Changi Airport in Singapore is often considered to be the best airport in the world and it’s easy to see why. Indoor gardens, orchids, spas and massage rooms, play areas, clean and modern facilities, art on display, hotels, restaurants, even a butterfly garden all at the disposal of the weary traveller. Everything is catered for here, you almost wouldn’t need to leave the terminal building, why not just holiday right here?
The only thing that is holding me back from spending the next few days camped out in this amazing terminal is the enticing promise of a city even more exciting lying beyond the glass sliding doors.
Unfortunately I made the big mistake of not taking any photographs here, so I have to borrow one from the Changi Airport website:
Arriving in Singapore
photo sourced from www.changiairport.com
While spending a bit of downtime in Jakarta we considered all our options for the next part of our journey. We didn’t want to go straight back to Thailand just yet – our return flight to the UK was a little over a month away and given that we would have only got a 30 day visitor visa upon re-entering Thailand, we had to find the right destination to fill the next few days. I’ll be honest when we set out towards South-East Asia I never once considered that we might go to Singapore. I did not want to visit a futuristic city. Somehow in my mind I had an impression that it would not be like the ‘real-South-East-Asia’ experience we were after.
We got the MRT train into town and then made our way to our hotel. The transportation system in Singapore is really efficient and we used the MRT system almost exclusively for the whole of our stay. You’re never really further than 10 minutes walk away from an MRT station in Singapore. The lines are easy to understand, the ticket system is cheap and easy to use, the trains are fast, air-conditioned and were never overcrowded at any time we travelled on them. The last time we experienced efficient public transportation like this was right at the beginning of our trip in Bangkok.
Arriving in Singapore
map sourced from www.projectmapping.co.uk
We stayed in the Arab Street area of the city. Despite its name it’s not actually just a street but the name encompasses the whole Arab quarter or Singapore’s Muslim quarter. Singapore is very multicultural and multi-faith (which I always find refreshing) and the city is loosely organised into ‘ethnic quarters’ like this. It really is a city of immigrants as over the century people came here due to its geographically and commercially central location in South-East Asia and they brought their cultures and food, language and customs with them. Next to Arab Street you can find Little India, then there’s Chinatown near the financial district and Geylang Serai which is the Malay quarter.
We decided to stay in a stylish boutique hotel on North Bridge Road called Hotel Clover. We again made our reservation via Booking.com only a couple of days ahead of our arrival. At £65 a night this hotel would be the most expensive of our whole trip around Asia, but to be honest considering how lovely our accommodation was and how expensive Singapore accommodation can be it’s really not that bad at all. We also quite fancied staying in a slightly more upmarket hotel than what we have got used to by now and Hotel Clover with its fragrant and homely reception area and it’s rustic and minimalist designs really was a welcome change. Of course you can also stay in hostels in Singapore, there were many of them scattered around the Arab quarter.
Arriving in Singapore
Hotel Clover reception area photo sourced from http://hotelclover.com.sg

 

Arriving in Singapore
Hotel Clover bedroom photo sourced from http://hotelclover.com.sg

 

 

We checked in late afternoon, had a lovely shower, a snooze and the headed out into the night. We walked around our neighbourhood and discovered streets and squares, restaurants, bars and small food joints vibrant with life well into the late night. Shops and bazaar were still open offering beautiful Persian carpets and textiles, Turkish lanterns and jewellery, leather bags and woven baskets. Curry houses rubbed shoulders with Middle Eastern eateries and laid-back beer hangouts. The Sultan’s Mosque with its golden domes dominates the area, quite rightly so as it is the most important mosque in Singapore.
Arriving in Singapore
photo sourced from http://www.thousandwonders.net/Masjid+Sultan
Photo by Nicolas Lannuzel

 

We grabbed a couple of beers in one of the outside bars and then got some food in a corner fast food joint selling amazing Middle Eastern flatbreads loaded with hummus and all kinds of tasty toppings and then went back to our hotel to get a good night’s sleep before our busy schedule the following day. We watched fireworks lit up the sky from our hotel room and went to bed full of anticipation for exploring this city that had already enticed us.
The following day we took advantage of our Singapore City Pass which we picked up at the airport when buying our train tickets into the city. You get various different options for your city pass, depending on the length of your stay and what interest you, you an tailor make it. We choose a 2 day pass that included a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, a river boat excursion and also reduced entry to an attraction. The river boat tour was really good fun, especially as the city was really hot and muggy and sitting on a boat with a nice breeze made a real difference.
Actually a theme that run through our visit to Singapore was a continued attempt to get away from the heat and humidity. It’s not the easiest of climates to get on with, even I struggled a little bit and I love the heat! I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for Adam who really doesn’t like hot weather. It was really the humidity that made it hard to bear. So our little boat ride was the perfect escape. Luckily for us when we hopped on the boat there weren’t many other people on there, only a couple of groups of tourists, so we had the freedom to choose where we sat on the boat, switching between the open back area when we wanted to see the view and the cool dark shaded inside area when we need to get away from the heat. We travelled from the Fullerton towards Marina South and then back through the city towards the colourful Clarke Quay where we hopped off.
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Clarke Quay and Boat Quay are two neighbouring quays on the south bank of the river. If you want to party the night away or have an atmospheric meal by the river this is the place to come. Colourful buildings line the streets and all around you will find cool wine bars, eateries and clubs are in abundance.
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
We also had a little wonder around the Financial District, stopped for a nice coffee and watched the world go by, the city workers go about their business, all busy and serious and reminded me of the life I left behind in the UK, my working life in London, my daily commute, the fast walking, the office, my lunches in the park to take half an hour out of the grind of daily working life. How far we were from all that!! I would not have traded this peace sitting here, drinking my coffee in this amazing city for the world.
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
Arriving in Singapore
(For some reason I missed a trick in Singapore and did not take photos of some important things, which is not really like me. I still wanted to illustrate this post though, so I borrowed some images from around the interweb. Credits are given of course.)

Continue Reading

INDONESIA

Jakarta, city of contrasts

By on 3rd April 2016

I can see Adam at the back portion of the bus, his head is bopping away above all the other men’s heads that surround him. He is holding unto the railing, looking out the window, out into the city. Every now and then he is looking over to me, trying to find my gaze, making sure I am still on the bus. I’m sitting right at the front with the other female passengers. We are in Jakarta – the capital of Indonesia. Major culture shock.

Perhaps for the first time on our travels we failed to do our usual research. Perhaps we had become a bit complacent, having been on the road for three months, perhaps we have seen so much, experienced South East Asia in a way that allowed us to feel that it is OK to be unprepared when visiting a new place – after all, everywhere we had visited so far had been easy, fun and  self-explanatory.

Not Jakarta.

The capital city of Indonesia, a sprawling metropolis of 10 million residents is by far the biggest place we are visiting in Asia. And at the same time it is by far the least touristy.

We arrived on a cheap flight from Yogyakarta. At Yogya airport for the first time I felt that I had to change my clothing as I felt I was inappropriately dressed. All throughout our travels I always made sure I dressed in culturally and religiously appropriate clothing out of respect for the locals and I just think that is the right thing to do. For the first time, sitting in the terminal at Yogya airport waiting to board our flight, I went into the toilet and changed my shorts for long jeans. I felt uncomfortable even walking to the toilets, with locals fixing their gaze at me. Apart from us there were only a couple of other tourists at the airport. They didn’t seem too bothered, they were dressed in far less clothing than I was, but maybe they just aren’t that sensitive to prying eyes.

This quickly gave me an indication on what to expect in Jakarta. The city was blisteringly hot and humid, but I always made sure I covered my shoulders and legs at all times. This is a Muslim country, which is easy to forget when frolicking around on the Hindu island of Bali, packed with tourists in their bikinis most of the time. Even though Jakarta is religiously diverse, 85% of the population are Muslim. The only place where we saw tourists were in the shopping centre near our B&B and in here it seemed tourist felt they could wear very little, but as soon as we left the shopping centre complex we hardly saw any tourist and definitely no uncovered body-parts.

Wherever we go we try to explore the place by using local public transportation. Figuring out the transport system is definitely a fun part for me – it’s like cracking the local code, it takes a lot of forehead wrinkling, but then in a light-bulb moment suddenly all becomes clear. That’s not what happened in Jakarta. Although perhaps had we stayed a bit longer we would have become much better versed in the transport system. But while we were here, we just couldn’t crack it. The first time we were waiting for the local bus, we committed – what I perceived to be – a major mishap. When waiting for the bus here people queue up at little walkways elevated from the ground high enough for each to lead exactly to the bus doors. Quite innovative actually. However what we failed to notice – and to be honest didn’t read about it anywhere in any of our guidebooks or online travel guides or forums – is that men and women were queuing up at separate doors. Women at the front two queues, men at the back two queues. Adam and I both queued at the front. We both got on the bus at the same door and then stood together at the front, trying to work out our route together, to make sure where we needed to get off the bus. Each bus has a conductor on board. Sure enough the conductor tapped Adam gently on the shoulder and instructed him to move to the back of the bus. We didn’t really understand at first why, until kind local ladies explained. They actually tried to reason with the conductor, trying to convince her it was OK, and that they didn’t mind sharing their bus space with a tourist man. But Adam graciously moved to the back anyway. From then on we just had to communicate over the crowd to make sure neither of us missed our stop! 🙂

So what did we get up to in Jakarta, while we were there for 4 days? To be honest – not that much. We found the city to be a bit underwhelming. There wasn’t enough things to do for tourists and the fact that wherever we went we almost became the tourist attraction ourselves didn’t really help us relax while exploring the city. Because there are so few tourists here, wherever we went locals were sniggering behind our back, following us, constantly asking to take photos of us. It wasn’t a problem at all, and we found it sweet, but it does make it a bit difficult to move around and just explore a place in peace. Is that perhaps why so many tourists just stuck to shopping malls and leisure complexes rather then venturing out in the real city?

Regardless, we tried to see as much as possible – even though our tourguide, Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring doesn’t really have any solid offerings on what are the most worthy attractions to visit and see in the city. Here are a few pics and captions to give you some ideas of our time here:

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Travelling in a local tuk-tuk – some of the traffic in Jakarta is just ridiculous, travelling by one of these definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. They are small enough to pop in an out and between cars, but because they are open you end up engulfed in exhaust fumes.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
On our way to the Freedom Monument. It took us over an hour to queue and get to the top as there is only one lift takes people up and down it at 8-10 people at a time. The views are well wort it though and there is an interesting exhibition at the base of the monument about Indonesia’s history and the country’s fight for independence through the centuries.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Views from the top of the Freedom Monument over the city were beautiful

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
Some schoolchildren on a day-trip at the top of the Freedom Monument. They really wanted to have pics with us 🙂

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
At the National Museum of Indonesia. This is a really great museum and well worth visiting. We sent a few hours here just wondering around the halls and exhibitions. My favourites were the ethnography section and the exhibition about the different architectural styles of Indonesia. They had beautifully built small models of different house styles across the 17000 islands that make up the Indonesia – it is such a diverse country!! Also, try the red velvet cake in the museum cafe) – we had two slices it was that good!!! 🙂

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts
We had a nice coffee and some finger-food at Cafe Batavia. Only finger-food, because it’s quite a pricey restaurant. It’s got absolutely fabulous interiors though and some nice views overlooking the main square.

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

 

And what did I love about Jakarta? I absolutely adored the couple we were staying with in their B&B. They were such gracious hosts, even though perhaps we weren’t the best guests at this point – we were just tired a lot of the time while we were staying here and also spent a lot of time trying to sort out our onward travel from here, so we spent much of our time with heads in phones and guidebooks, buying flights, booking accommodation, adding up finances, working out dates… We had a lot of decisions to make while we were here. What I loved most about B&B Tomang was the breakfast we received every morning. I swear the lady of the house must have been a chef before as every morning we couldn’t believe the spread that was waiting for us on the table in the dining room, it was so lovingly prepared and so different every day, real Indonesian food, really awesome!! If you’re ever in Jakarta on a budget, stay here!!

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

Jakarta, city of contrasts

 

 

Something else I really loved about Jakarta was how helpful and kind locals were here. For example when they kindly reassured us on the bus that Adam’s presence at the front was not offending the travelling ladies. We also got completely lost on our way back from the Kota area toward the Freedom Monument – we got on the wrong bus line and didn’t realise until we had already travelled 40 minutes in the wrong direction. Because we were sitting in different parts of the bus it took us a bit longer to realise, but then I suddenly started to get agitated and I think the two ladies sitting opposite me noticed my body language and my worried looks over to Adam. Even though they did not speak English, somehow they managed to decipher from me where we needed to be and showed me how to get there on the bus map. Not only that, but then they got off with us at the next bus stop and walked us around to the correct stop. They then told the men waiting for the bus at Adam’s door where we were going and for the rest of the trip on the now correct bus the men kept passing the message to new passengers to make sure we got off at the right stop! Even though they did not speak English, the changing passengers passed our stop name around and when it was time for us to leave the bus they tapped Adam on the shoulder and signalled to him that we needed to go. Amazing.

Or when we were trying to cross an incredibly busy street in Kota and the road-workers noticed our predicament, one of them casually walked out into middle of the busy street, held up one arm to stop the traffic, like a trusted lollipop lady, and waved to us to cross. We couldn’t thank him enough.

We did spend quite a lot of time in the mall, because it was so close to our accommodation and its air-conditioned halls were an easy escape from the sweltering heat outside. It also had a good selection of cafes and restaurants and also some nice shops where I could add a few basic pieces of clothing to my travel wardrobe collection, which let’s face it by now I had really become tired of.

As we got to Jakarta, we were coming to the last week of our Indonesian visa. We figured that after staying here for 2-3 days we would still have enough time to hop over to Sumatra and then head back to Thailand. We had to stretch out right until the end of our visa, because these days you can only get a 30 day single entry tourist visa to Thailand and that would have taken us to the date of our return flight to the UK. So we calculated it all out you see… 😉

Of course once we got to Jakarta and actually set down to work out a plan of action for the coming days we quickly realized that we didn’t have enough time OR money to make it to Sumatra, especially as we would have to come all the way back to Jakarta before flying to Thailand. So we decided to not visit Sumatra and to stay put in Jakarta until the last day of our visa. But because, honestly, we didn’t find Jakarta that exciting, and it was way too hot and intense for us, we decided to leave Indonesia a few days before our visa expired and have an extra stop which we had never even planned for.

Stay tuned for my next blog post to find out where that was. I’ll tell you one thing – unexpectedly, it was one of my favourite stops on our whole journey! 🙂

Until then,

Andrea x

Continue Reading

INDONESIA

Visiting Prambanan Park

By on 1st April 2016

Yogyakarta tourist offices organise whole day trips both to Borobudur, which is the largest Buddhist Temple in the world and to Prambanan Park, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. However it is also possible to visit both temple complexes on the same day. This is especially possible if you have your own transportation, but tour operators also cater for those who wish to see both sites in one day.

This is what we opted for. We travelled to Borobudur in the early morning hours, spent around 2 hours there in total and then got back in our minibus and travelled towards Prambanan.

Here is a map to demonstrate where these temples are in relation to Yogyakarta:

 

Visiting Prambanan Park
map sourced from http://www.besttravelpictures.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Borobudur-Maps.jpg

 

 

As you can see the two temples are in opposite directions from Yogyakarta. So once we finished visiting Borobudur the minibus then started travelling towards the centre of Yogyakarta. It takes about an hour when there is no traffic, but with the mid-morning traffic it took about two hours to get from Borobudur across to Prambanan and then about another 20 minutes to Prambanan. The worst thing as that there was no air-con on the bus, it was really cramped on board and there were no curtains on the windows. The bus was like a tin can soaking up the sweltering heat and no-one had any water with them!! It was hellish.

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

 

The first thing everyone did when we finally stopped at the car park of Prambanan Park was to seek out the one and only facility where we could get some water: a vending machine by the ticket office.

Prambanan was a nice surprise to us. With the emphasis is usually on Borobudur, visitors may give this temple a miss, however I think it is definitely worth the visit. It very much reminded me of the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, but it was a lovely manageable site. Dozens of temple spires broke up the brilliant blue of the sky, tourist were everywhere, but mainly actual tourists, not locals, which gave us a bit of a breather from the past few days whereby we ourselves have become tourist attractions (more on that in the next post).

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

 

We walked around and explored the sites, up and down steep steps, in and out of shrines and covices, got to talking to another visiting couple, which was very nice. We visited a couple of the museums nearby and then had a bit of lunch in the nearest restaurant before heading back to our minibus and then to Yogyakarta.

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

Visiting Prambanan Park

 

All in all it was a long day what with visiting two of the most important religious sites in the whole of Indonesia in one super hot day, but it had to be done. It was well worth making to journey to Yogyakarta for this – I could highly recommend it. If you are in the area you can also hike up the nearby Mount Merapi – the most active volcano in Indonesia. You can actually see the volcano from Prambanan. I think all three – Borobudur, Prambanan and Merapi – could be done in one day if you are super organised and maybe if you hire a driver and car.

Next stop on our itinerary is Jakarta, until then,

Andrea x

 

Continue Reading

FEATURED | INDONESIA

Borobudur – the world’s largest Buddhist temple

By on 23rd March 2016

The day after discovering Yogyakarta town we were signed up for an organised tour of the temple of Borobudur – the whole reason we were here in Yogyakarta. I read a lot about this place, the Rough Guide to South-East Asia on a budget listed it as one of the top things to see and do in the whole of South-East Asia, so there was no way we were going to miss it.

The day started super-early; we were getting picked up from our B&B at 5am. Most tour opearators also offer organised trips to the temples at sunrise, which means you would have to be in the temple by about 6am. That would have meant a 2 am start for us. We didn’t go for this option, instead we opted for being at the temple between 7 and 8 am. However if you don’t mind early starts I would definitely recommend going on the earlier tour to catch the sunrise. We caught some of the early morning mist lifting, but I can see what we may have missed in those first two hours of sunlight.

Our minibus picked us up on time and then proceeded to collect 6 more passengers from town. The journey time to the temple in total was about 2 hours including collecting everyone and driving out of town for about an hour and 15 minutes.

When we got to the temple we all walked up to the ticket office where there was already a queue forming mostly of local children on school-trips. Everyone was handed a blue sarong to wear, even those who were wearing long trousers (like I was, I came prepared, but still had to wear the sarong. I didn’t mind, it was a cute sarong, but Adam also had to wear it. He wasn’t amused at first, but got used to it :-))

The temple of Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, an important UNESCO World Heritage site, a jewel in Java’s and indeed in Indonesia’s crown. The temple was built in the 9th century and has been standing for 1200 years. The whole temple is built in the shape of a stupa. It has three levels and at the top level there is a main stupa surrounded by 72 smaller stupas, each hiding a Buddha.

It truly is a beautiful place; surrounded by volcanoes and limestone cliffs, a place where a man-made structure and the beauty of nature forms a perfect whole.

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

 

Borobudur

 

As we were walking around the site more and more visitors kept arriving and making their way up the steep steps towards the top tier of the temple. By the time we got up there there were tourists and local school children everywhere. The children were very sweet, they kept talking to us and smiling at us shyly, we even caught a few trying to take stealth photographs of us. One group of children aged between 12 and 16 started talking to us and asking us questions about where we were from and if we were enjoying the temple. We found out that they were actually undertaking their English language exam at that exact moment; their teacher was sanding behind them watching them intently. Part of their examination was that they had to speak in English in real life situation. Their English was great and they were very sweet, kept walking around with us and taking their tun to ask us questions. We also asked them about their school, their lessons, etc to make sure they also got to talk. Nut in the end we had to make our apologies and leave them as we had to start climbing down and get back to our minibus, where we were meeting the rest of our group.

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

Borobudur

 

 

 

Borobudur

 

 

I decided to dedicate the second part of the trip to the Prambanan Park a separate blog post, just because I think Borobudur deserves its own space 🙂

Until then,

Andrea x

 

Continue Reading

INDONESIA

Off the well-trodden track in Yogyakarta

By on 27th December 2015
Yogyakarta

Our beautiful week in Gili Trawangan had quickly come to an end. We were so sad to leave this paradise, but after 6 days of just chilling out, soaking up the sun, watching beautiful sunsets and just generally living island life we had to pack up and move on. We booked our return journey to Bali on one of the Samayan fast boats and off we went.
The journey back to Bali was slightly more comfortable. As soon as we arrived in Padanag Bai we were led to a minibus with 6 other travellers all heading to the airport in Denpasar. It took about an hour and a half to get there and then we just had to wait for our flight from Bali to Yogyakarta.

We decided to move unto Java, which is the biggest out of the 14000 islands in the Indonesian Archipelago, and we had Yogyakarta and Jakarta on our itinerary before leaving Indonesia. There is so much to Indonesia, it is a wonderfully diverse country, but we were getting a bit strapped for cash and so had to miss out on a trip to Flores and the Komodo islands. We were also thinking whether to visit Borneo and Sumatra, but on this trip we just couldn’t make the timescale and our budget work. Indonesia is a huge country with thousands of island and even though there are islands that are more geared towards visitors than others it still takes an awful lot of organisation to make sure you see everything in the 1 month your visa allows you to spend in the country. Indonesia is definitely a country to re-visit for me. I desperately want to go to Flores (as well as re-visit Bali and the Gilis of course…!)

In the meantime it made sense for us to slowly start moving up in the general direction of Thailand since that was going to be our final destination on our trip. So we flew to Yogyakarta which is located right in the middle of Java.

Yogyakarta isn’t exactly a tourism hotspot. You would be forgiven for wondering why exactly we headed there. Well, the simplest answer if I want to be perfectly honest is that the guidebook we had with us (Rough Guides to South-East Asia on a Budget) listed it as one of the unmissable places in the whole of Indonesia due to its amazing Buddhist temple complex, Borobudur. I saw a photograph of Borobudur and I was mesmerized by it, so I was really looking forward to visiting there. It was also nice to be going against the tourist crowds – with Bali and the Gilis being so touristy it felt nice to be back in true backpacker-mode and seeking out places that weren’t necessarily on the usual traveller route. I’m sure plenty of tourists do visit Yogyakarta (also known as Jogja by locals), but when we were there we only saw a handful of backpackers, if that…

We booked our accommodation just outside the centre of Yogyakarta, which afforded us our cheapest accommodation on this trip so far: £10 per night for the two of us in a private room with bathroom and a balcony overlooking a lush jungle terrace. Ok I make it sound nicer than it actually was, but we had quite a nice time there. We had breakfast on the terrace every morning where we were serenaded by a local guy playing local music and singing along beautifully. There were also many many birds in ornate birdcages accompanying him with their birdsongs (which was lovely, except it made Adam a bit uncomfortable seeing those beautiful birds all locked up).

We walked into Yogyakarta centre on our first day with two objectives: to have a wonder around the city and to book our trip to Borobodour.

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

 

First we headed towards the Kraton, which is the political and cultural centre of the city. It is also called the Sultan’s Palace and it is effectively a walled city within the city with its own shops, mosques, schools and art centres.

Now you would think having been on the road for almost three months in South-East Asia we would have learnt a trick or two about scamsters. Well let me tell you – our naivety and trusting nature is unwavering. We already fell for a practiced speech of a less-than honest fraudster in Bangkok and instead of learning from our mistakes we fell for it again in Yogya!! The difference was that we didn’t even realize what was happening after way after it had happened.

Basically we never made it to the Kraton. On the way there we got approached by a young man, who was perfectly pleasant and he seemed like he genuinely just wanted to help. However when he told us the Palace was shut and he asked us if we had a map, he’ll show us where to go instead, I have to say I got really suspicious and did not want to give him our map. However Adam did not suspect a thing; as if he had total amnesia about our Bangkok adventure and he happily obliged, handed over our map and chatted away with this guy. I kind of felt a bit cynical and told myself to stop being silly and to be more open and nice to kind locals…

He tried to persuade us to go to a local art-centre instead where local art students exhibit their beautiful and unique Indonesian batik art. And because it’s just students we don’t have to buy anything, we can just just look, he reassured us.

This guy’s scheme was way more sophisticated than the Bangkok guy’s was – he could tell I had my suspicions. When we said our goodbyes Adam and I quickly started walking in the opposite direction to the one he suggested. 5 minutes later we were approached by another guy, a very jolly looking fella, who started talking to us as we were walking along. Just normal chit-chat, where are you from, where are you going, etc. He then told us he is going to the hospital and he will take us to this batik shop as it is on his way. I immediately knew what was up, but Adam just kept chit-chatting, he was so nice, not suspecting a thing, just thinking what a lovely man this was. He was lovely, no question about that, but somehow, even though we tried not to, we still ended up at the batik house. He walked us all the way to the front door. Conveniently, it was right on his way to the hospital!! Hmmmm….

We went in the shop, and I have to admit it was really nice in there. The art was stunning and we had a little look into how it was all made. In the end we loved the displayed batik pieces it so much that Adam decided to buy me a couple of them for my birthday 🙂 And because they are basically textile we could easily wrap them up and carry them with us in our backpacks and not only that but we will actually have something to put on our walls once we get home!! 🙂

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Adam did not suspect anything until a bit later I just kind of muttered to him that ‘you do realize we just got scammed again’. He didn’t want to believe me, but when it finally dropped he was gobsmacked! Oh dear, we really are so naive and easily-led.

So the moral of the story, children, is this: don’t fall for this if you’re in Yogyakarta or indeed if you are in Bangkok. Learn from our mistakes! 😀

After our detour to the batik shop we headed to the Khao San road of Yogya, Jalan Sosrowijayan. I did mention already that this city is a bit less known for travellers, didn’t I? Anyway the street was almost deserted. Still, we had some nice lunch and drinks on a terrace above the street, had some of the traditional local Nasi.

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

 

We then went to one of the tourist office guys and signed up for our trip to Boroboudur next day. This is after all why we were here, Indonesia’s most important cultural sites, 4am start, bring it on!

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

 

Yogyakarta

Continue Reading

INDONESIA

10 cool things to know about Gili Trawangan

By on
Gili Trawangan

In my last blog post I talked about how we got from the heart of Bali, Ubud to the Gili Islands. I hope you enjoyed the photographs I shared of Gili T (as it is affectionately known). Those are some of my favourite photographs of our whole time away in Asia. I just look at them and feel happy. I look forward to sharing more Gili Trawangan photos in this post. But first things first: I have to tell you a little bit about this amazing island.

 

10 cool things to know about Gili Trawangan

  1. location

The three Gili Islands are located between the island of Bali and Lombok. They are about an hour and a half fast-boat ride from Bali and a ten minute fast-boat ride from Lombok. They are actually just off the coast of Lombok. Most travellers make the journey to The Gilis from Bali. However as Lombok is now getting more and more popular as a tourist destination, you can also just spend your holiday in Lombok and go to the Gilis for a day trip. You can of course fly into Bali. The international airport in Denpasar is only about an hour and a half away from Pedang Bai, where you can catch your fast-boat to the Gilis. However Lombok also has its own international airport and you can catch a 3 hour flight here from Singapore. You can then get an airport transfer to Bangsal, the departure point for boats towards The Gili Islands.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

 

2. horse carts

Once you arrive on Gili Trawangan you will immediately notice that there are no scooters here. There are no motorised vehicles of any sort in fact as they are not allowed. Instead, the main modes of transportation here are cycling, walking or taking a ride on a Cidomo. A cidomo is a horse-drawn cart, which the locals use for transporting everything from building materials, to shop supplies as well as passengers and their luggage. Adam and I loved the idea that the locals were trying to preserve the authenticity of the island by not allowing any motorised vehicles. I hope this will stay like this for a long time. On the other hand, the cidomos can be a bit controversial. Some people might not like the way the horses might be treated. We took a ride a couple of times on a cidomo, and one of the guys was certainly a bit heavy handed with the whip. However the island is small, you can get anywhere on foot.

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan

 

Gili Trawangan