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.)

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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

 

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FEATURED | INDONESIA

Ubud, Bali – 9 reasons why you should believe the hype

By on 24th November 2015

Our 10 day beach holiday in Kuta and Seminyak  had come to an end and with renewed excitement we left the southwestern shores of Bali and headed towards the heart of the island, Ubud. We asked our accommodation in Ubud to send a taxi for us, it cost 300000 rupiah (£13) to drive to Ubud, which is about an hours’ journey. This certainly isn’t the cheapest way to get to Ubud from Kuta – there is a shuttle bus that goes between the two towns quite regularly, however this is something you weigh up for yourself – this seemed like excellent value to us. We did not have to pay the driver as he was working for the hotel, so we paid the hotel at the end of our stay.

The drive to Ubud was uneventful, however it amazed me how busy this part of Bali actually is. We sat in traffic jams for the most part getting out of Kuta and the traffic only eased up about halfway when we started driving on country roads, amongst small villages and further and further into the jungle.

Here is a map of Bali, as you can see Ubud lies at the heart of the island. (And not just geographically speaking, it is literally it’s beating heart. But more on that later.)

 

bali_map
map source: http://balibeautytour.com/bali-map

 

Ubud is not by the beach and so many tourists don’t actually come this far inland. They may visit for a day or two. Most tourists come here off the back of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. The film adaptation of the book of the same title (with Julia Roberts in the starring role) was filmed here and since then the town has exploded with tourists and has a huge population of long-stay travellers, expats and nomads. Some of those travellers would probably say that its recent popularity is damaging to Ubud – this eventually happens everywhere that is popular with tourists. I wouldn’t know, I had never visited Ubud before the masses of tourists arrived. But to me, Ubud still is as authentic as you imagine, as you really imagine Bali to be. It’s magical.

If you are lucky enough to spend some time in Bali, the best advice I can give you is to make Ubud your base and explore the island from here, or to spend half your time by the beach if you are after a beach holiday, but spend the other half in Ubud – you will not regret it! Staying in Ubud for 5 days made me fall head over heels in love with Bali (which after Kuta and Seminyak I was worried would never happen).

So what was so special about Ubud for me? What did I find here that I did not find in the other areas of Bali that I visited? What was it about Ubud that now once I’d left made it the number 1 place that I would like to return to on my next visit to Asia?

 

1. spirituality and religion

Throughout our South East Asia travels, Bali is the only place where Hinduism is the main religion practiced.  Indonesia itself is the world largest muslim country by population and Bali is the only island out of the almost 14000 Indonesian islands where Hinduism survived and is practiced daily. Although we started our time in Bali by spending time in Kuta and Seminyak, it was really upon arriving in Ubud that the presence of Hinduism really became prominent to us. Its manifestations are unavoidable and I loved that. What you will notice first is the little offerings of food, flowers and incense that appear on the floor regularly throughout the day, everywhere you go, in front of doors, on statues, spirit houses and basically everywhere. You have to be careful as you are walking around not to step on them. These offerings are a daily gift that are meant to please and appease the various gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism. The offerings are made by women throughout the day. You can observe women placing these everywhere, dressed in their beautiful traditional Balinese sarongs and lace or embroidered fitted blouses. Spirituality is so strong in Bali, it is almost touchable and Ubud is often referred to as the spiritual centre of Bali. People here believe in an invisible force that is both good and evil and controls all living things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.people

The people of Bali are the warmest, nicest, gentlest people you could ever meet. Our hosts at the bungalows we were staying in in Ubud were just lovely lovely people, so helpful and kind and gracious, always with a smile on their faces. When you first arrive in Bali and you visit the touristy areas of Kuta and Seminyak, like we did, you may get a bit overwhelmed by the constant touting of the locals there. It can be a little bit frustrating at first, because it is literally constant. However, we tried to look at it like this: in the most touristy areas locals livelihoods depend on ‘harassing’ tourists. For them, giving you a ride, or selling a T-shirt with a vulgar slogan, or flogging a wooden carved penis (really, you can buy these on every corner) is what will put dinner on the table that evening. In Ubud, this is more subtle. It is still there – of course it is, locals will take advantage of the tourist market wherever you go, but in Ubud, I found it a lot easier to say ‘No thank you’ with a nice big smile and a tip of the head. And they would smile back at me and accept it with an ‘OK, have a good day’.

 

3.culture

Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali. Wherever you go in the town you happen upon museums, workshops, art studios, galleries, craft industries, temples, beautiful architecture and dance shows. Balinese dance performances are an amazing spectacle for visitors, you cannot miss going to one of these while you are in Ubud. Tickets are sold for evening performances through hotels, but also just on the streets, so it is really easy to come across them. We went to see a Kecak dance performance – tickets cost 75000 IRD per ticket and the performance sold out! It wasn’t even high season when we visited, and there are several performances at different locations in the city every night, and it still sold out, that’s how in demand these performances are. All proceeds go directly back to the community, which is fantastic. For the Balinese, dance is a part of their religious traditions and is as important as visiting a temple. Each dance tells a different story in Balinese Hinduism and the kecak type of dance is the most popular out of all of them. It is basically a group of 50-100 men chanting a hypnotising ‘chak achak achak’ song meanwhile forming a circle around the centre, throwing their hands up in the air, swaying, almost in ecstasy by the end of it. In the centre of the circle the theatrical dance performance happens with elaborate costumes worn by dancers who dance the Hindu story of Ramayana.
The dance lasts about 1 hour and it is spectacular.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.nature

Ubud is in the middle of the jungle. It is surrounded by lush trees and rice terraces. Rice is grown everywhere. If there is a tiny slither of land in between two houses, rice will be grown there. If you drive or ride a scooter out of Ubud town, the surrounding countryside and villages are just a stunning landscape of jungles, hills and valleys and rice fields and rice terraces carved into hillsides.

Ubud is also famous for its monkeys! One of the most popular tourist attraction in the whole of Ubud is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It is a nature reserve and a Hindu temple complex. The forest is home to a population of about 600-700  cheeky macaques monkeys. Now you can hear good things and bad things about visiting the forest, as the monkeys can be intimidating, so it is a personal choice you have to make if you want to visit the Monkey Forest (please also get your rabies shots before visiting Bali as it’s well know its monkeys and street dogs can bite). Of course the monkeys are not just confined to the forest and they do go on walkabouts on the streets of Ubud, on rooftops and into gardens. Every morning at around 7am I went out in the garden of our bungalow and watched the monkeys play around in the garden, looking for food and just generally doing their daily rituals and patrols. We also had lizzards and geckos visiting our rooms regularly, they are cute little creatures and with the amount of mosquitoes in Bali, you really don’t mind these little guys hanging around, that’s for sure 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.holistic

People from all over the world travel to Ubud to be rejuvenated, to reconnect with themselves, to re-energize, to get fit, healthy and happy. The spirituality of the place is palpable and there is no shortage of activities, holistic treatments, workshops and healthy eating restaurants that take advantage of this to cater to all visitors looking to be pampered or find themselves. You walk down the streets and the town is full of people in their yoga pants with a yoga mat under their arms, heading to the various yoga centres for their daily yoga session. Every other shop is a massage parlour (you will get the best massages and spa-packages in Ubud). There are so many restaurants specializing in vegan, raw, clean food, it is really easy to be on holiday and stay healthy instead of overindulge! There are also many many practicioners (locals and expats) offering crystal bowl tuning, tarot card readings, raw food courses, chiropractic and a vast array of healing practices, and if you have serious health issues, you can also seek out a Balinese healer (balian). Remember Eat, Pray, Love?

 

6.activities

Ubud is ideally located in Bali to serve as a base from where you can explore from. Apart from the various art classes you can do in town, and all the yoga you can take part in, the massages you can enjoy or the dance performances you can attend, there are activities round here that will also satisfy those other than the art-lovers and those seeking self-discovery. You can go on bike-tours around the town and around surrounding villages as well as rice fields and jungles. You can go river rafting and tubing , canyoning and rock climbing if that’s what takes your fancy. One of my favourite day out was when we hired a scooter and braved the crazy roads around Ubud to ride to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. It’s not too far, only about 10-15km, but the roads can be very busy driving in and out of Ubud. Once you leave the outskirts of the city though, it’s going to be the most memorable ride of your life. We had a crappy little scooter, awul helmets, I clung unto Adam as tight as I could, but we still had the best ride – we passed by little Balinese villages, craft markets, locals dressed in their beautiful regalia, gorgeous rice fields and terraces, waterfalls, all the while surrounded by jungles and hills and valleys… I can’t even describe it. (no pictures I’m afraid, clinging unto Adam with all my might at this point :-)) When we arrived at Tegalalang Rice Terrace (you cannot miss it by the way, it is by far the most popular tourist attraction in the area) we were awed by the beauty of the emerald green terraced hillside. We walked down, then up, then down and then up again to walk along the ridges, investigate the way the locals grow this vital grain – who knew the humble rice can looks so spectacular? Unfortunately the biggest torrential rain came down in the middle of our visit and we got soaked to our bones! I had never ever seen that much rain before in my life and it didn’t stop until we got back to Ubud. Our little scooter just about managed to get us back to town, but let me tell you it felt pretty much like riding in a bathtub! We managed to get some lunch in before we had to leave though and we had this for our view (in torrential rain, still pretty amazing though):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other favourite activity while we were here was climbing Mount Batur. Check out this site for details:

http://www.baturtrekking.com/2015/07/mount-batur-trekking.html?gclid=Cj0KEQiA1dWyBRDqiJye6LjkhfIBEiQAw06ITuukU9eIMT4TWR3bSGpVHQv2HOVRm2ZPSgyiQo9L5aoaAr1b8P8HAQ

We got a pick up from our accommodation at 2 am and drove over an hour to the foot of the volcano. Our group was made up of 10 climbers including 2 guides – one leading us, one following us, but there must have been hundreds climbing that mountain on that morning. The climb started at 3.30am in complete darkness and we climbed and climbed and climbed for 3 solid hours before reaching the summit to watch the beautiful sunrise. We had hot tea in the guides’ hut on the top of the mountain and had bread and boiled egg given to us by our lovely guide Ketut all the while trying to chase away the cheeky macaques monkeys who were desperately trying to steal our breakfast..! 🙂 If you are here and possess relatively good fitness, you cannot miss this, it is so worth the effort! It was hard work, I won’t lie, I almost gave up at one point. But at the same time it was an incredible achievement for both Adam and I as all of our group apart from us decided to stop at the lower crater while Adam and I did not want to stop there and went all the way to the summit with Ketut! I will never forget climbing that volcano in darkness, just a line of torches in front of us, all the way up the mountain, like little glowing ants in the distance, showing the way to the top. Amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7.east meets west

Ubud offers the perfect mix between East and West. We experienced the awesome culture and beauty Bali has to offer yet we had our neat little veggie restaurants and other creature comforts too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.architecture

If you arrive in Bali and Ubud after having visited other countries in the South East Asia region, the architecture of Ubud will be so strikingly different to anything you had seen before! The first things you will notice are the walled residences – walls all along the streets outside homes, designed to keep evil spirits outside. A Giant gate and statues to greet you each side of it. Beautiful terracotta, red and brown colours, intricate stone and wood carving, temples with black thatched roofs – really special designs that I have never ever seen anywhere else in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9.that feeling

You know that feeling you get when you are in a place that wows you so much, it intrigues your every sense and your every feeling and you just know you will be back? You haven’t even left yet, you’re still there, but you just know you are going to have to leave and you don’t want to, oh if only you could stay, just a little bit longer, or maybe forever…?! Ubud is one of those places. To me Ubud is Bali. And I know there is a lot more to this island, but I found what I was looking for in Bali – a place so magnetic, so full of energy that draws you in and you will never forget it.

 

 

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FEATURED | INDONESIA

Arriving in Bali

By on 3rd October 2015

Lately, it has been quite difficult to keep on top of our travel diary, I must confess. We are currently in the UK and I have started work on my new venture, which takes up a lot of my time. It is all very exciting though and I will share more in the future. But I do not want to neglect our travel diary – it is important to me to tell our travel tales and share our photographs of the amazing places we were lucky enough to visit this year.

After seeing the amazing temples of Angkor near Siem Reap in Cambodia, we hopped on 2  x three hour flights and we finally arrived in Bali! I was so excited, I had been waiting for so long to finally get here. And we made it just in time for my birthday 🙂 I could have only hoped that we will be in Bali in time for my birthday and I can’t believe how it actually worked out that way. So now we were halfway through our South East Asian adventure and we were here for a well-earned break.

Many would of course argue – what did you need a break from? You had been travelling in the most amazing places for the past two months after all! I completely agree, and 2 months before I would have wondered the exact same thing. How can you get tired of travelling? And we did not get tired of it, that’s for sure, but we did get tired. Let me tell you, travelling – is tiring. Being constantly on the road, living out of a backpack, never knowing where you will end up the following day, where you will sleep, what you will eat, how will you get your clothes washed… But at the same time that is exactly what is so exhilarating about it! Nevertheless, let’s face it! Neither of us were teenagers anymore, heck we’re not even full-of-energy twenty-somethings! We are thirty-somethings who get tired easily AND we’re proud!! 😀 I could not wait to spend the next two weeks on the beach!!

 

 

 

Even before we had set off on our travels I had found this bar online that I wanted to make sure we visit while in Bali. So we decided to go there for my birthday. It is called Potato Head Beach Club and it is in Seminyak. I wanted to visit because I loved the look of it! The design of it is really cool, it is a curved shape bar with the outer wall covered in different coloured window shutters! Because of its hip design and its location right on the beach it seemed like it is THE place to be on a night out in Seminyak, especially around sunset. The place was rammed! We started talking to one of the waiters who told us that the most coveted seats, tables and sun-loungers by the beach with the best views over the sunset can have a waiting list of several days. We had some cocktails, watched the sunset, then moved down to the beach and watch some dramatic rain-clouds roll in in the semi-darkness.

 

 

 

What can I tell you about Seminyak otherwise? Well, we spent 5 days in Seminyak and the 5 days in Kuta. These two beaches / resorts are the most well known parts of Bali island. Honestly, I would probably trade in at least half of the time we spent in Seminyak / Kuta, for other parts of Bali. When you have never been to somewhere and try to decide where the best place to go is, these days you are most likely to do a bit of research online. Where are the cool bars and restaurants? Where can I go to learn surfing? Where can I see nice sunsets and have a nice beach holiday? Almost everywhere Kuta and Seminyak would be the choice for tourists. Especially Australian tourists. And so this is where we went first.

However, there is a massive difference between a tourist’s choice and a traveller’s choice. Kuta and Seminyak by far the most touristy places on the whole island. Annoyingly so. Because of tourism these places have kind of lost their charm and while we were there we kind of felt like we could have been anywhere in the world. It just did not feel like we were on amazing Bali. There was nothing special about it, nothing authentic. It was even a bit vulgar, especially in Kuta. We did find our favourite hangouts – we almost always ate and drank at the same couple of places, we tried surfing, we saw some sunsets. It was OK. It didn’t blew us away though. So after our 10 days of chilling out, we had enough of doing nothing and craved to get back into travellers mode, get our backpacks on and see something new. So where is the Bali that was so worth seeing? I’ll tell you in the next post 🙂

 

 

While it is true that Kuta is a beginner surfers paradise, it is unfortunately also true that if you are looking for Bali’s famous culture, spirituality, religion and its gorgeous people, Kuta is not the place to be, trust me on this.

Here is another blog post that you might want to read. Now I’m not saying I agree with everything in this article, but it is closer to the truth than Kuta is to what Bali is really about.

When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong

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CAMBODIA | FEATURED

The temples of Angkor

By on 25th August 2015

Are you ready for this, it is going to be a long post!!! But it is of an amazing subject and there will also be many many photographs, so hang in there and keep reading! 🙂

A few days ago Lonely Planet revealed its Ultimate Travel List based on the votes of travel professionals. They have also released a new book based on this list, called ‘Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel: Our List of the 500 Best Places on the Planet – Ranked’. I fully intend to get this book, sound great, will be a great addition to my coffee table once we get home.

 

 

Anyway, the reason I mention this is because the number one place on this list (and I understand this was voted number 1 by a landslide) was the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia.

The rest of the Top 10 shaped up like this:

  1. Temples of Angkor, Cambodia
  2. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
  3. Machu Picchu, Peru
  4. Great Wall of China, China
  5. Taj Mahal, India
  6. Grand Canyon National Park, USA
  7. Colosseum, Italy
  8. Iguazu Falls, Brazil – Argentina
  9. Alhambra, Spain
  10. Aya Sofya, Turkey

And click on this link to see more of the list.

As you can see The Temples of Angkor are in pretty good company, but what made this temple complex in the jungles of Cambodia snatch the top spot?

Well let me tell you, it is pretty darn amazing. I feel so privileged to have seen this place, to have experienced it, walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, the sights, the smells, the heat, the dust, and the mighty creations of man and nature all in one place – it was all just out of this world.

To be honest I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Of course I knew what Angkor Wat was, but I deliberately tried not to read too much about it or look at many photographs before our visit, so that when we finally arrived there I would not be disappointed or that I will still have the element of surprise. The only things I read upon was how to organize for tours, or what was the best way to see the place.

 

Getting to Siem Reap

The Temples of Angkor are located near the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap has an international airport, so it is actually pretty easy to get to. In fact it is only a 6 hour flight from Bali, or a 2 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and a mere 1 hour flight from Bangkok. Really, there is no excuse not to go if you are in South East Asia. We travelled to Siem Reap from Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh on a cross-country coach service. The trip takes about 6 hours, we chose a company called Mekong Express to take us there. The coach left from Phnom Penh at 12.30 in the afternoon and arrived in Siem Reap at 7 pm. The coach had one scheduled stop halfway, which was really welcomed as the aircon on the bus was rubbish… The journey was luckily event-less; there was wifi on-board and both Adam and I had a double-seat all to ourselves that we could spread out on. The road between these two major cities isn’t great (although as I understand it has already improved a lot compared to what it was like before). The coach cost us $13 each. You can also fly from Phnom Penh, it takes about 45 minutes and costs $100 per person. For us it was a no-brainer to save that money and at the same time get to see some of the Cambodian countryside.

We booked our accommodation in Siem Reap through Booking.com. We stayed at the Schein Guesthouse, which is a B&B led by a German/Cambodian couple. I thoroughly recommend staying here if you are on a budget but still want a nice place to stay. The hosts were so helpful and friendly, we had a great time here and they really helped us with planning out our stay in Siem Reap.

Firstly they sent us a tuk-tuk to the coach station to pick us up free of charge, which was great as it was already dark and the coach station is on the outskirts of the city. Then at their reception they have a list of tours that can be done straight from their guesthouse to the Angkor Archaeological Park and depending on how long you have in the area they can advise on which tour is the best to take. This was incredibly useful for us, and I hope most other guesthouses would do it the same way. We decided to spend one full day discovering the temples and then leave another day for doing something else in Siem Reap. We only had two full days here as we had already booked our flights onward to Bali.

 

Getting around Angkor Archaeological Park

Our host at the guesthouse then showed us the best way to see the temples in a day and arranged a tuk-tuk for us with a 4.45am start the following day. One of the most memorable experiences you can have in Angkor is seeing the sunrise over its most iconic temple, Angkor Wat. Our tour was to take us to Angkor Wat just in time for the sunrise at half past 5. The tuk-tuk ride from central Siem Reap to the entrance of Angkor Archaeological Park took about 10 minutes. Here you have to queue up to pay, get your photograph taken and receive a photo-pass which serves as your ticket to the park. A daily ticket costs $20, a three-day ticket costs $40 and a weekly ticket costs $60. Once you have your ticket you can get back on your tuk-tuk and proceed into the park.

Some visitors rent bicycles to tour Angkor, some attempt it on foot, some go as part of a mini-bus tour. But most will hire their own tuk-tuk driver and pay them for their time, which is what we did, and I personally think this is the best way of exploring Angkor. The local guys have amazing knowledge and they know the park like the back of their hands. Our driver didn’t speak much English but he had a map of the park and we could just point at each temple we wanted to visit. I would not have attempted getting around the site on foot – this is an archaeological park stretching over some 400 square kilometres – it is VAST!! It is mainly jungle and there are around a thousand temples, shrines and tombs scattered all across it.

 

Itineraries and must-see temples in Angkor

I found a fantastic website for planning your trip to Angkor, you can find it here.

There are two main things to consider when seeing the temples of Angkor: how much time you have, and how interested you are. And by interest I mean that if you are not a history or theology or archaeology buff, you might find trekking from ancient temple to temple in the 40 degree Cambodian heat a little bit wearing. So if you only have one day (like we did) or if you are only interested in the most iconic temples of the park, here is a shortlist of must-see sites – visiting these will fit very nicely into a day:

  1. Angkor Wat – visit the most iconic temple early in the morning and watch the sunrise
  2. Angkor Thom – the old capital city of the Angkor empire
    1. Bayon – the temple of giant stone faces
    2. Baphuon – temple mountain with an enormous reclining Buddha
  3. Ta Phrom – the jungle temple

This is the itinerary that is suggested a lot of the time to tourists, however visiting the sites in this order will also mean you are moving with the crowds of tourists who are all following this itinerary or are taken along this route by their guides.

If I can give you just one tip, it would be to turn this list upside down: visit Ta Phrom first thing in the morning, then move unto Angkor Thom and finally visit Angkor Wat towards late afternoon with the view to catch the sunset.

Here are a few photographs and some snippets of information on the must-see temples:

 

Angkor Wat:

Most people will come here for the morning to watch the sunrise, but I would advise you to go against the mold and visit this iconic Hindu temple in late afternoon. And why? My photographs below will show you exactly why I say this. First of all, if you are after a solitary sunrise experience, this isn’t it. It’s like when you look at photographs of Angkor Wat on Pinterest and you get the feeling that this is an undiscovered place of epic proportion; where you can come to reflect on things, as the sun slowly makes its way up the sky. And instead this is what you will experience:

 

 

Not exactly the solitary experience many of us were after. But to be fair, having so many other visitors there at sunrise also added something positive to the experience: the collective anticipation, knowing we were all there for the same reason, and everyone enjoying the moment together as the first sun-rays appeared behind the towers of Angkor Wat.

Another reason why I would suggest you to go here later in the afternoon is to get prettier photographs. I can honestly say the light, as amazing it is at sunrise and early morning, is not fantastic to take photos in. Once the sun has made its way up higher in the sky it is actually very difficult to photograph the temple from the front, a lot of the detail is lost. I am quite disappointed to say I don’t have one photograph of the front of this magnificent temple that I actually like. Of course there are loads to look at on the internet, but we all want our own, don’t we…?! 🙂

 

 

Of course missing the temple at sunrise would be a great shame, so perhaps you can start here for the sunrise and also return here for late afternoon / sunset. That way you might just get the best of both worlds. If you go for sunrise, prepare yourself, it gets super hot by  7 am. Just like in any other South-East Asian country, you have to dress modestly and ideally wear long trousers or skirt and a top with sleeves. You should also wear something that is easy to move in and climb huge steps. A lot of huge steps.

One thing to be aware of when you visit Angkor Wat (and quite a few of the other temples as well, but mainly Angkor Wat): there are a LOT of vendors and hawkers and it can be a bit difficult to shake them off. Don’t get annoyed, just learn to kindly say no. There were also many school aged children there trying to sell us postcards, fridge magnets, etc, and as difficult it is, please don’t buy from them out of compassion. Buying from them will just encourage their parents to  keep sending them out to beg / sell. This is the advice amongst travellers anyway, so there, I’ve passed it on… 😉

 

 

 

Angkor Thom:

This is a walled, moated, ancient city that acted as the last capital of the Angkor Empire. Within the walls there are some amazing structures, palaces and temples. You can enter the city via 4 gates, most visitors enter through the South Gate coming from the direction of Angkor Wat, and this is what we did as well.

 

 

You should allow at least 2-3 hours to visit this magnificent old city, there is so much to see! But the most popular site in the whole of Angkor Thom is undoubtedly the temple of Bayon. In fact this temple is the 2nd most visited and loved temple in the whole of the Angkor Park. It is most famous for its dozens of giant stone Buddha faces, all of them carved with a smile that radiates happiness, calm, peace and a sense of fulfillment.