Tag Archives: Asia

It’s all downhill from here

3 Nov

Generally when going to a tropical island for a holiday, one would partake in relaxing activities such as lying on the beach perhaps stirring for the odd massage or cocktail. I however discovered at a very young age that staying still bores me very quickly. I found myself in Ubud and after a sufficient amount of time checking out temples, hanging out by the pool it was time to track down some action.

Everywhere you go in Bali you can find a multitude of stalls selling tickets to pretty much any activity you can imagine. While there was the temptation to climb Agung or Batur, the fact I hadn’t done any real hiking in a few months made me reluctant knowing how terrible climbing a volcano overnight can be when unprepared. I couldn’t however go to Bali without checking out a volcano up close so finding a tour which involved cycling from Mt Batur back to Ubud was just the thing for me.

Not a bad view for breakfast

We left early driving for almost 2 hours up to Kintamani, a village on the edge of the sprawling Batur caldera, a spectacular spot overlooking the massive volcanic landscape and the perfect location for breakfast. From here it was to be a 40km cycle back to Ubud with stops along the way to check out some local industry and villages. I was unsure as to what cycling in Bali would be like after a few attempts to tackle the roads of Central Java on a bike which were soon abandoned after a few too many close calls with trucks.

Along the way we sampled kopi luwak, which I still think does not have a taste that justifies the cost (Sarawakian Coffee though.. I’ll post about that later), saw a traditional Balinese compound, cycled through sprawling rice fields and stopped at an amazing hollowed out tree where some local kids came along and laughed at the tall white girl who spoke Indonesian with the funny accent. It was an amazing insight into Indonesian culture and the Balinese way of life.

Typical Balinese village temple

Reaching the end of the road we were given two options, jump in the truck to head up to lunch or ride an extra 10km uphill. Recovering from a cold and in 30+ degree heat I was apprehensive but the guide assured me that it would be very easy and mostly flat with a few little climbs. It wasn’t. The next 30 minutes were possibly some of the most painful in my life with a feeling that my lungs were going to be ripped out of my chest. Suddenly those beautiful rice paddies became a lot less scenic as I gasped for breath and threw bottles of water over my head in futile attempts to lower my body temperature to make it over the next ridge and then suddenly it was over.

After having an amazing Balinese lunch and a few soft drinks to get the blood sugar levels up to a healthy level again, I realised that the whole day was quite amazing in the end. By cycling we got away from the tourist trail and saw the more authentic Bali, a place full of unique culture and spectacular natural beauty. Would I recommend cycling in Bali? Definitely, in fact when I go back I’ll probably attempt to do some touring on a bike. Although maybe wait until you’ve fully recovered from that cold.

 

Photo of the Week #17- Fire at Uluwatu

30 Jul

Where- Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

The Kecak dance at sunset is magical. The rhythmic cak-cak-cak of the chorus paired with the stunning backdrop creates an incredible atmosphere and it’s a real must see while in Bali.

Ubud- More than just Eat, Pray, Love

28 Jul

Mention Ubud to a lot of people and the connection with the (in)famous novel Eat, Pray, Love will probably come to mind. The book didn’t do anything to inspire my trip to Ubud and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must read before visiting Bali but I can understand the appeal.

Needless to say I didn’t go to Ubud looking for any deep spiritual fulfillment but what I found was nothing short of amazing. I stayed in some villas about 15 minutes out of Central Ubud and it was fantastic to be out in the peaceful banjar (village area) and a bit isolated from the tourist throng. Driving into town each day was great looking out at the sprawling rice paddies which make you reconsider your definition of the colour green.

Downtown Ubud

I’ve seen a lot of rice paddies in my time but there were rather special.

Central Ubud itself was very cool. It definitely had a very laid back vibe with all of its alternative culture and yoga classes. The town is focused on a few streets with lots of little shops and it’s really easy to walk around. There are a few popular sights including the Palace and the Monkey Forest. Personally I didn’t go to the Monkey Forest with them not being my favourite animal in the world and around town you hear a few horror stories about how aggressive the monkeys can be.

There is a fantastic arts scene in Ubud. We saw some wonderful traditional dances and whether you want to check out sculptures, wood carving, silver smithing or pretty much any other art form you can imagine you will find it in Ubud.

Busy Ubud Markets

There are specialty villages for each art form scattered across the region and it’s definitely worth going for a drive to check them out and pick up some unique souvenirs.

So that’s my Ubud experience. I didn’t marry a Portuguese man or meet any Balinese medicine men but I had a very enjoyable time exploring the area and highly recommend adding it to your Bali itinerary. It’s best to have a few days there as it is quite a large area and it makes a fantastic base for activities to the north of the island.

Singapore in a Day

11 Jul

Singapore is a bit like Hainanese Chicken Rice. It looks plain and sterile with its MRTs and skyscrapers but the second you take a bite and scratch below the surface a little you realise it’s packed through of flavour and a lot more than meets the eye. It is a city which appeals to me immensely. The parts of Asia that I love combined with efficiency and cleanliness- I’d move there in a second if given a chance.

Raffles- founder of modern day Singapore

I had one full day in Singapore on my way to Indonesia and planned it to try and get as much out of it as possible and realistically in the end spent most of the day getting lost. The morning started with Kaya toast and some delicious coffee and condensed milk, you definitely have to go for the sweet and milky option here and not expect Roasters quality. Then the walking began- I walked around Raffles City and saw Raffles Hotel while on a quest to find sunscreen (which was harder than expected seeing nothing opened until 11). Then I headed on over to Little India and walked up and down Seragoon Road taking photos and experiencing the colours and smells of the sub-continent. Tekka Market on a Sunday is a pungent assault on the senses, packed with people and every fruit or meat under the sun. I also got my foot all henna-ed and walked over to Sim Lim Square to look at some headphones while resisting the temptation to buy camera gear.

I then had an idea that seeing I couldn’t be bothered walking up to Little India MRT so I decided to walk until I found another one. I explored some more markets and found some temples then realised that there hadn’t really been any MRT stations. About half an hour later I found one after walking what turned out to be a fairly long way in ridiculous humidity. Afterwards I headed back to Clarke Quay, wandered around the mall and jumped on another train up to Chinatown.

Shop houses in Little India

I had a pretty good idea where the food centre was so sort of just walked in its general direction through streets upon streets of market stalls and then found it. I love Maxwell Food Centre. Unfortunately the pancake stall I really like has appeared to have closed in the last 18 months so it was time to try something new so I did the logical thing and jumped on the end of the longest line of locals and was rewarded with a plate of Chicken Rice for the low price of $3. It was pretty much one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, like some kind of epiphany.

Hawker Centre Heaven

After lunch I headed off walking along the river to the Asian Civilisations Museum which I was quite impressed by. They had some really interesting stuff from Southeast Asia and their SE Asian Islamic artifacts exhibit was particularly interesting. As the afternoon went on I took a stroll along Clarke Quay in the cool breeze and hang out before heading back to Chinatown to eat amazingly delicious meal number 2 for the day- bratwurst. Yep as strange as it sounds in the middle of the stalls of Chinatown is Erich’s Wuerstelstand, an Austrian setup where you can get some delicious smoked pork and cheese wurst (as well as other varieties), sauerkraut and giant pretzels. It was incredibly good food and so cheap.

Bratwurst in Chinatown? Delicious

After walking around a bit and heading back to eat dinner in a bar in Clarke Quay and watch the F1 it was time to head home before the early flight.

Singapore is great. Lots of people don’t particularly like the place but I beg to differ. It definitely isn’t cheap but I don’t think I’ve ever failed to have a good time there if I’ve taken the time to go exploring. I’ll definitely back (in fact I will be going back twice in the next 3 weeks).

What to read before going to… Indonesia

20 Jun

Title- The Year of Living Dangerously

Author- Christopher Koch

Plot- It’s 1965 and Sukarno is nearing the end of his rule in Indonesia. Poverty is rife as the economy is in decline while the nation draws closer to the communists in Peking and begins to denounce the West.  Meanwhile a group of foreign correspondents indulge in the expat life in Jakarta, following the drama and watching the country disintegrate around them.

I love this book; it’s possibly one of my favourites. When I’m at home I read it to take me back to Indonesia through its rich imagery and try to imagine what it would have been like to be in Indonesia at that turbulent point of time.  In fact I love reading about this period in Indonesian history, the drama and conspiracy of the events of the 30th September 1965 and the effect that they had on the country is just so interesting and this book is a wonderful combination of the factual historical events of that time with the complex story of Guy Hamilton in his dealings with other expats. I probably read this book at least once a year, it paints a realistic picture of Indonesia in the way it describes simple things like the scent of clove cigarettes wafting and the simple life of the becak man. A really well written novel about Indonesia.

There was also a movie made based on the book. To be honest it’s a pretty good movie, Linda Hunt playing Billy Kwan was definitely worthy of the Oscar and Mel Gibson does a good job as he did in most of his early films. Do yourself a favour however and read the book first. In fact also do some reading about the 30th September Movement and the overthrow of Sukarno. The history of Indonesia will provide a whole new insight into the country when you visit and really helps understand how Indonesia has developed into the country it is today.

Photo of the Week #14- Tomb Raider’s Ta Prohm

15 Jun

Where- Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia

When I was a kid I love Lara Croft. I had all of the Tomb Raider games and was very disappointed to find out that being a tomb raider wasn’t a particularly realistic career choice in this day and age. For many years I wanted to see Angkor Wat and was most excited about the Ta Prohm temple complex. Sure the obvious Tomb Raider connection was a key draw card but the idea of an overgrown, half ruined temple was even more exciting. This place is amazing to explore especially if you manage to escape some of the crowds which flock to it. There is some work on to restore the temples but I really hope they leave them mostly as they are now as that is what is particularly enticing about them.

How to Pick a Hotel

1 Jun

I’m currently at that point at planning my upcoming trip where I need to try and book some sort of accommodation. While I have in the past been more than happy to rock up in a town and find somewhere when I arrive, as I’m going to be working for at least the first week I figure it might be preferable to be prepared in advance. So how do you go about choosing the perfect hotel/backpackers?

Location- This is a huge thing for me. I like to do some research and make sure I’m not staying too far away from where the action is (have made that mistake in the past). Also important is the areas you are in for example in Jogja I prefer to stay in Prawirotaman the tourist area which attracts the older, more alternative crowd. That’s not to say I haven’t had some fun nights on Sosrowijayan, I’ve just learnt that I’d rather have a $2 taxi ride than have to sleep in an area with blaring music and police raids all night.

Read reviews- Hostel World and Trip Advisor are the two that I normally look at but facebook and a good old google search also do the job. These of course aren’t always accurate and I’ve stayed at hotels with awful reviews which are brilliant and vice versa. An example of this is a certain airport hotel in KL where my door wouldn’t lock properly and I left at 4am to go sleep for the rest of the morning in the terminal.

Price- Frankly quite often you get what you pay for. I’ve had a few surprises- one that springs to mind is Via Via in Jogja which was super cheap but one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at a hotel.  The backpackers I’ve booked in Singapore for my next trip is slightly more expensive than my usual one but we’ll see how it goes because it looks nice and so far service has been brilliant.

These are my normal three criteria when booking a hotel/backpackers.

Ridiculously small hotel in Malaysia

I do like to go for places that offer something a bit different i.e. an outdoor shower which ended up being an awful idea as it was right on the street, or have different themes or traditional elements. This trip has been particularly difficult with having to find a hotel in Jakarta, normally I stay with friends in South Jakarta which I love but having business in the centre of town its much easier to stay in Central Jakarta. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about places on Jalan Jaksa so have avoided that area and have my fingers crossed hoping this place is alright. I’ll post some reviews once I’ve checked them out!

That’s it for now from me. While I like to travel cheaply I also like to be comfortable so with a bit of extra research I feel you can combine the two. Oh and a sleeping bag liner is your friend! Makes those somewhat dirty looking hotels much more comfortable.

What are your tips for picking a hotel when traveling?