Tag Archives: temples

Exploring the Special Region

6 Feb

Last weekend I finally found myself in Jogja so it was a perfect opportunity to really explore Daerah Isitimewa Yogyakarta (Jogja Special Region). Coincidentally one of the girls from my tour in Cambodia and her boyfriend happened to be in town so it was a chance to see some of the tourist attractions that I haven’t been to in several years as well as a few new ones.

Friday night was fairly quiet thanks to a sudden torrential downpour where I forgot both my umbrella and raincoat and proceeded to get drenched. We retreated to the old faithful, Via Via Cafe for dinner and a bintang to make plans for the day ahead. Deciding that we would get an early start and head out to the temples at 7am we had an early night and I came home to play some cards and hang out at the house.

The next morning was an early start. After brownies for breakfast (delicious but not very nutritious) I got the car we had rented for the day and went to pick up Sarah and James. First stop was Borobudur a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest Buddhist temple in the world. The temple itself was built in the 8th century and features hundreds of stupas and Buddha statues.IMG_5859 Interestingly it disappeared for hundreds of years only to be rediscovered and restored by Stamford Raffles in the 1800s. This was my second visit to Borobudur and despite heading out there early it was still ridiculously hot as you are smack bang in the middle of a plain with the sun bearing down on you. Also you are constantly bombarded with requests for photos and people wanting to practice their English with you which is amusing to start with but eventually becomes rather annoying. Generally the conversation goes a bit like this;

Indonesian student- Where are you from?
Me- Umm Australia
Indonesian student- What do you think about this temple becoming a 7 Wonder of the World?
Me- I’m not sure about that really.. It’s alright
Indonesian student- Can I take a photo with you? IMG_5873

Don’t get me wrong, Borobudur is an incredible, spectacular temple but after visiting Angkor Wat it’s hard to compete with that. Plus I prefer Prambanan (which I’ll get to later).IMG_5878 So after hours of questions and photos (what do all these people do with the photos of us?) we explored the grounds and found potentially the strangest, most out of place museum I had ever seen. The Unique Art Museum was mostly just a collection of pictures of world record feats and a bunch of miniature versions of Indonesian culture items. Let’s just say I’m glad they let us in for free.

Afterwards we had lunch before deciding to head up to Merapi, the volcano which looms over Yogyakarta and erupted in 2010 killing over 350 people. Exhausted we all fell asleep in the car on our way up there and as we went further up the mountain the destruction became more evident. We eventually reached a village called Kinahrejo only 4km from the peak of Merapi.IMG_5881 From here we went up the hill a bit further on motorbikes to see the home of Mbah Maridjan the gatekeeper of Merapi. The Kraton (Sultan’s Palace) in Jogja traditionally appoints a gatekeeper for Merapi whose job it is to communicate with the volcano. He refused to leave during the eruption so not to abandon his post despite being seriously injured in the 2006 eruption and sadly was killed during the 2010 eruptions. This is a symbol of how important tradition is in Jogja. The whole city is built in a straight line from Merapi to the Kraton to Parangtritis Beach on the south coast. Being around Merapi however made me feel somewhat uneasy as the village we visited despite being completely destroyed and having several villagers killed has been turned into a tourist attraction. The completely inappropriate tshirt award goes to a t-shirt you could buy with Merapi Volcano Tour written on it to look like blood. Walking through the lava flows it was fascinating to see the destructive effects of the eruption with us all agreeing that it was like something out of another world and a grim reminder of the dangers people in this area face. Riding back down the mountain it started to rain resulting in a freezing cold trip which was a bit of a welcome relief after Borobudur.

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Next it was off to Prambanan which is undoubtedly my favourite temple in Jogja. Once the screaming kids of a school group had left the complex was quiet which creates a really relaxing atmosphere. The Hindu complex built in the 9th century features temples to Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva and is a bit similar to Angkor Wat in style. It also has heaps of big shady trees and if you explore a bit there are a bunch of other temples in the complex. IMG_5894 The other temples were a bit disappointing. Following the 2006 earthquake they suffered a lot of damage and have been rebuilt in a fairly shoddy manner with new pieces of stone being placed on them which don’t really fit in with the rest of the temple. After exploring for a bit and having a funny debate with some little kids about whether I was a londo or bule (both words for white person). We headed back to Jogja exhausted after 11 hours of exploring.

The following day I’d arranged to meet up with my friend Rayi who studied at UNY in Jogjakarta and I met in Canberra last year. The plan for the day was to go down to her house in Bantul. After getting picked up around lunchtime we headed south towards the beaches and I was rather impressed by the Gamelan (traditional Indonesian instrument) in her lounge room, more impressive was the spontaneous performance by her father which was brilliant. It was a beautiful day with the sky bright blue and no rain and the landscape down near the beach a stunning green. IMG_5942 We walked around, ate some gado gado and sat around drinking tea and chatting before deciding to go down to the beach. We drove a few km before we reached a less well known beach called Goa Cemara. When seeing the sign saying No Swimming Danger I didn’t know what to expect thinking it was just the government being overcautious (a lot of people can’t swim very well) but seeing the beach I understood straight away. Heavy shore break probably 6 foot high and a lot of very visible rips as well as waves slamming sporadically into sand bars- no place for a dip in the sea. It was a little bit sad to see how polluted the beach was with rubbish everywhere tainting the black sand shorelines but was still a fun afternoon and very interesting to see. After that we headed back into town for another game of cards at home and a bit of Top Gear. IMG_5948

So that was it for my weekend. This time in 2 weeks I will be back home in Canberra so there are still some adventures to be had I’m sure while I’m over here. My hand is still numb and on a completely unrelated to anything, note I just finished reading Life of Pi which was a fantastic book, one of the best I’ve read for a while.

Courts xx

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Angkor Whaaaaat?

4 Jan

After a late night in Bangkok we had to be up early to leave by 7am in an attempt to make the Cambodian border before the hoardes of tourists. The bus trip there was incredibly uninspiring with a few, what seemed like close calls with oncoming traffic. Reaching the border it was quite evident that my theory about border towns being incredibly depressing seemed to ring true here. I’ve never heard good things about the Poipet border and while it wasn’t as bad as I expected it was a lot of standing in line in the hot midday sun until we were finally in Cambodia and free to go. Poipet on the Cambodian side featured a number of huge casinos catering for Thais and not much else. From here we got into a very comfortable bus and tore our way down a decent road to Siem Reap arriving at 4pm after 9 hours of driving and waiting around.

Siem Reap is a lovely town and very tourist orientated thanks to Angkor Wat. After a quick stroll around town we were picked up by tuk-tuk (a cross between a motorbike and a ute) to go to the New Hope Foundation. We spent a good half hour driving through the slums with children chasing after us to say hello until we arrived at the organisation’s old school and were greeted by a really nice young Cambodian guy to show us around the women’s refuge. The kids there were incredible. They were the poorest of the poor but so happy and wanting to play or hug us or use our cameras so it was a great afternoon followed by a 5 course Cambodian dinner at their restaurant and new school (we also had a look around their medical clinic).IMG_5246 We were surprised to learn our guide was only 20 and had been at the organisation completing his high school diploma for a few years after he was sent by his parents at 13 to the capital to work as a cement worker earning on $15 USD a month. After dinner we headed back into town to explore the night markets. I bought a really interesting abstract painting and we all squirmed and laughed through a fish spa before heading home because the next day we had to get up at 430am!

After the early start we gathered in the lobby and were happy when the same young guy and his friends turned up to guide us to Angkor Wat. Driving in the pitch black in the tuk-tuks we didn’t really know what to expect but we bought our tickets (which they put your photo on) and followed the masses towards the viewing area where a Cambodian man helped us find the perfect spot to shoot photos from. The sun came up and the view was spectacular. IMG_5295 The temple reflected on the pond below and it was truly an amazing site. After countless photos including a few fun poses we went and explored Angkor Wat before heading back for breakfast and then back out again to see some of the other temples.

We first went to Bayon with all of its stone faces of Buddha looking in all directions and had a few tough climbs to score some good photos. Unfortunately I don’t remember most of the other names of the temples at Angkor Thom but the next one was huge and we had to climb some terrifying steep staircases to make it to the top. My favourite temple however was Ta Prohm or the Tomb Raider temple thanks to the film being set there.IMG_5418 It was proper ruins with trees growing all over it and lots of corners to be explored. It was here we encountered so very loud, rude Australian tourists which made us a little annoyed. Following lunch we went to another temple which is when temple fatigue set in. It was 3pm and we were over temples so the whole group found a nice spot in the shade inside the temple and hung out there. It seems a bit surreal that you are actually allowed to do this inside a 900 year old temple but it was quite relaxing.

One thing that is kind of entertaining while terribly sad in Cambodia is the kids selling things. They come up and say Where you from? and after you respond they list a whole heap of facts about the place you named. We tried to throw them off by naming more obscure countries but generally speaking they were hard to trick. So we now are “friends” with a lot of Cambodian kids.

Back to the temples we climbed a higher than expected hill to watch the sunset before heading back down and playing hacky sack with our guide and drivers. Then it was back into town for a shower before hitting Pub Street. Pub Street basically describes itself. We had dinner there and had a massage before trying a few bars. IMG_5373 It was a very fun night with favourites being Temple Bar and Angkor What? where we got to write on the walls. We also managed to score a few free t-shirts which they gave out with any purchase of a bucket (about $8). We also had a hens party from Australia and the UK next to us so we were helping the bride to be out with her dares and having a fun time all round.

The next morning was another early start (630am) after not very many hours sleep as we had arranged for one of the drivers to take us out to the landmine museum. I was so glad we did this as although it sounds corny it really was inspiring. It was set up by a man called Aki Ra who was originally a child soldier laying mines for the Khmer Rouge and then the Vietnamese Army. He has now spent the past couple of decades defusing mines at first just using a knife and stick until the UN made him go get proper training. He and his wife (who sadly passed away recently) have defused tens of thousands of mines and UXO.

The figures truly are scary. In the Second Indochina War the US alone flew 60 000 bombing raids with each bomber able to carry 100 bombs which were taller than me (there were some on display at the museum) this doesn’t include the mines from the Khmer Rouge regime or the Cambodia-Vietnam conflict so the number of munitions out there is quite scary. The museum was interesting as we got to touch and see the mines up close and also on site there was an orphanage for kids injured or orphaned by mines although we weren’t allowed to go near it as no tourists were allowed. We spent a bit of money at the gift shop and left a donation as all the purchases went to the amazing work that Aki Ra and his group are doing before heading back to Siem Reap to leave for Phnom Penh.

Courts xx

More information about Aki Ra’s organisation can be found here- http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/

This is madness… THIS IS BANGKOK!!

30 Dec

I’m currently in Siem Reap using the ridiculously slow internet after a long day of driving (will post about it later) and trying to recover from what was an incredible One Night in Bangkok.

The flight to Bangkok was great. Scored an exit row seat and had an epic breakfast of nasi lemak, cake, chocolates, 2 types of juice and magnums. Getting to the hotel on the train was super easy and then all that was left to do was explore.

I jumped in a taxi to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The Grand Palace is amazing I have never seen so much gold in my entire life and the Emerald Buddha was terrific. The Buddha was left wrapped in plaster for many years before it cracked open and it is now highly revered.IMG_5159 Before seeing it you had to cleanse yourself with holy water and the room was dead silent with people meditating. After that I wandered around the guards and saw the Royal Thai Guards which are like the Buckingham Guards but with pith helmets after which I walked down to Wat Pho.

Wat Pho is home to a massive reclining Buddha and while in the temple you had to put 1 baht coins in 108 copper pots and there was more temples covered in gold which in the afternoon Bangkok sun wasIMG_5211 all a bit too much so I hopped in the tuk tuk to head to the MRT station onwards to Siam Paragon.

Siam Paragon is a ridiculously large mall (I think 6+ floors) including a floor with a Lamborghini dealership and many other luxury brands. When I ventured to the bottom floor it appeared all the Buddhist rituals had paid off as I found food nirvana. I always think you can judge a city by its supermarkets and this one was incredible. Every type of food imaginable, huge organic section and heaps of imported products I could have stayed there for hours.IMG_5232 The public transport in Bangkok was really easy. I caught the sky train and MRT everywhere (except the temples) and was feeling like I’d conquered the city in the afternoon when someone asked if I lived there. Until I started to feel a bit too confident and proceeded to get on the wrong train. Two stops later I was confused as all hell and the Thai guy next to me said “You don’t know where you are supposed to be do you?” I jumped onto the platform embarrassed and sprinted onto another train and back to where I started eventually making my way back to the hotel to meet my tour.

After a welcome dinner a few of us decided to venture out to the night markets at Khao San Road. For those of you who don’t know what this is it’s the super seedy backpacker area of town and no shopping was done. The quiet trip to the markets turned into a few bars, a lot of singing, buckets and sampling some bugs from a vendor. I tried crickets and meal worms and was cringing at the memory of them all day today. It was an absolutely manic place with several tattoo parlours packed with tourists (Don’t worry I didn’t get one) and several offers for ping pong shows.IMG_5240That’s it for now. I’m off to Angkor Wat at 4:30 tomorrow morning!

Courts xx