A Travellerspoint blog

Into Indonesia

sunny 35 °C

We departed the clean and orderly country of Singapore to head to Indonesia. With it being all of our first times there, we were all very curious and interested for the upcoming unknown. When we arrived in the airport in Jakarta we were met with the usual attacks for taxis and rides to the city. Instead we went cheap and took the local transport to the backpacker area. It cost us all of $2 for an hour bus ride however the one down fall was that the bus was full so we had to stand, but it wasn’t long until someone offered Monique a spot to sit, she must be cute or something. As we traveler towards the city we were already intrigued by Jakarta. From the windows of the bus we could see a river that the disgusting colour of can never fully be described. On the edge of that very river were thousands of shack type houses that looked like they could be blown over in a minute. You could also see a ton of garbage everywhere; you actually couldn’t see a spot on the ground near the river that wasn’t covered in garbage.
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The eerie coloured water, not very appealing

Although the view from the bus wasn’t the most pleasant the people on the bus were. On the bus Monique met a nice young Muslim female student who informed her of many areas and things to visit while in Jakarta. She also gave us the low down on how much a Tuk Tuk in Jakarta should cost. This made things interesting when we arrived at the bus station and had to arrange a tuk tuk to Jaksa road. The drivers wanted us to pay 5 times the amount she had suggested we should pay. We finally got one driver down to an appropriate price and we were on our way. It was a tight squeeze with all 3 of us and our luggage but somehow the motorbike engine managed to get us there.

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Monique, Michael and Andrew in the Tuk Tuk
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Our driver
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A tuk tuk, isn’t it beautiful!

Once we arrive in the backpacker area we were in search for a place to stay. A strange man decided to follow us into each hostel and hotel we entered. He pretended to be concerned about where we would stay and wanted to “help” us by guiding us. However we knew this scam from Thailand and ditched the guy as quickly as possible. With Michael sitting down watching the bags and ordering our first beers in Indonesia, Andrew and Monique set out to find somewhere to sleep. They went to a few hotels but settled on one that offered a Superior Deluxe Room for the bargain price of $5. Although it was nothing to write home about (even if we are anyways), it did have some high class amenities such as air conditioning, hot shower, and towels! Most of the previous amenities are not always included and always require paying more for. But with the extreme heat we didn’t mind paying an extra few cents.

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Michael enjoying his first Bintang beer

Andrew and Monique headed back to the restaurant to find Michael already one beer in. We all decided to grab a bite to eat and some drinks. This is when we realized how cheap Indonesia was going to be. We got a full meal and a beer for about $3.00. Andrew on the other hand got a little more than he bargained for when he bite into what he thought was two green beans, which turned out to be two chili peppers. After a few hallucinations and a burnt mouth he was good to go.

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Andrew not feeling so good after his chili pepper
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Monique showing the culprit, the chili pepper!

After settling into our new hotel we went on the search for bus tickets to Bali. After asking a few different companies and doing our research it turned out to be cheaper to fly then to take a 26 hour bus ride. So we clearly went for the faster and cheaper alternative. Then we decided to celebrate, seeing as Monique hadn’t had a drink in about 2 weeks and the boys were starting to feel better we all thought we needed a night out on the town. We went to a local bar which played all the greatest hits from the 90’s but also had cold cheap beer. After a few too many we crawled home with the cockroaches and went to bed.
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Our night out on the town

The next morning before we set out to discover Jakarta we had breakfast at another cheap restaurant. Here the father of a high school student approached us and asked us to help out his son. His son needed to interview “Westerner’s” for a school project. The young man walked in very nervous and shaking but ended up interviewing all of us. By the end of it he was a pro and we wished him well. Little did we know that everyone in Jakarta had this same school project and several times throughout the day we would be stopped and approached for an interview.

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Michael being interviewed

Eventually we got the day on the go and headed out to the Old Dutch colonial area. To get there we took a tuk tuk to the train station, however once we got there no one spoke English well enough to tell us we were at the wrong station. Eventually we figured it out and were told to take the bus. We used the Busway system which is little booths raised a few feet off the ground that a bus rolls up to, you jump in then the bus speeds off in its own lane not having to worry about any of the traffic. We were the only foreigners on the bus, so we got a few good stares, but as usual the locals are kind, they even gave up their seats for Monique, again.

Once in the Dutch area we looked at some of the old architecture and buildings. There wasn’t that much to see, but nonetheless most of our time was spent being interviewed by teenagers. We also managed to make time for a nice lunch at the famous Café Batavia. We all had a very delicious but expensive meal. We headed back to Jaksa road for a few drinks then called it a night.

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Old Dutch architecture
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Moss covered window
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The cannon of fertility
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Andrew being interviewed and photographed by the high school girls
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Café Batavia
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Our taxi driver wanted his photo taken.
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Michael and Monique at the Independence Monument

The next day we were off to Depensar for our flight to Bali. It was a simple painless flight and when we arrived we jumped into a taxi to take us to a cheap hotel area. The taxi driver was so lazy however he didn’t want to wait in traffic (all of Bali is traffic, you cannot escape it). We got tired of him complaining he couldn’t go down the road we wanted him to, so we jumped out and walked, only to see him drive by minutes later. The boys were getting tired and Michael’s back was killing him, so we sat Andrew down at a café and Michael and I went on the quest for accommodation. We went into quite a few places but wanting to keep it cheap we settled on a place that we got for the bargain price of $5 a night. However we weren’t so sure it would be up to Andrew’s standards. Michael and Monique were used to leaky sinks, smelly bathrooms, mildew walls and even worse, so they had no problem staying there to save a few bucks. For a brief description of the room, imagine a sink that gave you a foot wash every time you used it, a shower with no handle/shower head BUT with a ceiling leaking on you which gave some extra water pressure. The room also came with some interesting looking bedding and the unique smell is almost indescribable. However the hotel had a pool and gave free breakfast! What more could we ask for? Monique and Michael were pleased so they went back to get Andrew and bring him over, his first reaction was one of disgust really, but he thought he would give it a chance.

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This man thought the hotel was so bad, he decided to repaint and fix his whole room

To break in the first day we decided to go to the beach, but were a little disappointed as it wasn’t the beautiful sandy beach described to us by others. Also the ever persistent hawkers were at your feet every minute (not an exaggeration). So we decided to get away from it all and head back to our hotel and jump in the pool. This is where we got a new admiration for our hotel. With few hawkers and the freedom to drink as much as we wanted poolside (most hotels make you buy their beer which is extremely over priced) we decided to stay at the hotel a few days longer. We also met some British folk at our hotel and ended up going out for dinner and drinks with them. They were good fun, but unfortunately they were leaving Bali the next day.

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Michael enjoying the pool
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Group shot!
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The boys jumping into the pool with our Indonesian neighbours

The next day ended up being a little over cast, which was okay because we were all pretty hung over and could use a break from the sun. We spent the day shopping and the night relaxing by watching some movies, this was of course all in preparation for the arrival of Monique’s friend Amanda. We wanted to make sure we were in top shape to party with her!

Amanda arrived and we met her at her hotel. In the true Amanda style, she wasn’t too impressed with the hotel that was booked through the agency, so they decided to move to a more upscale party hotel. After settling them in to their new home they headed back to Monique’s hotel where the party began. We spent the afternoon in the pool drinking more beer than we should have. When it came time to dinner we continued to drink a little more, but the day had worn us out. The girls and Dave went to bed, while Michael and Andrew went gallivanting around town. Michael and Andrew literally stumbled from bar to bar having a few drinks here and there and eventually stumbled their way back to the hotel.
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Andrew, Michael and Dave in the pool
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Amanda and Dave
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Michael and Andrew representing Van Dongens
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All the boys representing Van Dongens
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The Gang
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Michael on his night out being silly
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The next day we went to go buy beer and realized we had drank the store clean

The following day Amanda and Dave went elephant trekking and rafting. Michael and Monique had already done this in Thailand so they opted out; while Andrew was barely moving he was so hung over. So we decided to lounge by the pool all day and met Amanda and Dave for dinner when they came back.

The next day Andrew was still feeling under the weather so he spent another day sleeping off his hang over. Monique and Michael headed to Amanda’s hotel to relax by the pool and enjoy some drinks and lunch. After a long day relaxing in the sun, we went back to our hotel to shower up. The plan was to meet Amanda and Dave but an unexpected torrential rain fall suddenly hit. It was truly unbelievable how much rain was coming down, all streets were flooded and it didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon. Michael as usual was relaxed about the whole situation, while Monique and Andrew planned a clever escape plan just in case.

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Lounging at Amanda’s hotel
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The boys swimming in the down pour

The next few days were much the same; we either relaxed by the pool or watched the rain pour down on us. At this point we were getting a little tired of the atmosphere around us and decided we needed a change of scenery. We made an executive decision to head to Australia early. So we changed our flights for the following day at 10:00pm.

The morning we were set to leave we had the whole day to kill (not leaving until 8:00pm to go to the airport). So Michael and Andrew decided to make the best of their last day and rented motorbikes. After a huge deliberation with the rental guy about the difference between insurance and excess damage charges we were off. Stopping first for fuel, we found a lovely lady who poured petrol served from used bottles of Absolute vodka.

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Gasoline in an absolute vodka bottle

From here they set off north, getting as far as we could. Unfortunately Monique and Andrew have the same luck with motorbikes, and after lunch, Andrew’s bike had a flat tire. Michael rode off to find a nearby repair shop, and after calling our rental company to explain their bike broke and they had to pay, and then having to go back to negotiate a price the rental company felt was fair for locals, they were back up and running.
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Andrew on his motorbike waiting for Michael to return

We headed north towards Depensar and then along the East Coast towards the mountains in the north of Bali Island. We met some locals who wanted to chat and show us places, but mostly because we wanted to cruise (being the first time Michael and Andrew were riding motorcycles together), and also to avoid any situations we kept driving.

Andrew and Michael stopped frequently, taking photos of the beautiful parts of Indonesia, which were generally hidden while in Jakarta and Kuta Beach. They had been driving until a local raced up to Michael who was a bit ahead and flagged him down to point out that Andrew’s bike had once again blown a tire.
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Bombing memorial of 2002
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Indonesian garden center

Going back, finding a shop, pushing the bike, and then meeting a lovely family who repaired bikes was another annoying (because of the bike), but nice experience on the journey. In fact the young apprentice boy who was helping out was wearing a Canada sweater (it was +30 out). After some laughs and them not wanting to rip us off, we decided to head back to make it in time for our flight. On the way back Michael insisted on pulling over at one spot that was a truly iconic symbol of Indonesia. It was a small bridge, and when we pulled over, chickens greeted us at the side of the road. We took our cameras and proceeded to take some photos of the daily events that were happening at this junction. Down by the river side there were elderly women taking soil from the river bank and putting it into baskets and then carrying them on their heads to a top soil pile. Passed them were a group of children squatting down fishing in the river. Behind Michael was the true prize, a classic iron bridge abandoned to be a traitorous foot path. The iron frame interwoven with bamboo trees and old wooden planks, held down by rusted nails, and having gaping holes in the rotten wood exposing a 10m drop. After snapping some photos and talking with some of the locals that were hanging out, they got back on their motorcycles and headed back.
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Iron bridge
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The women at work

Heading back they would have arrived on time and dry had they not missed the turn off. But instead one of the many rapid rain storms moved in and drenched them in the last 10 minutes of the drive. Making it an unforgettable journey.

Monique on the other hand lounged by the pool for the last day. She had had enough of motorbikes after everyone they went on had broken. She wasn’t in the mood to walk miles to get one fixed. Amanda and day we’re also leaving this day, but late at night. So they joined Monique for some lounging by the pool.

Come 8:00pm when our airport taxi pulled up, we were all more than eager to go. We were very excited to start the next Chapter (final chapter for Monique and Michael) of our journey. Off to Oz we went!

Posted by koreaeh 20:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Swinging Through Singapore

sunny 32 °C

As we mentioned in the Philippines blog we were happy to be on our way. The boys had had enough of the Filipino food wreaking havoc on their bodies and Monique had had enough of being cooped inside because of her rashes. So Singapore was a breath of fresh air. We arrived at the Changi airport and easily caught the subway to our hostel. We stumbled a bit but managed to find our new home for the next 3 days. However it had been a long day of traveling, we started at 5am and it was now 8pm. So we all reluctantly agreed to eat McDonald's for dinner and it was actually quite an event, Monique had her first Big Mac of her life, but her small mouth couldn’t handle it, she wasn’t up to par with the boys. After our healthy dinner we headed back to the hostel where the boys quickly realized how “uncomfortable” it can be to share toilets, with the Filipino food still in their systems in made for an early and somewhat uncomfortable night.
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Michael and Andrew on the Subway

The next morning, refreshed after a good night sleep and our first hot shower in weeks we headed out to explore the ultra clean and orderly country that is Singapore. We first decided to explore the old colonial area which remains after being ruled by the British. We saw the famous Victoria concert hall, the old parliament house, St Andrew’s Cathedral, City hall and the Supreme Court. All of which have been beautifully preserved, and were nice to see.
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The very orderly street crossing which everyone abides by
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City Hall
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Read the label and you will understand
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Also read and understand, funny labels in different languages
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St. Andrew's Cathedral
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Parliament House
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War memorial
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The gang
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Interesting Statue
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The gang posing
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The road lines are drawn crooked for some unknown reason

After such an orderly and calm experience we decided to immerse Andrew in his first South East Asia Chinatown experience. Of course we weren’t let down; it was an insane market with thousands of people going in every direction. It also didn’t disappoint as the boys were looking for some special material. It turns out Michael and Andrew thought it would be a wonderful idea to “borrow” some seat belts from the plane we had debarked into Singapore. However they quickly realized the seat belts would be too small to fit around their waists as they were for children. So China town being notorious for selling absolutely anything, the boys easily found an extension for their belts.
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Busy Chinatown

After 5 hours of walking we were all exhausted and headed back to the hostel for a rest. The boys sewed their new belts and strutted around the hostel showing them off with great pride! After some rest we set out again for dinner. This time we decided to venture to Little India. Michael and I had become accustomed to the Chinatown’s insanity, but Little India blew us out of the water. There were thousands of people everywhere, or should we say thousands of Indian men everywhere, truly there wasn’t a woman in sight except Monique. We pushed our way through the crowds of people who were screaming at each other. It felt like we were in the twilight zone, we were surrounded by people shouting and selling everything. We walked around for a bit to find a restaurant that was “clean enough” to eat at and appeared to have somewhat “normal” food on display. We entered the one restaurant with pictures. The boys agreed to eat here, Monique on the other hand after watching the “gentleman” across from her eat with his hand, or should we say shovel the food into his mouth with his hand, she was a little turned off. The boys ordered chicken and got pork, and Monique kept it simple and ordered bread, even that was interesting. After dinner, with the boys stomachs still a little off, we quickly headed back to the hostel for a “safe” toilet.
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Andrew enjoying his meal
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Michael enjoying his meal
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The food choices, appealing eh!
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Dinner

The next morning we tried to set out early as we had aspirations to do a lot. Michael wanted to go to the Botanical gardens, Andrew wanted to see an Art gallery and Monique wanted to go to the Zoo. In the end, the boys were tired and decided to give into Monique and go to the Zoo, which ended up being an incredible experience for all of us. The Singapore Zoo is famous for its open concept style in which the animals literally roam free (for the most part). They have large areas and seem to be treated very very well. Some of the highlight animals included a Komodo dragon, White Tigers, and the warthog (Andrew’s favourite, for unknown reasons).
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Cute little monkey like creatures
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Crocodile
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Monique's safari outfit at the zoo
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Orangutan
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White tiger eating lunch
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Hippos
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Baboons
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Monique fitting in
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Komodo dragon
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Tortoise
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Lizard
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Giraffe
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Rhinos
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The gang at the Zoo

After another long day of walking we headed back to the hostel to relax. We had another McDonald’s dinner sadly as Andrew was exhausted and Michael’s back was killing him. At this point we loved Singapore but were ready to move on to Indonesia in the hopes we would all feel better and be able to party like Rock stars in Bali! Funny how quickly three days goes by.

Posted by koreaeh 18:51 Archived in Singapore Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Philippines

A little bit of everything

overcast 35 °C

We landed in Manila and headed for the exit, however unlike most travelers; we opted to avoid the very overpriced taxi and insisted on the public bus. Walking past the taxies, and security guards who insisted we were lost and tried to redirect us to the taxi queue, we made it to the bus stop within meters of the terminal. We boarded the bus, and when the ticket person came around to collect the money, we with ease handed exact change over. Impressed by our fluency with the new currency and navigating the bus system, a Filipino man in front of us gave us a big thumbs up. This quickly broke into questions about the city, and he told us everything he could about the people (specifically the thieves and crooks), food, and how to get to our meeting spot with Andrew.

Getting onto the LTR was ok, minus the fact that a bag inspector needed to see into our packs, and getting down to Adriatico pub was ok as well, despite having to walk through some impoverished areas with all our gear. Once there, Andrew popped through the door wearing a familiar VD Union Blues shirt. We immediately sat down for a drink with the three of us and Bob, Andrew’s girlfriend’s uncle who had been living in Manila for 20+ years. We caught up a bit, and shortly after, Bob brought us around to find a hotel and then invited us back to his home. On the way there we were told a bit of the history of the country from him living there with his family. The most obvious was the discussion about the traffic we were stuck in. Basically there had been no investment in infrastructure since the 1970’s, when Philippines had actually been ahead of its neighbours, but has since fallen behind because of government corruption. We were also told that 10 million Filipino people live abroad, and send money back to support their families. However if the situation were to ever improve, and these citizens wanted to return, they basically would find a country that would not be able to support or host them.

One at Bob’s home we were shown a true extension of Filipino hospitality, because we were sat down to lovely cold beer, an imported cheese platter (which Monique devoured), and great conversation. We were introduced to his family, and ate a home cooked meal with tons of meat and other amazingly prepared items – which we emotionally expressed our gratitude for having us, and cooking a family meal which we hadn’t experienced in over a year.
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Monique and her cheese

That night we took a cab back to our hotel, and while Monique rested, Michael and Andrew were eager to catch up after a year reunion. To properly show Andrew how different Asia was from back home, Michael went into the convenience store and purchased two beers and proceeded to drink them on chairs set up on the street. From there they traveled around the streets of Manila, and despite great conversation with catching up and philosophies on life, the city was out to show its ugly side. Children ran alongside of you tapping their open hand at you for money, prostitutes and sex tourists lingered everywhere, and the city was unable to offer anything different.

The next morning we woke up and made our way out of the hotel. The one we originally selected was not allowing three guests to a room, so we had to sneak out without drawing attention to ourselves. Unfortunately, Monique and Michael went down stairs to check out and left Andrew to follow. However the two of us were told to sit while they did a room inspection, which luckily worked out because we came down a different elevator and walked straight out. They asked us why he was there, but we simply stated to pick up our bags. Suspiciously, they gave us an “exit card”, which we had to give to the front door guard. This was scary really because he too was armed with a gun, and we can only imagine what happens if you didn’t agree to a charge and decided to exit anyways…

From here we headed up the street to eat breakfast, which was the first meal we would be eating and paying for with Andrew, so we began to demonstrate how cheap travelers get by. Setting up at a little shop on the street, we went with burgers which sounded like a good idea, especially to Andrew and Michael who spent the night out. But this idea was immediately regretted once they came out; covered in orange sauce, and containing a very strange meat patty, we reluctantly ate our breakfast/lunch. After which Andrew and Michael ventured to find a place to stay (which turned out to a hostel, in a 12 person dorm), while Monique began to fear the upcoming days as she read the local English newspaper (which had 2 full pages of gun related deaths).

From here we had decided to establish the basics like money, and itinerary, and logistics. We found it almost impossible to change travelers checks in Manila for a decent rate, and were left with few options. We finally went a different route with money, because we were frankly getting tired of going into banks. Robbery must be a bit of an issue, because every bank, tourist hotel, or any other place that handles money, would have a security guard(s) (sometimes no older then 16) who were armed with a hand gun, or full on shot gun. On our journey looking for an HSBC (several have closed recently and retreated from the city), we walked through some very precarious looking streets which was lined with families lying on the street, food stalls full of people and no food, and tough “jeepney” (their public buses that look like jeeps/”the bullies of the streets” - Bob) drivers casing you as you walked by.

We finally ventured to a mall that turned out to be a nice portion of town, where we decided to spend a bit of time shopping for goods that we needed. This led us to a travel agent nearby - Filipino Travel who hooked us up with a great flight and arrangements to get down to Boracay. These arrangements did however require us to cut out seeing the more historic portion of town the following day, which could have changed our opinion a bit about the city, but unlikely. At night we treated ourselves to a very nice dinner, and spent the remainder of the night in our hostel thinking about white sand.
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In the morning we made our way to the Airport, and were reminded once again of the unfulfilled dreams of the Filipino people, as our taxi driver told us stories about how his country has impressive spirit, but is riddled with corruption and has suffered since. He told us the story of their new airport terminal, and how government officials became wealthy from its construction, and how his only dream was one day take off from that airport to a country with more prospects.

With a beer in us, and boarding a propeller plane, we flew to Caticlan, and then a very rocky boat ride to Boracay Island. From here we took off in a tiny motorcycle tuck-tuck over the hills and then finally to our resort. It was a beautiful resort, and we decided to stay the entire time; until we discovered that we accidently paid more than we thought, which sent us on a hotel search. We ended up finding a lovely little hotel set in from the beach, which was owned by a family, and decided to go there once our time at Casa Pillar expired.

With everything out of the way, we made our way down to the beach and spent the remainder of the afternoon in the sun. We then went to dinner, which was a bbq buffet, on the beach with the waves crashing right up to our table. However Monique was not feeling it, so she went off to get “Boracay’s best burger”, which was disappointing at best. Since we had spent the day traveling and were thinking of taking it easy we picked up some drinks and snacks (Monique got popcorn from a random street vendor) and made our way to the bungalow. Once again Monique tuckered out quickly, and Andrew and Michael were eventually behind her, but on a whim, we put on our shoes and made our way to the main stretch.

We eventually made it down to the beach path and scouted the bars in Boracay. Settling down at a little bar which had a talented band and singer who had a unique gravel sounding voice, we enjoyed the sights of the patrons. Including a 45 year old man who almost stumbled into a palm tree, and then into a group of people who were sitting next to us. This led to some laughs and eventually them joining us, along with others who made the upcoming day enjoyable.

The following day we made our way to the beach and spent the day in the sun. Unlike most of the countries we have been in, we found the sun was much stronger than before – more so then we expected. By the end of the afternoon, while the boys made their way down the beach, Monique laid in sun and got a severe sunburn. When we made it back to the room, we discovered we all had heat stroke and Monique was starting to develop a rash.
As the night we mustered enough strength to have a pizza party and movies in a new room (which we insisted on changing because we thought Monique had bed bug bites or something). However in the morning we noticed that Monique’s rash was spreading throughout her body, and causing her a lot of anguish. To the point that as Andrew and Michael would go down to the beach, while Monique rested in the room for the majority of the day.
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The beach in the afternoon
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Andrew and Monique looking out at the sunset

The first day out the boys walked the streets and through the town to capture a bit of the local life. This lead through different remote parts, but finally against Andrew’s will, Michael suggested going down some precarious looking paths into village areas. This turned out to be a worthwhile gamble, because we got to see (Andrew for the first time), true South East Asian dwellings and living standards, but at the same time, see their hospitality. We ended up by some homes where a dozen locals were celebrating Boracay Island Day. We were sat down and ended up sampling some of their local beers and whiskeys. Delighted, but tight of time, we needed to leave and get back to Monique
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The beginning of the walk
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A clearner environoment
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This is where the walked started
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Our drinking friend
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The lazy beach routine was repeated for a couple days after this, as Monique rested and became increasingly uncomfortable with her situation in a foreign country, while Andrew and Michael suffered a bit of anguish with the food, but generally fought it off with drinks at night. Despite being on one of the whitest beaches in the world, and weather being generally sunny, we were becoming increasingly frustrated with our health and the persistent bombardment of salespeople constantly hounding for a sale (to the point they would wake you up while resting to ask “motor bike, jet ski”)

On our last couple days the boys were feeling themselves again and decided to venture out. Andrew and Michael set out on foot along the beach, snapping photos along the way. We ended up on a more private beach, away from the hawkers and in a less developed region of the island. After spending the day here, we headed back and began to pack things in and get ready for our onward journey to Singapore.
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The quite beach we found further away
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Us at the quite beach, enjoying our time
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The three of us
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Massive sunset on our last day
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We all learned how to cut a mango

The next morning up at 5:30 we made our way back to Caticlan, and then to the airport. In the middle of the week, the girl who was the receptionist invited us out to a big festival on the same island as Caticlan, which we considerate because it was so notorious in the Philippines, but after we got a better prospective of the logistics of Caticlan and its surrounding area, we were happy we opted for staying at Boracay. Not to mention it would have meant departing the party at 4:00 with them to get back for a flight at 8:00.
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Once back in Manila, we had to take a taxi from one terminal to the other, and then had to spend the remainder of the time in an archaic terminal waiting for our flight. In the end we were delighted to see the beautiful parts of Philippines, including Boracay, but were happy to set off to continue our journey.

Posted by koreaeh 04:50 Archived in Philippines Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Malaysia

sunny 34 °C

Well after a month we finally headed out of beautiful Thailand. We said our good byes to Brent, Monique’s brother, and headed our separate ways. Seeing as it was New Years the night before, the 5 hour boat ride we had lying ahead was a rocky one, for some. Michael spent majority of the 5 hours looking over the edge with a green face. But he made it! Good thing because a long day of travelling to Malaysia lie ahead of us. We started the day of travelling at 6; 30am, by 6:00pm we were finally on the last bus to take us to Malaysia. We were very optimistic as it was a very nice bus with barely anyone was on it.

We easily crossed both borders, well that is the passengers on the bus easily passed through. It turns out our bus driver decided to smuggle alcohol and fire crackers (both contraband in Malaysia) across the border. This lead to him AND our bus being taken away. Two hours went by and no word, Monique as usual was panicking and Michael stayed calm and reassured Monique it would come back. However one of the problems was that no one on the bus spoke English, they were all Malaysian. Finally we found one man who spoke enough English to explain to us the situation with the bus driver. He said he was told we were either going to “camp it out” over night at the border or have to get a hotel ‘in town”. Monique didn’t like either of these options. So we just kept waiting it out, luckily 4 hours later the bus came rolling back and everyone literally cheered for joy ( there were pregnant women and children waiting for this same bus, we felt bad for them).

Nonetheless we finally made it to Kuala Lumpur at around 4am. We hopped off the bus half asleep and were attacked by taxi offers. Being cheap we walked it out instead. We walked around with our bags for a while until we came across China town and found a cheap, “prison like” hostel to stay at. After some much needed rest we explored China town and the surrounding areas. As usual, Chinatown was an insane market style area where you can literally purchase anything.
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Chinatown with the massive of people
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Chinatown at night

We quickly realized that Kuala Lumpur didn’t have that much to offer for the 5 days we would be staying there. Once realizing this we decided to make Malaysia an administrative, cheap and sober adventure. (Sober because alcohol is so expensive due to it being a majority Muslim country). We spent the next few days eating $1.50 meals and practically spending less than $10.00 a day, which included our accommodation. Which in the beginning was stellar, but turned a little sour when we realized we were on top of the “pumpin” reggae bar that played music until 4am each night, AND that we had house guests, not one but two gigantic golden cockroaches!
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Reggae Bar and our Hostel
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Monique enjoying her $1.50 meal

While in Malaysia we managed to tour the city’s highlights like the downtown and colonial areas. We also managed to get our Chinese Visas for our stopover in Beijing on the way home. So overall Malaysia was relaxing and we accomplished a lot, but we were both more than excited to make our way to Singapore to catch our flight to Manila (Philippines). With only a short 5 hour bus ride we made our way to Singapore hassle free and even managed to get to the airport with no problems. This was a first for us, so it made us even more excited for our next adventure… meeting Michael’s friend Andrew in Manila!

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Monique looking at a map, as ususal
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Petronas Twin towers, once the tallest
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Monique and Michael
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City and Palm trees, beautiful
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Menacing sky
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Colonial Area
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Flag in Independence Square
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Fountain
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The Big City
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Monique
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Michael
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Mother and Daughter

We also toured a beautiful garden:
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Orchid Garden
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Monique playing with the plants
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Fancy bridge
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Monique in the garden car
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Beautiful colours
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Monkey

Some of Michael's beautiful stiched photos:
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Posted by koreaeh 03:33 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Thrid time is a charm in Thailand

sunny 34 °C

Third time is a charm as they say; and for us it looked like our third visit to Kingdom of Thailand was going to be a beautiful and extensive visit of the country. We left off on a bus bound to the border crossing of Aranya Prathet, which was painless and once past and on the Thai side, a slew of mini-busses were waiting for us. We proceeded to Ko Chang for 5 hours, and on the way we began talking to the guys who were sitting on the plastic chairs on the bus. They had spent a month in Cambodia, however previous to that, they spent an entire month on Ko Chang. So Monique and myself, along with Lauren and John a couple from England, paired up with Nick and Adam who knew where to head once we got across to the island.

Once there, we got into a pickup taxi, and just before setting off a guy wearing a straw hat, lime green glasses and several scarves got on, beer in hand. Taking off the driver inadvertently ejected him causing the drunk to tumble down the street, only to return with an empty but not broken bottle of beer and many scrapes.
Continuing up and down the very mountainous west coast of the island, we stopped outside of Siam Hut Resort on Lonely Beach, where we jumped off and then insisted that the remainder of the people stay on and go further down the road; mainly to ensure that we had a place to stay. We secured the remaining cabins and shortly after were down by the beach at their beach charcoal BBQ ordering beautiful cuts of meat and vegetables that were cooked and then brought to us on the lounge deck that overlooked the crashing waves. With some drinks in us, we got to know our new friends and went to bed after a long day of traveling.

The following morning we were up and all convened on the beach, where we spent our time sun tanning and buying beach jewelry. Michael ended up with a necklace that was a shark tooth (specifically a “molar” tooth which are black in colour). The remainder of the day was restful and later presented us with a spectacular sunset. This was so appealing that we decided not to break this streak of activity, but simply adding the activity of watching awesome fire shows at night.

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Lonely Beach on Ko Chang

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Nick and the jewelry lady on the beach

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The sunset

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The fire shows at night

One morning we decided that we should venture the island, so Michael decided to rent a bike, against Monique’s apprehensions about motorbike - Funny how hindsight works. We paired up the other couple and headed along the very steep and winding roads, up the west coast, and then down the east, stopping at some spectacular look out points.

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The view of Lonely Beach from a nearby mountain

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We were driving down the coast watching the waves crash from the road, as we approached the waterfall National Park. Not wanting to pay the entrance fee to the Than Ma Yom Waterfall, we decided to drive up the street to the neighbouring and non-marked water fall Klong Non Si. We were just heading down the street when all of a sudden Michael noticed that the back wheel was making a strange noise and decided to stop. After the four of us inspected it, we discovered that these bikes we were rented were missing spokes in the wheels, and left us with no choice to call the resort to replace it. After splitting up, waiting two hours and having to call a couple times, a guy with a bike and a bottle of gas shows up. After showing him that we didn’t run out of gas, but rather had an unmaintained bike he switched with us and told us he would ride the broken one home. Then watching him drive no more than 5 meters and then stopping to call, made us laugh that even they see the danger in it all.

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The waterfall

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We proceeded and luckily by asking a local and then driving through a series of fields, led us to the free waterfall. We hiked up, but then found that the sheer of it outweighed the beauty of it, so we turned back. Well everyone but Michael, who ventured to the third “floor”, who after seeing it in its totality could also head back. We rode out of the fields and along the narrow paths and then once on the road parted ways with the other couple. However not even 50 meters the back tire blew, and once again left us with an unusable bike. Monique had to get off and walk, and after a while Michael decided to ride it rather than push it to a pay phone. This was fine, except that Monique was becoming quiet small in the distance, which resulted in her getting on the back of a German couple’s bike and taking a lift. The problem was that Michael was at the pay phone organizing, anticipating that Monique would walk by, but when he saw her white helmet drive by he ran after her leaving the phone hanging, but couldn’t catch her. He went back and finished the conversation thinking she would just be up the road at the police station, but when Michael got there, she wasn’t to be found. Thinking it could have been someone else he proceeded to confirm, by retracing his steps, but he made it back so far that another couple confirmed that she had walked by. Heading back one last time thinking we were just meant to hitchhike back separately, Michael finally saw a bike with frantic arms flying out of the back approaching the opposite direction. A teary eyed Monique got off, and the Germans angrily tore off, as Monique described the story how they offered a ride, then refused to stop where she needed to, and then once she had gone way too far, refused to help get her back.

This was however not the end. This time we decided bring the bike to the police station, however when we asked to leave it there for a bit, the officer had to run it by his superior. Out of a meeting came a dozen officers carrying massive guns, and then this one man armed only with medals of honour. Indirectly, because he could not speak English agreed to let up keep the bike there, and then asked how we were getting back. We intended to hitchhike, because Michael when walking was offered several rides, however to blow off the police we just said we were going to grab a taxi. This however was debated because there weren’t any taxis near this end of the island, so the Chief of Police escorted us to his personal truck and began to drive us the 40 minutes around the island. Sitting quietly in the back of his truck, listening to a random completion of remixes (including YMCA), and next to boxes of methamphetamine drug tests we drove. Well up until the point where he stopped and got out of his running truck, leaving us in it while he went to the bank to withdraw money.

Once back at the resort we thanked him more then he could imagine, and then proceeded to the reception to deal with the bikes. Monique retreated while Michael in his frustration showed a picture of the police station where the second bike was dwelling. The owner subsequently exploded at Michael and gave him the finger while swearing at him. Almost to his surprise, Michael calmly explained that an unmaintained bike has no purpose being rented, let alone driven, and that he was quiet unprofessional. This made him angrier because as he was preparing to justify a $500 USD repair bill, Michael was arguing that along with his passport being returned, he also wanted a refund on the bike rental (which incidentally was never collected in the first place). Proving that tempers get nowhere, Michael was given his passport back along with being paid to rent the bike. However because management was so despicable we decided to pack our things that night and go out one last time with everyone before we decided to head off to Bangkok the next morning.

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Our last sunset on Ko Chang

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Everyone out before we left

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We crossed back to mainland and boarded a bus that was pounding out the music, until someone finally got up and asked the driver to shut it off. Applauding for his action everyone was content, however hours later as we approached Bangkok, the bus pulled over and dropped us off at roadside restaurant and then took off to repair a tire. Four hours later, and unimpressed we got back on and completed the last tail of our journey to Bangkok. Strapped for cash because the banks had already closed we went for dinner and walked around to save money. However as we were returning to our hotel, we ran into the familiar and friendly faces of Tom and Paul, friends from Cambodia. We had some drinks with them and were delightfully surprised when they offered to pay, which we reluctantly accepted because of our predicament with the banks. The following days we spent our time shopping and taking care of some administrative things, and things didn’t pick up until the hours just before our departure to Phuket. We inadvertently ran into Rich, the Englishman who we had met in Xi An, and although he couldn’t join us at the moment, we agreed to meet later. As it happened, when he came to meet us, he fist recognized the people we just had starting talking to seated next to us – all which really surprised all of us as to how small the world really can be. We then went to the same restaurant where we met Paul and Tom with Rich thinking they might reunite with us, however this let to Martin, another friend who we traveled through Loas and Vietnam who just was heading to the exact restaurant. Over drinks we all shared stories of how we all indirectly were connected, and then abruptly had to leave because we were cutting it very close to our night bus departure. We caught the bus, and spent the night heading down to Phuket.

Phuket is what it is. We arrived and decided to stay in Phuket Town, because it was simply out of our backpacker’s price range to stay anywhere else. We ended up at On On Hotel, and assigned room number 11.

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Room 11

This coincidently was the same hotel that the movie The Beach was filmed in. We then made our way to the public bus to head over the mountain towards Patong Beach. This was quite a nice beach with a lovely sunset, however it was predominately occupied by older and more family oriented people then ourselves – thus it was vastly overpriced and charged for everything including beach access and chairs. We spent the evening on the beach and enjoyed it, however once we toured around the beach front and the surrounding area, we had decided that one day would be enough. We boarded a bus that ended up being the last bus back, which consequently was completely full of locals, which slowed down the journey down from 30 minutes to two hours. Once back in Phuket Town we walked a bit more around and found one restaurant that was open, but afterwards, we ended up making it a quiet night in a very quiet town.

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Patong Beach in Phuket

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The city center of Phuket

The next day we made our way by boat to Phi Phi Island, which was truly a delight once arriving. The island that was hit by the tragic boxing day tsunami was rebuilt and charming as usual. The first and most obvious distinction of Phi Phi is that there are no motorized vehicles, and the roads are more like walkways lined with shops, cafes and stores. We walked deeper into the island to find a hotel, and after walking past the Tsunami Memorial Garden and heading up the mountain we finally found a nice room perched up with a very good view of the town. That night we walked the market and small street like village, and finally turned it in early, knowing we once again only had a short visit to the island and wanted to make the most of our time there.

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The small streets of Phi Phi Island

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So up early and in swimsuits (which has been about a week since we could wear them) we set out to the beach and spent a lovely day sun tanning and observing the scenery. What was particularly attractive of Phi Phi’s beach was that it was in a bit of a cove, and surrounded by mountains, which provided a really calm waterfront and a beautiful contrasting blue water to the green mountains around it.

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The beach on Phi Phi

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However as it were we were off the next morning once again, but this time going to Koh Tao, which would prove to be quite a long journey. Waking up early after having a couple drinks the night before was difficult, but the boat ride to the mainland city of Krabi was painless. We opted to leave on this earlier boat because it gave us some time in Krabi to see a bit of the sights without having to spend the night. To our surprise, and miscommunication between the agent, we were driven for free into town where we were able to walk around for a couple hours. We headed straight down to the river, and saw the very impressive and yet unusual mountains while we sat on the river and ate lunch. Shortly after we headed back to the bus terminal and made our way to Surat Thani.

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Krabbi Streetlight

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The riverfront

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This is where things became a bit unusual. We arrived at 8:30 and were told to wait while the arranged to onward travel for people to Bangkok. Once they were gone they collected our tickets and sent us off in a taxi-pickup to a pier with other travelers heading to Koh Samui. Once getting there, the driver said that our boat was cancelled and we would have to spend the night. With our ability to smell a scam, we explained that we had no money and given the time were not able to arrange to get to a bank. We further stated that we were indifferent to taking the night boat to Ko Samui, and they could allow us to get on their morning boat to Ko Tao. This led to the driver yelling at us, the people who had to get on the Ko Samui boat breaking up the situation, and finally us getting back on the taxi to sort out the situation. We dropped some other people up, and then we headed to the downtown area to a hotel. We got off and were told that he would pay for the hotel, and we were satisfied with ending the day’s journey in a free hotel.

The following morning we were up at 6:30 as the driver instructed, only to find out that he made it up to irritate us from an unnecessarily early wake up call. This however wasn’t all in vain, because we were tragically entertained by watching the hotels video footage as a guy walked through the hotel testing the doors and going in. In this case, woke up three guys mid act to chase him out (passport in hand). We however did make it to Koh Tao, and on our way over met two girls from England, Katie and Leela, who were enrolled at Crystal Drivers and suggested we join them. This worked well for us, because not only did we want to enroll in a dive course, but we also got put up for free in one of the nicest hotels we have been in since we started.

The following day Monique was in the classroom beginning her Open Water Dive course, while Michael did a refresher before his Advance Dive Class. While Monique worked late into the evening, Michael ended up meeting Stefan, who shared beers and ended up persuading Michael to wait a day to start his course.

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The students

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Kinda

So on the second day while Monique was struggling with the concepts of breathing underwater, Michael was enjoying the beach life. At night Monique struggled with the experience of joining the underwater world, however did end up putting it behind her as we all went out for a stunning bbq on the beach, and drinks at several of Ko Tao’s finest bars.

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The Beachfront BBQ

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The entertainment (and in years to come)

The following day Michael began his dive class, however this was also the same day Monique decided that she was not able to complete the course. Monique did however reattempt the course privately with her very patient instructor, however was still unable to get past the concept of diving under water. Michael on the other hand was doing well, and was able to complete his Advance Diving course with a series of deep, night and navigation dives behind him. The last day we enjoyed the island for its beaches (despite them being a bit smaller than other islands’), and some proper rest and relaxation with our travel companions, including Emily who was our Danish friend we ran into again (despite her friend Martin being the one who departed/reunited with us in Bangkok a week previous).

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The sunset at Ko Tao

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Everyone out before our departure

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Running into Emily

The next morning we were off to reunite with Ko Phangan, and when we arrive, we were brought to Phangan Beach Resort. This was a lovely beach resort run by an English guy who set us up perfectly to enjoy our stay. We spent our first getting ready for Brent’s arrival, which when he came, was greeted by two people wearing flashing Santa hats. Now the three of us spent the next days leading up to Christmas sitting on the beach and catching up.

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Poinsettias for Christmas

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Michael found a garden center in Thailand

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Brent found the beach

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And Monique found these hats

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Getting ready for Andrew’s arrival

Christmas eve was spent celebrating in style on the beach, and then into the evening. We ended up at a bar with all of Santa’s former helpers who later ended up on his naughty list… Enough said.

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Christmas day we were up early and exchanged gifts and enjoyed a very calming day on the beach. At night however the resort put on a lovely Christmas Dinner, which we at first were not going to join because of the cost, but in the end, was happy we did. For starters it was put on by the couple who ran the resort, who happened to have a large part of their family staying there, which made it feel that must more family oriented. Second it was a lovely dinner complete with a spit roast pig and all you could drink wine. At dinner we met Ross and Laura, a Scottish couple who were loads of fun, and very beneficial to have at our table when the end of the night quiz was played. Our table ended up in fourth place, but by the grace of the third place team (the owners), we ended up with a beer tower, and then a free ride down to Hat Rin Beach. This led to more memorable events including Brent and Michael jumping in a fire skipping rope and becoming mysteriously covered in salt water and glow paint.

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The gift exchange

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Monique’s shirt

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Brent’s shirt

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Christmas day with family

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We rested, needless to say, but only a couple days later it was Monique’s birthday which was to be a celebration (since she often announces that he birthday is always shadowed by the holidays). However the persistent rain and the lack of funds was keeping us from getting it started. However a change of events and the lack of new accommodation led us to getting a motorbike, money, a new place for the 29th, and some part extras. With the help of the weather, the staff at our resort who not only went into town to pick up a freshly baked cake, but also turned down the lights and had everyone in the restaurant come and sing happy birthday, we celebrated more than we ever had! Unintentionally we ended up at Hat Rin once again and had a lovely night of celebrating.

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The pig for dinner

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The prize from the quiz at dinner

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Just before we set out for Hat Rin

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At the beach party

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Once again we rested on the beach, however after Monique’s birthday, we had to relocate to a new resort, this time called Charm Beach. This was truly a delight because Michael found a beach front bungalow for half the price where we spent our time both by the beach and by the fresh water pool. As our time drew to a close New Years also approached, which for us, meant a bit of a quiet night on New Years Eve. This however didn’t mean a quiet afternoon, where we ended up under shelter from the rain, and surrounded by the surplus drinks we had accumulated. We did make it to Hat Rin for one last time, however since we had to be up early we broke the New Year in together in the bungalow, which shortly ended the night. Up the following morning bright and early we separated ways from Brent and made out way to Surat Thani, which led us down to Hat Mi and eventually Malaysia.

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The sunset from Ko Phangan

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Monique’s Birthday Cake

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Us out for Monique’s Birthday, joined by one of the resort staff (Auto.. Like the Simpsons) and a gallon bucket.

Posted by koreaeh 06:18 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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