Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Time spent: 21 days
Mosquito bites: things keep biting my feet and ankles, they look a right state
On budget/time: Well made my plane and just about on budget
Lost/stolen: Lost the hat in unfortunate wind incident
Sound of Indionesia: Everyone likes to play music in Indonesia, many a person is seen strumming a guitar. On transport was subjected to a variety of local music from amateurish to extremely slick.
Taste of Indonesia: The food here was pretty poor, except in expensive places in Ubud and Kuta, otherwise it was just more Mie Goreng and Nasi Goreng and Sate.
Drink of Indonesia: Beer Bintang wasn't so bad.
Highlights of Indonesia: Borobudur, volcanoes, and Tirta Gangga

If you been following the blog you'll know I found it harder going in indonesia. In Sumatra because there were so few tourists there was a lot of touting, but not ripping off (unlike Bali). Maybe it was just a culmination of all the time in Asia that made ready to leave. i found it hard to meet other travelers here, but the locals were extremely friendly (first country I've been to peoples houses, and, er, played badminton.

It was the longest I'd spent in a country since India too.


Not much to say about Kuta really, I think Henrik summed it up before. I was even less in the mood for this kind of place than I'd usually be, and really just killing time before I flew out. I didn't even go in the sea. I did bump into Sarah though, which was nice actually, and she looked well (apart from the stookie on her leg!).

Hmm, nothing else to say, didn't even take any photos here. I wanted to buy a T-shirt but despite there being 2000 T-shirt shops they only sold the same 3 T-shirts, and I didn't fancy the Bintang wifebeater. Transport? Taxi? Massage? Woman? No thanks, do I look like that sort of person? I was still hiding from the sun a bit while here, spent a lot of time online. Most boring post ever.

Monday, May 19, 2008


I got to Ubud in time for lunch after more tiresome negotiations for transport, I'm sure I was ripped off but I payed a lot less than the tourist bus. On the way we passed a poster for an up coming music festival. As well as 4WD and XXX (who looked like boy-bands from their pictures) there was "also perform: scared of bums". Scared of bums then. Straight from the top drawer of band-naming, because aren't we all, in our own way, a little, scared of bums? In Ubud I found another nice cheapo place to stay with free breakfast and a cheapo place for lunch and then for a wander through the town to the Monkey forest.

As you might expect the monkey forest was full of monkeys, aggressive little blighters who would try to nick anything vaguely edible, but I managed to hold them off on an attempt for my water bottle. Did feel a bit dodgy among the big troupes of them, but it was a nice setting with some little temples, which had interesting statues on them (a very different style than I'd got used to in most of India and SE Asia). Then I went for a walk, heading vaguely towards the "Elephant Cave" but soon realised I was not very comfortable in the sun and was getting a bit irritated to headed back to my room. The town itself is quite pleasant with lots of nice (expensive) restaurants and shops (I didn't make a purchase from the "Cak" art store as it looked -by name and -by nature). On the second day I didn't do much again except go to a museum and in the evening I went to see a Balinese dance show. These were both very good. In the dance show it was nice to hear the full gamelan orchestra let rip as well, as I'd just heard the same repetitive temple music again and again all over Indonesia. The next day I left on a minibus to Kuta at 1030am, and again it really poured down in the morning, so I didn't bother making a trip to the market I'd thought about.

This should be a caption competition.

One of several really freaky statues.

Balinese Dancer.

Lovina and Tirta Gangga

After leaving the volcanoes of East Java I took the 40 minute ferry across to Bali. "Entertainment" on board was provided by a guy at the front giving a shopping channel style presentation trying to flog the biggest pile of crap ever. There was also music blaring out from the back: music is everywhere in Indonesia, and this was from the "video looks like it was filmed at a shitty local wedding" school that I'd seen before, but this time it had a modern bent, with the chorus repeating "missed call lagi" and the word SMS peppered throughout the verses.

Once ashore I began what would be a week long battle of haggling minibus and bemo (little share taxi minibus) fares as Bali is definitely one of these places where tourists are seen as walking wallets (see outburst below). I'd decided I was on a bit of a budget push in Bali as I'd been kind to myself after being ill, but was still pretty tired after the 430am rise when I got to Lovina, so despite getting a nice cheap accommodation I signed up for a dolphin spotting boat trip the next morning, I really don't know why! I spent 2 nights in Lovina and really didn't do much apart from the aforementioned dolphin trip, some interneting and write some postcards (I even read some of the Physics papers I've been carrying around all this way!).

The dolphin trip wasn't bad, getting to see the sunrise from out on the water, and we did get to see dolphins pretty close. As always I ended up in the bum seat right at the front and got not a little wet. I also lost my hat overboard in the wind, but managed to scoop it back up when we went back for it (a temporary reprieve it turns out). I shared the boat with a German couple, and I got a frugal breakfast of tea and biscuits as well. On my last evening there I found a bar with the cheapest happy hour to have a few beers while I wrote some postcards etc. It had a friendly gang of cats, but unfortunately they were playing James-fucking-Blunt. When the album looped around for the 3rd time I had to ask them to change it, but was told it was "his friends album" and it stayed on, so I left!

Later that day I was in an internet cafe when an older woman (who I reckon by accent was German) came in and asked if the advertised superfast internet really was superfast. Upon discovering that it wasn't ( though it was about as fast as anywhere else in Indonesia) she began an irate rant along the lines of "Why do you fuck people for money in this country?". The woman in the shop didn't understand, or wasn't letting on, so the customer just kept repeating herself. " You fuck people for money in this country, why do you do it?". After a while she had a revelation: "The government must fuck you for money in this country, that's why you fuck people for money" And so on. Eventually she departed with a door slam, but returned just to ram home the point: " You are fucked by the government for money!" Well I must admit I was struggling to keep a straight face, but it is true that Indonesia, especially Bali, is bad for touting and overcharging.

After Lovina I wasn't really sure where to go, deciding I didn't really have the time, money or energy to go to the Gili Islands so in the end I opted for a night in Tirta Ganga (which means water of the Ganges), towards the east coast of the island. This turned out to be a good decision. After negotiating 3 bemo rides I got there and found an excellent cheap room right opposite the water palace. Then I went to the water palace itself, full of ornamental statues and fountains, and pools, including some that you can swim in, which I did, along with some little fish. Again I felt some of the long bus trips soaking away while I was in the water, and having visited the water gardens and palace baths in many places, this was the first time I was able to swim in it and get a feel for how it must have been. After that I went for a walk along the roadside, as Tirta Gangga is surrounded by beautiful rice paddies. Fortunately I bumped into a procession on its way to a temple. Unfortunately I lost my hat when it was blown of in the gust from a passing lorry! It disappeared down an steep embankment and my attempts to fish for it with a long stick failed, oh well. I took some more time to relax, which I've been doing a lot of in Bali, and left the next morning for Ubud, about which I'd heard nothing but good things.

One of the pools at Tirta Gangga, in which I swam.

Paddys near Tirta Gangga.

Religious procession.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Volcanoes in East Java

I set out from Yogjakarta on the first leg of my 3 day trip, this just being a long bus journey (12 hours) to Cremono Lawang on the side of Mount Bromo. The only other passenger was a grumpy Chinese girl and the journey was quite boring, and my iPod batteries ran out and is was too bumpy to read (diddums). We arrived in the dark so had no idea what the mountain looked like at this stage. The hotel was very nice and I had a very nice dinner (unusual in Indonesia!) before an early night as it was a 330 rise the next day to get to a summit viewpoint for sunrise (obscene, I know).

As the other mountain which looks across at Bormo where we were to spend sunrise was nearly 3000m high it was well Baltic at 430 am when we got there. Genius-boy here had decided to stick to his sandals so his feet were freezing! We were given the most pathetic packed breakfast imaginable too. In the end it was another disappointing sunrise, with too much cloud. However, the view from the top down to Bromo (an active volcano with smoke rising from it) and the nearby perfect cone of a dormant volcano within the larger Tenneger crater was very nice. When the sun was well and truly up we then drove down to the foot of Bromo and climbed up to the crater rim and walked around. On this trip there were 6 of us in the jeep and I finally met some nice people in Indonesia! As well as the grumpy Chinese girl there was a Dutch couple and a French couple (well French speaking, she was from Reunion Island). From the crater rim you could see the smoke rising (and smell the sulphurous smell) and on the outside it was nice to look over the desolate moonscape of the larger crater.
By 9am it was time to get back on the bus, and various transfers later I was on another bus for a surprisingly long journey to Sempol village with a nice Swiss couple and an excellent friendly guide called Tommy.

On the way we stopped by a coffee plantation, and it turns out about the only people who live in the village are workers on the plantation and in the factory. On arrival Tommy took us to see the coffee processing plant (including the Civet cats for the special coffee!), and then we went to the home of our driver and had tea and macadamia nuts! Back to the hotel, and a very nice hotel it was too, with a swimming pool and a hot tub. I sat in the tub for ages and could feel some of the bumpy bus journeys soaking away. Dinner was then a buffet which offered up the same old Indonesian suspects, giving quantity but not quality!

It was up at a more respectable 430am the next day and we headed for Ijen crater. It was quite a hike up to the rim this time, again at a height of about 3000m. We shared the path with sulphur miners who carry around 80kg of sulphur each down from inside the crater (that's more than I weigh) twice each morning. At our guides suggestion we'd bought some sugarbread and cigarettes to give to them as we passed. The view from the crater rim was spectacular, down to the lake in the crater and the "Kitchen" area at the side where the poisonous gas and sulphur well up from the Volcano. The lake looked blue and inviting, especially when you hear it was 40 degrees, but then you're told the pH is 0.4 and realise you wouldn't last long in it. We descended the crater right down to the Kitchen, a French tourist died doing this a few years back, but she went in the afternoon against advice (the wind changes and blows the gas and smoke onto the path). This was a real experience and not one I expected as it wasn't in the guide book (but they get lots of French as there was a famous documentary about it there). After that the decent back to the bus was sore on the knees (and I wasn't carrying 80kg of sulphur), and I has some very nice fried banana before we set off. About 12 noon I was dropped at the ferry terminal to make my way across to Bali. (Incidentally, apparently most of the Sulphur goes to Japan to make face whitening cream).

This is Bromo in the background (the smokey one)

This is Ijen crater, see the sulphur on the left and the lake on the right.

Here's the "Kitchen" where they chip the sulphur away from. On the right there's a set of baskets that they carry on their backs weighing about 80kg.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Yogkarta (and Borobudur, Paramban)

Suffice to say I didn't sleep very well on the bus to Yogjakarta. I got there at 9am and found a very nice guest house, and took an AC room for the first time anywhere as they only had those. After a nap I went charged off on foot into the city and found Yogjakarta an actually quite nice city in Indonesia! The people were very friendly, and some of them were not even trying to sell me batik! I visited the palace, which wasn't really up to much, the old Dutch fort, which was somewhat lacking in English translations, and the Water Palace, which was a bit of a difficult to find warren. Like everywhere else I'd been in Indonesia I found it had a very empty and dead feel, with lots of restaurants and guides set up for tourists, but very few actual tourists there.

The next day I took a trip out of Yogjakarta to Borobudur and Paramban temples leaving at 5am (these early rises became a habit in the days ahead). Borobudur was truly spectacular, and finally something worth seeing in Indonesia! It's a huge Buddhist stupa, but what really makes it is the surroundings early in the morning with low-lying mist and views to surrounding green hills and far off volcanic peaks in the background. Here a few tourists appeared, but we were enough of a novelty that locals wanted their pictures taken with us. This was the first time there was a westerner on my bus as there was one Canadian girl (and lots of Japanese). After visiting another small Buddhist temple we went to Paramban, where there are a selection of large Hindu temples. Unfortunately they were damaged in an earthquake a few years ago and it's still not safe to go inside. From the outside they weren't bad, but after seeing similar but better eslewhere on my travels it wasn't too exciting!

Another night in Yogjarkata and the next morning I set off on a three day trip to volcanos in east Java that I'd payed a bit of money for (but not too much!).


Water Palace in Yogjakarta.

Borobudur at Sunset.

Borobudur again, volcano in background.

Temple at Paramban.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I flew into Jakarta from Padang to avoid the 30+ hour bus trip. It was a Ryanair style flight (Jokeshop village BBB) and I had to pay extra at the airport for the luxury of taking my luggage with me and for using the airport too. On top of this they had the gall to confiscate my insect repellent, which was in my hold luggage, and had already flown all the way from Glasgow. So if I get malaria you know who to blame!

I dozed a bit and didn't get the view of Krakatoa I was hoping for. I did however see quite a few idyllic looking little islands. Arriving in Jakarta airport I managed to find the bus to to town but it got stuck because the road was flooded due to a burst dyke of a paddy field. As always I was quite tired when I got into town, but I found a hotel on what was meant to be the main budget accommodation area, but was still pretty dead, and had a pizza and some overdue internetting before bed. The next day after a leisurely morning I headed for the old square on the local train. The square is surrounded by some pretty crappy museums (I went to the history museum and the shadow puppet museum) as well as an old colonial bar/restaurant called Cafe Batavia. I decided to have lunch here as I'd not gone to the Raffles hotel in Singapore or any other such place. I had a Greek Salad (mmm Feta, they were a bit stingy with it though) which was about the cheapest thing on the menu, but it was nice to eat in such surroundings. Mid-afternoon I headed back on the train, and realised I'd ridden in on the AC train when I only had a ticket for Economy, tsk tsk. It was then a bit of a walk (on this walk I passed a police car with a rather fetching Winnie the pooh window shade stretched across the windscreen, I'd have taken a photo if I hadn't thought the snipers might get me as it was outside the Japanese Embassy) to the Plaza Indonesia Mall where I was meeting Lauren's mum, Ann (Lauren being my brother Ewan's girlfriend, for those who don't know (is anyone actually reading this??)), who works in Jakarta with her husband, who was off on site in Papua.

I got my tea and a few beers bought, which was nice! We went to the Hard rock cafe first, which was a bit of an empty barn, and they played Robbie-fucking-Williams. Then we went to a place called the Jaya Pub which was pretty cool but a bit dead, before going somewhere Mexican for dinner. Then her driver(!) dropped me by my Hostel. Very nice to meet someone I knew (vaguely!) and have a chat and some western comforts.

The next day I went to visit the national tower in freedom square. It was Saturday and I arrived at a bad time right after a big group of school kids so it was a long time queuing for the little slow lift to the top. I then tried to go to another museum nearby but it was shut for the afternoon, oh well. That evening I got the bus overnight to Yogjakarta (14 hours).

This cannon has been around a bit, captured by the British, Dutch and Portugese at various times I think.
View of Jakarta from up the National Monument.
This museum looked nice, but was shut.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Danau Toba and Bukittingi

First while I remember let me share some of the rules from my hotel in Medan:
"No off elektrical appliancesis trickly"
"Don't throwing deposit anywhere and don't writing on the wall"
I think I managed to obey.

Danau Toba was about 10 hours total journey from Bukit Lawang, and I did most of it in mini-bisus just trying not to be too ill. Once more I didn't see any other westerners on this trip, until the ferry over to Tuk-tuk where there was a typical Ozzie. Danau Toba is a huge crater lake with an island in the middle, at a height of 900m. It's so big that you can't really see that it's an island so can't get an impression of the craterness. The volcanic explosion that created it thousands of years back left particles all over the planet. Now the island is a bit of a resort, though it was mainly locals when I was there. I spent two nights here and did absolutely nothing: just ate (at the rather disappointing restaurant) and read and slept in order to convalesce. I didn't even go in the water as it didn't look that inviting (it could get a bit chilly at 900m) and I also wanted to stay out of whatever sun there was.

After two nights there I took the overnight (18hour) bus to Bukttingi. By this time I'd almost got better, but I'd lost my guide book and was a bit lonely. As the bus was air conditioned it was a bit chilly in my shorts, again I was the only westerner and everyone else seemed to have brought a blanket. I had to use my sense of direction when I got to Bukttingi (which means big hill) and eventually found an almost helpful tourist office where they pointed me towards a guest house. As ever they were very friendly there and I spent the afternoon looking at the canyon, the Japanese tunnels from the war time, fort de cock (a very crappy dutch fort) which came with a pretty depressing attached zoo. The next day I went on an all day tour with one other person, a Dutch guy. Given that there was a driver and a guide and us two were in the back of the car it felt like a family trip rather than a tour. We saw various things that were unspectacular on there on but gave us a feel of the area. As well as a meeting house we saw a coffee plantation and factory and various things that escape my mind, but it was a good day and I ended up being challenged to a game of badminton by the guide. I had to get some new shoes for this (hard to get a big enough size) which allowed me to throw away my old ones which were pure stinking! In the end I was comprehensible gubbed, being well unfit and out of practice, I'd still have been gubbed anyway, but would have given more of a game. The next day I got a minibus to the airport where I was to fly to Jakarta, as I didn't fancy the 30+ hour bus journey that was the other option.


The uninviting water at Danau Toba where I convalesced. 
Gorge at Bukittingi.

Bear doing its exercises.

Strange waterwheels. 

Friday, May 9, 2008

Medan and Bukit Lawang

The boat across from Malaysia was a lot smaller than I expected, I was expecting something akin to a channel ferry, but it was more of a big speedboat about 20m long, which meant you were pretty much confined to your seat for the whole 6 hour journey, with only the cultural ambassador of my future home, Mr Jean-Claude Van Damme, on the telly for entertainment. It was an expensive trip too, it would probably have been cheaper to fly.

Medan where you arrive at the other end, is a city of several millions and not a nice one at that. Full of traffic and pollution, the pavements are also a hazard with man size holes to the sewer below every couple of meters. I stayed near the central mosque and was consequently woken up at 5 in the morning by a very loud call to prayer. The bar restaurant I visited in the evening here was full of old male ex-pats with their young Indonesian girlfriends.

Next day I got a mini-van to the out of town bus station to get to Bukit Lawang. The bus I got there hung around for quite a while, and the journey, though only three hours, was accompanied by blaring music, chain smoking passengers and no air-conditioning, as well as a terrible road. It was on this trip that I started to feel sick!

I got to Bukit Lawang, found a hotel, succumbed to a guide who sold me a 3 hour walk into the jungle the next day though I didn't feel to great and then went for lunch to a Tony's pizza and pasta place, which had no pizza or pasta. I did have fruit salad in a desperate attempt to regain my health. In the afternoon I went to see the Orangutans at the feeding centre. This was great seeing them come out of the jungle a getting close enough to feel a bit scared. Although it was less than half an hours walk (and a dodgy canoe trip across the river) I felt well grotty after it, and the sun was really quite fierce. Afterwards I went straight back to my guest house and had some very uncomfortable sleep. When I ate my dinner I was freezing and then really hot and had a very rough night. The next morning I decided I wasn't up to my trekking in the jungle, so instead spent 9 hours traveling to Danau Toba!

Bukit Lawang was quite nice, still obviously recovering from the flash floods they had a few years ago, and it was very quiet in terms of tourist numbers. There was a lot of animal life even around the village and I felt I'd have seen a lot more on my trek than I did in the jungle in Malaysia.

Mosque in Medan.

Transport across the river to Orangutans.

An Orangutan. 

Sunday, May 4, 2008


Time spent: about 10 days
Mosquito bites: a few, and more damn leeches
On budget/time: Just about, started staying in dorms!
Lost/stolen: I had to chuck my favourite trousers and a pair of socks as the were so stinky and covered in blood stains (from leech bites half way up my shins) to keep!
Sound of Malaysia: One bus journey came with terrible cheese, I'm talking "total ecllipse of the heart" and ABBA. Takes me back!
Taste of Malaysia: Much Indian food, but Nasi Goreng and Mee Goreng (Fried rice/noodles) were staples
Drink of Malaysia: Cameron Highland tea! plus the odd Tiger beer or Beer Chiang
Highlights of Malaysia: KL was a fun city, and the people everywhere were friendly. Taman Negara was an experience!

I really enjoyed Malaysia. I didn't really know what to expect, but I found the people very friendly, and not much warrant of its strict Muslim reputation (though I did meet a guy who said he had to convert to get a job). It was less touristy than Thailand, and the multicultural aspect, with big Indian and Chinese communities, made the towns and cities all lively and friendly. Only shame is I didn't see many animals in Taman Negara, it seems to me that at Bukit Lawang in Indonesia it's far more likely.

Penang (Georgetown)

Penang was somewhere I was really just going to get the boat to Sumatra, but there's only one boat a day so I had an afternoon and evening to spend there. It was quite pleasant, a former British colonial outpost with grander buildings than the almost village like Dutch structures in Melaka. I visited the fort which, was pretty good, and had some Mina birds I was tempted to teach to swear in Scottish. I aslo went to the museum, which unfortunately I only had 30 mins in before it shut. It was surprisingly good as it was so cheap and only about Georgetown (the main town on Penang Island, also sometimes called Penang). I had good cheap Chinese and Indian meals here too, as like all town in Malaysia it comes with a Chinatown and a little India. I bought my ticket for the boat to Sumatra the next morning, and was a bit shocked at the price, it would probably have been cheaper to fly. Next morning after a lot of waiting around to clear customs I finally left Malaysia about 10am (though I had finally left mainland Eurasia the day before!).

Can't remember who he is, first governor probably.

Replica of first camp, inside the fort.

Colonial Building.

The Cameron Highlands

A very comfy (shock!) bus trip, if the road was not a little windy, got me to the Tanah Rata, the main town of the Cameron Highlands around lunch time. A poor display of map-reading/poor map lead to me lugging my pack around town for a bit before finding the hostel I was looking for, perched on a small hill. After a nice Indian lunch in town it was past three and since I was well knackered after a few late nighs+early mornings, and the weather looked ominous, I decided not to bother with a trek on one of the numerous paths around the area at that time, instead buying some postcards and bits and bobs and retiring to the hostel.

In the hostel I had a few cups of Cameron Highland tea (for that is what they mostly grow there) and watched the expected downpour materialise, and what a downpour it was, lasting for hours - though I think the next evening's eclipsed it! The hostel showed dvd's in the evening so I took the opportunity to watch a few recent movies, as it'd been a while: No Country for Old Men, Juno, and I gave half my attention to Charlie Wilson's War. I read a bit and had an early night, having booked on a half day trip the next day.

The trip first took us up the highest peak in the area, with stops to take in the view of the plantations on the way up. Although it was overcast, the viewpoint at the top was not shrouded in cloud, which we were told was our good luck. Then on the way down the hill we stopped and headed into the forest on the so called "mossy forest walk" and a mossy forest it was too. Also a muddy forest as one girl who decided to wear white shoes, and another who nearly lost hers in the mud discovered. While it took in a few good viewpoints, the main point of this walk was that we had a good guide who explained properties of many of the plants. I found this really worthwhile.

Next up we visited a tea plantation and the factory where they process the leaves (it all just smells mainly of privet). This belonged to the biggest firm in the area, still owned by the original Scottish family that founded it (called Archibald if I remember correctly). Then there was an obligatory trip to the cafeteria overlooking the plantations for a very nice pot of top quality tea. Here endeth the trip, but those only doing half a day were dropped off so that they could visit the butterfly gardens and Strawberry farm.

So off to the butterfly garden I went, with Louise from London, who was also on the trip. It was full of an amazing number of exceptionally docile Rajah Brooke Butterflies (among others). They are pretty distinctive and I'll have a photo soon, Rajah Brooke was the Brit who managed to inveigle himself to be Rajah of Sarawak before giving it to the crown when he ran out of money. They would happily sit on a person when put there. The gardens also had collections of other huge and gruesome insects and reptiles which you could be photographed with.

The Strawberry farm wasn't really much to see, but I took the opportunity to have tea and scones (and Strawberry Jam), a Cameron Highlands must do, while sitting out another downpour under cover. We walked to the nearest town before getting a taxi back. Then spent a pleasant evening watching the movie then having a few beer Chiangs in the Hostel. Compared to the glam people and hostel in Singapore, this was more like a hostel in rural Scotland, with people reading and playing board games while the rain poured down outside!

I actually got up at 3am to watch Man U Barcelona as some other guys were doing so in the hostel. Back to bed at 5am for less than two hours before I had to head for my bus to Penang.

Tea plantations.

A Rajah Brooke Butterfly!

Tea and scones!