Posted in indonesia, padang, sumatra by moonwire on July 31, 2009

My flight to Padang was delayed by almost 6 hours, so I basically spent most of my day at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. There wasn’t all that much to do but there was a Starbucks and a good food place.

The flight itself was fine. It didn’t even take 2 hours to get there. Once the plane doors were open, I was out of the airport in 5 minutes (gotta love having only a carry on bag), and I found myself submerged in rain of biblical proportions. It was actually pretty cold, too. I expected it to be much hotter, being that close to the equator.

I got to my hotel in about 30 minutes. The hotel was okay. I did have to change rooms, from a double to 2x twin beds, but my second room was a lot nicer. Nice hardwood floors and a big wooden wardrobe (with no hangers – oh so Indonesian).

The big white building was my hotel; Hotel Nuansa.

My first night I didn’t do all that much. It was very rainy and windy so I ate at a little warung (tiny restaurant). The lady whipped up some fantastic nasi goreng (fried rice with a fried egg and prawn crackers). Padang food is supposed to be spicy and it definitely was. And cheap, too. My meal, with a drink, cost me 50 cents. Happy. After dinner I went back to my room as it was very stormy. I slept really well and woke up very early.

After brekkie, I decided to make a loop through the whole downtown core of Padang. I also wanted to check out the Batang Arau hotel. I had read that this hotel was situated near the harbour, in the old quarter of town. It used to be a bank, then converted into a very quirky hotel with four rooms. I had tried calling them from Jakarta but as my phone service died there, I didn’t think much of it when I was unable to reach them.

Lovely body art on display in the Old Quarter. Cantik!

My first mission however, was trying to find the Bukittinggi Wisata Express travel agent to book my ticket to Bukittinngi, a small town 2 hours north of Padang with stunning views of Mount Merapi (an active vulcano). I couldn’t find the agency for the life of me, but I did find a big mall with a lot of tiny little clothing stores selling loud t-shirts while blasting very loud, mostly cheesy punk rock music, from every corner.

As I couldn’t find the agency, I continued my walk into the old quarter. I did not encounter a single Westerner that day, but I felt like a celebrity. Everywhere I walked I heard ‘hellooo, misss’ and the occasional ‘hellooo, misterrr’. English sure isn’t widely spoken there.

Typical Indonesian street scene; dudes smoking and drinking at little roadside ‘restaurants’.

When I reached the Batang Arau hotel, it became clear why I hadn’t been able to reach them. They were closed. I peeked through the fence and it looked like it had been an amazing place. Too bad it’s no longer in business.

The now closed Batang Arau Hotel, which used to be an old (Dutch) bank building; ‘de Padangsche Spaarkas’.

Having said that, I could also understand why. Though personally, I enjoy just walking through towns, observing real life as opposed to touristy things, there isn’t all that much to draw the tourists in. Padang has gorgeous beaches surrounded by beautiful palm trees and there’s a promenade all along the beach with little outdoor restaurants. The only thing lacking is the customers. Just empty seats and tables. I also understand why. Though the beach has gorgeous sand and the water is warm, and there are great waves for surfing, there is so much litter on and around the beach, it’s shameful. No tourist wants to lie down between piles of empty cans and bottles and broken slippers. That’s one thing the people in Kuta/Legian (Bali) understand. Keep the beaches clean and the tourists will come.

Padang Beach; it must have been really nice many moons ago.

Kid at the one of many empty sea side restaurants.

I had a great day in Padang, though. I really enjoyed it. However, the issue of the travel agency was bothering me, so I called them. Out of business. No surprise, really.

Alley in the Old Quarter with the typical Padang ‘Minangkabau’ style pointy roofs.

Minangkabau style roofs are also used for modern buildings.

Having said that, I still had to get to Bukittinggi the next day, so I found the tourist office. Surprisingly, that hadn’t closed yet (still a matter of time). The man told me there are no more tourist buses to Bukittinggi. I would have to take local transport. He explained to me how to go about it and though it seemed a bit scary, I had no choice but to just do it. And I did. Sumatra style!

Padang’s old harbour. Despite the many wrecks and the shallow water, it is apparently still used.

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Posted in indonesia, jakarta, java by moonwire on July 29, 2009

I left Yogyakarta at 7 AM to catch a train to Jakarta. The ‘Argo’ (more luxury) trains were sold out, so I had to take a seat on the ‘bisnis’ train. Well, I didn’t expect ‘bisnis’ to be up to Western ‘bisnis’ class, but what I encountered then, I never expected. The seats were okay, but I wouldn’t call them exactly comfortable. They reminded me of the seats we used to have in Holland for the short distance trains.

But okay,  9 hours sitting on that would be do-able. Well, after about an hour into the ride, a whole bunch of people selling stuff embarked. Nasi goreng and chicken, drinks, cigarettes, fake wallets, mini sewing machines, teddy bears, slippers, toys. With the exception of the food, drinks and cigarettes, most sellers just threw the stuff onto your seat or lap so you’d have some time to grab some money. If you didn’t want it, they’d come back to pick up the crap. This went on for hours. At every station where we stopped, new ones came on. With the same stuff and the game started again. And it wasn’t just sellers getting on. I also saw drag queens doing bad music performers and a bunch of disabled people begging for money up and down the isles. The only thing missing were the goats and chickens.

Another curious thing is the habit of people to just throw their garbage out the window. Bottles, cups, cigarette butts, food left overs, newspapers. Off it goes, into the environment. The amount of garbage along the railroad is shocking.

The train is supposed to sell tickets for the seats, but it was obviously overbooked, or people booked a ticket without a seat. After an hour or two, people were sleeping in the isles and in front of the ‘kamar cecil’ (bathroom). Needless to say, after about 4 hours I was totally done with this. Luckily, the man who sat next to me arrived at his destination so I had 2 seats for myself and it was slightly more comfortable.

When we got into the outskirts of Jakarta, I noticed the people living next to the tracks. I had seen this in a documentary called ‘War Photographer’, about James Nachtwey. Severely shocking. People sleeping on dirty matresses in and on piles of garbage. Just horrible.

I arrived at Pasar Senen station at 5 pm. I took a cab to my guesthouse, which was situated in South Jakarta. After the bombings, I thought it would be better to hang out in a residential neighbourhood, rather than the touristy one. Well, it took me 2.5 hours in a continuous traffic jam to get there. When I finally got here, I was seriously surprised where I had ended up. It’s a huge house, with a swimming pool and it has just a few guest rooms. The people live upstairs. I wasn’t feeling it, and decided to move closer to the old city centre the next morning. I could just imagine trying to get to the airport from here. It might have taken me 4 or 5 hours.

I left the guesthouse at around 8 AM by cab. Even though I was once again stuck in traffic for an hour to get to Blok M where I would take the Transjakarta bus into the city, I was happy to be gone from that place. I can’t exactly say why I didn’t feel right there. The room was big and clean, there was a pool, but I just wasn’t able to relax (even though I did sleep very well). Also very strange, after I checked in, the people were nowhere to be found. I hadn’t eaten properly all day and was starving, but nothing to be had. The only one I saw around was a white dog (just a tad smaller than my dad’s best friend). He had one blue eye and one brown eye and he seemed to like me a lot. He creeped me out.

Anyways, after I hastily made my way out of the guesthouse, I arrived at Blok M. Blok M is a huge mall complex and bus terminal. When I bought my ticket, I asked the girl where I should get off for Jl. Jaksa, my next destination. She didn’t speak English but luckily a man who was also buying a ticket told me to just get the ticket. He was going in my direction and he said he’d tell me where to get off the bus. The bus ride was great. The Transjakarta buses are airconditioned , they have their own lanes and they don’t let too many people on at once, so it wasn’t crowded. When we got to the ‘Sarinah’ stop, the man told me to get off the bus and where to find Jl. Jaksa. I ended up taking an ojek, which is basically a very slow scooter with a bench in the back. It worked fine. I got on Jl. Jaksa and started looking for a guesthouse. This was also the first time in 2 days I encountered a tourist. I found a cheap guesthouse right away. It wasn’t exactly great; shared bathroom (cleanliness was obviously not their forte) but I was just so glad to be out of South Jakarta. Jl. Jaksa is a tiny street with lots of little restaurants, bars, guesthouses, used bookshops etc. I just put myself down at a place, read the newspaper, took advantage of the free wifi and drank tea. What a lovely afternoon.

After Ami was done with work, we met up. And it was really great meeting her. She was exactly how I expected her to be. And most surprising, to me at least, her English  is very very good. And not just because I’ve gotten used to hearing  ‘trrransport, trrransport, ya?’ but her accent is so good. She told me she learnt it from watching movies 🙂 We had some really great food (I forgot what it was called, but it was different pieces of tofu like things with spicy peanut sauce). Delicious. After dinner we went to a book store. It reminded me a bit of borders. Big store. Lots of English books as well. Didn’t end up buying anything but it sure was tempting.

Ami told me something very interesting that I didn’t know. Most Indonesian people don’t have a family name. When you see two names, those are just two given names. The last name is not a family name. Some people, like Soekarno, only have one name. Fascinating.

When I walked back from the Transjakarta bus station, I was simply amazed at what was happening in the streets. Lots and lots of little food stalls. People hanging out, talking, playing chess or guitar, eating, drinking. It was very very lively and for a moment I wished I had had another day in Jakarta to soak up more of this.

Though my stay in Jakarta didn’t start out so great I had a really good day in Jl. Jaksa and judging by the mood in the streets, I think Jakarta could actually be a great city to spend some more time in. ‘Maybe later, ya?’

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Posted in borobudur, indonesia, java, solo, yogyakarta by moonwire on July 20, 2009

I learnt another thing, going to Yogyakarta from Kuala Lumpur. Check your departure times. For whatever reason, I was convinced my flight left at 5 pm. Well, as it happened, I tried to print out my e-ticket at my hostel (something I never do) and then all of a sudden I realised my flight was at 3 and I would have to be at the airport in half an hour.

I quickly grabbed my bag, ran to the train station. Got the train to KL Sentral, got off, bought a ticket to the airport, got off, got the bus to LCC Terminal. I got there at around 2 pm. Line ups at immigration (of course) and honestly, I was pissing myself if I was going to make that flight. I arrived at the gate, just around boarding time. Then it was announced the flight had a two hour delay. Well, it was just enough to catch my breath and buy a sandwich and a drink. The flight itself was good. I arrived at my hotel, the Ministry of Coffee in Prawirotaman, at around 8 pm and when I was taken to my room, I was one happy camper. My room is simply amazing. It is very nicely decorated. It’s got a big bathroom with a tub and a fantastic shower and the best is that I have a private patio with a fish pond in front of it. The staff here is fantastic and so is the breakfast. Yes, it was more than I wanted to spend, but for 35 USD a night this is really something very special.

The first morning however, it wasn’t so great. I walked around the area and there wasn’t really much going on. It was also very hot and the air here was (is) very bad. I took it easy for the rest of the day, and at night I met up with Paul, the dutch guy I had met in Lovina already. We spent the next few days doing a few things as well as chilling out and enjoying some of the most incredible food at Via Via cafe down the street.

On Friday we went to Solo, if only to experience being on a train that locals use. The train ride was only about an hour. When we got out of the station, there was a local market and it was amazing. It was really run down and just looking at the flies buzzing around (and on) the meat took away any sense of wanting to eat something there, but the people were so curious and so friendly. They all wanted their picture taken and someone even asked if it was free to get their picture taken! It was such a different experience than I had expected. I had read that Solo was one of the least westernized and most conservative towns in Java. I certainly didn’t expect such a warm welcome. Just great. Even better, there were no tourists at all.

On Saturday we went to Malioboro street. Incredibly busy. Lots of food stalls (once again, no appetite), batik shops and stalls with just crap. It was lovely walking around there for a bit, but very tiring at the same time. So much going on. So busy and noisy. So much heat and smog.

On Sunday we went to the Borobudur. What a buddhist theme park it was. Bus loads of tourists, luckily mostly Indonesians, but it was hard to enjoy it for what it was with so many people. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t have to go back there ever again.

Then on Monday morning, we visited the Kraton, the Sultan of Yogyakarta’s palace. Kind of the same story. It’s nice to see, but I’m done with that kind of stuff rather quickly. I mostly enjoy the things around it, such as the people working there. Just observing what they do (or don’t, for that matter).

The funniest thing though was sitting in a becak, which is a bicycle with 2 (very small) seats in front. You get harassed to take one every other second here in Yogya. Well, after we visited the palace, we just wanted to sit down in the shade and have a ciggie. We paid a becak driver and sat down. He asked us where to take us. We said ‘nowhere and just rested in the becak, then we got out and continued our walk.

Yogyakarta was a lot of fun. There’s not all that many points of interest to me here, but just observing the local people’s lives is very interesting. This is the first time I’ve ever been to a so-called developing country’s big city. I’ve seen some things that make me feel really blessed for the life I have. My time here was just perfect;  a nice mixture of seeing stuff and just relaxing, enjoying the feel of the city, the good food and the company. Off to Jakarta tomorrow morning. I’ll be taking the train. It will be a 9 hour ride (at least). This could be interesting…

A ‘becak’ in Yogyakarta. There’s about 20 on every corner of every street and just as many inbetween.

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kuala lumpur

Posted in kuala lumpur, malaysia by moonwire on July 15, 2009

My flight to Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia was fine. It was only a 3 hour flight and it went by in no time as I also slept for about an hour. I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at around 10 pm.  It was also the first time I had to go through a thermal scanner but no Swine Flu was detected (yet). Immigration was quick and easy. At least Malaysia doesn’t charge for the visa stamp (In Indonesia it’s 25 USD to get in, plus another 15 USD to be paid in cash when you leave the country. Kaching!)

Colonial District: Merdeka Square.

Old Colonial district across from Merdeka Square.

I took the airport taxi into the city. It was a pretty long drive; over an hour. My hostel, the Matahari Lodge is on the edge of Chinatown. I arrived just before midnight. Because my booking had gone all wonky, initially I only had a room for Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. I booked a room for the Monday night at a nearby hostel, but as it turned out, somebody had cancelled at the Matahari and I was able to stay in their room for one night. It was a double room, too. However, on the last night I had to move rooms again and I’m now writing this from a single room on the second floor. The staff is really helpful and friendly here and there’s a living room with a few couches, a TV, computers with internet and lots of magazines, books and DVDs. And it all looks very new and it’s actually cozy (just to use that word).

The first day I was just exhausted and I had to get used to the heat and humidity again. The second and third day were much better, though it remained very hot. The air quality is really bad here. A lot of the time it’s very hazy so on top of the heat and humidity it really takes a toll on your system. Also, though it’s very hot it is mostly overcast here. I decided not to do too much. And even without doing too much, it was still very tiring. I spent most of my time in Chinatown and I ventured out to the Golden Triangle where the KL tower is, Little India, the Colonial District and the KL Lake Gardens (huge park). Chinatown is my favourite though. Tiny little alleys with little stalls selling meat, fish, veggies, noodles, cats (!) etc. Early in the morning before the tourist part of Chinatown opens there’s a flea market in one of the alleys. This was really a hidden gem. I did not see a single tourist, but a lot of useless junk instead 🙂

Early morning flea market in Chinatown.

Cleaning chickens in one of the back alleys of Chinatown.

Outdoor barber shop in Chinatown.

One of the best things here was buying a few t-shirts, which I couldn’t find in Bali (no, I was not going to wear a Bintang t-shirt or a ‘I love Bali’ tanktop). So I bought a real fake Ed Hardy shirt, a 711 t-shirt (which is my favourite) and a real fake Lacoste tank top. There’s tons of that stuff here. All fake and all cheap. You should see the rows of fake designer watches and handbags. Insane. Oh, and I also bought a USB charger for my ipod so now I’ll have tunes on the road again.

Masjid Jamek

Little India which didn’t look very ‘Indian’ to me.

However, in general the clothes in Chinatown are ridiculous. It’s almost impossible to buy a t-shirt without a print. And the prints usually consist of a bunch of random English words that don’t make sense or are just plain weird. Which amazes me, because they do speak very good English here. One of the best ones I saw was a t-shirt with the slogan ‘A happy ending is our national belief’. Uhm, okay.

Food is really cheap here. For less than a dollar you can get a bowl with noodles and a fried egg. I mostly ate the Chinese grub and though I found it rather tasteless in Hong Kong, it’s actually spicier here. Having said that, and I never thought I would, I am getting sick of rice. A really nice brie/avocado/tomato baguette would just be lovely. Or a slice of pizza with arugula and goat cheese. The novelty of Asian food has mostly worn off, but I do find some gems from time to time. Such as this one at an all veggie Chinese place:

The more modern part of town didn’t hold any of my interest. Looks just like any other modern city with large office buildings, shops like Mango and McDonald’s. Though I didn’t see and do all that much, I really enjoyed just sitting down and watching the people.  Kuala Lumpur is great for a few days but I can’t imagine spending a few weeks here.

Typical outdoors ‘restaurant’ in Chinatown.

Off to Yogyakarta this afternoon. Looking forward to having a Bintang again. Didn’t touch a drop of alcohol here in KL. It is available, but it’s relatively expensive. It’s amazing how I’ve gotten used to paying next to nothing for things.

Entertaining the thought of taking the train to Jakarta after my stay there and spending a bit more time in Sumatra. Bali has ruined me. All I want to do is chill out. “Maybe later, ja?”

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bye bye lovina, hello again sanur.

Posted in bali, indonesia, lovina, sanur by moonwire on July 12, 2009

My last week in Lovina was really fantastic. I met a Dutch guy at the Angsoka hotel,  Paul. He will stay in Lovina for 2 months and work as a teacher at a local school. When I met him at the pool, we started talking and we hung out for the rest of the week and it was a lot of fun. One morning we went into the village in the mountains on the motorbike and it was amazing. No tourists there, just local people. The views were stunning and the smell of dried cloves was all around. That’s what the real Bali is about, though Lovina was really pretty quiet the whole time I was there.

Roasting ‘babi guling’ (suckling pig) on Lovina Beach.

That night we went back into the village because some dude by the name of ‘Jimi Hendrix’ swindled us into going to a song and dance performance by a bunch of local kids. It sounded really good. He even let us read a testimonial by some woman who had been there before. Well, when they started I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. It was so out of tune and void of any consistent rhythm and LOUD. The girls were yawning away and well, we were laughing away. Especially when they invited the guests to join in with the dancing. Only one woman hit the dance floor. Oh my god! She was wearing a longish yellow t-shirt, that resembled a bad nighty at best. You could see her big white underwear riding up her ass right through it. It was like a car crash. Didn’t want to look, but also couldn’t look away. Though the performance itself was pretty chaotic, it was great to see the kids from the village watching from the sidelines. And well, it was an evening I’ll never forget.

Sunset at Lovina Beach.

On Friday morning I had to leave Lovina in order to go to Sanur. I didn’t want to make the entire journey from Lovina to Denpasar airport in one stretch. As it turned out, it only took 3.5 hours to get to Sanur. The same amount of time it took me to get to Lovina from Ubud. So I got here really early. I had booked a room at the Swastika bungalows again. I couldn’t get the cheapo room I had before so I had to shell out for the privilege of having A/C (prefer a fan, actually), hot water, a telly with 13 horrible, cheesy channels.

It’s amazing how different Sanur is compared to 3 weeks ago. Three weeks ago it was very quiet. Hardly any people and now the place is packed. My neighbours, Australians, have 2 small kids and they scream and throw things and they all speak loud. I can hear every single word. Australian tourists are definitely not my faves in general. I never thought I would say it but the Dutch people are the least annoying in general. I must say I’m glad to leave Sanur tomorrow. I cannot imagine staying here for more than 2 days. I really think Lovina is a gem and I hope it will never become anything like Sanur in high season.

View from my balcony at the Swastika bungalows in Sanur.

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lovina (part 2)

Posted in bali, indonesia, lovina by moonwire on July 6, 2009

I’ve been almost 3 weeks in Lovina now, and though last week I had a bit of a feeling that I was beached out, it pretty quickly faded away. I’m loving it here. My days are simple. I wake up around 7 am, get brekkie, go to the pool til about noon, go to my room and chill out a bit, get lunch, go back to either the pool or the beach and watch the sunset at the beach. Back to my room to get dressed for dinner. After dinner a night swim at the pool (so lovely, nobody there, the pool has lights under water). Then go for a walk through town or stay at my bird cage and have a Bintang. By 10 pm it’s bed time.

At first I thought I want to go to the big temple, the hot springs, Singaraja… but hell no. I love doing nothing. I’m never bored.

I did only one thing and that was taking a cooking class. It was really cool. Putu, the chef, picked me up at my hotel at 8.30, we then went to the market to buy the ingredients for our dishes. We then hopped into a bemo, which is a small mini bus with benches on both sides. It’s what the locals use for their ‘public transport’. And yes, they take anything and everything on board with them. And while the bus maybe seats 8, you’ll find yourself squeezed in with 10 others and some livestock. You get the idea.

Putu looking for potatoes at the local market.

Anyway, after we got off the bemo, we walked through the village to Putu’s house. His wife was already busy preparing the garlic. So we decided on making nasi goring, vegetable curry, Balinese potato fritters and gado gado. It wasn’t hard at all. Only the grinding of the pepper, hot peppers and garlic took me some effort but it was a lot of fun. As soon as we had prepared all the basic pastes, we got cooking. Hmmm the smells. It turned out great and the food was yummy. It was a lot of fun.

Putu’s wife Sari, who had just fried the peanuts for the gado-gado sauce.

The finished product!

Balinese cooking princess at work.

Other than that, as I said I don’t do much. I met a Dutch guy here, Paul, who’s in Lovina (also staying at the Angsoka hotel) for 2 months and he does some part time teaching here (he’s a teacher in Holland). We’ve had great talks and shared some good food and drinks. It’s really nice to meet people like him. I just find it funny that he’s also Dutch. The other really cool people I met were also Dutch (the ones I met in Legian).

Yet another sunset at Lovina Beach.

So, that’s pretty much it. I’m off to Sanur for 1 night on Friday. The drive from Lovina all the way to the airport is just too long. Especially since I’ll arrive in Kuala Lumpur late at night. I’ll be in Kuala Lumpur for 4 nights, then I’m off to Yogyakarta. I had the greatest difficulty finding a hotel there. All booked. Then my friend Ami, who lives in Jakarta, told me that weekend is a long weekend for Indonesians and they flock to tourist places. I should have researched this better as I would have taken the train to Singapore and fly out from Singapore after the long weekend. But oh well. It’s done now. I only have 4 nights booked at the Ministry of Coffee in Yogya. It seems like a really really nice place, but it costs me my daily budget. I’ll have to think of another place to go in East Java before I head to Pangandaran, west of Yogya, on the coast for a few days of relaxing on the beach.

Oh yes, I do have a really nice tan.

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