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Published: June 23rd 2013
Apologies in advance for the length of this blog. I'm 2 countries behind! So picking up where the last blog left off - Singapore was so cool! We only stayed for two full days because it was crazy expensive for those on a backpacker budget. Saying that, we decided to do the expensive stuff! We began our sight-seeing at the National Singapore Museum where answering 'yes' to the assumed question, 'you're both students?' gave us free entry! Result! We started with a gallery exhibiting a Singaporean artist's work then made our way through the longest
audio guided tour in the world. We went through Singapore's entire history and it took FOREVER. It's impossible to stay riveted for that
long but I tried my best. It was very in depth, looking at periods of history as short as two or three years and it was interesting, just perhaps a slight overkill. After the museum we wandered to the famous Raffles hotel. It was lovely to look at but there was no way we could afford even a water from that place! We decided to spend our pennies on the Singapore Flyer, Singapore's bigger version of the London Eye. The biggest in the
world don't you know! We went up and got a great view over Singapore and it's impressive skyline. We used the Singapore tube system to get back to our hostel where I'd made us sign up for a free scooter tour around the city. And when I say 'scooter,' I do mean the ones you push with one leg, not the motorised ones - don't get visions of me cruising around Singapore on a Vespa looking cool and chic. 'Dorky but fun' is the best way to describe the scooter tour! We set off and after about a minute Beth's flipflop broke so she decided to head back and skip the tour. I set off with the group and we rode all over town! First through Little India to Arab street to view Sultan Mosque and streets famous for shopping. We then rode to the Raffles hotel and down through gorgeous parks to the river. We rode along to Clarke Quay and stopped to grab a drink and dinner (a satay selection of beef, chicken and duck - YUM). Then we rode out to the shore line, looking back at the Singapore skyline taking in sights such as the Singapore
Singapore at night, note the Marina Bay Sands hotel to the left and Singapore Flyer to the right.
Marina Bay Sands hotel is the three buildings with what looks like a boat on top. Singapore Flyer is the glowing blue wheel.
Flyer, Marina Bay Sands hotel and the sea of high-rise buildings. The city looks incredible at night! We then rode to the Botanic gardens and watched their night show. Then to the Marina Bay Sands hotel, down to the mouth of the river to watch the water show. It was all so well done! They played a film through jets of water and light - mind blown. We ended up covering 15km in 5 hours and I had an absolute blast! Fully grown adults speeding through Singapore on scooters might sound silly but it was something different and a fun way to see so much of the city. It's up there with one of the best things I've done on this trip, I absolutely loved it!
Next day we went to Sentosa Island, Singapore's theme park! We went to Universal Studios and had such a fun day! It was good to do something different although it felt very Western, like we could have been in Florida. We intended to go to the Night Safari that eve but we booked flights to Jakarta for the next morning requiring us to get up at 5:30am so we decided to give the
safari a miss. Instead I settled onto one of the sofas in the communal area where a woman staying in our dorm had just put on 'Once'. Brilliant! One of my favourite films! The woman singing along (badly) at the top of her voice, making up many of the lyrics AND at one point, muting the film entirely so that she could sing along to Adele instead - not so brilliant! Ah, the nut-jobs you can meet in hostels. Anyway, we flew from Singapore to Jakarta on the 23rd May and spent our first afternoon exploring Jalan Jaksa and the surrounding area, supposedly the backpacker part of town but it seemed to be distinctly lacking backpackers. The next day we set off to sight-see and began with the National 'Monas' monument in Merdeka Square. There's a museum in the base of the monument depicting Indonesia's history. We made our way around and I soon became aware of a group of men staring and pointing at me ... they asked for a picture, I obliged and this was just my first taste of the notoriety of 'tourist in Indonesia'. The picture-taking there reached a whole new level compared to the rest
of Asia. If we visited somewhere like a temple or palace, we were swarmed! We took the lift up to the top of the monument where you get a view over Jakarta. After, we made our way on the public buses to Old Jakarta and went to the famous Cafe Batavia for a fancy lunch! It was a delightful cafe, very stylish and situated above a nice square where we could people watch and see tourists going in and out of museums; Indonesian children riding bikes; vendors selling souvenirs. I loves a people watch! I could have sat there for hours but instead we decided to peruse the Wayang museum detailing the history of puppetry in Indonesia. I learned nothing as there was no English info but I had a good look around! We wandered down to the harbour but could only find a dirty river so decided to head back for dinner and drinks.
Next day we departed from Jakarta and headed to Bandung. We decided to head east through Java towards Bali. We took the train: our first proper train ride in Asia! We've taken overground/underground metro type trains in Bangkok, KL and Singapore but this was
a proper train and a long distance journey. We arrived in Bandung in the early evening and explored the area, acutely aware that we were the only tourists in town. The next day we set off to see Tangkuban Prahu Volcano. We jumped on a public minivan, crawled through hours of traffic crammed in with all the locals, taking detours to drop so-and-so right to her door down horrible bumpy roads only to get halfway and be told to get out! The locals paid 2000rp for their journey, we paid 20,000rp. Seemed slightly unfair! Then into another minivan, still en-route to the volcano. We get to the entrance, pay the fee and are told that you can't possibly walk up to the volcano so you can pay the minivan driver an extortionate price and he'll take you. With so many other options, how could we possibly refuse? So up we go, feeling very ripped off, get to the volcano and hop out to look around. I was
impressed with my first volcano, staring down into the crater, walking around ... but
there were only so many angles to see it from, only so far you could walk, only so many
times we could be bothered to pose for pictures with locals before we decided to head back. Another two hours of traffic, crowded minivans, being kicked out of one and into another and suddenly our driver demands we get off. We refused as we didn't know where we were so he took us a little further then tried again. This time he absolutely insisted, stopped the van and came round to the door practically dragging us out. We again said we didn't know where we were but he pointed up the road and drove off. We started walking, eventually located ourselves on the edge of a map and realised he was sending us in the wrong direction. Classic. So we started walking back when joy-oh-joy, the skies open. We ducked into a restaurant and I couldn't help thinking this day had been just a little bit ... crap. Most of it was spent squished in minivans, staring at the traffic jams around us! We had to get a taxi back because the poor drainage system in Bandung had turned the roads into rivers and we were feeling just a little bit fed up!
We left Bandung the next day
on another long train journey to Jogjakarta. Jogja was a lovely place but again, a bit quiet! It seems most tourists just fly directly to Bali and skip Java. We perused the night market, went to a museum, visited the Sultan's Palace, caught the end of a wayang golek wooden puppet show, went to a Batik art gallery and learnt how they make paintings. We also went to visit Borobudur and Prambanan temples which were impressive, particularly Borobudur, the largest Buddhist monument in the southern hemisphere - oh that's a point! I've now been in the southern hemisphere for the first time in my life! Borobudur is set to the backdrop of volcanoes and was very picturesque but the Hindu Prambanan temple complex really didn't 'wow' us. Having already done something similar spending three days exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia we weren't as impressed as perhaps we would have been were we fresh-faced tourists. We were also stopped for about 10 minutes while hundreds of school children crowded around us to take our picture! Why take a picture of the temples when you could take a picture of us? That was pretty much it for Jogja, nice but nothing that
exciting. We did have the delight of visiting Pizza Hut one evening which I can already understand, doesn't really sound like a delight BUT stay with me, our friend had told us that Indonesian Pizza Hut offer something called the 'crown crust' which basically means a stuffed crust pizza, stuffed with CHICKEN NUGGETS AND CHEESE! I cannot stress this enough: absolute genius! It was a nice Western fix and considering we'd only managed to find about 5 other travellers in town, it was something to do!
We left Jogja to go to Bali and our journey provided two of the longest days of my life. We left at 8:30am, expecting to arrive at 7:30pm in the Bromo region, ready to get up and climb Gunung Bromo volcano for sunrise before continuing our journey to Bali. Well, our bus broke down for a while, we had a long wait for a mechanic to fix it and there was a lot of traffic so we didn't arrive until 11pm. We crawled into bed at 11:30pm and begrudgingly set our alarms for 3:30am next day. We were up and out at 4am but again there was traffic (why wouldn't there be at
4am?) so we didn't get to the park entrance until 4:30am. Everyone on the bus was given the option of walking to the summit or taking a jeep. We opted to walk thinking it would be more fun and it was free but turns out we were the only ones of that opinion! We set off towards the volcano, in the pitch black with only a very pathetic torch to cast a dim light about a metre in front. Walking suddenly seemed like a bit of a dodgy decision considering we were all alone on a dark, misty road but we were frequently passed by Jeeps speeding towards the volcano - lazy, bloody show offs! Saying that, I actually really enjoyed the walk; it was peaceful, brusque which was quite refreshing and the views were lovely. Unfortunately because it had taken so long to get to the entrance, the sun started to come up as we were walking so when we finally made it to the summit, we'd missed the actual sunrise BUT the early morning sun still rising over Bromo and the Sea of Sand was spectacular. We met a really sweet Indonesian girl who asked for a picture
with us and was so thrilled when we obliged, we ended up talking to her for a while. She was very impressed we'd walked up, then even more so when we told her about our travels so far! I think she was just easily impressed but it was nice to meet such a friendly local! We walked back down, met our guy who drove us back to our guest house (singing Bob Marley at the top of his voice with the windows down the whole way - amazing) and I felt that getting up at 3:30am had been totally worth it and this was the best thing I'd done so far in Indonesia! My contentment was fairly short lived sadly as we got on our coach to Bali. I tried to put my backpack into the luggage holdall but was told it was full so the driver pushed me onto the bus with backpack still on. He's pushing me to the back of the bus and I'm looking everywhere for an available seat but it seems pretty full. Suddenly the driver yanks my bag off my back, throws it on the floor and pulls more bags off of a tiny
stool. It suddenly becomes horribly clear that this is my seat, a tiny stool in the midst of all the bags, propped up against the toilet door. Delightful. We set off and my suspicions that this stool was not a real seat and therefore not
nailed down were quickly confirmed and so I experienced a very bumpy ride while everyone around me enjoyed a nap! I'm sure having all taken a JEEP up to the volcano they were in much need of a nap (no, I'm not bitter). We stopped somewhere for lunch and huzzah, when we got back on the coach, two normal seats had become available! I'm not sure what happened to the previous occupants but I honestly could not have cared less! We finally arrived in Denpasar at about 10:30pm, agreed to share a taxi to a place called Sanur and tried to find a room at 11pm. Looking for a room at that time is never fun because places are either full, closed or overcharge because they know you're desperate. After another taxi ride to a different part of town, we eventually found a cute home-stay and crashed out!
Sanur is nicknamed 'Snore' in my
travel guide and this was very apt. The place was full of older couples on holiday and so we left for Kuta. Kuta is incredibly touristy, full of hotels, Western food chains, shops and many, many bars. After such a quiet couple of weeks so far in Indo we were pretty happy to have finally found the other travellers! We hit the beach for the first time since the Perhentian Islands way back in the north of Malaysia and watched the surfing with a beer in hand. Bliss! We got talking to an Indonesian surf instructor who invited us to join him and a bunch of his pupils for drinks that evening. We agreed thinking it would be fun to meet other travellers. Turns out, his 'pupils' were one other Indonesian guy and Beth and I had unwittingly found ourselves on some sort of double-date! They took us to a cool bar, full of travellers ... but they didn't know any of them and instead got us a table in a corner in the far reaches. So awkward! Their intentions soon became clear and we desperately needed to escape! I got up to go to the toilet and Beth whispered
to me to find someone to rescue us. I got an Aussie guy to follow me back to the corner, pretend to be our travelling buddy who we hadn't seen since Laos and tell us to come say hi to the rest of the guys! Worked like an absolute charm! We ditched the disgruntled, seedy Indonesians and had a blast with our new (I mean old) Australian buddies! We left Kuta for Ubud, a really beautiful town. I had no idea how big Bali was! People always say they're going to Bali but never specify where in Bali they're going! It's huge! We went white-water rafting in Ubud which was SO fun!! It was like nature is one big playground and it felt amazing to go on such an adrenaline-filled trip which wasn't a man-made construction! Also, rafting through the rainforest was incredible! We stopped at one point to take pictures of 100 year old rock carvings, swim in waterfalls and admire the scenery. I sometimes feel like I take beautiful surroundings for granted because it's been nearly six months of amazing views but white-water rafting through this amazing rainforest, I felt properly humbled and in awe again. I loved
it! After Ubud we went to Tulamben where we arranged two fun dives to Liberty Wreck and the 'drop off'. The only reason to go to Tulamben is to dive and we wouldn't have known about it if it weren't for a tip from our dive instructor, way back in Koh Tao at the start of our trip! The diving was amazing, swimming around and through a wreck, we saw a barracuda and giant puffer fish and generally it's just amazing to dive! Also our DMT took a camera down with us and we got a copy of all the pics for free!
After diving, we left Bali to go to the Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. We went to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three islands and it was delightful! We meant to stay a few days, visit the other Gili islands and go to Lombok but we had such a good time on Gili T that we ended up staying for 12 days! The longest we've spent in one place! We would spend the days lazing on the beach, drinking milkshakes and dozing on giant beanbags then go for food and drinks in the
evening. We frequented the Irish bar 'Tír na nÓg' so much that the barmen knew our drinks! You see, I'm missing Ireland so much that I had to find the next best thing! We ate in a restaurant one night called 'Scallywags' (great name) and I ordered a pie! With gravy! It wasn't M&S but it was as good as! I almost ordered a cider too but decided I didn't want to play the game "spot the English"! That resolve didn't last long though as I did get a cider another night. Strange the things you miss from home - pie and cider (and the people of course)! I also took a yoga class one evening, we hired bikes and rode/walked around the island (lots of sand, not massively bike friendly!) and one night we enjoyed an open air cinema! Gili T was such a social place, we met loads of fun people and I got to meet up with Gina, my best friend from home Amy's best friend from uni - read it slowly, it does make sense! Gina and Laura have been travelling for a few months and keep going to places we've been one week after us
but finally we were in the same place at the same time! I had so much fun on Gili T, I really didn't want to leave! Sadly our visa was up, we headed to Lombok for one night and then yesterday embarked on a long journey to get to Borneo. First a flight to KL, then a flight to Kota Kinabalu finally finding a dorm late last night!
SO that's it, all caught up! We're in Sabah in Borneo now, which I want to call country number 8! Even though it's technically part of Malaysia. We have more wonderful tips from Beth's sister Jen and hopefully have more fun ahead of us! We're five days away from our 6 month anniversary, our tans have been topped up courtesy of 12 days on the beach and I'm ready for more adventures. Also we just found a Mexican version of the Subway sandwich store - build your own burrito! We were looking for local food, honest! But build your own burrito was way too good to resist! Beth's already declared we're taking that idea home - Dragon's Den here we come!
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