Monday 30 December 2013

Ceningan Island to Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Nusa Ceningan

We decided to spend Christmas on a small island, a short distance from the main island of Bali. We took a minibus from Kuta to Sanur where we followed the driver to the beach. We stepped in the water to hop on the very basic and no so fast "speed boat". It took about an hour of boat to reach Lembongan and just before reaching the island we saw some dolphins swimming nearby. We crossed most of Lembongan island on our way to the yellow bridge leading to the tiny island of Ceningan. The hotel had a small saltwater pool and only two bungalows. Our bungalow had a huge bed, a balcony overlooking the pool and a small ocean view. The bathroom was located just at the back of the bungalow, outside with only half of it covered by a roof.

December is rainy season in this area, so we had many rainy days. We relaxed, enjoyed the swimming pool and the stress free island life.

Nusa Lembongan

Our bungalow for a few days over Christmas

The view from the neighboring restaurant

Where the restaurant ends and the ocean begins...

The hotel's pool


After a few days of quiet holidays, we had to leave our little island and get back on the main land. The two guys working in the hotel gave us a ride to the boat on their scooter. The sea was a little rougher than on our way to Lembongan, but this time we saw some flying fish. As soon as we started walking in Bali we remembered quickly what we didn't like about it the first time.

Labuan Bajo, Flores

The morning of our flight to Flores island, we woke up slowly before our alarm. We were looking at things online when Seb saw an email from Rina Kembar (using a yahoo address) with "info SKY" as the subject line. He opened it and it was saying that instead of 11:30am, our flight would be departing at 9:40am, it also included a reminder that we needed to be at the airport two hours prior to departure. When we saw the message it was 7:50am. We never packed our bags so quickly! We had picked a hotel located about 10 minutes walk from the airport so we were able to make it on time.

The views from the sky were very pretty; turquoise water sprinkled with green lush islands, exactly how we had envisioned Indonesia. We landed in Labuanbajo earlier than we had first expected, and decided to walk the two kilometres to the beachfront. We hadn't book a room before so we walked around, asking for prices before settling down on the little bungalows of the Gardena. We were walking in the village as the sun was setting when Seb's foot fell right in the whole left by missing bars on a sewer grid. Luckily only his knee was bruised, it would have been really easy to break a leg with the depth of the whole.

The next day, we had decided to book a four-day boat tour to Lombok. The owner was there and he told us that because of the rough sea his boat had not made it back, so it would not be leaving the next day. We were quite disappointed especially as we were already debating leaving Indonesia earlier than planned. We decided to take the one-day tour on Rinca island and then spend the following three nights on a semi-private island owned by the Gardena before flying to Lombok.

Aerial view of Bali

Labuan Bajo

Nice small island viewed from the plane

Labuan Bajo

Our anti-flies friend

Rinca Island, home of the Komodo dragons

The boat was very small, and didn't look too sturdy with its two wooden benches. The engine was so loud, we had previously thought it was helicopters making all the noise. Once we left the quay we realized there were also no life jackets on board. The ride to Rinca took about 2 hours, following the coast, in the slow and very noisy boat.

The scenery was very nice with many green lush islands and some white sand beaches. When we arrived on Rinca island, we met the local rangers who quickly showed us on a map the path we were going to take. As in Nepal, the guides where only equipped with wooden sticks, but this time it was the 2.0 version, with a fork end. We went toward the few houses of the locals as some Komodo dragons like to hang out there and eat food scraps. After looking at them for a few minutes, we went on the main path where we were lucky enough to see three more dragons. Everybody took many pictures with the guide encouraging us to go one by one to have our picture taken near the dragons. We were walking in the forest when suddenly AA noticed a small funny shaped branch on the ground. It was a baby dragon, about 1 m long. Up to the moment they are tall enough, the babies live in the trees in an attempt to protect themselves from the adult dragons. The Komodo dragons are not fussy eaters, they will eat whatever they can catch, ranging from small animals to deer or even water buffaloes. They can smell food from 5 to 10 kilometers away. Apparently it is very hard to get data on them because as soon as they die, other Komodos will feast on the dead one and leave nothing behind.

The tour then continued on through the forest and up a hill to a nice viewpoint. The tour was a little short for our liking, but as it was very hot, coming back on the boat allowed us to cool down a little thanks to the breeze. We moved on to Pink beach, a small island, about an hour of boat away. We stopped there for our hour-long snorkeling session. The coral was very cool, filled with many fishes of all the different colors and patterns one could think of. Seb also saw a black and white stripped snake swimming close to the surface. It was a nice snorkeling experience.

On the boat to Rinca

Small fisherman village

Indonesian transport

Komodo Dragon

Viewpoint on Rinca Island

Dragons hanging out under the houses

Then, we just had to go relax for the evening and get ready for our trip the next day. We are going to spend New Year at a very special place.

To be continued...

Sunday 22 December 2013

From Java Island to Bali, Indonesia

Leaving Singapore

In the morning, we walked to one of the many malls of Singapore to buy coffees and tickets for the metro. As we were carrying our coffees we noticed one of the numerous signs reminding people that drinking or eating in the metro is punishable by a hefty fine. No wanting to gulp the coffee right there, we hid the two coffees in AA's purse. The subway was quick to get to the airport and getting out of Singapore was very easy. The process to enter Indonesia was also straight-forward; we entered the building, paid our fees, went through immigration to get our 30-day visa on arrival, grabbed our bags and out the door we went. We had read about a bus to the city, so coming out of the airport we walked on the left side, followed the signs and bought our tickets to go to Gambir station. The bus took a while to enter the city, about 1.5 hours, most of it stuck in the terrible Jakarta traffic jams. Crossing the street was as challenging as Kathmandu, but we made it to Six Degrees, one of the nicest hostel so far.

Jakarta on the way to Bandung

We stopped in Jakarta only because it was our entry point in Indonesia. We didn't visit anything; the lack of interesting sight, pollution level and hole filled sidewalks did nothing to encourage us to go for a walk. We booked a train ticket to get out of Jakarta as soon as possible. We had bought our ticket in first class, which is more like an economy class anywhere else in the world. It was a train with service, so they were walking by quite often, offering foot massage, taking food order and even selling from the train boutique. On our way to Bandung, everything was very green, lush and tropical. When we arrived in Bandung, we realized we had forgotten to save the hotel location in the phone, but managed to find it anyway. We were pretty impressed with our talents to find our way in cities we don't know. The hotel was very basic but nice. We spent the major part of the day indoors as it was pouring rain. Bandung looked and felt like a Jordanian city; dirty and noisy.

We went to bed quite early as Seb was not feeling too good. He woke up a few times during the night, so in the morning when it would have been time to wake up, take the bus and explore a volcano, we realized it was not going to be an option. As we had already bought our train ticket out of Bandung, we couldn't postpone our departure so we just had to skip this volcano.

First class in the train from Bandung to Yogyakarta

Kaliurang and Gunung Merapi

Getting from Bandung to Kaliurang was quite the adventure. The first part was easy, a direct train from Bandung to Yogyakarta. We arrived in Yogyakarta just in time for the rain to start. The girl working in the city bus station directed us to the right bus station, about 1 km away. When the right bus arrived, we were soaking wet. after the short bus ride, we got off and started walking on the street leading up to Kaliurang village. Seb asked a guy waiting on the street corner for directions and he told us a minibus would bring us closer to the village. We waited for a few minutes and a brown beaten-up bus showed up. The guy confirmed this was the right bus and we got on. We knew the bus was stopping in the village of Pakem and we would need to get a motorcycle taxi. For some reason we were expecting a motorized tuk tuk.. but no! It was actually a motorcycle where we had to sit behind the driver and hang on tight. It's in those moments that you think maybe we should skip some details of the trip for our parents! It was a stressful ride but we made it safe to the Vogel's hostel.

The next morning, we woke up at 3:45 am and went to the restaurant where Christian, the owner, had set up a table for us with breakfast. He did his briefing of the mountain, showing us a video while we ate. We then met our guide and started walking. We walked across the village, very quiet that early in the morning before heading into the rainforest. We watched the sun rise over the valley, walked across a lava bed and visited what is left of a village that didn't survive the 2010 eruption. We saw the damages of the last two major eruptions, in 2006 and 2010. Unfortunately it was very cloudy so we didn't get to see the whole volcano, but when we were walking back towards the village the clouds were moving so we saw the last dome. It felt good to be back in the nature after visiting bigger and busier cities.

Lava bed - Gunung Merapi

Cloudy Gunung Merapi


The next morning, we took our bags, cuddled the hostel kitty one last time and crossed the street to wait for the minibus back to Yogyakarta. When we arrived in front of the cell phone shop, two guys and one girl were already waiting. We sat with them and tried to have a conversation, with Aida being the translator. We waited for about one hour when Christian drove by on his motorcycle to tell us he was going to find the bus. The ride down to the city took about 45 minutes and the driver dropped us north of the train station. We walked towards the Sosrowijayan neighbourhood, filled with many tiny streets, Losmen (homestays) and restaurants. We looked into our options to get to Bromo: the train schedule was not very convenient so we decided the tourist minibus that stopped in Bromo on its way to Bali was an easier choice. The minibus stopped at the office in Probolinggo where we had to get off and get our vouchers for the hotel and next day bus to Bali.



Helicopter ride Ma'am? - As the driver would ask...

Yes, you can transport anything on a motorcycle

Gunung Bromo

We had a very early start at 3:45am. We headed down from the village into the sea of sand. We followed the jeeps and when we arrived at the bottom of the hill we asked a local where to go for Bromo. He must not have understood the question, because he pointed us not quite in the right direction. So it was the middle of the night, the sky was lighting up slowly and we were trying to find the white rocks surrounding the path in the dark. Two motorcycles drove by us and when the second one came back, he asked if we wanted a ride to the bottom of the staircase. We had said no to the first one as he was too pushy and asking too much, but with the second guy, the sun was already starting to be up, so we agreed on a price and both sat at the back of the motorcycle for the few minutes ride in the sand.

We arrived at the stairs, walked past a group and made our way up. Bromo is very impressive when seen up close as it is very much alive. It is breathing and spitting smoke. We walked on the edge of the crater, which is not fenced off, taking many pictures and enjoying the morning light. There are many jeep tours available. The jeeps usually go to the higher viewpoint and then bring tourists to Bromo, so when we arrived at the volcano there was just two small groups. It was very quiet and we could enjoy the views almost to ourselves.

After our volcano expedition, we got on the minibus down to the city. We were dropped in a different tour office where we waited for over 2 hours for the big bus to arrive. It was a very long bus ride with just one stop where to eat and use the toilets. We took a small very slow ferry to cross over to Bali island and finally arrived in town at midnight, local time. We were very happy to have decided to book a hotel while on the bus so we didn't have to start looking for a place at midnight. We shared a taxi to town with two other fellow Canadians.

Foggy morning so far...

Gunung Bromo - The crater!

Quite a steep crater...

The fog is dissipating slowly

Walking on the edge

Gunung Bromo's smoky crater

Watching the sunrise from the edge of a volcano's crater, check!

Kuta, Bali

We spent most of our days in Bali relaxing and enjoying the hotel swimming pool, just going out for dinner. We visited the main tourist street, which looked like any waterfront cities in the US with its beach, bathing suit shops and fast food restaurants. But we also walked in the less crowded and often forgotten small alleys and streets where the locals actually live. It is an interesting contrast and we enjoy seeing both sides of the medal.

Small convenience stores are everywhere in the back alleys

The small shelf on the left contains used mismatched bottles of vodka or other drinks.
They are full of gas and for sale to anybody looking to fill up their motorcycle.

One of the entry point to Kuta Beach

The beach

Oops! That makes you trust the infrastructure right?

That's a lot of stuff to carry on her head

During our walks, we were asked many times to stop for a survey, encouraged to "come and have a look" in the shops, asked to buy something or rent a motorcycle, etc. We found it very annoying to be always asked for things like that, making us feel like walking ATMs. As soon as you get out of the touristic area, the feeling is different. Most people seemed curious and truly happy to see us when they where greeting us. They were also not trying to rip us off and we even bought a bathing suit for 3.50$ instead of 50$.

It is the first time in our travels where we are both unsure if we like a destination. We have mixed feelings for Kuta, Bali, or even Indonesia so far; the beaches are nice, but people can be rude, and are often trying to rip us off.

This year is going to be our first Christmas without snow. You will learn everything about it in the next post...

Monday 9 December 2013

Kuala Lumpur and Singapore

Kuala Lumpur

As our flight from Kathmandu was later in the evening, we decided to walk the six kilometers to the airport. It was a very dusty and dark walk as there was, once again, a power cut.

We finally arrived in the very confusing and crowded airport. We walked in, went through "security" (we put our bags in the machine but nobody was paying attention) and tried to find the right counter to check-in as the screens where not working. The immigration officer didn't even look at our dutifully filled immigration papers before stamping our passports. For the second security check, there were two different lines, one for men and one, much shorter, for women. This security check was again very fast and not thorough.

Next step was pre-boarding which consisted of a guy ripping our boarding passes off, and much later somebody else entering them in the computer. We saw the plane arrive and park from where we sat, and had a good laugh as they used the buses to bring people to the main entrance... on the other side of our 10 meters wide waiting room. We boarded the biggest plane so far on our trip. We had planned to sleep a little bit but the people sitting behind us had other plans.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur 15 minutes prior to our schedule. We followed the other passengers on the tarmac and through immigration. There were many restaurants outside and we settled on the White Coffee to have some peanut butter toasts (we had missed our precious peanut butter so much!) and coffee. We walked to platform three where we found the Star shuttle bus and got in just in time as it left five minutes later. The ride to the center took about one hour and we were really impressed to be back in civilisation, with a decent bus, street lights, nice roads, etc.

When the bus stopped close to Jalan Petaling, we got off and walked in the unusually quiet Chinatown as it was about 6:30 am. We stopped in one hotel to ask for the price, but found it too expensive. We went out and saw the Backpacker Traveler hostel. The room price was within our budget and we could get it immediately. We slept for a few hours before heading out for a walk. We walked by the nice and clean Jamek Mosque, across immense Merdeka Square with the 100 meters tall flagpole. We continued on Jalan Raja, walked by the nice colonial style Sultan Abdul Samad building and the Old Post Office. We walked back towards Chinatown and stopped for lunch at Subway, for finally something else than fried rice! Later in the day, we went out for a walk in Little India, seeing many shops selling headscarves among many other colorful clothing items.

Masjid Jamek Mosque

Merdeka Square

Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad

On our next day in KL, AA discovered many rashes that looked like mosquito bites but we didn't pay more attention to it as she gets bitten all the time. We spent part of the day catching up online before going out for some street food. We asked our waiter if there was meat in the pineapple fried rice. He said prawns or seafood. We asked if is was possible to get it without meat or seafood. He answered with: Chicken??... We finally got through with our request and received it without meat (except for the little sprinkle of bacon on top). Malaysia is not the easiest when it comes time to eat for a vegetarian.

After eating we came back to the hostel where we realized that the little bug running on the bed was probably a bed bug, and that the mosquito bites were, in fact, bed bug bites. We came down to the reception to ask for a different room. The guy didn't seem surprised at all and asked if we would mind staying there for the night as he didn't have the same kind of room available. We asked if there was anything else available, dorm or anything really, because there was no way we were going to risk having even more bites. He finally gave us an "upgrade" to a room with an ensuite bathroom but told us we would have to move again the next morning. We spent the following four hours going through everything we own looking for the little beasts to try and not bring any in the new room. Needless to say that wasn't our original plan for the evening.

After going through everything we own again the next morning, we needed some fresh air so we walked towards Menara KL, the big CN like tower. On the other side of KLCC we followed the signs to the Petronas twin towers. We went through the walkway over the streets. We were expecting a small one just going across the street but it actually stretched almost all the way to the towers. We decided to go inside the Suria KLCC, one of many shopping centers, as we wanted an ice coffee. We walked though the mall and came out on the other side, right between the feet of the twin towers. We took some nice pictures and kept walking East to find one of the few Arab restaurants we had seen online. The hummus, pitas and falafels were very good and this is definitely one of our favourite type of food. We came back to the hotel under pouring rain, on the slippery sidewalks and booked our bus for Singapore for the next day.

Menara KL Tower

Sky walk

Behind Suria Shopping Centre

Petronas Twin Towers

On the day we left Kuala Lumpur, we walked from the hostel to the very modern bus station where many helpful employees wanted to direct us to the right counter. We had a very pleasant surprise when the bus arrived. It was the most comfortable bus we had ever seen. The seats were about the size of first-class airplane seats, with foot rest and a lot of room to stretch. The seats were also reclining and had an integrated massage function. Very impressive! The road was quiet and comfortable.

Best bus ever!

The bus stopped at the Malaysian border where we got off, walked through the main building and went through immigration. We then hopped back on the bus to cross the bridge, stopped again, this time for the Singapore immigration. We had to get off the bus once more but this time taking our luggage with us. We filled out our arrival card and waited in line to get our stamps. It was a quick process giving the amount of people that go though at the same time.


We started our Singapore discovery with the Chinatown district, visiting colorful Sri Mariamman Temple as well as the very big, impressive and informative Buddah Tooth Replic temple. We then headed towards the Financial district, Raffles place and the many shopping centers. We walked along the Olympic Walk to the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands before crossing a very modern looking bridge. We came back to the hotel, walking in front of the parliament and stopped in a real supermarket to buy some wine and food.

Nice and different architecture all around

Sri Mariamman Temple

Chinese market - noticed the lizard like creatures on sticks?

Buddah Tooth Replic Temple 

Inside the Temple

The view at Marina Bay

Skyline of the Business District

Pedestrian bridge over Marina Bay
On our second day in Singapore we woke up late in our window-less room. We went for breakfast in one of the many malls before our walk in town under the rain. We walked by Little India and Arab Street, having a look at the big golden domed Mosque. It was raining on and off and, after a while, we were wet enough that we decided to walk back to the hostel and book some flights for our next destination.

We really liked our incursion back into modern society. We were amazed by the modernity of Kuala Lumpur and the cleanliness of Singapore especially after Nepal. Both cities were very easy to get around on foot and had great public transport from the airport. Our next destination won't be as clean, but obviously not as expensive either!