A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Lingering

West Java

City of big durian, rain, elephants, Switzerland of Java and Paris of Java

Wednesday [14/12/2016] I landed at Jakarta and met up with Doni, the driver from my previous Java trip. Since it started to drizzle slightly, we decided to head straight to Bogor instead of going around Jakarta. On the way to Bogor, we stopped by at the Australian International School where my ex-colleague is currently working. By the time we found the place, school have ended so Janet showed me around the school. Set in a huge Dutch mansion, the classrooms were different from the schools in Brunei. After catching up with Janet for a while, it was time to leave and head on to Bogor. With 9.6 million people living in Jakarta, traffic jams are horrible. Places where traffic is bad daily, you see peddlers selling food, drinks and cigarettes. By the time we reached to Bogor and looked for The Hayati Inn, it was already evening. We had our dinner at Lippo Plaza, one of the mall in Bogor.

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Thursday [15/12/2016] Today we went to Bogor botanical garden. It's a good thing that we could drive the car around the garden or else it would take us the whole day just to see everything. We went to see the Zoology museum first. The bones of a huge blue whale was displayed in the open space of the museum and they exhibit various types of animals found in Indonesia like the komodo dragon and the Javan rhinoceros. Then we went to see the Dutch cemetery which is located near to the Bogor palace. So we parked the car and walked by foot around. Unfortunately, the palace was not open to the public so we only saw it from far.

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My next target was to find the Amorphophallus titanum (corpse flower})where there are supposed to 5 of them in this garden. Not knowing much about this flower, other than the seeing the signboard indicating the plants are around that area, we did not managed to find it at all. Finally we stopped and asked the workers the exact location of the corpse flowers. They told us that they haven't bloom yet since it take 3 years for the flower to grow and then bloom but they told us where the spots are. So we headed to the location and finally found it. True enough the label for the plants were there but all we saw was just the soil without anything growing on it. Very disappointing indeed as I was hoping to see and smell the corpse flower for the first time. After seeing everything at the garden, we head off to Cipanas.

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To go to Cipanas, we had to pass through Puncak Pass which is located on the ridge to the north of Mt.Gede-Pangrango. Since Cipanas is on the highland, the weather is cool and there are many tea plantations. We could have gone straight to Bandung but I wanted to experience the cold weather. Since Puncak Pass road is very famous among locals and foreigners, traffic was pretty bad. Once again, there were peddlers walking around selling food, drinks and cigarettes as well as a few mascots standing and waving to the cars, hoping that some people would give them money. At Puncak Pass, we stopped by at the view point to see the view of the whole area. Like any touristic places, there were peddlers selling stuffs. I bought a packet of raspberries and Sukabumi mochi to try. We finally found Hotel LTC Villa Lotus, which happens to be in a secured residential area. Since it was not the peak season, we were the only ones staying there.

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We then drove to Cimory to look for the Riverside View restaurant because on Google Map, it showed that this restaurant is near to LTC Villa Lotus which was wrong. There are 2 Cimory restaurants where the first one we went to is Cimory Mountain View restaurant. This restaurant has the mountain view but I wanted to enjoy eating by the riverside so we went further down to find Cimory River View restaurant which we finally did. The first thing I did was to see the shop which sells milk products, chocolates, snacks and cow related souvenirs. Then we went to the riverside to take some photos before having our late lunch. Food was not bad but service was very slow as there were a lot of patrons but not enough staff to entertain everyone. After filling our tummy, I went back to the Cimory shop and bought some souvenirs. Since there wasn't much to do around Cipanas, we went back to the hotel to rest and it was already getting cold.

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Friday [16/12/2016] After having breakfast, we head to Bandung. On the way, we stop at a souvenir shop. I bought a bottle of asinan, a specialty of Bogor and the famous roti Unyil. Since it was still early, not all of the roti Unyil were out yet but I managed to get a few flavours that just came out fresh from the oven. Further along the way, there were also roadside stalls selling huge rose apple (bigger than my palm) which seemed to be in season so I couldn't resist buying a few just to try as I have never seen them before in Brunei. When we reached to Bandung, we stopped at a Sudanese restaurant and since it was still lunch time, the restaurant was packed with people. We chose the food we wanted and while waiting for our food to be cooked and sent to us, we found a place sit at the balcony area looking at the main road. At least it was not hot and stuffy sitting at the balcony area though the walking space was only limited to 1 person at a time. Food was delicious and the view was interesting. Then we continued with our journey to Tasikmalaya. By the time we reached to Tasikmalaya, it was already evening so we head straight to City Hotel Tasikmalaya to check in before we head out again. Tasikmalaya is a small city with a few malls, so we checked out one of them. For dinner, we went to Liwet Pak Asep Stroberi where the entrance of the restaurant is shaped like a strawberry. We tried the Tutug Oncom, a specialty of Tasikmalaya while enjoying the fresh air since we sat inside an open hut.

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Saturday [17/12/2016] Today before heading to Kampong Naga, we went to find kelom geulis, a special product of Tasikmalaya. Kelom geulis is wooden sandals worn by women back in the 1960s for formal functions when Indonesia was still under the Dutch colony. Nowadays, kelom geulis is a dying industry since not many women are interested in wearing it so only a few home industry are still making it. We found one of the home industry where the owner was nice enough to show how kelom geulis is handmade individually. They use mahogany wood and it takes a skilled person to carve the design by hand on each wood. They have a small showroom in the living room but because each kelom design is handmade, they did not have a lot of stock for different sizes except for the ones displayed. There were some nice designs but none of my size so I bought 4 pairs of kelom geulis only.

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We then head to Kampong Naga, a traditional village of the Sanaga people which is located along the Ciwulan river in the area of Neglasari Village. To reach this village, we had to walk down 439 steps from the parking area. There are altogether 113 identical houses arranged in an orderly manner, facing towards the river. Each house is made of wood on short stilts and the roof is made of black sago palm fibre material. There is no electricity or modern items like fridge, tv or even rice cooker. The women spend most of their time weaving handicrafts which are sold as souvenirs to tourists. On the way up to the car park, we stopped to see one of the village man painting pictures of Kampong Naga with his finger only. I bought 2 small pictures from him as a remembrance of this village. Since it was raining, we decided to rest for a while at the stall at the car park area. Doni had bakso while I did not to eat anything from the bakso push cart due to hygienic reasons as I did not want to have diarrhea since we still have a long drive ahead of us. I also bought a small packet of the local red rice grown in Kampong Naga to try back home later.

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From Kampong Naga, we headed to Pangandaran which took more than 4 hours to reach. Halfway through the journey, we stopped for late lunch at a restaurant which is next to the paddy field. By the time we arrived to Pangandaran, it was night time and fortunately, our homestay is near to the junction. After checking in at Panorama A La Plage homestay, we headed to the beach area to find a place for dinner. Since it was the weekend, there were a lot of people at the beach. We decided to have dinner at one of the cafe on the beach facing the sea so that we could enjoy the cool sea breeze and the sound of the waves. The food was not bad and there was a live band to entertain the patrons.

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Sunday [18/12/2016] Today we head to the Green canyon (Cukang Taneuh) which is famous for its clear green water and the abundant green moss on the cliff. We took the 30 minute swimming package at Batu Payung and used a “ketinting”, the wooden motor boats with roof to go to that location. There were a lot of tourists, mostly locals but they did not go swimming. When we reached to the spot where we have to get off the boat, we had to ready to be wet and swim against the strong current. Since I am not a strong swimmer yet, it took me a while to go against the current but we managed to go from one rock to another until we were at Batu Payung. It was difficult to avoid knocking our legs on the rocks so I got a few bruises here and there but nothing major. Then I decided to extend our trip up to Pemandian Puteri where the current was even more stronger than at Batu Payung with water falling from the rocks above us. While making our way there, we saw a group of guys doing body rafting where they floated from upstream to Pemandian Puteri, then to Batu Payung before using a boat to take them back to the ticket area. After having enough of the cold water, we flowed with the current downstream until we reached Batu Payung where we then got up into our boat and headed back to the ticketing area. It was a good experience that anyone should try once in their lifetime. With all the swimming in the cold water, we were dead hungry so we stopped by at a restaurant on the way to Batu Hiu beach. Since it was not the peak season, we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. So we chose to sit at the back of the building where they have tables on the open space and you just sit on the floor. We had prawns, fish, ferns and fried fritters which was very delicious or probably because we were too hungry.

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After lunch, we headed to Batu Hiu beach which is named after the rocks that resembled a shark fin. However, after years of the waves hitting the rocks, the shark fin shaped rocks were not noticeable anymore. The amusing thing about the beach is that you can see Teletubbies and Masha mascots waiting for people to take photos with them. There were also mats for rent so that people can sit and have picnic and you can buy hermit crabs and their houses which surprisingly, some people bought to keep as pets! Since it was still early in the afternoon and we had no other plans, we decided to spend head to Pangandaran beach and see sunset there.

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The sight on the beach was totally different from the ones in Brunei. There were "Jukungs", traditional fishing boats lining along the shore, guys playing football, people swimming in the sea, peddlers selling ice cream and people watching other people (just like me). You can even rent a horse to ride on the beach! I don't normally like to go to the beach due to the hot weather but since there was nothing much to do in Pangandaran and the sun was setting in 2 hours time, I don't mind people watching. While doing so, I noticed a group of people gathering together at a spot and just looking out at the sea. As a boat came to the shore and then the fishermen were pulling something ashore, all those people rushed towards the fishermen and it so happened that a pickup truck with lifeguards were driving by slowly. I thought someone must have drowned but then again, the lifeguards were just relaxing while they were looking at the crowd and just drove by. After making their round, the lifeguards saw me taking photo of them and it was pretty funny because it reminded me of Baywatch. Being curious myself, I then head towards the crowd to see what the commotion was about. When I reached there, everyone were just watching the fishermen sorting out their catch of the day. As the sun was setting, what was even more surprising was that 2 deer walked by along the beach even though there were people around. I guess the deer at this area are so used to people that they don't even run away when we approach them. For dinner, we just had a simple meal near to our homestay as we could not find any other place which looked hygienic to eat before heading back to rest.

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Monday [19/12/2016] After we checked out from the homestay, we started out journey to Garut. By the time we reached there, it was early afternoon so we stopped at Sentra Industri Kulit Sukaregang where you can see all the small shops along that road selling leather jackets, shoes, bags, etc. In order to know whether a leather is genuine or not, I asked the saleslady to prove it before I buy it which she did by using a lighter to burn the leather which did not burn at all. The was the same test used to check for genuine leather in China. After that, we stopped by for a quick Sundanese lunch before we continue on to Papandayan.

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It was a relaxing drive to Cisurupan but I noticed that we were going higher and higher along the way. Even though it was only about 4pm, the weather was cool like as if the whole town was blown by a huge natural air con. After finding Asep Homestay, we had to wait for Pak Asep to return home from work to discuss about the guide who will bring me up to Mount Papandayan and while waiting for him, his wife cooked us dinner. When Pak Asep finally showed up, I was so surprised that he was wearing a thick jacket while we were only wearing normal clothes. Since he was working at Mount Papandayan park office, he was not able to guide me but he contacted Rangga who will be my guide. I had the choice to see sunrise before heading to Goeber Hut, Pondok Saladah, Hutan Mati (Dead Forest) and the lake or just see the Goeber Hut, Pondok Saladah and Hutan Mati. I chose the sunrise so the hike will start at 4.30am which is still ok considering that in the past, I have hiked starting at midnight just to see the sunrise at Semeru.

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Tuesday [20/12/2016] I woke up at 3.30am just to get ready for the hike. By 4am, after having something light to eat just to fill the stomach since it was way too early for breakfast, we headed off to Mount Papandayan. It took us half an hour to reach Mount Papandayan through curvy roads that goes upwards all the way. When we reached Camp David which is at the parking area, I did not see anyone else except us. The wind was howling and very cold but I was only wearing 3/4 leggings with just short sleeve shirt with a thin jacket since it was not this windy at the previous volcanoes that I've climbed before in December. It was not so bad when we were moving as I felt hot even though I was wearing a thin jacket so I opt not to wear the jacket at all whereas Rangga who was wearing jeans and a thick jacket. It was only when we stop to rest, then the wind was freezing and it was so strong that my cap was blown away. Oh well, at least it was not an expensive cap. We reached to the sunrise view point which is said to have the best sunrise view in Garut 20 minutes later and the sun was still hiding behind the clouds. So we waited and slowly, we saw the sun rising.

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On the way to Goeber Hut, we passed by numerous steam vents that produce hissing sounds as they released droplets of water and small streams before walking up a long winding road. At Goeber Hut (2275m high), there were a few tents and the campers were just beginning to cook their breakfast since it was still very early in the morning. We continued walking towards Tegal Alun and then stopped at Tegal Bungbrung where we saw numerous Edelweiss shrubs. We did not go all the way to Tegal Alun which was also heading to the summit as I did not have enough time since we were going to continue our journey to Bandung after this hike. Instead, we continued to Hutan Mati by passing through Pondok Saladah. Hutan mati is a vast area of dead Suagi trees killed by the 2002 volcanic eruption which up to today, no plants have grown back in that area. Then we slowly walked down towards the sulfur lake where we saw 4 large craters from a distance. In order to go to the sulfur lake, we had to climb up a rocky river where the water was pretty warm but very smoky and the sulfur smell was very strong. So half way after climbing up already, I told Rangga that it is ok that we didn't go all the way to the lake since we could see it from a distance since I wasn't prepared for the sulfur smell. So we slowly headed back to the parking area and on the way down, we saw more Indonesians (only wearing sandals or slippers) coming up with children and their picnic food which was an unusual sight to see since most of the volcanoes that I have been up to are for serious climbing to the summit and not the picnicking type of scenario. This is the difference between hiking volcanoes in east and west Java.

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After going back to Asep's house, I took a quick shower and we had lunch before heading to Bandung. We reached Bandung in late afternoon, so we drive around Bandung city first just to see what is interesting before checking into Flores Gallery hotel. We then head to one of the shopping mall and since there is an Eiger store, of course I did not miss out the chance to check out their hiking shoes. The treads of the soles really had good grip for volcano climbing but unfortunately, their smallest size is a 6 whereas I wear a size 3.5 to 4. Oh well, so much for hoping to own a pair of Eiger hiking shoes. Since shopping was not really on my agenda, I ordered takeaway for dinner and went back to the hotel to rest.

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Wednesday [21/12/2016] After breakfast, from Bandung we headed to Tangkuban Perahu, one of the most touristic volcanoes in west Java since it does not require any intensive hiking and there are rows of souvenir shops. By the time we arrived there, there were already a lot of tourists at the site and taking selfies. We were told that previously people can walk all the way around the volcano through the forests on the slopes but after a Singaporean tourist fell to his death while taking selfie too near to the edge of the crater, now tourists could only walk half of the crater for their own safety. Tangkuban perahu means upturned boat but I still don't understand why they called it that because there is no resemblance of an upturned boat. There are 3 craters on this volcano which is the Kawah Ratu, Kawah Domas and Kawah Upas. In order to see Kawah Upas, we had to walk at least about 1km where there were no one except for us and a couple. It took us about 20 minutes to reach there, only to find that it is not accessible to public for safety reasons. So we decided to check out Air Keramat (sacred water) Cikahuripan which was another 250m through the forest. When we reached there, there is a guardian who collect money for going into a small cave which goes out to the back of the hill and assist those who took a bath with the sacred water. The lady of the couple took a bath with the sacred water and I was told by Doni that people who bathed with this sacred water usually have a motif and she would be brought into the cave by the guardian to do some sort of prayer and offering. We tried to walk further passing the back entrance of the cave but there was a barricade with a sign warning people about the poisonous gas. On the way back to the parking area, I checked out each the souvenir stalls and bought some souvenirs. The most unique thing they sold there were scarfs and caps made of rabbit furs.

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From Tangkuban Perahu, we headed towards Grafika Cikole and on the way, we stopped at a Sundanese restaurant just next to the main road for lunch. Once again, we opt to sit on the floor on the first floor rather than on the typical chair and table so that we can see what is happening around. After lunch, we headed on to Grafika Cikole and the reason why I chose to stay in this place is that not only is the weather cool since it is located at the foot of the mountain but it also has many facilities for outbound activities. What attracted me the most are the chalets, huts and camping tents which people can stay in. Initially I wanted to try staying in one of the chalet but since it was expensive and it is for 6 person while there's only 2 of us, in the end we stayed in the hotel building which is not bad since it was near to the parking area whereas the other accommodation were further away from the road. We were given free welcome drink at Pendopo Hutan, the restaurant in the middle of the pine forest. After enjoying the scenery for the while and watching people settling to their chalets, we walked around to check out each of the site. The chalets and huts were fully occupied with families and some government organisations have booked to stay in a few tents. Since it was getting dark, we headed to Sindang Reret Cikole for dinner. This restaurant is actually part of Sindang Reret Hotel and when we first arrived there, the restaurant looks pretty high class since it is attached to the hotel lobby. There are 2 seating areas where you can choose to sit inside the lobby area or at the hut outside the lobby area. Since the 4 boats inside the lobby area were fully occupied, we decided to sit in the hut on the floor which was comfortable as we could stretch out our legs and enjoy the cool wind blowing. The place has a very nice ambiance and the food was not bad either which was reasonably priced for a hotel standard. After dinner, we went back to Grafika cikole and checked out what the people we doing at night. At the Pendopo Hutan, there is a dangdut entertainment for the guests. At the family hut camping ground, the teenagers were having BBQ while those in the chalets just stayed indoors since the wind was getting cold.

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Thursday [22/12/2016] We woke up early to have buffet breakfast at Pendopo Hutan. It was nice to have breakfast among the pine tree forest with fresh air and good food. After breakfast, we went around the whole place again as the sun was bright and it was good for taking photos. I picked 3 pine cones for souvenir though I should have taken more since they were just lying everywhere on the ground. After seeing some groups doing team building activities, playing paintball, ziplining, trying out the Elvis bridge and walking on a rope, we finally decided to move on to Farmhouse Lembang which is another famous tourist spot. Even by 10am, the parking area inside Farmhouse Lembang was already full but fortunately, there were parking areas across the road. Each Farmhouse ticket comes with a free milk voucher which we decided to claim after we have finish touring around. It was pretty packed with tourists especially local Indonesians who were busy snapping away photos wherever they could find a spot. There were sheep and calves for people to pat and give milk to, few European buildings which has shops inside selling souvenirs, restaurant and food. You can even rent a Dutch costume to walk around in. The best thing I love about this place is the freshly baked danish pastries which could be smelt from a distance. Who could resist them so I bought each flavour and boy, are they really crispy and delicious like their smell! After having done a bit of souvenir shopping and taking photos, we finally queue for our free milk and headed off to our next destination.

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From Lembang, we headed to Ciwidey where we have booked accommodation near to Kawah Putih. As we reached near to Ciwidiey, the road was continuously going higher and higher and there were a lot of strawberries planted near to the road where you pay a certain amount and you can pick as many strawberries as you can. Since Doni was not familiar with the place, we went to find the homestay first which was only a few minutes away from Kawah Putih. After putting our stuff at the homestay, we headed back down from where we came from to grab something to eat. By the time we finished our late lunch, it was raining heavily and it was already cold so night time, it would be even colder! Fortunately there is instant water heater but very unfortunately, there was blackout for about an hour so I had to boil hot water in order to bath. Since there wasn't much to do at night, we just relax and rested early. It was cold in the middle of the night even when the whole house was closed up and the beds felt damp.

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Friday [23/12/2016] Before the sun was up, I was woken up by the sound of the call for the morning prayer since our homestay is just next to the surau. However, staying in Brunei throughout my whole life where there are mosques and surau every few kilometer, you just get used to it so I just went back to sleep after that. By 7.30am, I was awake and had a quick shower. The clouds were still very low after the rain but at least it was not raining anymore. After a simple breakfast of buns, we headed to Kawah Putih where there were already a lot of cars headed towards the same direction as us. By the time we reached to the car park, the visibility was limited as the clouds came down and it was pretty cold, so everyone had their jacket on. One advantage of this type of weather is that it is very cool to be out in the open but the disadvantage is that you can't see the view clearly as the lake was surrounded by thick fog. We could see the light blue water near to the bank but nothing more than that unless the fog happened to be blown away by the wind for a while. We waited quite a while hoping that the fog will lift up which they did a few times for a while before coming down again. Even though the view of the whole lake could not be seen clearly, the scenery is still lovely with all the dead tree branches standing as the foreground decoration with the blue lake and white clouds behind. Before leaving Kawah Putih entrance, there were peddlers selling food, mochi and strawberries. Since I did not get the chance to hand pick the strawberries myself, I bought a packet of strawberries from a lady which I thought was cheap since it looked like there was 2 layers of strawberries. Instead, they had used few pieces of cardboard to put at the bottom of the packet so people would think that there are a lot of strawberries but in fact, it is only a layer of strawberries. What a ripoff!

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We then headed to Pinisi Resto Dan Glamping Lakeside for lunch since there were good reviews about it. It wasn't really hard to find this place but you have to drive all the way inside the stony winding road. However, the view of the restaurant was unique. From afar, you could see a big wooden ship stranded on an island which is in fact the restaurant itself. Around this restaurant, there are a number of tent resorts (chalet with tent style roof) built on the slope of the hill looking towards the lake. The restaurant itself has 2 entrances; one from below and the other one is on top where you have to walk through a hanging bridge. Since we were from the bottom of the boat, we used the entrance from below. Inside the boat, there were two levels. The best spot to sit on this boat is actually at the front deck of the boat but all the tables were fully occupied so we were lucky enough to secure a table at the right side of the boat overlooking the lake as well as the tent resorts. Food was good and reasonable priced though it is considered expensive for Indonesian standard. After taking some photos at the front deck, we headed to our car and this time, we used the main entrance just to have the feel of walking on a hanging bridge.

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Our next destination was quite a long drive away as we only arrive at Cikaso at night after more than 5 hours of driving through numerous oil palm plantation and small villages. We did not book any accommodation for this area since we couldn't get hold of Yasa Hotel which was the only accommodation that I could find on the internet but I was not sure where exactly is the location since it is not shown on google map and no one picked up the phone when Doni tried to make reservations earlier on. So we were just trying our luck by checking out which accommodation is available and true enough, there is a Yasa Hotel which can be seen near the main road. It is not actually a hotel building but consist of 2 rows of single storey building with rooms and we were the only ones staying there. With accommodation settled, we went to look for place to eat and seeing that this is a sleepy town with not a lot of visitors, we ate at a warung where once again, we were the only ones there. After having our stomach filled, we headed back to the hotel where I could repack my luggage with all the stuffs that I have bought so far and only take out the ones that I need to use daily so that the luggage can be left in the car throughout the rest of the trip. The room of the so called "hotel" was pretty basic but good enough to just sleep for a night.

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Saturday[24/12/2016] Breakfast was served in our room which was nasi goreng. After checking out from the hotel, we headed to Curug Cikaso which goes through a narrow road in one of the village. Since it had rained the night before, the place was pretty muddy and there were local men who were pestering us to hire them as guide to go to the waterfall either by foot or by boat. Doni insisted that we could walk by foot ourselves through the paddy field which we did which but the trail was very muddy. Other people used boat to go directly to the waterfall because they didn't want to do a lot of walking. What is so unique about this waterfall is that there are 3 waterfalls of 80m high in one location with a bluish green water pool at the bottom. The left waterfall is called Asepan waterfall, middle is the Meong waterfall and right is called Aki waterfall. The blast of the waterfalls were very strong because you would still get wet from the splashes of water even from a distance. I did not go all the way down as the rocks were very slippery but close enough to wash the mud off my sandals. After taking photos of the waterfalls, we headed back to the parking area, this time by boat since the boatman was offering us a cheaper rate rather than the normal rate as they could earn extra income while waiting for their previous guests to come back to them. It was a short but nice ride and at least we didn't have to get our sandals and feet muddy again walking through the muddy trails.

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From Curug Cikaso, we headed to another waterfall called Curug Cikanteh which was 2 hours away. We went through winding roads of mountains and passing through villages. It was not easy to find this waterfall since the label only showed Curung Sodong which is the lower waterfall while Curung Cikanteh is the waterfall on the upper level that could only be accessed by foot. By the time we reached to the parking area, it had started to drizzle but before it started to rain heavy, I was able to get some shots of the Sodong waterfall which was not that nice because of the muddy water but the splashes were strong enough to make you wet even though you are standing at the viewing platform. When it rained heavy, everyone had take shelter in the small warungs and the hut. It would be nice to trek all the way up to see Curung Cikanteh but everyone was advised not to go up as it would be very slippery after the rain. Since there wasn't much to do, we left and headed towards Sukabumi to find Hotel Lagusa.

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The drive to Pelabuhan Ratu was not far so we stopped at one of the open air restaurant by the beach for our late lunch. While waiting for our food to come, we enjoyed the view of the waves and what people were doing at the beach. There were also fishing huts built on a platform made of bamboo which help them to float in the sea. After finishing all the food, we went to find Hotel Lagusa which is located on a hill overlooking paddy field, coconut plantation and the sea. The place is quite nice as there are villa cottage, rooms in bungalow buildings with balcony and 3 small swimming pools. Our room was one of the bungalow building with balcony overlooking the sea. The room and the bathroom was very spacious! Since it is so peaceful there, I just stayed in the room and packed the things needed to go to Pulau Sebesi tomorrow before sleeping early.

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Sunday[25/12/2016] It's Christmas day today but you can't feel it here since the people in this part of Java are mainly Muslim and there are not many western tourists so it is just another day in Indonesia. For breakfast, we had to go down to the dining area which is a cool place as they have a snooker table. There were a number of local tourists just relaxing and probably bringing their family here to relax. Breakfast was an option of Indonesian nasi goreng or the simple western breakfast. I ordered nasi goreng because we have a long journey ahead but somehow today, I was not able to finish even half of the plate and I felt like I wanted to vomit if I keep on eating and suddenly, I felt like I had to go to the toilet. Little did I know this was the start of my diarrhea as I never experienced diarrhea in my past 2 trips around central and east Java as well as in Bali. After checking out, we head to Karang Taraje beach which was "supposed" to have water falling from rocks which was higher than the ground. After finding Karang Taraje beach based on the signboard which was visible from the road, it was such a disappointment to find out that there were nothing to see except for sharp rocks and the strong waves. By then, I couldn't stand too long or else my diaphragm started to hurt so I was stooping around the rocks which help to ease the discomfort a bit. Fortunately, there is a small surau at this beach and toilets so that people transiting onward could stop for toilet and do their prayer.

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The drive to Cilegon was supposed to be 4.5 hours only but since Doni always overshoot the shortest routes shown on Google Map and refused to turn back, the 4.5 hours drive ended up to be 6 hours. By then I was not feeling very comfortable because we have not stopped to rest and stretch our body but luckily, I didn't feel the need to go to the toilet at all nor did I feel really hungry. By the time we reached to Hotel Feri Merak, it was already night time and I was glad that we were not still on the road after the long drive. The hotel was the closest to Merak port which was only 6 minutes' drive away. It was a good thing that this hotel have their own restaurant but since the cook went to the mosque to pray, we ordered room service which was delivered later. Since there wasn't much choice on the menu, I ordered nasi goreng again but not knowing what was wrong, although I do feel hungry, I just couldn't eat much. The tap water in the toilet tasted funny which I shouldn't have used for brushing my teeth as this could have also further contributed to my diarrhea later on.

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Monday[26/12/2016] Today after breakfast, we started our journey to Merak port to catch for our 3 hour ferry ride across the Sunda strait to Lampung. Our target was to reach Canti Port before 1pm to catch the local boat to Pulau Sebesi so that we only pay the local rate rather than paying a few million rupiah to charter the boat to go there. The ferry that we were on were quite good because you can choose to seat on the chairs on the open air deck or stay inside the air conditioned area on top and bottom deck of the ship. We arrived at Canti Port by noon time but ended up waiting 2.5 hours as the boat to Pulai Sebesi was waiting for the food supplies to arrive. I was not feeling well so I just rested in the car and it's a good thing that there is an Alfamart across the road where I could use the toilet whenever I need to. While waiting, Doni asked around for the price to go to Krakatau from Pulau Sebesi since he said it would be cheaper to go through Pulau Sebesi than from Anyer beach or Carita Beach in West Java. However, he only assumed that it would be cheaper but didn't bother to find out the price in advance even though I had reminded him to do so before our trip a few times. In the end, the price was no different than from West Java as the boat to go from Pulau Sebesi to Krakatau cost more than 2 million rupiah and it so happened to be both of us only. So I was not pretty happy about it as I already told Doni before I went to Java that would be cheaper to join the Open trip where each person only need to pay less than 1 million for accommodation, food and the boat ride to Krakatau. But since we are already there, we just proceeded to Pulau Sebesi first. After having ice cream just to fill my tummy and cool off in the hot weather, I waited in the warung with the others who were also waiting to go to Pulau Sebesi until the van with the food supplies came.

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All passengers and motorbikes had to sit on the roof of the boat since the food supplies were all packed inside the boat. It was a nice feeling having the cool breeze blowing at us even though the sun was still shining. We passed by several islands for more than 2 hours. When we reached to the jetty, people were loading bananas into a boat to be taken to Canti Port. We waited at the small warung for the boat driver to discuss about the accommodation and the plan to Krakatau. After some discussion, the boat driver who was also the owner of warung told us that we could stay at his house for free but the boat ride to Krakatau would be 3 million rupiah. Fortunately, there were 3 more people who in the end decided to go to Krakatau also so the price was lower now but I still had to pay 1.2 million rupiah for both of us. In the end, all of us agreed so the boat driver took us to his house by foot which is a common Indonesian house with no ceiling except for zinc roof with 2 bedrooms, living room, kitchen, toilet and a bathroom with a fish reared inside the bak (water tank) where we also used the water for bathing. They could only spare us a bedroom so I will be sleeping in that room with another lady who will be going to Krakatau also while the men will be sleeping on the floor in the living room. The community in Pulau Sebesi is small with houses lined up neatly in rows facing each other. For evening dinner, we walked back to the warung. Since my tummy was still not feeling well and I was only half hungry, I decided to have mi goreng hoping that my stomach would not get worse since it is cooked in hot water instead of rice and other dishes like the others. If my tummy was not acting up, I would have enjoyed the food like they did. After dinner, we headed back to the house and slept early since we had to be ready by 5am tomorrow to go to Krakatau.

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Tuesday[27/12/2016] I woke up in the middle of the night while everyone was sleeping with a bad tummy ache and had to do my business. It was only this time that I finally realized that I was having diarrhea though it was not the serious type where I have to visit the toilet every few minutes. However, I managed to go back to sleep without having the need to use the toilet again but when I woke up at 4am to get ready for the trip, once again, my stomachache came. I was worried that I would need to go to the toilet on the way during the 2 hours boat ride as well as on Krakatau but fortunately, I didn't have any stomachache after that even though I had the feeling like I need to go. By 5am, light breakfast was given to us which I didn't eat much because I didn't feel hungry at all. We had to wait because the boat driver told us that the waves were quite rough but by 6am when the waves showed no signs of calming down, we had no choice but to proceed. At first we didn't feel anything except the boat rocking left and right lightly. However, after 1 hour in the middle of the sea, the boat was rocking more stronger now with water splashing into the boat so the windows under deck had to be closed and each one of us started to feel seasick. I have never been seasick before in my whole life before this but I'm glad that I was not the only one because Doni and the younger guy puked and since i didn't eat much, there wasn't much to puke. Even our guide who will be taking us to the top of Krakatau got seasick even though he was used to all these boat rides. The only thing we could do was close our eyes to prevent ourselves from becoming more seasick and pray that the rough ride would be over soon. Eventually the waves calmed down as we approached Krakatau. I guess everyone was so relieved that we were finally landed on the ground again after the rough ride and everyone was laughing at each other for being seasick. Doni still looked pale even though the rest of us felt better already.

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Yayy!! We are standing on Krakatau or in fact anak Karakatau (child of Krakatau), the most famous volcano which is responsible for blowing itself up completely, resulting in the formation of 40m high tsunamis which killed at least 36,000 people and changed the weather around the entire world for over five years. Anak Karakatau is still very much active with smoke constantly coming out from the crater. The soil on this island is black and sandy so it was not that slippery to go up and down this volcano like the other volcanoes I have been up to before though when you go up, it's like climbing a beach so that takes a bit more effort to go up than usual but since anak Karakatau is only 813m, it took only less than half an hour to reach to the level where we were not allowed to go any higher for our own safety. Although Krakatau was not high, the view was still very lovely from the top as you could see 2 of islands which are the remains of the pre-historic Krakatau. After staying up there for half hour, it was time to come down and head straight back to Canti port which is another 2 hours boat ride.

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Somehow, after the climbing, I felt much better and I did not have anymore stomachache so when we arrived at Canti port, I started to feel hungry. Since Doni was still not feeling well after being seasick, he didn't want to eat so we headed straight to Lampung city plus most of the eateries at the roadside didn't look hygienic with sand from the road flying everywhere. I don't know much about Lampung nor do I know what to expect since not many foreign tourists have been there. There was nothing much to see along the Trans-Sumatra highway until we reached to the main city. We checked into Inna 8 Hotel, a nice hotel located in Chinatown area, the old town of Lampung. Since Doni was not feeling well and I was not sure how clean the restaurants in Lampung is, I ordered room service for dinner.

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Wednesday[28/12/2016] Since none of us have been to Lampung before, it is time for us to explore and get lost along the way in order to get our orientation right. For breakfast, we headed to McDonald where I had porridge since I haven't had a proper meal for days. After that, we headed to Museum Lampung first to learn about Lampung. There is entrance fee to go into this museum but because people just keep on going in and out of the museum, the staff were not able to keep track who has paid and who has not. The museum is a pretty old and outdated building with a mural wall painting at the parking area depicting the traditional lifestyle of people in Lampung. In the museum, there are artifacts from the Dutch colonial era, potteries and antics from the olden days, wedding traditions as well as Lampung's numbers.

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Then we head to the National Museum of Transmigration where we were the only visitors there as it is located far away from town and no one was interested in knowing where Lampung people came from. Once again, the museum is small with limited exhibitions which according to the head of the museum, was bought from the Lampung people. In the middle of the hall, there are two statues of oxen pulling "luku" (traditional plowing tool) and a wooden wagon side symbolising that people in Lampung used to do farming in the past. There is a small room for a set of gamelan and collection of puppets from different parts of Indonesia. On the second floor, there are some antique objects such as the old fashioned bicycle called "Sepeda Ontel", kitchen appliances, household furniture, lighting equipment and money used in the olden days. Then we headed to the back area of the museum where there is a giant iron ball which was used in the past to do land clearing before reaching to the 11 different models of the houses found in different parts of Indonesia. My aim is to see the model of the west Nusa Tenggara traditional house but unfortunately the only thing left on that house model was the brick wall structure as it was burnt and they did not have the money to repair it. After going around the short tour, I went to the museum office and made a donation of 500,000 rupiah. When I told Doni how much I gave for donation, he said that it was too much but I knew it was for a good cause because he also told me that while waiting for me, a museum staff told him that they have not received their salary for few months already. It was bad enough that the government did not give them any budget for maintenance but not paid salary for few months is too much. So while it only costed me B$50+ for donation, it is a big amount to the Indonesians already and I hope that at least that money can help the museum staffs in some ways.

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On the way back to the city, we stopped at Bumi Kedaton Mall to have our late lunch. The we head toward Chinatown near to our hotel because I want to find Toko Manisan Yen Yen which is famous for local snack souvenirs. Along the same road there is the Vihara Thay Hin Bio, the oldest Buddhist temple in Lampung. We went Toko Manisan Yen Yen first and while waiting for me, I asked Doni to find out the price of the durian that was selling in front of both shops. When I came out of the shop, Doni told me the price of the durian which was not expensive considering that it cost less than $10 each so I told Doni that if we try 1 of the durian, we would not need to eat dinner anymore since it is filling which he agreed. So there we were sitting in front of the shop, eating durian while watching people either going into Toko Manisan Yen Yen to buy their souvenirs or sitting down to eat the durian also. The durian was not bad but still no durian can beat Brunei's otak galah durians. After finishing the durian, we went across the road where I went to check out more snacks sold in the other shop which were different from the ones sold in Toko Manisan Yen Yen. After getting all the food stuff I wanted, we stopped further ahead in a souvenir shop where I bought keychains and magnets of a lady wearing the iconic Lampung siger headgear and a few Krakatau t-shirts before heading back to our hotel.

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Thursday[29/12/2016] Today, we aim to check out a few places away from the city area. After breakfast, we went to find the Krakatau Monument which is said to be near our hotel. Without proper location, it took us a while to find it, only to realize that we have been passing by it for the past 2 days since the place where it was put is just a garden covered by trees and plants just next to the police station so it was not noticeable from the road. So we went to see what was so famous about this monument and it was just a metal buoy from a lighthouse in a nearby island that was thrown almost sixty kilometers ashore and landed about two kilometers north of Telukbetung coast during the Krakatau massive eruption. Ironically, the policemen who were stationed at the park everyday did not even know anything about it.

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Then we head to find Citra Garden's Little Europe which is located in the premier residential area in Teluk Betung. Little Europe is very popular among the youths as the place has rows of shops in European style and there are European icons like the Danish windmill, miniature Eiffel tour and the huge klompen. Nice place for photo taking but unfortunately, not all of the buildings are occupied yet and those that are already occupied do not start business until late afternoon. So we decided to have lunch in one of the simple restaurant before heading off to the next destination.

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Next, I wanted to see Mutun beach, one of the popular beach in Lampung but since we overshot it, we decided to drive on and found another beach called pantai Sari Ringgung. It is probably a trend in Indonesia that wherever there is a beach, you will see lots of Indonesians spending their day there. It was packed with people, cars, vans and tour buses! There were huts (all fully occupied), mats, rubber tubes and kayak boats for rent. You see big and small kids playing in the water and the elderly people just sitting around watching people. There were also people selling ice creams and stalls selling souvenirs made of seashells, pop mee, drinks, beach clothes, etc. You could even go for boat rides to see the floating mosque further away from the beach as well as smaller islands which initially I was interested in to check it out but it wasn't that cheap either so I decided it wasn't worth it.

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From the beach, we went to find Muncak, a new tourist attraction site where one can see Lampung bay from the viewpoint which is located on a hill. There were a lot of local tourists taking selfies and I would have to say that the village people are very smart because in order for a person to stand on each wooden bridge to take photos, there is a 2,000 rupiah charge. We only went up to the big tower as that is the highest spot where you can see the bay. In order to do so, we had to queue for our turn to take photos as what can I say, Indonesians just love to take selfies.

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After having enough of the view, we went to find The Summit Bistro, a pretty swanky bar and restaurant located on a hilltop. It's a 2 storey building where the ground floor is the restaurant area and the top floor is actually a bar with a balcony area where you can sit outside and enjoy the view. We were lucky that we came early so there were still empty seats outside on the balcony to enjoy the night view of Lampung. The menu was pretty much western and the price is way too expensive for Indonesians but considered standard if you have been to places like this in whichever country you have been to. While waiting for our food to arrive, we enjoyed the night view of the sea and the hills around the city of Lampung and I realised that this place is very isolated because there were no other houses or buildings around. There is however a mansion looking at The Summit Bistro but it looked like it has been unoccupied for years.

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Friday[30/12/2016] Today after breakfast, we stopped at Holland bakery to get some buns to eat on the way back to Jakarta just in case we get hungry on the road. I was impressed with how Holland bakery packed the buns I bought because instead of putting them in a plastic bag, they put all the buns into a box with the word Merry Christmas and Happy New Year printed on it. So off we go on a 2 hour drive from Lampung city towards Bakauheni port. Of course, one would not be considered to have been to Lampung if you have not stopped by the Siger Tower, the symbol of Lampung province gate which could be clearly seen from the sea near to Bakauheni port. Siger is the name of the traditional customary hat for bride in Lampung culture and the reason why it is given this name is because the Siger tower is shaped in the form of a crown-shaped building, consisting of nine series which symbolizes the nine kinds of languages in Lampung. The tower is colored yellow and red, representing the golden color of the bride's traditional hat and decorated with Tapis, the traditional cloth of Lampung. The building is actually in a sorry state which has seen its heydays and there used to be a radio station on the top part of the tower which is now left abandoned. Still, there are people who stop by to take photos. From the 6th floor, we could see Bakauheni port, the Sunda strait and the ongoing construction of the Trans Sumatra Toll Road.

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Then we headed off to the port which is just a few minutes away from Siger tower. This time, we did not have the same ship as when we arrived to Lampung. This ship was more commercialised where you have to pay in order to stay in the air con room which is considered as VIP room. I stayed at the top deck which is pretty hot because both sides of the ship was covered with windows so the air couldn't move freely. Then they have dangdut singers which makes you wonder how they could keep on singing for 3 hours straight without stopping at all just to get money from the passengers especially the men who wanted to dance with them. We reached Merak port by early afternoon and head straight towards Jakarta. It was a boring drive from Cilegon all the way to Jakarta. By the time we reached to Jakarta city, it was after office hours so the roads were packed with cars heading everywhere. Doni kept on complaining about the slow traffic which to Indonesian standard is already so bad but I told him that he hasn't experienced the traffic jams in Shanghai and Bangkok which could only move a few inches bit by bit and you get stuck in traffic for at least 2 - 3 hours just to get to your destination. Since we want to avoid the crowd, after dropping off our laundry, we head for Hotel Zia Shiro I Shika, a pretty new hotel with Japanese concept. For dinner, we decided to go to Blok M Plaza which is near to Pasaraya Blok M since traffic on the road was packed with cars and people. After dinner, we walked over to Pasaraya Blok M which has a lot of small shops but they closed very early so there was nothing to see. Then we decided to find the Pasar Kue Subuh Blok-M but since Doni didn't know where it is and it is also difficult to find the exact location even with Google Map, in the end I gave up. So we headed back to the hotel to rest instead.

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Saturday[31/12/2016] Today my target is to see Jakarta old town. After breakfast, we head to the old town area and we were lucky to find parking nearby as it was still early. Even though it was just about 9.30am, there were already some foreign and local tourists at the Fatahillah Square (formerly known as Batavia City Square), riding the bicycles or just taking photos. As time goes by, more and more people started coming to the square. There were quite a number of things to do and see just to keep people entertained. There are street artists dressed up and posing for whoever is interested in taking photos with them just as long as they pay for it. We went to check out the Museum Wayang and saw all sorts of puppets from different part of Java, made from wood and animal skin. After the interesting tour around the museum, we walked to Glodok, the Chinatown in Jakarta. I wanted to see Gereja Santa Maria de Fatima because it look like a Chinese temple externally but it is actually a catholic church. We passed by the market area where people were selling fresh seafood and vegetables along both sides of a single lane road and people walking by foot to see things so only motorcycles can pass through. We stopped by to see Vihara Dharma Bhakti, the oldest Chinese temple in Jakarta before walking further to Gereja Santa Maria. We finally found the church and went into the compound which externally does look like a Chinese temple with Chinese writings but unfortunately, it was closed so we were unable to go inside and see.

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On the way back to Fatahillah Square, we went to see Jakartakota station which was packed with people. The queue just to buy the train tickets were horrible and people were just sitting on the floor waiting to board the train. When we reached back to Fatahillah square. it was already packed with people. To cool ourselves down from the walking, we went to see the Jakarta History Museum where the building used to be the Stadhuis (city hall) of Batavia. The building itself is pretty impressive with big rooms, wooden floors and wooden ceilings, typical Dutch architecture. There were a lot of antique furniture and archaeological objects from the prehistoric era. From the window on the first floor, I watched a man making kerak telor. I love to try kerak telor but it is not advised for foreign tourists to avoid diarrhea since we are not used to the hygiene of push carts and utensils which have been used over and over again without being washed in Indonesia. On the way out, we checked out the prisons which were behind the building. I would have to say the women's prison which was located under the basement of the building looked very interesting to check out but then everyone just peep through the staircase which goes down the entrance but no one walked down and go into the prison itself. The floor was wet and it looks creepy though.

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After all the sightseeing, it was time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of Cafe Batavia, a famous colonial landmark at Fatahillah Square. The building itself is the second oldest building in the square other than the Jakarta History Museum. It's amazing how they were able to preserve this 2 storey 19th-century building which was completed in 1837. On the ground floor, there is a bar, a performance stage and a lounge area whereas the main dining hall is on the second floor. The interior was refurbished in a 1930s theme and so was the uniform of the waiters and waitresses. I just love the ambiance where it takes you back in time during the colonial era. They serve western, Asian and Indonesian food so I ordered soto Betawi and bir pletok (0% non-alcoholic herbal drink) which are specialty of Jakarta as well as desserts such as surabi (Indonesian pancake) and poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) which was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cherry on top of it.

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The square was pretty crowded by the time we left Cafe Batavia and there were uniformed personnel (police, army, red cross,etc) getting ready to monitor the place as everyone are already waiting to celebrate the new year here. Since there was nothing else for us to do here, we head off to Monas. Even though it was before 6pm, people were already heading towards Monas. The parking area inside Monas was full so we had to park at the Gambir train station which was also quite full already. We were hoping to go up to Monas but unfortunately, this year, they had closed the Monas early because they did not want people to throw litter everywhere inside. We found a place to sit near to the Monas for a while but since we had to wait for another 6 hours until midnight, we went to Gambir train station to find something to eat. This train station is much more better than Jakartakota station with few eateries. There is a small McDonald but it was also packed. Since we had a lot of time to waste, we didn't mind waiting for empty seats and just sat there, eating our simple dinner for 2 hours before heading back to Monas. This time, Monas was fully packed with people sitting on the grass and walkway just waiting for the fireworks. When it was finally midnight, fireworks started but very disappointingly, none of it was played inside Monas area. We saw fireworks playing around outside of Monas and it was very simple compared to the ones I usually see. Such disappointment after waiting for 6 hours whereas I could have spent the time relaxing in the hotel and sleeping early since I will be flying back to Brunei tomorrow. When the fireworks ended, people started going back so traffic was horrible in terms of human and car jam. We only reached back to the hotel after 1am.

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Sunday[1/1/2017] Today marks the end of my 16 day trip around west Java and Lampung. There wasn't much traffic on the road which is an unusual sight to see since Jakarta is well known for it's heavy traffic on the roads. I can proudly say that I have already covered the whole of Java whi ch took me 3 trips to do so. However, I would have to say that west Java has less to offer than central and east Java. Time to move on to the next Indonesian island.

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Posted by Lingering 06:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Central and East Java

Land of volcanoes and scaling up Mahameru, the highest mountain on Java


View Central and East Java on Lingering's travel map.

Sunday [26/6/2016] Kolin and I took an evening flight from Brunei to Surabaya which was not a very long flight. By the time we landed in Surabaya, it was about 8.40pm. The airport is similar to Bali airport and is way bigger than Jogjakarta airport where I first arrived to Java back in December 2014. We took a taxi to our hotel, The Square which happens to be near to a weekend night market where people were selling all sorts of stuffs on both sides of the road. After being held up by the slow traffic due to people walking on the street as well as motorbikes and other cars passing by, we finally reached to The Square. Unfortunately, most of the shops had already closed but we were glad that the room was not disappointing. I didn't even release that The Square is actually an apartment when I book it online as it as an ensuite kitchen. Without anything much to do, after settling down, we went to bed since we have more than a week of adventurous trip ahead of us.

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Monday [27/6/2016] We went down for breakfast at 6.30am since Cahyo was coming to our hotel at 8am. To our surprise, although there were signs that some people had already taken breakfast, we were the only ones there. Apparently, due to the time difference, it was only 5.30am even though the sun was already up and shining brightly like as if it was after 7.30am and we did to adjust out watch to the time zone in Java. People who were fasting had already eaten during sahur which was why the food was already partly taken. After having a simple buffet breakfast, we packed our stuff and waited for Cahyo and the driver to come and pick us up at 8am. From Surabaya, we drove 2 hours to Probolinggo where we stopped by at Madakaripura waterfall which is located at Sapih village. In order to go there, we had to take the motorbike from the parking area and it was not a comfortable experience since we never sat on motorbikes in Brunei. We then had to walk by foot for ½ hour before we reached the waterfall area where we had to walk across the stream in certain areas. Some parts of the stream were shallow while other parts were deep. There are altogether 7 waterfalls but because there has not been much rain at all, only a few of the waterfall had strong flow of water flowing down. After getting wet from walking under the waterfalls and also from the strong blast of water from the biggest waterfall, we headed back to the car park and moved on to the next destination.

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It had started to drizzling by the time we reached to the grape plantation. Initially, I thought Cahyo found a commercial grape plantation like the one I visited in Thailand but it turned out that we were brought to an agricultural research station which carries out research on different grape varieties. Oh well, we got to learn that there were over 60 varieties of grapes planted in that research station and had the opportunity to taste several varieties from the vine, some sweet and some sour. After some lesson about growing grapes, we went for lunch first before stopping by the Red church. Unfortunately, the Red church was not open to the public today so from the gate, Cahyo explained that this church was built in 1862 with the materials shipped from Holland. The design of this church is exactly the same as the red church in Holland and the external materials have never been replaced for more than 100 years except that it has been repainted.

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Even though it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to head straight to Beejay Resort Probolinggo which is located at the coastal port of Mayangan. We specifically chose to stay at this resort because even though we do have mangroves in Brunei, no chalet has been built in between the mangroves so it's a new experience for us to stay within the mangroves. The suite we stayed in was nice, air conditioned and has a veranda outside where we could sit and just enjoy the peaceful view of the sea as well as watching people walking on the walkway which was still under construction. They even sent a complimentary afternoon tea with some finger food to our bungalow! After eating and relaxing for a while, we decided to check out the whole resort area. There were single story bungalows like ours, a few double storey houses, restaurants, function hall and even outdoor sports facilities across the other side of the road which unfortunately we did not not managed to as it was about to rain. When it started to rain, we decided to have our dinner early at the Caterpillar lobby which is just next to our bungalow. We happened to be the only clients there and since there were only 2 of us for the chef to entertain, he was pretty chatty and put up a nice teppanyaki show for us. The only down side of eating among the mangrove forest were the annoying mosquitoes which was flying around us and especially while we were eating. It's like as if they intentionally want to annoy us rather than letting us enjoy our dinner. After dinner, we went back to the bungalow to settle down and had an early rest for our trip tomorrow.

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Tuesday [28/6/2016] I woke up early before 5.30am to see the sun rise since we were told that the view at the sea was nice. Even this early, there were already a few people walking on the incomplete wooden walkway. Everything was so quiet and peaceful and it feels like heaven to just seat outside the veranda just enjoying the view. Breakfast was special because it was delivered to our suite at 6.30am. After having breakfast, packing all our stuff and checking out from Beejay Resort, we headed off to Ranu segaran which is a 2 hour drive. Situated 600m above sea level, it is in Segaran village which has cool weather. This lake used to be a crater of a volcano but after the volcano became inactive, it became a lake from the accumulation of water. To go down to the lake area, we had to slowly walk down the stony trail which became a warming up session for us before we start our big hike in a few days' time. At the lake, there were bamboo rafts that has to be manually paddled by a boatman that can take people around the lake as well as to where some of the locals had set up a few fish cages. After taking some photos, we headed back towards the car park which required some time to hike back up.

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From Segaran, we headed towards Situbondo which took more about 4 hours to reach. Since it was a long driver, we just stop at one of the rest area and ordered burger to take away. I also bought brownies (it was ok but too dry for my liking) and pia tape which according to Cahyo, means fermented tapioca. I am actually not a big fan of tapioca but they made it in such a way that it actually tasted like the Taiwanese suncakes and I really loved it. Even Cahyo and Doni said they have never tasted it before like that. By the time we reached to Baluran National Park, it was already after 4pm and we had to drive 12km through the bumpy stony road inside the park just to reach towards the bekol savannah. Along the way, we saw wild chicken, monitor lizard, Javanese langur and a peacock but they ran away as our car was approaching them. By the time we reached to the savanah area, the sky was gloomy and since it was about to rain, we did not go up the watch tower which was pretty unfortunate or else we could see the vast land of the savannah. As it started to rain, we saw deers and banteng just standing still and enjoying the rain while we passed by and drove another 3km towards Bama beach first just to wait for the rain to die down. Eventually by the time we reach to the beach, the rain did stop but we were the only ones there since everyone left when it started to rain. So, we just took some photos and then headed out towards the bekol savannah again. We noticed now that a lot of drenched macaques were just sitting along the roadside watching our car pass by, hoping that we will give them some food. One thing we weren't informed by Cahyo is that the ground of the bekol savannah is very sticky like 'tar' used for surfacing the road when it is wet. When I walked towards the signboard to have my photo taken, every step I took accumulated the black 'tar' like soil on my sandal and it was weighing me down. In the end, I didn't have my photo taken as I was busy trying to remove the sticky 'tar' from the sole of my sandals with a stick and running it against the grass but it was all in vain. I would just have to bring my 'tar' souvenior along with me. Since we needed to wake up very early to go to Ijen by 2am, we decided to head straight to Ketapang Indah hotel to rest and have dinner which was a good choice because the rooms are not in a hotel building but in separate buildings with open spaces. So at least with my dirty sandals, I did not dirty the floor much. By the time we settled in our room, it started to rain heavily this time so we decided to order room service since we were too lazy to walk to the restaurant even though the restaurant was open concept. We just hoped that the rain will stop by the time we head to Jien.

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Wednesday [29/6/2016] Doni came and pick us up at midnight and fortunately, the rain had already stop. After checking out from the hotel, we headed towards Paltuding where Ijen is located. On the way, we picked up Miz, our Ijen guide since Cahyo had some personal thing to attend to and will only be meeting us the next morning. It was not my first time to go to Ijen crater to see the blue fire but when I was there the first time in December 2014, it was drizzling and the smoke was too heavy to rise up so we were not able to see the blue fire clearly and this was the main reason why I decided to come again the second time. By the time we reached to Paltuding car park, it was only 1.30am and they normally allow visitors to go up Ijen at 2am. After 1½ hours of slow hike and getting to know Miz, we finally reached to the top of the crater. Then we hiked slowly down towards the blue fire and this time, not only did we not had to wear any mask but we were able to see how the miners mine the solidified sulphur up close and personal. Since Miz used to be a sulphur miner himself before he changed his profession to being an Ijen guide, he knew where to take good shots of the blue fire so he borrowed our mobile and went off to take videos of the blue fore for us. While waiting for Miz, we took photos of the sulphur miners working. By the time Miz came back from taking the blue fire video, we stayed for a while before deciding to head up back to the top of the crater. Since 5am was still dark, all we did was rested and waited for the sun to rise so that we can see the surrounding and the visibility of lake was not so clear due to the thick sulphur smoke rising but at least we saw some blue colour from where we were. After taking photos here and there, we decided to head down to the car park at 6am. It was quite a distance especially if you need to go to the toilet but at least the weather was fine and I managed to take close shots of a Javanese langur which was just sitting calmly on a branch even though people were passing by unlike the langurs in Baluran National Park. After reaching to the car park, we rested at the warung while having our packed breakfast of fried nasi goreng given by the hotel.

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On the way back down towards Bayuwangi, we dropped Miz off where we had picked him up and headed back to town to pick up Cahyo from the hospital and then headed to a clinic to get our medical checkup certificate which was required for the Semeru trip. While waiting for our medical certificate to be done, I managed to use the time to remove the rest of the sticky 'tar' from my sandal since it was easy to come off once it has dried and boy, the toilet floor was just full of dirt. After getting our medical certificate, we headed off towards southwest of Banyuwangi which we were told that it will take 7 hours to reach to Meru Betiri National Park. A very long drive but it was interesting to see different places. We stopped by at the market where Cahyo bought some vegetables to make soup for our dinner and we went around to see the market where they were selling fruits, vegetables, kitchen utensils, cooked food and tobacco strips before continuing our journey and further along the way, we made another stop to buy some fruits. Before we continue towards Sukamade beach through the bumpy stony road, we stopped by a warung and had lunch. Delicious food to fill up the tummy. After enough of stretching, we continued on and met up with our 4WD driver who will take us all the way to Sukamade beach since we need to cross a few stream and a wide river which tend to flood during the rainy season. A long, slow bumpy drive but we saw the forests and 2 villages where the people work for the coffee and cocoa plantations. Once we reached to the wide river, we were asked whether if we were interested in sitting on the roof of the 4WD while the car cross the river and all the way to the beach so of course, Doni and I were interested. It was an interesting experience since the driver drove fast across the river and water was splashing everywhere and the wind was very cool even though the sun was shining brightly.

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The Sukamade guesthouse was very basic and poorly maintained as there were brown stains on the walls. Similar to the Belalong study field centre in Brunei, there was no electricity until 6pm since it is supplied by the generator. Initally, the plan was to relax at the beach while waiting for dinner to be prepared but the rangers had put up a new rule stating that no one is allowed to go to the beach after 5pm so that turtles which might land on the beach to find a nesting place would not be disturbed. So with nothing to do, we relax for a while and went into the hatchery house to see where they had buried the turtle eggs which they had collected from the beach. We did not see any baby turtles since we were told they only hatch at night. We had our simple dinner at 6pm and at 7pm, we were briefed by the ranger on what we could and couldn't do while we were at the beach. Half way walking towards the beach, the ranger informed us that a turtle was spotted laying eggs on the beach so all of us were asked to be quiet and switched off our flashlight. Once we were given the cue to proceed, all of us walked as fast as we could to where the turtle was sighted. It was my first time walking on the beach at night in total darkness and if we weren't rushing to get to the site where the turtle was at, I would have just stay put on the spot, listen to the sound of the strong waves and enjoy the view of the mist from the waves hitting the beach as well as the white lights from the fishing boats out at the sea. It was just amazing!

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When we reached to the green turtle, it had already laid all the eggs and the rangers have collected the eggs from the sand and lined them up to record down the number. Just from 1 turtle, it laid 122 eggs. After everyone had a chance to take photos of the eggs, the rangers put them into a bag to be taken back to the hatchery to be buried. Then after some explanations given by the ranger about the green turtle, everyone was given a chance to take photo with it while it was busy trying to cover the hole back with sand. After observing the turtle for a while, we didn't stay until the end since we were told it would take another 2 hours for the turtle to fully cover the hole back and since we have another long day tomorrow, we decided to go back before the other groups to get some rest.

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Thursday [30/6/2016] Next morning, I woke up early because the program was to release baby turtles back to the sea. While waiting for the rangers to bring out the baby turtles, we went into the hatchery which we visited yesterday and this time, there were baby turtles in a few cages. It was pretty funny to see two of them which were just relaxing on their back with their tummy upwards like enjoying themselves on a beach. At 6.30am, we headed towards the beach, carrying our own bucket of baby turtles and found a spot to release them. With their nature instinct, once they were released on the sand, they headed towards the sea where they were carried away by the waves that came ashore. After releasing all of them, all of us just stayed at the beach for a while and just enjoyed the view. While doing so, we witnessed a sea eagle successfully caught two baby turtles from the sea and took each of them to a tall tree to be eaten and it was kind of sad but as the ranger said, that is how nature works. Out of the hundreds of baby turtles released, only 10 mature turtles will survive and come back to the same beach to lay their eggs. This is the reason why Sukamade beach was made into a turtle conservation facility and the rangers have continuously make a lot of effort to save as many eggs as they could find and release the baby turtles back into the sea. After having breakfast, we slowly made a move back to the 4WD driver's house. When we reached to the big river, the driver drove the jeep half way through the river and stopped the car so that all of us could walk in the cold refreshing water and of course, photo taking sessions. After having enough of photo taking, we continued our journey through the bumpy road.

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After packing our stuff back into Doni's car at the 4WD driver's house, we continued onwards to Lumajang which is about 7 hours' drive. On the way, we stopped to buy mineral water for cooking and drinking as well as some nuggets to be cooked at Semeru. This was actually the main highlight of our trip and I have been waiting since December 2015 to climb Mount Semeru, the highest mountain on Java. By the time we had almost reached to Ranu Pane village using the back road instead of Lumajang since Cahyo insisted to use that way to save time, it had started to drizzle so even though it was only 5pm, it was already dark. When we reached to Ranu Pane, we were blocked by a truck which was stuck in the muddy part of the road. In the end, we had no choice but to emergency pack the stuff that we need for the next 2 days in the dark and then carry it with us as we walk by foot towards the homestay. The homestay was pretty ok for a night stay just to sleep but was very cold at night so it feels like haven to have a hot shower as we won’t have any chance to shower for the next 2 days. We also made a joke on the bedsheet which happened to have a picture of the animation, Frozen which did fit the cold weather we were in at the moment. It was so cold that we had to sleep with our jacket, 2 layers of trousers and socks.

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Friday [1/7/2016] We woke up as early as 5.30am to prepare ourselves and pack all our stuff before having breakfast at 7am. After breakfast, we went out to see Ranu pane village while waiting for Cahyo and the porters to get ready with everything. It's a small quite village with dirt road and the locals just mainly walked by foot. We also took advantage of the only free internet service available near to the satellite which was placed near to the entrance going into the homestay. By 8am, we started walking towards the post to get permission to climb Semeru whereas 2 of our porters have already gone ahead of us while the extra porter cum guide that we hired to carry our bags were with us. After filling in all the necessary documents and submitting our health certificate, we were briefed about the rules and regulations, the dangers, the toilets as well as stories of fallen climbers while climbing the summit. Unfortunately, not many people attended the briefing since it’s only held at 8am and another one in the afternoon whereas a lot of climbers go up at different times of the day depending on what time they arrive at Ranu Pane.

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Passing by Watu Rejang and going to the first camping base, Ranu Kumbolo was not that difficult as long as you have the stamina to walk 10.5km and it took us less than 4 hours to reach. Since it had rained the night before, the weather was very cool and misty so the view of Ranu Kumbolo lake was very mystical but visibility was very low. There were some people resting and eating cooked instant noodles at the porters' shelter house. The air in the open was cold but inside the shelter house, it was warm and comfy. There were open air toilets which were very dirty with lots of wet tissues left inside the corner of each cubicle. If they had attended the briefing like we had before climbing up, they would have known that they were supposed to throw their rubbish inside the hole and not leaving them inside the cubicles which became smelly and attracted a lot of mosquitoes. After resting for 1 hour and having a plate of instant mi goreng and egg for lunch at the lake, we continued again towards the second camp base, Kalimati which was 7.5km away.

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The route this time started to get steeper in certain areas like at Tanjakan Cinta, then going down towards Oro-oro Ombo, a vast field of verbena flowers which people usually mistaken them for lavender because of the purple flowers and then up Cemoro Kandang again before reaching to the flat ground of Jambangan and then finally to Kalimati. We took less than 2 hours to reach there and we were lucky because shortly after we arrived at Kalimati, it started to rain again. Since our porters arrived there earlier, they managed to pitch our tent just below the roof of the porters' shelter house so at least our tent won’t be wet. The toilets were so clean here when we arrived since there weren't many of us and this base camp was only for the small numbers of climbers who intent to go up the summit compared to Ranu Kumbolo where a lot of people love to camp there just to enjoy the scenery of the lake. We had our early luxurious dinner of cabbage soup, fried chicken nugget and rice before 6pm and went to sleep by 8pm since I had to get ready before 12am to climb the summit while Kolin chose to stay at the base camp. Getting sleep was impossible because I was worried that it would still rain as I kept on hearing thunder sound (apparently, it turned out to be the sound of the roaring Semeru crater every time it puff out smoke every 20 mins or so). Plus I was also excited and yet worried about climbing up the summit since it's one of the biggest challenge I’ve ever done which I was also not sure if I could make it up there after reading blogs from people did and did not managed to reach to the summit whereas some of them experienced altitude sickness and climbing up 3,676m is the highest elevation that I have never climbed before since the highest volcano I’ve climbed in Indonesia so far was only 2,799m (Ijen volcano). But I do hope that I could make it since it’s the highest mountain on Java and said to be one of the toughest to climb. When I woke up around 11pm, some people with headlights who started off from Ranu Kumbolo were already on their way up to the summit which meant that they probably did not sleep at all since they need at least 1 to 2 hours to reach to Kalimati before starting the climb to the summit.

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Saturday [2/7/2016] We were supposed to start by 12am but because I was still trying to go to the toilet before going up (there was no way I could do my business on the way up except men were able to do so easily), the porter, Cahyo and me only started off from the base camp at about 12.15am and we were the last group to go up as those who were also staying at Kalimati had already gone off. I wouldn't say that I am fit compared to other people who hike regularly but I guess the cardio exercises I did at the gym did help a bit because we were able to catch up with the groups who left earlier than us once we were at Arcopodo and we were actually the first group to start climbing towards the summit. However, the climb became slow and difficult because we were walking on soft sand with gravel which was slippery so it was a struggle not to slip downwards if you stop for a while to rest and we were going directly from 2,700m towards 3,676m high on the steep slope all the way up to the summit. There were parts with big rocks with lesser gravels where you can climb up faster but we were told not to use those parts as the rocks tend to fall. Of course, there were some ignorant Europeans who didn’t care for the safety of others but rather wanted to reach to the top first (even though Cahyo and porter did repeatedly told them not use that part), so a few of them overshoot us but there were still a lot of climbers who were still far behind us. It’s also funny how the Semeru porters love to use time instead of distance when you ask them how far more to the summit. The first time I asked our porter cum guide how far more (since the summit looked close in the dark), he said 30 mins but that 30 mins turned to be 1 hour and yet we were not anywhere near to the summit. Then the next time I asked him the same question, he said 10 mins but 10 mins went by and yet I still didn’t even see the summit anywhere near. The last 1 hour was the most challenging climb for me as my ankles were already aching so much with the steep gradient of the slope and I had to stop to rest after every few steps up. At one point, I said to myself that if my ankles really gave way, I have to call it quits even though we were already almost (though not yet) near to the summit but fortunately, Cahyo, the porter and another climber decided to really stop and take a rest on the big rocks. So we just sat down, munch on some snacks (I was starting to get hungry actually) and just enjoy the night view for a while and it felt so good to have a "short" break and sit down like that. Then when I saw that the sky was starting turning slightly blue in colour (it was close to 5am), I reminded myself that we have to reach to the summit before sunrise. So we started again and apparently, they didn't tell me that we were actually near the summit already before we sat down to rest! So we continued for another 15 minutes climb through the big rocks and we finally arrived at the summit!! How many of you have experienced this before that no matter how tired you felt while climbing for almost 5 hours, the feeling of finally reaching to the summit was just amazing and you don’t even feel the pain and exhaustion anymore?

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Yayyy!!! I've made it to the highest mountain on Java and it's so freezing cold so it was also good that we didn’t reach up too early or else we won’t be able to stand so long there to see the sunrise. A lot of climbers especially the European group had already gone down after taking a few photos at the summit since they did not wear proper clothing and were freezing their butt off. We were the last 3 groups to go down the summit at 6am because we were waiting for the crater to puff up smoke again so that we could take photo with it which took quite a while of waiting even though we were very cold but it was worth the wait. Going down the summit was no different than climbing the summit. Even though it took only 2½ hours to go down, it was just as slippery as going up so just like an inexperienced skier, I kept on slipping while the others had no problem going down without slipping. Note to self - need to learn and practice the Indonesian technique of going down slippery volcanoes without slipping at all since they kept on saying that it's not the sole of the shoes but the technique of balancing the body.

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Since it was impossible to have simple breakfast of bread and jam at the summit, we had it on the way down at Cemoro Tunggal where it marks the end of Arcopodo and the start of the rocky and sandy slope up the summit. After resting for a while, we headed back to the base camp and I was surprised at first to see the Europeans sunbathing on the ground. It was a funny sight to see them since they normally do that at the beach and this is like 2700m above sea level on a mountain. While waiting for breakfast to be served, I checked out the view of Semeru from the toilet as mentioned by the Semeru volunteer during the briefing and yes, indeed it is true that we can see the beautiful scenery of Semeru while we do our business but unfortunately, there is a tall tree now growing in front of the toilet so blocking the view of Semeru. Fried rice was served as breakfast (all the burnt calories down the drain) and by then, the sun was bright and hot. Initially I planned that we go down to Ranu Kumbolo base camp after lunch so that we could rest a bit first but after resting until 9am inside the tent, I couldn’t stand the heat of the sun any longer so I decided that we should go down to Ranu Kumbolo as soon as they packed up everything because the lake would be cooler than at Kalimati with the wind and also Kolin would spend all her time there while we rested.

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It was a good decision to go down to Ranu Kumbolo before my legs started to ache and I was able to wash myself with a small towel at the lake (better than having no bath at all) and change my clothes before more people came to the lake for camping. Since we had heavy breakfast, we decided not to have lunch since we were still full and I couldn't keep my eyes shut even though I was resting in the tent. By 5pm, it was starting to get cold and as time passes, the whole camping ground was full of tents and campers. Dinner was yet another luxury for us as Pak Omar, our head porter cooked for us rice, vegetable soup with sausage, stewed potatoes, fried chicken wings and nuggets compared to other campers who only cooked mi goreng. We decided to go to sleep early but it was impossible with all the noises and conversations going on outside our tent. Unfortunately, no matter how tired I was, I just couldn't sleep at all that night because not only the ground was very hard but it was too cold and people were snoring around me.

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Sunday [3/7/2016] Since I couldn’t sleep at all, I woke up before 5.30am to see the sunrise from the lake without having to go out from our tent. Initially, there wasn't much to see at the lake but as the sun started to rise, you can see mists forming on the lake and it's just amazing. After having a short walk and packing up our stuff, we had a huge breakfast of rice with fried chicken wings and nuggets again. By 8.30am, we started walking back to Ranu Pane at a relaxing pace. Since it was Sunday, more people were coming up as we were going down and we even met a group of Indonesian rescuers who were sent once again to search for the Swiss national who went missing while climbing Semeru on 3rd June 2016. Good luck to them as it has already been almost a month since that guy went missing. With almost 48 hours of no sleep at all, I still managed to walk 10.5km back to Ranu Pane without feeling sleepy at all though my thighs were aching now and I just realized that I got sunburnt on my arms. Once we reached to the village, we rested at Pak Omar's house while waiting for a driver to pick us up. We used the Lumajang road this time to head towards the place where Doni was waiting for us and on the way, we stopped at the roadside to see the savanah of Bromo which is located at the back of Bromo which I did not go to when I was at Bromo. This savanah area is also known as the Teletubbies hill because it resembles the landscape picture of the green hills where Teletubbies played. How similar it actually looks like, I don't know since I don't watch Teletubbies.

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After meeting up with Doni at the entrance to a waterfall and transferring all our stuff to his car, we headed off to Malang which was a 2 hour drive from Ranu Pane. I didn’t even sleep much in the car and since we had a heavy breakfast, we didn't stop for lunch. In Malang, we went to see the bird and flower market, Ijen boulevard which consist of old fashioned Dutch architecture houses that have never changed for decades, Kayu tangan church and the Tugu Malang square. By the time we were done with sightseeing, we started to feel hungry again and since Malang is Doni's hometown, he brought us to a stall selling special grilled bakso. It's either we were hungry or the meatballs were really delicious especially with the sweet gravy as we finished everything in our bowl. By the time we checked in Ibis hotel, I was so dead tired and since we had late lunch, we did not have the appetite to eat dinner. After having a nice shower and relaxing a bit, we decided to go to bed early but I didn’t sleep much because lying still made my body ached even more.

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Monday [4/7/2016] Batu in Malang is famous for apples so we went to the plantation to pick them. Since we paid for the entrance ticket to go to an apple plantation, we could eat as many apples as we can for free in the plantation but we have to pay for them if we want to take them back with us. Unlike the green apples sold in Brunei which is usually slightly sourish, the green apples in this farm were quite sweet even though their size is small. Since it wasn't expensive to buy the apples, we filled our plastic bag with some apples to eat during our trip. After that, we went to look for strawberry plantation since Kolin has never picked strawberries before. Unfortunately since it was near to Idul Fitri, a lot of the strawberry home industry have closed for the festival. Fortunately, there was a lady watering her strawberry plants but she told us that the strawberries had already been picked earlier that morning so what was left were small unripe ones which was pretty sour or are not really good already compared to the ones I've handpicked in Chiang Mai. Then we headed to Coban Rondo waterfall which to me was not as impressive as Grojogan Sewu waterfall. The last place that we went to was Mount Kelud which I was quite disappointed because I expected to see something since Cahyo did not inform me that after the 2014 eruption, everything was destroyed and now what was left was only flat ground. The road was damaged so we couldn't proceed any further to where the hot springs used to be. In the end, we just walked up to the highest part of the road where it was torn apart to see what was left after the explosion and came down after that. On the way back towards town, we passed through a signboard about the mysterious road which even gave instructions on what to do with the car. According to the signboard, the vehicle will go up even when the engine is turned off but when we tried it twice, nothing happened so in the end, we gave up and headed towards Bukit Daun hotel. The room in Bukit Daun hotel was lovely and most things are made of solid wood. The door has a traditional lock like in the olden days before modern locks were invented where you have to push the block of wood through a hole. The toilet was also nice as the there are steps going up into a hole which was meant to act as a bath tub but none of us was bothered to fill it up because it will take a long time and we were just so tired. After having dinner, we rested early but once again, I couldn't sleep much even though I was so tired as my body was still aching if I lay still. Probably the beds were not comfortable which caused my already aching body to ache even more if I am not moving at all.

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Tuesday [5/7/2016] To have our breakfast, we have to walk to the riverside cafe which was located next to a small river. The breakfast was simple but filling and it was pretty relaxing to hear the sound of the river flowing by. After breakfast, we did our packing and waited for Cahyo and Doni to pick us up to go to Pacitan. It was a 5 hours drive, going around the curvy mountainous road to goa Gong which is claimed to be the most beautiful cave in South East Asia. The cave was full of stalactite and stalagmite and it is called goa Gong because they say that when you hit on the stalactite and stalagmite, it sounds like a gong. We were also told that Pacitan is actually famous for precious stones and is known as the city with 1001 caves because there are so many caves around. After exiting from the cave on the way out, there were small stalls selling stones, t-shirts and food souvenirs for visitors. I bought one of Pacitan's souvenir called 'sale pisang' or steamed banana slice which is rolled into a ball shape and then wrapped with plastic and coloured paper. Each of these balls are then tied together to form a bunch of grape. It's very unique and beautifully wrapped so I bought some to give as souvenir for my colleagues. We then drove to Klayar beach and finally to Banyu Tibo beach. Both beaches have blue waters and the waves are quite strong. The uniqueness of Klayar beach is that the waves have carve one of the rock into the shape of a sphinx whereas in Banyu Tibo, one could see the coral pools in the rocks during low tide. Unfortunately by the time we reached to Banyu Tibo beach, the sun was starting to set so the tide was very high already to see the coral pools near to the shore. We stayed overnight at Prasasti Hotel which is a very basic but one of the top hotel in Pacitan which did not have any restaurant service except for breakfast. Since it was the eve of Idul Fitri, a lot of eateries have closed early as their workers went back to their hometown but we were lucky enough to still have a simple dinner at a satay stall. While waiting for our satay, we witnessed trucks with people playing traditional music passing by to announce the arrival of Idul Fitri around the city which was pretty interesting as we do not have this tradition in Brunei. Since our hotel is near to the road, it was pretty noisy as the convoy was going around and people playing fireworks but due to tiredness, we were still able to sleep through the loud noise.

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Wednesday [6/7/2016] After breakfast, we headed off to Pindul cave which is located in the Gunung Kidul region, Yogyakarta. It was a good thing that there were not many cars on the road as many people have gone back to their hometown for lebaran so by the time we reached to Pindul area, it was noon time. After preparing ourselves to get wet, we were ready for a wet adventure. We went up a small pick up truck filled with our rubber tubes and headed for Pindul cave tubing first. The water and the cave was cool but unfortunately, we did not bring any headlamps so we were basically floating in the water and being pulled in the dark for at least 30 mins by the guide. After coming out from the dark cave, we waited for another pick up to bring us to the other side of the village to do river tubing. There were quite a lot of people doing river tubing so it was a bit crowded in the river. Since it had not rained for quite a while, the current was not very strong but we still could move if we were in the middle of the river. However, further downstream, the guides had to pull us along because the current wasn’t strong enough. It would be more fun if the current was more rapid. Then we reached to the Kali Oyo Waterfall where we got off our rubber tube and climbed up the rocks to go up the ladder if we want to try jumping into the river from the platform which was about 10m high. Cahyo initially wanted to try but changed his mind when he was getting ready to jump because he said that it looked really high from above. Then we got back to our rubber tube and continued to float down the river. Half way after asking the guide whether if the river was deep or not, I decided to just get off from the rubber tube and floated (as well as swam) in the water to cool off because the tube was getting hot. Cahyo did the same but Kolin was the only one still sitting on the tube. After having a quick shower and changing our clothes, we headed towards Yogyakarta.

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The first thing we did after arriving to Yogyakarta city was to check out if Legian Garden restaurant in Jalan Maliboro was open since as what Wisnu had told me I was in Yogyakarta the first time, even though Doni and Cahyo had been to Yogyakarta before, they had never eaten there before since they thought it is expensive. Unfortunately, that restaurant was closed so we had to find another place to have our late lunch. Doni brought us to an alley where there were a number of cheap homestay for backpackers and we decided to try a Balinese restaurant which was just starting business so we were their first customers for that day. After stuffing ourselves with seafood, we headed back to Jalan Maliboro to check into Ibis hotel. Apparently, it's located at the end of the Jalan Dagen, the same road where I stayed in Whiz hotel last time. So after freshing up a bit, Kolin and I walked by foot to Jalan Maliboro. We did a bit of shopping for souvenirs but a lot of the shops were still closed due to the lebaran celebration.

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Thursday [7/7/2016] Since we had to check out from the hotel at 6am to catch our train at 6.45am to Surabaya, the hotel was kind enough to pack our breakfast in a box which consist of buns, croissant, jam, butter and a bottle of orange juice which is better than nothing at all. The train station was so near to the hotel so I didn't know why Cahyo even bothered to use a taxi for us. I actually discussed with him before we went to Indonesia that his service will end after dropping us in Yogyakarta since we will taking the train back to Surabaya but it seemed like he didn’t trust that we could arrive to Surabaya on our own without him so he decided to come along with us. It took 5½ hours to reach to Surabaya by train and Doni met up with us at the train station since our luggage was with him. The road of Surabaya was pretty deserted which was an uncommon sight on normal days. We had lunch first before they sent us to our hotel which is just opposite Tunjungan Plaza. Since we are on our own now, we decided to spend our time at Tunjungan Plaza. Initially we thought it was a huge mall with 5 different blocks but it turned out that it was pretty small and we had actually gone through the 5 blocks of shops without even realising it when we checked with the receptionist. Since there were only some shops that we were interested in, after having dinner we went back to the hotel even though it was still early at night.

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Friday [8/7/2016] Since today was our last day before going back to Brunei and we didn't have any plans, we decided to check out a few 'pasar' or market. The nearest one to our hotel is Pasar Genteng which is just walking distance. On the way to that pasar, there were also a lot of small souvenir shops but we decided to go to the pasar first. After going a short round on the ground floor of the pasar with nothing much to see as most of the tenants were not back yet from their hometown, we headed slowly back to our hotel but stopped by every shop selling food souvenirs just to check out whether if there was anything interesting to buy. We came across a bakery shop selling cookies and steamed brownies topped with shredded cheddar cheese and fortunately, since we were going back to Brunei tomorrow, I decided to buy a chocolate brownie and original brownie (a layer of vanilla and a layer of chocolate with cream cheese in between) which was nicely packed in boxes already and boy, it was the most delicious brownie I have ever tasted! It's soft, moist and so flavorful compared to baked brownies. With all the food souvenirs checked off from our list, we decided to go back to the hotel and put everything in our room first before grabbing a taxi to go to Pasar Atom since it was not even midday yet.

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We did not know what to expect from Pasar Atom because all I know is that there is a new and old block and they sell textiles. The taxi driver dropped us off at the old block so we started going around from the highest floor just to see if there were anything interesting to buy. Half of shops were still closed due to lebaran so we only bought a few batik materials. There were also express tailors who can finish your dress in an hour and tailors who can sew a see through transparent rain cover for your luggage but in order for them to do so, you had to bring your luggage to them so that they can take all the necessary measurements. There's also stall selling Korean ice cream where instead of using the normal ice cream cone, they used activated black charcoal fish shaped waffle as the cone and it looks interesting. I was so tempted to try it but since we haven't had lunch yet, I planned to have it later. There are food courts on both blocks but boy, were the queues long everywhere and every seats were taken since there were a lot of Indonesian who came to Surabaya for holiday. In the end, we decided to eat at Navy Seals, a fast food eatery which has no queue compared to the other eateries and it tasted quite good actually. Since we were full and we planned to go to the ITC shopping mall opposite Pasar Atom, I ended up not buying the Korean ice cream as planned but after that I kind of regretted it because there were no other places selling it unless I come back to Pasar Atom next time. ITC shopping mall is newer than Pasar Atom but has few tenants and visitors compared to Pasar Atom. Nevertheless, there is always something for us to buy everywhere we went so we ended buying a few bags and some small souvenirs. After covering the mall, we took the taxi back to our hotel just to put the things we bought and went across to Tunjungan Plaza again for early dinner so that we could come back early to do our packing since our flight is early next morning. We ended up having dinner at Fish and Co which is slightly cheaper than in Brunei but the taste is similar which is good.

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Saturday [9/7/2016] We had to wake up super early since our flight is at 6.30am. By 4am, we checked out and waited for a taxi to drive us to the airport. Although Junada is an international airport, it is a small one where there were only 2 duty free shops selling food souvenirs, perfumes and cosmetics which was not 24 hours and Starbucks in the departure hall. While waiting to board the plane, we were so sleepy because we woke up very early so I just couldn't wait to sit in the plane and sleep all the way back to Brunei. Oh well, as exhaustion sets in after all the adventure we did, it was still a trip I would never forget especially the experience going up the summit of mount Semeru. Maybe one day, I will go back and scale up to the summit of mount Semeru again just to see whether if I can break my existing record ;)

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Posted by Lingering 20:03 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Thailand

Land of a Thousand Smiles

sunny 33 °C

Saturday (16/5/2015) My flight to Bangkok departed from Brunei airport at 6.15pm and the flight was not full so I managed to enjoy having the whole row to myself. The flight took 2 hours 30 minutes to land in Bangkok airport which was big and busy as passengers from different flights arrived at the same time. Fortunately, it didn't take long to clear the immigration and get my luggage so I headed out to the arrival hall. It took quite a while to find Thee as there were three different exits but eventually we found each other. We took a taxi to Prom Ratchada Residence and Spa so that I can check in and put my luggage. Then we head out by foot to the Train Night Market Ratchada where we tried some sweet dessert and fruit juice before going around to see what they were seling. I bought a hat for 200 baht because we will be outside most of the time and I do not want to get tan again like when I was in Bali. After that, we took a subway to Pha Ram 9 where we had some food (supper for me and dinner for Thee) where we had som tam, fried rice and honey glazed chicken with sticky rice. Since we were going to get our rented car early tomorrow morning, we took a taxi where Thee dropped me off first to my hotel before going back home.

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Sunday (17/5/2015) After sleeping for less than 4 hours, I woke up at 6am to get ready for breakfast and packed all my stuff since we will be heading to Samut Prakan Province to see Muang Boran, The Ancient City. Thee came and pick me up before 8am and we headed to Ezyrentacar to get our Honda Jazz. By 8.30am, we were ready to start our trip and drove for 1 hour before arriving to Muang Boran. The entrance ticket was not cheap for foreigners but fortunately it's worth the price as there were altogether 210 temples, stupas, palace, pavilion, garden and statues which were either removed from the real site, replicated from the original or created by Khun Lek on a vast area of land. We were fortunate that we decided to drive the car inside rather than walking by foot as it would take almost a day just to see all the buildings. We stopped to take photos of important structures while driving by the not so interesting ones and it took us 4 hours to cover the whole park. Then we drove 1 hour to Nong Mon market to have our late lunch and check out the snacks they were selling. Most of the things sold were sweet snacks, dried shrimps, cuttlefish and glutinous rice in bamboo. I only bought durian crackers (which have the strong durian smell and I should have bought more as it wasn't sold anywhere else) as well as peanut and durian toffees which was not expensive to give away to my friends.

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I hour later, we reached to Pattaya and checked into Basaya hotel first before going to the top of Pratumnak Hill to see the view of the curved bay of Pattaya. There were also a lot of people praying to the statue of Prince Jumborn, the father of the Royal Thai Navy as a lot of prayers have been answered through him. After coming down from the hill, we checked out the Walking street which is just 2 rows of pubs, eateries, some small shops and massage palours. We had Turkish ice cream and I chose mango flavor. It's different from the mango ice creams I had before as it wasn't too sweet but it's pretty sticky. Then we had steamed chicken rice for dinner which is not bad though the rice is just plain rice and they do not have soy sauce so I had to eat it with fish sauce. After dinner, we walked to the main street to find some souvenirs and we came across a souvenir shop selling wines made from fruits which is locally produced. I bought a bottle of Thai mulberry wine for only 99 baht and managed to find a few magnet souvenirs though it was not enough yet. After walking quite a distance we decided it's enough for the night and headed back to the hotel.

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Monday (18/5/2015) Today we checked out of the hotel at 8am and then had breakfast at a local restaurant before heading to the Sanctuary of Truth which is 15 minutes drive from Pattaya. When we reached there, we could see the wooden carved roof and I didn't realize that it was just next to the seashore of Rachvate cape. The carvings were magnificent and very detailed. We went for the elephant ride first around the building which was interesting but I wouldn't go riding on one in the jungle. Then we had a tour guide who told us how each piece of the teakwood were carved and joined together without nails to form the 100m high and 100m long wooden structure of the Santuary of Truth as well as the story behind the 4 halls. It was a 45 minute informative tour and the design of the carvings incorporate Chinese, Cambodian, Thai and Indian elements. By the time we finished taking photos of this building, it was already 12.30pm and It was hot under the sun so we stopped by to have lunch first before heading to Nong Nooch tropical botanical garden. However, instead of going straight there, we decided to stop by a vineyard called Silverlake. We went to the shop to see if they sell wine which they did with other grape products. The wines were expensive but the other grape products were reasonably priced. I ended buying 12 packets of cookies with grape filling which is unique but I should have bought more to give away as the butter cookies smelt so delicious when you just open the packet.

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Then we drove about 1 hour to Nong Nooch tropical botanical garden where there were a lot of buses with Chinese tourists. This botanical garden is split into 9 divisions; French, European, Stonehenge, cactus and succulent, variegated plants, Ant Tower, Butterfly Hill, Orchid and Bromeliad Display Garden and the Flower valley. There is also a car garden were they have various types of luxury car on display. By the time we were done with Nong Nooch, it was already after 5pm and because of traffic jam, we arrived at Chantaburi at 8.30pm even though it is only supposed to be a 2 hour drive. Ratchan hotel is fairly new and the room is not bad. We were supposed to check out JJ night market which is just next to the hotel but they were closing at 9.30pm so we didn't bother to check it out. I don't think we miss anything not seeing it because it looks like a typical Singaporean food court and stalls selling clothes like pasar malam in Brunei. Since it was late and Thee didn't want to drive far, we had dinner at the end of the hotel block. I had green curry chicken with salted egg which was not bad and not spicy.

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Tuesday (19/5/2015) Today we went to see the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Chantaburi which was only 15 minutes drive from our hotel at 6.15am since Thee said that the church is only open to visitors from 6-7am and 7-8pm only. When we arrived there, a church service was going on and rather than just sitting down and waiting for the service to be over, we checked out the market across the road where they sell cooked food, snacks and meat. After going around the market, we went back to the church and fortunately, the service had just ended. According to Thee, this church is in the form of Gothic style like the Notre Dame in France but when I looked inside, it is not really like Gothic style. There was only the statue of Saint Mary and Jesus and the ceiling is made of wood. The important feature of this church is the statue of Virgin Mary covered with gold, gemstones and enamel which is a gift from the Chanthaburi Christian gems dealers and goldsmiths community. Her blue cloak is composed of several thousand blue sapphires originating from Thailand (Chanthaburi and Kanchanaburi), her white dress is made of hundreds of white sapphires from Sri Lanka and her clothes are also decorated with several rubies from Thailand, gold and green enamels. The statue is standing on a green globe where the oceans are made of mosaic of blue sapphires from Thailand while the land masses are made of hundreds of yellow and orange sapphires from Songea (Tanzania) and few yellow and orange sapphires from Chanthaburi.

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After that, we head back to the hotel just in time for breakfast where I had continental style breakfast and tried the fish porridge which is not bad. After checking out, we headed to Suan Lamai orchard farm where there is a fruit buffet. We first got on the tram car to go to the first stop where they had rambutan, salak and mangosteen for us to eat. Then we walked towards the fruit trees and tried to see if there were any ripe fruits to be plucked before heading to the second pit stop where there is a big hut with tables and chairs like in a restaurant . The only difference is that instead of serving food, it was a buffet of fruits. Most of the fruits are available in Brunei except their salak looks different. After trying all the fruits and also the sticky mango rice, we decided to move on as the drive to Ayutthaya takes more than 3 hours to reach. On arriving to Ayutthaya, we went to see Wat Na Phra Men which occupied a prominent place in front of the Royal Palace during the Suphannaphum/Suphanburi dynasty. The most important Buddha image in the ordination hall was named Phra Buddha Nimitr Vichit Maramoli Sisanpeth Boromtrailokanat which sits in a Subduing Mara posture. What's unique about this statue is that its attire is the royal dress complete with crown, earrings, necklace, chest and arm ornament. Next, we went to see the largest golden Buddha statue in Asia which is found inside Wiharn Phra Mongkhon Bophit before walking to Wat Phra Si Sanphet, which is just next to it. Then we went to Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya historical park located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The temple's name literally means the Temple of long reign and glorious era and it was designed in Khmer style. A lot the Buddha statues were headless as people have stolen them to be sold off. Then we checked into the hotel I have booked and rested for a while before going to Hua Raw night market. Haw raw market is smaller than I expected with food stalls and we decided to have dinner in the open air which was cool and windy but unfortunately halfway through our dinner, it started to rain so Thee decided that we leave (our food not even half eaten yet as the rain got heavier) and went to a proper restaurant just in case it rain again. Thee ordered again and after eating, we talked until it was close to midnight before heading back to the hotel.

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Wednesday (20/5/2015) Today, we left Ayutthaya at 9am since it's going to be a 9 hour drive to Chiang Mai. On the way, we stopped by twice to rest and bought some snacks before continuing our journey to Chiang Mai. We finally reached Chiang Mai around 4.30pm and checked into Royal Peninsula hotel which is not bad. In the evening, we went to see the night bazaar which sells a lot of Thai souvenirs and trinklets. I managed to buy a few wooden magnets and key hanger souvenirs which was pretty cute. Thee wanted to look for the specialty dish and we took a tuk tuk to go to that particular stall but the stall owner told Thee that they only start selling that dish at 10pm since it's called the midnight chicken. So we went back to the night bazaar area again and look for a local Thai restaurant to eat. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel as it was getting late already.

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Thursday (21/5/2015) Today was a fine day so we decided to go to Doi Suthep, one of the mountain in west Chiang Mai to check out the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located at a height of 1,060m. There were a lot of stalls selling food, fruits and local products around the car park and there are 2 ways of reaching to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; climb up 309 steps from the temple's base or take a tram if you're a lazy person. Thee opt for the tram since he's a lazy person to walk so we took the tram which we couldn't see anything outside since the tram is inside an enclosed area. When we reached to the top, there were a lot of tourists, praying and wanted to be blessed by the monk. The highlight of this temple is the golden mount which reflects brightly under the hot sun. We also took a look at the view of the whole of Chiang Mai city which is nice. We then drove further up the mountain a few minutes to Bhubing Palace which is the Royal residence of the Thai Royal family. The climate is such a drastic change from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep as it was very cool at the palace area. Due to the cold weather, roses and cold climate flowers could be grown there. I would love to stay in a cool climate place like this area.

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After visiting the Bhubing palace, we drove up the mountain again to go to Doi Pui Hmong hill tribe village which was more modern than I expected. We went and checked out the village, stalls and museum and I bought some some nice shawls, bags and postcards. Since it started to rain heavily, we managed to reach to a simple cafe called Hmong Doi Pui Family Coffee where they were selling Hmong grown Arabica coffee and homemade biscuits. I tried the peaberry coffee since it has no caffeine at all and is labelled as the best of the best coffee as well as toast with butter, sugar and condense milk (not something I would normally eat often but it taste good with bitter coffee) while we waited for the rain stop. When the rain had stopped, we went to see the strawberry farm which had a lot of ripe strawberries but unfortunately, they had started to rot. When we reached to the car, it started to drizzle again, so instead of checking out another Hmong village, we headed back down to Chiang Mai city and since we couldn't do anything, we ate cake in a coffee shop since my tummy was feeling acidic from the strong coffeee. For dinner, we went to a restaurant recommended by Thee's friend which was out of location and there wasn't any other customers except for us. We sat on the floor like in Japanese restaurant and there was a cultural show which we weren't so interested in watching since we were hungry. After dinner, we just went back to the hotel.

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Friday (22/5/2015) Today was a cloudy day and we visited Silver Temple first. It was a good thing that we visited Doi Suthep yesterday or else we couldn't do or see anything. By the time we got to Silver Temple (Wat Srisuphan), it had rained but only for a short while. The main ordination hall (ubosot) which is made of alloy and zinc with precious silver being reserved for the holy images was designed by the local silversmiths. We did not spend a long time at the Silver Temple as they do not allow women to go into the ordination hall. Then we went to the Royal Park Rajapruek which Is very nice garden park. The landscapes were beautifully designed with flowers and they have an Orchid Pavilion which shows various types of orchids found in Thailand. However, it started to rain heavily halfway before we reached to the Royal Pavilion (Ho Kham Luang) which is built according to the traditional Lanna architecture. Since I didn't want to spend 600 baht on renting a golf cart whereas Thee doesn't want to use the open sided bus which only cost 20 baht per person, in the end, I said that's enough of the park and we better head to a shopping mall instead since we can't do anything outdoors. So we ended watching a funny Thai movie after lunch and then I did some shopping for contact lens, clothes and Chiang Mai's version of vodka. We had dinner in a restaurant before going back to hotel.

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Saturday (23/5/2015) Today, we left for Chiang Rai at 9am. We arrived at Wat Rong Khun (White Temple) at 10.30am and even at that time, there were a lot of tourists already. This temple is owned by a Thai artist from Chiang Rai, Chalermchai Kositpipat and his intention of building this temple is so that it will be a center of learning and meditation for the Buddhist teaching and consider it to be an offering to Lord Buddha as he believes that this project will give him immortal life. I have to say that I am impressed by the white structure of the ubosot with all the fine details. The restrooms building is also pretty impressive as it is the only golden building in the compound. There were a lot of souvenir shops also and I tried the coconut ice cream which is alright since I'm not a big fan of coconut. At 1pm the gate to go into the ubosot was open to the public so I followed the crowd to see what is inside the ubosot where photography is prohibited. There is a Buddha statue whereas the murals are painted with swirling orange flames, demon faces, Hello Kitty, western idols such as Michael Jackson, Harry Potter and Freddy Kruger as well as nuclear warfare and terrorist attacks. We left Wat Rong Khun at 1.30pm and stopped by Singha park because Thee said there's a barley field but unfortunately they don't plant barley anymore. Since I have seen numerous tea plantations in China, we headed onwards to find the Kahurkae resort we were going to stay before going for late lunch cum dinner. Since Thee did not even sleep the night before after staying up all night with his friend, he slept the whole night until the next day while I watched tv.

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Sunday (24/5/2015) After having a simple breakfast, we checked out of the resort and drove 15 minutes to the Black House (Baan Dam) which was also created by a Chiang Rai artist, Thawan Duchanee who is a friend of Chalermchai Kositpipat. The buildings are all Lanna-style vihara of charcoal black wood with a steeply pitched, multi-tiered roof. I am not impressed with the Black House as I am with Wat Rong Khun and I do find it a bit eeire as the artist makes a long dark wooden table with chairs made of buffalo horns, animal skins hanging from beams and there are many animal skulls and bones. We didn't spend a long time there so we continued our journey to the Golden Triangle area which is an hour drive. When we arrived at the Golden Triangle area, Thee took me to the small Hall of opium which was targeted for tourists as they were hoping that the tourists would also buy souvenirs on the way out whereas I prefer the real Hall of Opium which shows videos of the history of opium in Thailand. Then we just saw the golden triangle sign but couldn't see the islands clearly. After lunch, we took a boat to see the point at which Myanmar, Laos and Thailand all meet together at Ruak river before heading to Done Sao, a special economic zone of Laos which sells a lot of fake bags, souvenirs and snake whiskey. I bought the smallest bottle of snake wine just to taste, some Laos souvenir, Golden Triangle map t-shirts and Laos whiskey. We spent a whole half hour at Done Sao before heading back to Thailand border and headed to Ban Naam resort which is near to the mountains and has 2 artificial lakes in front of each row of chalets which makes the scenery very nice. Then we went to the Mae Sai (Thailand) / Tachileik (Shan State of Myanmar) border and had our early dinner while watching people crossing to Myanmar by foot. We then checked out the markets and roadside stalls along the road and this time, I bought the Mae Sai/Myanmar border t-shirts. Then we headed back to the resort to rest as we will be travelling up to the mountain tomorrow.

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Monday (25/5/2015) Today after breakfast, we headed to Choui Fong tea farm which is a tea plantation found at an altitude of 500m to 1,200m above sea level. This tea farm is famous as it has won the Oolong Tea gold prize from the World Green Tea Association in Japan in 2009. They have a cafe which sells cakes and drinks made of tea. I tried green tea frappuccino, green tea cream cake and the Thai tea cake. To drink cold green tea frappuccino on a hot day is so refreshing. We enjoyed the scenery of the tea plantation for a while before I went to check their souvenir shop and bought 2 packets of green tea powder which I can use for my baking. Then we continued our journey to Doi Mae Salong, located on the northern part of Chiang Rai and this mountain is part of the Daen Lao Range. Although the mountain is high, it is not as cool as in Doi Suthep. We drove more than 1 before we reached to Santikhiri village which is the settlement of Yunnan Chinese who came with the 93rd Infantry of Kuomintang led by General Tuan Si Woen in 1961 until we saw the temple, Phra Borommathat Chedi Si Nakharin. From this temple, one can see the Santikhiri village slightly below where they are built on ridge of the highest peak of the Doi Mae Salong range of mountains, at an elevation of 1,800m above sea level. I would love to check out the other parts of this mountain but since Thee was not happy about driving so far just to look at mountains and since he wanted to check out the second Friendship bridge, we went with his idea but found that there weren't any cars using this border and it doesn't look anywhere like going near to Myanmar at all. What a waste of time so, we had lunch and then head back to Kahurkae resort where we stayed before when we came to Chiang Rai on the first day. I used the rest of the evening to pack up all the stuffs that I've bought along the way since we will be heading back to Bangkok tomorrow.

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Tuesday (26/5/2015) Today after breakfast, we headed back to Bangkok at 9am. Since it was a long drive back, we just stopped for coffee at 11.30am and then had lunch at one of the shopping centre before driving for another 3 hours. After having another toilet break, we drove another 3 hours before stopping for dinner in Ayutthaya and then drove more than 1 hour before arriving in Bangkok. By the time we reached back to Prom Ratchada Residence and Spa, it was already almost 10pm and both of us were already tired, so we said goodbye since I will be going around Bangkok on my own as Thee does not have any patience at all and can't stand the hot weather.

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Wednesday (27/5/2015) My first plan today was to check out the cool Terminal 21. It wasn't difficult to find this shopping mall as all you need is the mrt and BTS skytrain map to go around. Terminal 21 has a pretty cool concept of the airport. When you enter the shopping mall, there is a security check scanner like at the airport with a man dressed in uniform to make you feel like as if you're in an airport for security check. It has 6 levels with different concepts. I checked out each floor and the things they were selling. After having lunch there, I decided to move to another shopping mall and by then, it was about 3pm. I went to Central World Plaza first just to check out a few stores before deciding to go to Platinum Fashion Mall. Since I didn't check out the location of Platinum Fashion Mall at first, I headed towards Siam Paragon instead. Rather than going straight towards MBK, I decided to leave it for tomorrow and turned back to go to Platinum Fashion Mall. There were a lot of people in this mall as there are so many small stalls selling clothes, shoes, bags as well as cosmetics and the place is huge that you can go around the same place on each floor more than 2 times. I did not managed to check out all the stalls since there are 2 blocks so I will continue again tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. However, I bought 2 pairs of winter boots, 2 dresses, 1 blazer and 1 blouse. There are some nice pants but since there is no testing allowed, it is risky to buy them and then find out that you can't fit into them properly at all. For dinner, I went to Big C and checked out the eateries in that mall. I also managed to buy a blouse and a cheongsam which suits me pretty well while I was there before going back to the hotel.

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Thursday (28/5/2015) Today, I went to check out MBK which is also a big shopping mall. However, the clothes sold there were mostly t-shirts and pants which didn't catch my attention but I did managed to buy some more souvenirs and a box of chopsticks made of rosewood. It is so easy to get lost in MBK as I found out that I went to the same place twice on each floor and also it is linked to another building which is also full of small stalls which sells clothes, bags, cosmetics, electronics, mobiles, shoes, etc. After checking each level and walking around for a few hours, I was glad that I could sit down at Pizza Hut to have lunch for quite a while before I decided to go back to the hotel, to drop the stuff and then head back out again to Central Plaza Rama 9. By the time I got there, it was dinner time so I decided to try the Korean cuisine where the price is not much different from Brunei but Korean restaurants in Brunei provided more banchan than Thai Korean restaurants but the bimbibap was still nice. Since it was getting late, I decided to head back to the hotel and start to pack bit by bit to see if my luggage will exceed the weight limit given by the airline.

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Friday (29/5/2015) Today, I headed to Central World Plaza to watch San Andrea. I took the 1.30pm show and it was very interesting from the start until the end of the movie. After checking out all the levels of this mall, I headed over to Platinum Fashion Mall again. This time, I bought another blazer (white this time) and 2 blouses. For dinner, I tried the Japanese salmon bento as well as California maki at Yayoi in Big C which was nice but I shouldn't have ordered the California maki since the salmon bento was very filling.

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Saturday (30/5/2015) Today's the day I've been waiting for to go to Chatuchak Weekend Market (also known as JJ Market), the world's largest weekend market, consisting of 15,000 stalls selling everything from antiques, crafts, flowers, souvenirs, animals, food, drinks and decorations. Even though there were a lot of people but still it wasn't too crowded and the weather wasn't too hot to be out in the open though there wasn't much wind. I checked out each zone as well as looking out for the animal section as my friend was asking me to take photos of all the macaws which was interesting though I couldn't buy much since my luggage is almost to the weight limit already. However, I found a stall selling magnets of different place of attractions in Thailand and another stall selling jasmine and rose flower garlands made of soap which was very nice. I also tried the strawberry yoghurt drink which was very refreshing and not too sweet. After going through all the different zones and not being able to find the animal zone, I decided to take a break and have lunch at one of the restaurant and asked the waitress where exactly is the animal zone. Apparently, there is another zone slightly out of the Chatuchak main zone which I haven't explored and that was where I headed to after lunch. True enough, there were animal sections where there were a lot of cute big eyed puppies, huge husky dogs, rabbits, kittens fish, macaws and sugar gliders which a lot of shop owners do not allow people to take photos of the animals they sell. They're so cute especially the sugar gliders. After being at the market for 6 hours, I headed to check out JJ Shopping Mall which is just next to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. There were small shops selling some clothes and bags but a lot of them mainly concentrate on foot massage which I do not want to go for anymore after my last painful experience in Shanghai unless I really have no choice at all and my feet are aching so much that I can't walk without any pain. However, I took the opportunity to relax at Cafe Kaldi and ordered their signature mango kanten parfait but unfortunately, they ran out of stock so I had mixed parfait instead which was yummy. Since there wasn't anything much to see at JJ Mall, I then headed to the Union Mall which is only 2 stops from the Chatuchak station which is also another huge shopping mall that is 8 storey high. There was a lots of stalls selling clothes, mobiles, accessories, bags, shoes and decorations which are not too expensive. After buying some stuffs, I headed back to the hotel to rest as it has been a long walking day so it was just nice to relax in bed.

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Sunday (31/5/2015) Today is my last day in Bangkok and since I've already checked out the popular shopping malls in Bangkok, I went out to Chit Lom area and went to Central World Plaza to have lunch first. After checking out if there was anymore interesting movies being released which there wasn't, I headed towards MBK direction and stopped by the shopping malls around it first before going to MBK. Since it was a really hot day today compared to those days I've been so far, I came across an interesting stall in MBK selling shaved ice so I ordered mango kori with mango syrup and mango as the topping because I just love mangoes especially those sweet ones which are hard to find in Brunei. It was really nice and refreshing with that sweet taste when you feel so hot! After checking out all the stalls again in MBK just in case I missed them the first time I was there, i headed towards Palladium World Shopping Mall which is near to the Platinum Fashion mall. The stalls also sell clothes, bags, shoes, accessories, decorations which are slightly cheaper than Platinum Fashion mall but there weren't a lot of people there shopping which is probably because they do not know that this mall also sell clothes at a cheaper price. After having an early dinner, I went back to the hotel to do my packing since I have to fly back to Brunei tomorrow.

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Monday (1/6/2015) After having breakfast today, I checked out of the hotel and took a taxi to go to the airport. It took more than 30 minutes to reach to the airport but there was still plenty of time to explore the airport. After checking in my luggage and clearing the immigration, I went to check out the shops inside the departure hall and managed to buy few more souvenirs before boarding. Our flight departed from Bangkok at 1.30pm and landed in Brunei at 5pm which was slightly earlier than the scheduled time. It was a nice experience travelling on the road by car in Thailand as you get to see a lot of things and if I have an opportunity to go back to Chiang Rai again, I would love to cross the border to Myanmar and Laos just to have a look on how the local people live.

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Posted by Lingering 09:21 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Central Java - East Java - Bali

Yogyakarta - Solo - Mount Bromo - Ijen crater - Bali

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Saturday (6/12/2014) I am looking forward to my Indonesia trip as I will be going on an overland tour from Java to Bali and since it's my first time to Indonesia, I am not sure what to expect actually. Unfortunately, I was on the same flight to Denpasar with a big group of China tourists who were not only very loud and also very impatient at airport. Fortunately, they weren't that noisy on the plane. We arrived in Denpasar, Bali at 11.10pm (not a perfect time to arrive in a foreign country but then, that's the only flight per day available) and the immigration was very efficient and fast as it only took a few minutes to pass through. However, waiting for the luggage to come out on the carousel took ages. I was advised to find Bluebird taxi as they are the cheapest among all the Bali taxis but couldn't find any and ended having to take the Airport taxi where the driver charged 100,000 rupiah at first but in the end, he agreed to lower it to 90,000 rupiah so that he could go home after that. The Airport Kuta Hotel and Residence was only a few minute drive from airport. For transiting purpose, it is alright but not for long stay.

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Sunday (7/12/2014) I had to wake up at 5.30am to catch the Airasia flight to Yogyakarta at 7.50am. The bellboy was nice enough to call the Bluebird taxi for me and I was charged only 30,000 rupiah which was 1/3 the price of the airport taxi. The driver told me that Bluebird taxis are only allowed to go in to the domestic terminal but not the international terminal. After a 2 hour flight, we landed at Yogyakarta airport which was even smaller than Pontianak's airport at 8am (Java is 1 hour behind Bali) and saw Wisnu holding a paper with my name on it. He's a friendly guy and told me that I'm his 1st client from Brunei and thought I was a German at first because of my name. He took me to have breakfast first and we had soto campur which looks more like cooked rice soaked in soup to me since the soto we have in Brunei consist of noodle.

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To start off the trip, we went to Prambanan temple, a UNESCO world heritage site first which used to have 240 Hindu temples but most of them were destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. Only the main complex temples were restored while rest are still left in ruin. Each of the 3 Trimurti (main) temple is dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma where as the 3 vahana temples which is in front of the Trimurti temples are dedicated to the vahana of each gods: Nandi, Garuda, and Hamsa. After taking some photos and talking about the Java kingdom based on my memory about the Majapahit kingdom we learnt in school decades ago, we slowly walked towards the exit where it so happened that there is a cultural performance since it is a weekend. According to Wisnu, there are different groups performing every Sunday and this time, it is the Kuda kepang Peramban group which put on quite an interesting performance because of the energetic dance movements by the 5 dancers who wore mask, then followed by the kuda kepang dancers who were possessed by spirits which were called by the dukun.

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We then headed towards Mount Merapi (Fire mountain) and on the way, we stopped for lunch in an open bamboo hut. I tried the minuman raja which is a spicy herbal tea with lemon grass in it. After lunch, we made our way to Mount Merapi whereby the 2010 eruption was the largest in the history as over 350,000 people were evacuated from the affected area and 353 people who remained behind or returned to their homes while the eruptions were continuing were killed during the eruptions. We stopped at the last village, Selo and took a jeep tour towards the base camp of Mount Merapi where the bunker is at. By then the clouds had come down and covered Mount Merapi while the wind was getting colder. It was a bumpy ride all the way but fun. We stopped at a private mini museum whereby the owner of the house displayed all their personal things that were destroyed by the volcanic eruption on 5th November 2010. The owner also set up a sign for people to reflect on the meaning of life after seeing the aftermath of the 2010 volcanic eruption. Since Mount Merapi is known to be active every 5 years, I wonder, would an eruption occur again in 2015?

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We then finally head back to the city where I checked into Whiz hotel which is less than a minute walk to Maliboro road. It's a pretty nice new hotel, and although the single room is small, it still more spacious than the hotels in Singapore and Hong Kong. After resting for a while, I went and checked out what is happening along Maliboro street. There were lots of shops selling batik and souvenirs of the same kind. I bought 2 boxes of the dry type of bakpia pathok which are small, round-shaped Indonesian Chinese-influenced sweet rolls and I chose the various flavors (pineapple, red bean, cheese and durian) and as well as a unique batik blazer with blue patterns which was only sold in that particular batik shop. Since Wisnu recommended to have dinner at Legian garden restaurant, I decided to give it a try. It has a nice interior setting overlooking Maliboro street and the price of the food price is moderate. I ordered Padang gulai kambing which is Padang style lamb curry which was nice and minuman raja again which this time they added ginger instead of lemon grass into the herbal tea. Interesting start for first day in Java.

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Monday (8/12/2014) I had to wake up at 4am as Wisnu said he will come at 5am to pick me up since it is a 1 hour drive to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple which is another UNESCO World Heritage site and then another 3 hour drive to Dieng Plateau. On the way, it drizzled a bit but by the time we arrived at Borobudur at 6.15am, the sky was clear and the sun came out. I hired a guide, Dariyat who is very friendly and very knowledgeable in the history and structure of Borobudur. He explained about each set of picture carvings and the missing parts of the Buddha statue as well as the interlocking system of each stone which was genius for the olden days. There are altogether 10 levels which is divided into 3 parts that represent the human body. The bottom 2 levels with no carvings represent the lower part of the body (the worldly desire), the 2 sets of 4 levels with Buddha sculptures and carvings represent the upper body (the control of our worldly desires and the top stupa represents nirvana. Borobudur is also the holy site for Buddhism where Buddhists from all over the world come to do pilgrimage during Vesak. I was also told by Dariyat that Vatican city has a miniature model of Borobudur. After taking some photos, we headed to the car park where I had breakfast before we headed towards Dieng Plateau.

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After 3 hours on the road, we finally reached to Dieng Plateau which is a marshy plateau located 2,000m above sea level that forms the floor of a caldera complex on the Dieng Volcanic Complex near Wonosobo. The name "Dieng" comes from Di Hyang which means "Abode of the Gods". Being high up, the weather was pretty cool even though the sun was shining brightly. The first place we stopped to see is the colour lake which Wisnu suggested that we climb up higher to see the colours rather than paying 100,000 rupiah just to walk to the edge of the lake and see the green colour only. When it is cloudy, the colour of the lake is very clear light green colour at the edge and darker green in the middle but when the sun is shining fully, the colours seen are yellow, green and purple. Unfortunately, since it was cloudy when we were at the top, we only saw green colour. Even at the top of the hill, I could smell something like chicken manure which I thought the farmers used for growing vegetables nearby. However, when we reached to Sikidang crater, the same smell was there but more stronger and that's when I realised that the smell at the colour lake was actually the sulphur smell instead of chicken manure. Sikidang crater is named after a deer as the crater moves from 1 spot to another after all the sulphur has reacted with the hot water. According to Wisnu, the main crater has gotten bigger after being active for 17 years already. I asked Wisnu about the strength of sulphur smell at Ijen crater and he said it is even stronger there compared to what we smell here. Our last stop for today is the Arjuna temple complex which is a small group of the oldest Hindu temple found in Java. We arrived back at Whiz Hotel at 5.30pm. Since it was still early, I rested for a while before going out to find the souvenir shop that Wisnu recommended which is at the end of Maliboro road. After walking some distance, I finally found Mirota Batik shop which is just opposite Beringharjo market. They have various batik clothing on the ground floor and Javanese souvenirs on the first floor. I bought some souvenirs to be given away as well as Javanese dolls for my doll collection from each country.

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Tuesday (9/12/2014) I tried nasi gudeg, made from unripe jackfruit boiled with palm sugar and coconut milk for breakfast which was nice as it is not so sweet. Today would be a pretty relaxing day as Wisnu picked me up at 9am. We went to the Keraton where the Sultan of Yogyakarta still reside with his family. It is a bungalow wooden structure complex built since the 1st sultan and I was told that the wood have never been replaced as they are made of teakwood. It is pretty impressive as there are lots of carvings covered with gold leaf. At the entrance of the palace, there are 2 palace gods; the one on the right side is the good god whereas the one on the left is the bad god. There are altogether 2000 staffs who works for 24 hours 2 times each month and I was told that the youngest guard is only 6 years old. We were not allowed to step on the area where the sultan and his family still lives which looks pretty simple from the outside but I was told that they have their own swimming pool and garage for their luxurious cars behind the compound which cannot be seen by the public. The wedding palanquin used by the 7th sultan is also on display but not used anymore as the 8th and 9th sultan used a mercedes when they got married while the current king (10th king) used a lambourgini during his wedding procession. There were displays of souvenirs to the king from other countries and the marble floors at the reception hall which is still used was given by Italy while the Chinese vases around the compound was given by China. We then listen to a group of musicians playing Javanese music with the traditional instruments which the sultan listens to go to sleep but I didn't stay long to hear the ladies sing.

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As it started to rain again, Wisnu suggested we go to Ganjuran church first instead of the Water Palace which is in open air. Ganjuran church is the oldest catholic church in Yogyakarta that has Javanese influence. The church is an open building with extravagant carvings on the ceiling. The altar is also nicely carved but the funny thing is that the sculpture of the angels and Jesus has the face of a Hindu man. Even the Jesus statue in the temple look like a Javanese man. The most impressive thing about this church I would say is the striking colour and the detailed carvings on the ceiling in the middle of the open air church. There were so many pews that this church can easily fit at least 1000 people. Then we headed to see the coffee luwak home industry. They have the dried faeces of the civet cat and the form the coffee bean seeds came out. The owner kept 3 civet cats where 1 is from Java while the rest is from Sumatra. The black tame civet cat was with them since it was 3 only months old and it is bigger than the other 2 cats. I ended buying the strong and mildly roasted powder luwak coffee even though I am not a coffee drinker. But since it is said to have health benefits and no caffeine, just adding 1 teaspoon of it is ok I guess. It wasn't cheap at all as 100g cost 500,000 rupiah but since I bought 2 different types of luwak coffee, I was charged only 450,000 rupiah for each packet. The owner is a very friendly guy, used to work in a cafe in Holland for 6 years and is also an artist which he told me that he will be holding an art exhibition in Hong Kong. I also took the opportunity to ask him if I can take photo with his tame civet cat which fortunately he said ok.

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Then we went to the Taman Sari Water Palace which was pretty small. It has 3 swimming pools. 1 for the wife and children and another for the concubines which is opposite of each other whereas the sultan's pool is on the other part of the building. There were also individual changing rooms for the children, wife and the sultan as well as a sauna room only for the king! Then comes the selling part, batik. Although it is hand drawn and very nice especially the dragons, Hindu gods and phoenix, they are also very expensive. I only bought a small batik sheet with picture of parrot which cost 500,000 rupiah. Then my guide wanted me to buy batik again which he said is drawn by his daughter which I only bought 1 as it is expensive also for a small piece of drawing. After that, since Fort Venderburg museum is near to Beringharjo market which is not too far from Whiz hotel, I told Wisnu that he can just drop me at the fort and I can walk back to the hotel. This gives me the chance to take my sweet time taking photos. So I went inside Fort Venderburg which was built by the Dutch but now it has been turned into a museum. It mostly shows how the Indonesians overthrew the Dutch and how they formed their own national party after that. A few buildings were locked as they were doing maintenance so basically, there were only 3 gallery for the public to see. Then I walked to Beringharjo market where there were people selling food, snacks and bakpia (without even covering them). Can you imagine how hygienic the food is in these type of stalls with lots of people passing by every second. Inside Beringharjo market, there were batik stalls everywhere. Since I am not a big fan of batik clothes, I went to see the other levels where they were selling clothes, dried snacks and there's even a food court on the very top floor. Then I went to the opposite market which is linked to Beringharjo market. This market is much more older and quite dirty. A lot of food stalls on the ground floor have closed as it was already 4pm. After a hot day outside, I went back to the hotel to pack all of my stuffs since we will be going to Solo and staying overnight at Sarangan lake area before heading towards Mount Bromo.

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Wednesday (10/12/2014) Today, I checked out from Whiz hotel and proceeded to Solo. This time, Wisnu asked his friend, Nepo to come along as he would be tired after hiking with me. We drove 2 hours to Solo to visit Mangkunegaran Palace, the residence of the Solo sultan who has no power unlike the sultan of Yogyakarta who is the governor. However, the main hall is bigger than the hall of Keraton palace and has more western ornaments. The sultan has a private collection of limited edition things including a stuffed Sumatran tiger. Then after the tour, I watched the dancers rehearse for their performance a bit which was very different from the traditional Javanese dance as they have very slow but elegant moves. Then we drove 1 hour to Sukuh temple which is located on the western slope of Mount Lawu, 910m above sea level on the border between central and east Java province. Since it was drizzling slightly, the wind was cold. Sukuh temple is a Javanese Hindu temple with elements of the Mayan architecture. It also has sex ornaments which is the womb and the penis since life before birth and sexual education are its main theme. We decided to have rabbit satay for lunch since we were going to pass through a village that sells rabbit satay which is on the way to Sarangan lake. Like frog leg, rabbit meat actually tasted like chicken. Since we were in Tawangmangu area, Wisnu asked me if I am interested to see Grojogan Sewu waterfall. Since it was raining and we were already there, I decided to go and check out the waterfall. I didn't know we have to climb so many steps down to see the waterfall and so many steps up again just to go to the car park. Wisnu did warn me about monkeys and sure enough, a male monkey snatched my folded raincoat away thinking it was food but I managed to snatch it back from him. It was a good thing that it rained while I climbed down the steps or else I will be sweating because of the high humidity. With the height of 81m, the waterfall is quite impressive. After taking some photos, it was time to go back up which took quite some time also since there were also lots of steps. At the last step, a signboard inform visitors that they have climbed down and up 1250 steps which is a very good workout! After that, we drove another 30 minutes to Sarangan lake where we stayed at Sarangan hotel which looks pretty old but has nice rooms. I stayed in a superior room which has a large double bed, toilet, wardrobe and living room with a fire place. The scenery was nice and the wind was cold. After settling down for a while, we walked down to the lake to see what people were doing. Some took a speed boat ride around the lake whereas few men were fishing. After that 3 of us sat at the patio of the hotel area and just chatted before going for dinner. Since it was cold, it was so nice to eat nasi rawon, rice that is soaked in black broth with meat.

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Thursday (11/12/2014) After waiting for a long time for the water in the shower to get hot, I went for breakfast at 8am. I hardly have rice for breakfast in Brunei but in Indonesia, every breakfast consist of rice and today, it was no different but bigger portion as it can be eaten by at least 2 person. We then got ready for our 9 hour journey to Mount Bromo. For a break from the long drive, we had lunch in a restaurant which also sells Indonesian snacks. It was my first time seeing strawberry, grape and mango mixed with kiwi crackers so I decided to buy each flavour. It was funny to taste the strawberry cracker because it has strawberry smell and taste and it taste sweet also. When we reached to Bromo Permai, it was already after 5pm. The clouds have come down and the wind was very cold. There were people selling woolen hats with the Bromo word, scarf and gloves and since it was already cold now, I felt that it would be even colder when we go and watch the sunrise early in the morning so I bought a pair of gloves and the woolen hat as souvenir. Wisnu arranged for the Bromo jeep to pick us up at 3.30am which will bring us up to Mount Panajakan first to see the sunrise and then to Mount Bromo before going back to hotel. I went to bed at 9pm since I had to wake up at 2.30am later on.

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Friday (12/12/2014) Our jeep came at 3.30am and the driver drove at least half an hour before we reached to the dropping area at Mount Panajakan where a lot of jeeps were already there. Since the sun start to rise 5am and we reached to the top at 4am, we had a hot drink first while waiting until close to 4.30am before going up to the view point. There were already a lot of people taking photos while waiting for the sun to rise. The sun finally came out slowly for a while before it was covered by the clouds. The view wasn't that clear because of the thick clouds but I could see the peak of Mount Semaru, the highest mountain in Java while the top part of Mount Batuk and Mount Bromo were covered by the clouds. After taking enough photos, we headed towards Mount Bromo where the driver first stop near to Mount Batuk for me to take photos. I really loved the jeep, it was so cool! Then we drove to Mount Bromo where we had to walk quite a distance for almost half an hour before reaching to the 250 steps up to the top of crater where there is a 1m wide ledge for people to gaze into the steaming crater. . While walking, I felt so hot so I had to take off the jacket and enjoyed the cool breeze. Going up the steep, small steps were torturing and most people have to stop a few times along the steps to catch their breathe before finally reaching to the top. The view from the top of Mount Bromo is just spectacular. You can see Pura Luhur Poten, the miniature people as well as the neatly parked rows of jeeps. Going down Mount Bromo was more easier than going up and we were done with it by 7am. We headed back to hotel for breakfast before checking out at 9am for another 5 hour drive to Ijen crater. On the way, we stopped by at a restaurant at Pasir Putih beach to have lunch. The sands were white and there were many Javanese traditional wooden boats. After lunch, we continued our journey and by that time exhaustion sets it so I took a nap for a while.

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By the time we reached to Arabika homestay that produces Arabica coffee at 4pm, since it was still bright so I decided to look around. I went down to the strawberry farm to check out if there are any strawberries are for sell and on the way, I met 2 girls riding a motorcycle. After talking for a while, they offered me a lift to the strawberry farm. The man in charge of that strawberry farm told me that the ripe strawberries have already been plucked in the morning but I can still pluck any ripe ones that I see and eat it. They only sell the strawberries for 10,000 rupiah which is less than B$1.20 whereas a punnet of Indonesian strawberries sold in Brunei is about B$5.60. Since there weren't much ripe strawberries, I decided to head back to the homestay and on the way back, I met and chatted with some local boys who were playing at the football field next to the strawberry farm. They were friendly and very funny because a few of them tried to impress me by speaking in English but they do not even understand at all when I spoke English to them! I took some of photos of them which they were so eager and excited and they showed me the waterfall in their village. Then I headed up and have to rest early because we will check out of the homestay at midnight to go for the Blue Fire tour which will start at 1am!

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Saturday (13/12/2014) Cahyo was my guide for the Blue Fire tour and we started the hike at 1.30am where we trek for 3km upwards to the top of the crater and then going down the crater for 1km to see the blue flame. It's a big challenge as i have never hike this early in the morning plus lacking of sleep from the night before but I'm glad I managed to do it even though it took me 2 hours to reach to the bottom of the crater as the second km was very steep and the hike down the crater is very stony and pitch black. Unfortunately since it drizzled earlier, the clouds were very heavy and there were a lot of fumes which couldn't rise up so the sulphur smell was pretty strong especially if the wind was blowing. We saw a bit of the blue flame when the wind died down for a few second but the fumes became so strong that a lot of people couldn't stand it. Cahyo brought me up towards the crater half way already before deciding to head back down to the crater again to hopefully have a better luck to see the blue flame better this time. The wind did not die down at all but at least we got to see the blue flame stronger this time even though it was for a short while. When the sky was getting a bit brighter and it became so smoky, we couldn't even see the clear blue lake so we slowly hike up to the top of crater at 5am and the sulphur carriers have started to carry their load up also. It's amazing how they could stand the strong fumes and carry the heavy sulphur which weight up to between 70kg to 100kg per trip up the crater whereas we were already coughing and the fume were burning our eyes just for the short time we were there. Cahyo is a nice chatty guy and he was talking about his hiking experiences up the mountains in Indonesia and even introduced his specialised mountain tours. It is very tempting to follow him especially to climb Mount Semeru but I need to do more hiking and build up my stamina first before I attempt it since it will take 2 days to hike up that mountain. We got back to the parking area at 6am and rested for a while and chatted with Wisnu. Then we left for Ketapang at 7am since Wisnu has arranged with my Bali driver to pick me up by 10am. I was very exhausted and straight away slept the whole time in the car and was glad that I managed to catch 1 hour of sleep. By the time i woke up, we were almost near to Ketapang harbour. After bidding farewell to Wisnu and Nepo, I bought the ferry ticket for 8,000 rupiah to Bali. On the ferry, I had to leave my luggage at the bottom of staircase and went up to sit. A lot of local people were going to Bali whereas it was only me and a foreign couple who were foreigners. We arrived at Gilimanuk at 10am and the first thing that hit me was that weather is extremely hot! I met up with Buda who is not bad looking but unfortunately, his service is not as good as Javanese drivers cum guide. For lunch, he tend to bring to expensive touristic restaurants and does not know much information about each place.

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Before checking into the hotel in Lovina, we went to see Brahma Vihara Arama, a Buddhist Monastery which I expected Buda to introduce the history a bit or at least know something when I asked him questions related to the temple but he doesn't even know much at all since his experience is on managing restaurants and has only worked in this line for 3 years. There is a miniature Borobudur. Next, we went to see Banjar hot spring where people were swimming in it and if I was not that exhausted, I would have actually wanted to take a bath there since not only do I feel hot and sticky but also smelt of sulphur since I didn't have the chance to take a shower after climbing Ijen crater. I was so glad by the time we reached to the hotel which was a small simple one but the service and the room is pretty good and even the toilet is nicely decorated in Balinese style. I took a rest for a while before going out to check what is near to the beach. Even though it was close to 6pm, the heat was still there. By the time I got back to the hotel, I decided to just eat in the restaurant as I was lazy to walk out. After dinner, I packed a bit and slept early as the dolphin guide will fetch me at 5.55am to go for the dolphin watching tour.

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Sunday (14/12/2014) At 5.45am, the dolphin boat driver came and picked me from the hotel. I didn't even realise his boat was parked so near to the hotel I was staying. It was a first time experience sitting in a Balinese wooden boat with balance on both sides. As we headed out to the sea, the waves were pretty strong as the boat was going up and down continuously until further out where the waves became slightly calmer. We rode for about 30 minutes offshore before reaching to the point where the dolphins are usually observed. Once a dolphin fin is spotted, all boats started their engine to chase after the dolphins. So it was like playing cat chasing the mouse game. It was pretty amazing to see so many schools of dolphins but at the same time, I felt sorry also for them as they have to constantly swim away from the boats surrounding them. After having enough of chasing after the dolphins, we headed back to the shore. By then, the sun was so hot and the air is so dry. After arriving back to the hotel, I took breakfast before going back to my room to take a shower and pack my things since Buda was coming at 10am to pick me up.

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Before heading to Sanur, we stopped at a strawberry farm which I thought I would have the chance to pick strawberries myself but he just brought me to a small strawberry shop/farm and told me that I can order a strawberry drink after just showing me the greenhouse where the strawberries are planted and we can't even go inside it. What a disappointment and I am beginning to regret having him as my driver since his service is not that cheap either! Then we went to Pura Ulun Danu with Beratan lake which has a nice scenery located 1,200m above sea level near to the mountains so the weather was a bit cooler but once again, no explanations from Buda. After that, we went to Candi Kuning market which is a traditional fruit and vegetable market. There were also a few tourist shops behind the market and I bought a lot of postcards about places in Bali as they are cheap, a pair of wooden puppet Javanese dolls and a silk dress. Our last stop is Pura Taman Ayun and I was dropped off at the gate and was told that I could either walk all the way back to the parking area which is a few hundred meters away or he could pick me up at the gate. This temple has many smaller temples within the temple complex but unfortunately not open to public. After Pura Taman Ayun, it took us about 3 hours drive to Sanur to where I have booked for a room in a villa which Buda was not familiar with the area but eventually we found it. The room and the bathroom was spacious and I talked with Leenie for quite a while before heading out to check Sanur. I first went to Hardy's and did some groceries shopping as well as checked out the 1st floor which sells souvenirs and clothes.

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Monday (15/12/2014) Today, I was picked up by Gusti who will drive me for 4 days since Buda was involved in carrying out some ceremony for the Galungan festival. Gusti was more chattier than Buda and we drove 30 minutes from Sanur to see the Barong Dance at Batubulan village. It was a pretty interesting story performance and the men who were possessed with the spirits were trying to stab themselves with their kris but didn't get injured. After the performance, we went to the Bali Bird and Reptile Park which has variety of birds from all parts of Indonesia as well as from other countries but my main target is to see the komodo dragon. Unfortunately, the Komodo Experience performance is only held on Tuesdays so I could only see it in its enclosure. At the Reptile Park, I was given the opportunity to carry an iguana which is 5kg for photo taking which was cool. For lunch, I tried the famous babi guling at Ibu Oka and it wasn't too bad though the sambal was a bit too spicy for me. Then we stopped by Tegalalang village to see the rice field but unfortunately it was a heavy down pour so the paddy field was not clearly seen. We then headed to Ubud Palace, the kingdom palace of the Ubud empire. By the time I had finished checking out Ubud Palace, it had started to rain heavily so I didn't go to Ubud market. Then the final destination we headed to is the Batuan Temple which is one of oldest village Temple in Bali. While searching for money for donation, 2 Japanese guys started to talk to me who were also there to see the temple. We decided to go together since they do not understand Indonesian nor know much about the temple. Pretty funny, cool guys I should say. By the time we head back to Sanur, it was still early so I decided to check out the restaurants. I found a Japanese restaurant and decided to try the salmon rice which was yummy!

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Tuesday (16/12/2014) After being picked up by Gusti, we drove 1 hour to Gunung Kawi (Rocky temple) which is a Hindu Temple Complex with old omission from the stone. Going to the complex requires one to climb down lots of steps and the sun was very hot. The carvings on the stones were amazing that one do wonder how they were done and how long it took to complete them. By the time I had finished going around the complex, it was noon time and climbing up the steps were torturing especially when the sun is right above you. On the way to Kintamani, we dropped by a coffee plantation and I'm so glad that the weather was cooler here. I was introduced to the crops that was planted there and explained about the steps for making coffee from the coffee seeds. Then I was given 8 different cups of different drinks to taste. I ended up buying mocha, coffee ginger ginseng and saffron tea as well as a bottle of vanilla extract. We then headed to Kintamani where I had lunch buffet at a restaurant where we were supposed to be able to see the fantastic view of Batur volcano and the lake while enjoying our food. Unfortunately it was so misty and rained heavily that everyone had to move inside the restaurant. Fortunately, I spent a long time eating so the sky started to clear slowly and visibility also improved. Everyone started to take photos of the scenery which looks nice on a clear day. Gusti told me that people can trek up Mount Batur and he can drive and arrange a guide for me if I am interested which is a pretty interesting idea since I have 3 free days in Bali before I fly off to Brunei. We then went to Besakih temple which was the first Hindu temple built in Bali. Gusti explained to me about the 3 different levels of the temple according to the Hindu caste but nowadays, Balinese do not follow the different Hindu caste strictly. By the time we reached back to the car, it had started to rain again. We drove 1 hour to Penglipuran Village, a Balinese traditional village with unique culture, social life and building structure. It wasn't as old as I expected but they arranged the houses neatly in 2 rows. The houses are pretty modern though the kitchen and place where they keep the dead body is still pretty traditional. By the time it started to rain heavily again, we left and headed back to Batubulan village which was an hour drive to see Kecak and Fire Dance. The story is pretty long and similar to the Barong dance but the exciting part is the ending where a man, possessed by a spirit was able to step barefooted on fire and eat burning fire without anything happening to him! What a rainy day today but we did managed to go to many places.

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Wednesday (17/12/2014) Gusti pick me up at 1pm from the villa to go to Krisna shop to do some souvenir shopping. There were many kinds of food products, trinkets and clothes as well as lots of tourists. It was hot and stuffy because of the number of people in the shop that you can't even feel much of the air con. After enough of shopping, Gusti took me for a drive through Kuta which has more shops, bars, pubs and discos that is non existence in Sanur. I wanted to see the Bali Bombing Memorial at Jalan Legian but we missed it while talking to each other. Then we drove 45 minutes towards Uluwatu but before that, we stopped by Garuda Wisnu Kecana park first. Gusti showed me the copper head statue of Wisnu which was not fully complete yet. The complete statue is supposed to be Wisnu riding on Garuda but because of financial problems, the investors have not being able to complete it yet. However, once it is completely, it is supposed to be more higher than the Statue of Liberty. At 4pm, there was a Balinese parade which I thought was as big as the Hong Kong Disneyland but it was so short and simple. Then we drove 20 minutes to Pura Luhur Uluwatu which is a temple on the coral hill stick out into the sea. There were a lot of tourists and some local Balinese were still bringing their offering for the Galungan festival. The temple is very simple and not even big but the colour of the sea is just so breathtaking, very clear blue waters! If it wasn't for the cliff next to the sea, I don't think many tourists would want to come all the way just to see it. Since it was almost sunset and time for dinner, we then drove 20 minutes to Jimbaran Beach. Most restaurants were closed because of the Galungan festival so Gusti brought me to the other side of the bridge where only 2 seafood restaurants were open. So it was good business for them since all tourists have no choice but choose either one of the restaurant. It was a lovely view of the beach as the sun sets down and it was a good thing that it wasn't raining. Food were delicious though a bit pricey.

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Thursday (18/12/2014) Today's itinerary is to see the rice terrace in Jatiluwih which is 2 hour drive from Sanur. On the way, we saw a procession with a barong in 3 different places. Gusti told me that the barong have different type of faces; dog, dragon, monkey and pig which I didn't realize at first. The road to Jatiluwih was pretty bad as the heavy rain had washed some of the tar away. However, the scenery is spectacular unlike at Telalagang. After enjoying the tranquility of this village, we drove 20 minutes to the Butterfly Park. I am surprised that for a small park like this, it has a lot of butterfly and insect collection as well as stick and leaf insect. At the pupa house, the butterflies and moths that just came out of the pupa were not able to fly yet so it was easy to hold them and they don't fly away. Our last destination is the Tanah Lot (Temple In The Sea) which is a 1 hour drive from the Butterfly park. While having lunch there, it was nice to enjoy the cool sea breeze. After lunch, we slowly walk towards the temple and taking photos. The view of the sea is just as breathtaking like in Uluwatu. The sea was also blue while temples were found on several cliffs. The highlight of this place is actually the temple that was built on a rock further off the shore where people can walk across during low tide. Unfortunately, it was high tide and the waves were quite strong so we couldn't walk towards the temple.

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Friday (19/12/2014) Today, Buda came to pick me up at 9am. We went to Bajra Sandhi, the Balinese Struggle Monument which was built to commemorate the struggle of Balinese people against the Dutch. Black and white photos showed incidents and the Indonesian kings in 1905. The Dutch landed in Sanur and then attacked Denpasar. The Indonesian hero is Ngurah Rai where Bali airport was named after. I went up to the watch tower but there wasn't anything interesting to see around Denpasar. Most buildings were quite old and the lanes were pretty dirty. On the way out, there was a Chinese couple who came to this monument to take wedding photos which was nice but pretty hot to take wedding photos. Then we went to the Bali museum where they have artifacts and the bones of the earliest man found in Gilimanuk. There's also an egg shell sarcophagus where the people in the olden days were buried in. Then we went to the bird market which is pretty small but there were a lot of birds, quite a number of iguanas, a few monkeys, cats and dogs. After lunch, we headed to Badung and Kumbasari market. In Badung market, you could find fruits, dried spices, crackers, vegetables, seafood, clothes and temple accessories whereas in Kumbasari market, you could find more of clothes and souvenirs for tourists which they sell in bulk. A lot of mother of pearl products are also sold there and I ended up buying a mother of pearl tray for 100,000 rupiah and coasters for 20,000 rupiah which is reasonable. Then it started to drizzle so I decided to call it a day instead of going to Sanur beach just in case it rain. Instead, I requested to be dropped off at villa and rested for a while before I went out since the sun came out again. This time I tried walking towards Pantai Karang and I didn't realize it was so close to the money changer. After walking a short distance into the road, I finally saw the beach and quite a number of people were swimming. The sea breeze was cool so I decided to sit on one of the hut and took photos of the activities going around. Since there was nothing to do, I just sat there until 6pm, waiting for the sun to set which it didn't happen but the sky was dark. Then I did some shopping at Hardy's, bought some spices to give away to friends and a bottle of Smirkoff Ice Raspberry Splash which cost less than B$2.50 for a 275ml bottle which I am going to try on a free relaxing day.

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Saturday (20/12/2014) Today, we started our trip at 9am and went to Goa Lawah first where people were still doing offering in the temple. We didn't go into the temple since e couldn't go into the bat cave either. So we went across the road to the sea area. They were having reincarnation ceremony which is done by the high priest. It is said that people go through this ceremony to collect back the soul of the person in their family who have just passed away before going to the Goa Lawah and then to the Besakih temple before they can bring the soul back to their family altar. Then we went to Tenganan village where it is the oldest traditional Balinese village. Tenganan Village is more traditional than Penglipuran village as the people still rear animals such as chicken, ducks and water buffalo in the compound. They also specialized in ikatan (weaving) which to me looks like the Iban tenunan and drawings on wooden scripts which depicts Hindu gods. Then we went to Ujung Water Palace which was privately owned by the king of Karangasem. The palace has 3 large pools where there is the Gili Bale in the middle pool which is connected to the edge of the pool by a bridge. The next water palace that we went to which was also owned by the king of Karangasem and used to be the formal royal palace in Eastern Bali is the Tirta Gangga which literally means water from the Ganges. There is a maze of pools, fountains surrounded by a garden, stone carvings, statues and the centrepiece of the palace is an eleven tiered fountain. The last place we headed for the day is the Klungkung Palace. Unfortunately, the palace was largely destroyed during the Dutch colonial conquest in 1908 and only the court of justice, the Kerta Gosa Pavilion and the main gate that bears the date Saka 1622 (AD 1700) still exist. There is also a floating pavilion, the Bale Kembang in the compound and a small museum which displays the farming equipments used by the farmers, the royal palanquin, antiques as well as the barong and Rangda.

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Sunday (21/12/2014) I managed to arrange with Gusti to go for the trek up Mount Batur to see sunrise in Bali. In order to do so, I woke up at 1am to get ready for Gusti to pick me up at 2am since it takes an hour to reach from Sanur to Kintamani. By the time we reached there, there were already guides and some trekkers waiting to go up. According to Nyoman, my guide, it is 4km up to the viewpoint and it usually takes about 2 hours to reach there. I wouldn't know whether Ijen Crater is tougher or this is tougher since both trekking distance is similar. The weather was not very cold so I had to take off my jacket because it was too hot for me and the trail was not as tough as Ijen crater but very stony as there were a lot of small pebbles. It only took us 1.5 hours to reach to the viewpoint and the sky was still pitch black. Those who were already there just waited around while more and more people were still coming up. A young guy was selling sprite and coke which is bad idea to drink very early on an empty stomach after trekking. While waiting for the sun to rise, Nyoman prepared banana sandwich and hard boil egg which was all dry. Good thing there are dogs around so I fed the last small piece of my sandwich to the dog while I kept the hard boiled egg at the side pocket of my backpack. When the sun finally came up, everyone took photos of it but honestly speaking, after watching the sunrise at Mount Panajakan, the sunrise here is not as lovely as what I saw at Mount Panajakan. Then we went to see the crater below the viewpoint area which partially covered by trees so we only saw the hot steam coming up from the side of the mountain and from some holes on the ground. A lot of monkeys started coming to the crater area and tried to get food from people. While standing to see the crater, one of the monkey jumped onto my backpack, trying to get the hard boiled egg. It was pretty heavy for a small monkey and it was dragging my bag downwards. So Nyoman took the egg from my bag and hid it in her pocket. Yet that monkey was smart and knew where it was hidden so it tried to reached into her pocket for it. In the end, Nyoman gave the egg to the monkey and it ate it right away. Going down the mountain was pretty difficult for me because the small pebbles made my shoes slippery so Nyoman took me to another path with lesser stones and half way downwards, it was tarred. By the time we reached to parking area, the sun was already so hot.

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Then Gusti drove to the boat terminal and asked how to go to Truyan village, a Bali Aga village and was told that there are 2 routes; using a motor boat ride for 20 minutes to reach to that village or driving all the way to the nearest village but road is very narrow and then use a paddle boat to go to that village. The boat ride directly to the village is expensive though as it cost 1,000,000 rupiah but the price includes the guide, entrance fee and donation to the village. When we arrived at the village, the village people kept on looking at us since they hardly receive tourists visiting their village as people are just interested in seeing the cemetery. We were unable to go into the temple compound so we just walked around the village. The water near the houses were pretty dirty and there were rubbish in the water but yet there were a lot of fish fries living in them. To go to the cemetery, we have to use the boat again to go further down the lake. It was a gloomy shady area with a few men fishing. The guide who is also our boat driver told us that only people who die of natural cause are laid here whereas those that die of unnatural cause are buried the normal way. The cemetery can hold up to 11 corpses, each covered by a bamboo cage to prevent animals from eating them and when it is full, the oldest corpse will be remove to give way to the new corpse. He also said that the big Menyan tree absorb the smell of the rotten corpses which is why the cemetery does not smell at all. There were rows of skulls being displayed and lots of rubbish from previous offerings. We peeked into the cages and could only see 1 mummified corpse clearly as it was under the cool shade so the body has not decomposed completely even after 1 year. I couldn't see the new corpse which just passed away a week ago as it was covered very well but according to Gusti, he said that the face had turned totally black with maggots on it. The rest of the cages were only filled with clothes and personal belongings. However, we noticed a stench once in a while depending on where the wind was blowing but we were not sure if it's from the rubbish or the newly decomposed corpse. I personally believe that people did not smell the stench as the wind blows mainly to the lake but there are times when wind blows towards the Mayan tree which is why people thought the smell was absorbed by the tree. Well, interesting to know about their burial culture but an expensive boat ride actually.

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Then Gusti drove to Ubud so that I can try bebek at Joni's. The restaurant was very crowded and the service was slow. I tried the crispy duck which was very dry and the chilli sauce very spicy. After lunch, we headed to see the Tenganan waterfall. From far, even though the waterfall was not high but the impact was very strong. In order to get a closer view of it, I had to climb down the steps and there was a small alter and a place with holy spring water where an old lady took a bath. I did not go near to the waterfall as I didn't want to get all wet since people got wet while taking photos. After enjoying the natural scenery and watching people posing while getting wet, I headed up to the parking area. Going up the steps were torturing and the high humidity of the area did not help at all. Well, that's enough for the day as exhaustion started to set in. Gusti drove me back to Sanur and I slept early that night.

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Monday (22/12/2014) Today was just a relaxing day for me as I had no specific plan so I stayed at the villa and watched tv while enjoying my ice cream since it was so hot outside. When the day got cooler, I headed to the Sanur beach and walked from Pantai Karang all the way to the other end of the beach where is also 2 huts. Along the way, there are restaurants, seating areas, Balinese boats, hotels and people just sitting around and watching the sea. I sat at one of the hut for some time and just watched what was happening around. The currents have also washed different types of seaweeds to the shore so it was interesting to see their different shapes and colours. I waited for the sun to set but once again, it was a disappointing sight. This time I tried creamy sphagetti with garlic bread for dinner and it was also yummy.

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Tuesday (23/12/2014) I booked a Seawalker activity for today and the driver came and picked me up from the villa at 8.45am. There was already a Japanese couple whom he had picked up before me. The driver dropped us off at the Seawalker base which is located at Puri Santrian Hotel. We were told to wait for the Seawalker staff and while waiting for him, we sat at the hotel lobby. He showed us a video about what to do underwater and the signals we should be giving to the instructors underwater to indicate if we are ok or having problems. Then we changed into our swimming suit and waited for the boat to take us out to Seawalker boat which was parked at a particular spot. At the Seawalker boat, we had to wait for the instructors and divers to check out the equipment before they went into the water. I do not know how to swim at all so this was a very good experience since I didn't need to stay afloat in order to get some air. Then each of us were asked to go down the steps before they place the helmet which was pretty heavy but under water due to water buoyancy, it wasn't as heavy as when we were out of water. The water only came up to the neck level since the helmet was filled with oxygen. While going down the steps slowly, I had to frequently clear the pressure in my ears but when we reached to the bottom, this problem disappeared. We were told to hold on to the metal ring each while the instructor pulled us to guide where we should be going. The scenery under the water was just magnificent. Fishes kept on swimming near us but we couldn't touch any of them. We were then told to kneel down and hold on to the metal rail at a spot in front of a big rock which was full of corals. We were then each given a bottle of fish feed to feed the fish and all of them came to get it at once. I also tried holding the fish feed with my fingers and let the fishes eat and boy, do they have sharp teeth. You can just touch the fishes once they are on a feeding frenzy, how cool is that! Then each of us were asked to do coral planting and went back to the kneeling place to wait for everyone to have their turn. Each of us were then given a pretty unique starfish to hold while our photos are taken. I have never seen a starfish as big and bumpy as this one. Before going up to the boat, we walked passed by all the rocks with corals. What a sight, just breathtaking! Then it was time to go up and face the hot weather again whereas underwater, it was so cool. It took us 30 minutes to reach back to the shore and we took a shower before we checked out the video and photos that was taken underwater. We then had a light meal which was included in the package at the hotel restaurant and by 12pm, the driver came and pick us up to send us back to our accommodation.

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At 3pm, I headed out again to go to Legian and Kuta area. It took 30 minutes to reach there from Sanur by taxi and I told the driver to drop me off at the Legian bombing memorial. The memorial monument was not so obvious that i walked passed it until I asked a security guard and he told me that it's just in front. After taking some shots, I started walking down towards Kuta. There were a lot of shops and restaurants which were more cheaper than in Sanur because of fierce competition but traffic was just horrible as the cars wouldn't stop and it was so difficult to just get across the road! It took me quite a while to find Kuta beach but in the end I found it. When I got there, the sight was the opposite of Sanur beach. Lots of people on the beach as well as in the water. Some people were trying to get me to do surfing and I didn't expect to learn surfing myself since I didn't know how to swim and also didn't bring any swimming clothes. However one of the surfing instructor was so persistent that I ended up learning surfing with the swimming clothes he lent me. Balancing on the surfboard wass tough especially if your arm muscles aren't as strong like mine since you have to push your whole body upwards and balance. I kept on falling after getting up on the surfboard and since I kept on falling on the shallow area, my right knee was scrapped by the sharp broken seashells. I only managed to stand long enough once for his friend to take picture of me balancing on the surfboard which was at least some achievement. By then my arms were getting tired so I couldn't get up and balance well anymore plus the kids just won't go away when my surfboard was heading towards them. I even had a collision with another kid also balancing on the surfboard as we didn't know how to control the direction of the board and his mother who was waiting to take photos of him just laughed at us when both of us fell into the water. In the end I called it a day and told the instructor I will come again tomorrow afternoon when it's not so hot since I have nothing to do also and also to learn again 1 last time before I head back to Brunei.

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Wednesday (24/12/2014) In the morning, I packed ready most of my stuff since my flight will be at 7.10am the next morning and waited for the day to be slightly cooler before going to Kuta beach again. This time the taxi driver dropped me off at another side of the beach so I had walked and find which direction I was at before arriving at the beach. Learning surfing 2 days in a row was a very huge mistake for me. My arms were already aching from yesterday's lesson so today, I was not even able to lift up my body at all. Instead I told the instructor that I will balance in a squatting position first which doesn't require me to push my body upwards and then try to balance. However, I didn't managed to improve and call it quits earlier than the day before. Since I was going to treat the surfing instructor dinner as it was Christmas eve also, I waiting at the beach until he got off work and I finally saw the sunset. Apparently, Kuta is in the west and Sanur is in the east which was the reason why it was difficult to see the sun setting in Sanur. For dinner, we went to a local restaurant and ordered a set menu which was quite a lot for 2 person and talked about life in Bali since he was actually from Bandung. By the time we had finished and I reached back to the villa, it was already 10pm and I had to do packing for the rest of my stuff that I haven't packed yet.

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Thursday (25/12/2014) The driver was supposed to come at 4am to send me to the airport but he didn't turn up until 4.30am and by then, it was raining heavily. He was not happy that Leenie did not inform him that my flight was at 7.10am but fortunately, when we arrived at the airport, there was still time since there was no traffic on the road. After being in Indonesia for 22 days, I would say that it's full of unplanned adventure as I've never intended to hike up 3 volcanoes very early in the morning but it was a fun experience. I would love to go back to Java again though I would not go back to Bali at all since the weather was extremely hot and it is too commercialised and everyone kept on asking you to introduce them to your friends when they come to Bali since all of them wants to be the guide/driver for tourists.

Posted by Lingering 01:32 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

UK And Europe

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and London

snow 2 °C

Thursday (5/12/2013) I started my first leg of my trip to London from Brunei at 9pm using RBA's latest plane. Since it was my first time going to London and Europe, not only was I excited but I also felt nervous as it was also my first time travelling alone to a far country. Being on board RB's new plane, 787 Dreamliner which boast about being more spacious and comfortable than the older planes, the only differences I noticed was the touch screen where you can plug in your usb to charge your phone and the window pane darkens if it is sunny outside. However, the seating tray was not as good as the older planes where you could pull it closer to you because for this one, you have no choice but to lean forward towards it which is near to the screen.

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A lot of Somalians were also on this flight. I sat next to a Somalian brother and sister who just couldn't sleep so they kept on talking and fiddling around with the screen. Initially, I thought all of them were also heading to London but the boy told me that they were going to Saudi Arabia. We landed in Dubai airport at 1.20am (5.20am Brunei time) after not having much sleep at all. Everything was pitch black outside and there was nothing much to do except sitting around and waiting until 2.30am (6.30am Brunei time) to board again for London. Fortunately, most passengers this time chose to sleep rather than watching movies so I was able to catch at least 4 hours of sleep.

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Friday (6/12/2013) Landed at Heathrow airport at 6.47am. Temperature was 3 °C with cold wind but no snow. Custom clearance was fast and the immigration officer was friendly. Managed to find Heathrow Express to go to Terminal 1 without any difficulty. While waiting until 1.55pm to board the plane to Stuggart, I managed to have hot chocolate and chocolate pastry for breakfast. I would have to get used to eating bread and pastries throughout my stay in Europe instead of rice. With plenty of time at Heathrow airport, I checked out all the duty free shops especially Harrods and bought a bit of postcards. After less than 2 hour flight on German Wings (more spacious than I've imagined) and being given a box of refreshment, we landed at Stuggart airport at 4.35pm and wind was very, very cold (also 3 °C). The airport was actually very small. The arrival hall was on the ground floor and the departure hall was just on the first floor. There were only a few shops, so more waiting for the next flight. The flight to Vienna was at 5.40pm and this time, the connecting flight was Austrian Air which was even smaller than AirAsia planes! Finally arrived at Vienna airport at 7pm (after almost 24 hours of flying and transiting from one airport to another). Met up with Uwe and went straight to his apartment. Along the way to his apartment, there were rows of shops and restaurants on neat narrow apartment style buildings.

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Saturday (7/12/2013) After 24 hours of flying in the plane and going through 3 different time zone, the jetlag just sets in but weekend is not the time to sleep in since Uwe would show me on how to go around Vienna. His apartment was nice and comfy and had a nice view since you could see down the road on the right side and up the hill on the left side from the window. After breakfast, I went with Uwe to the nearest metro station to get the single day travel ticket for 7.10€. Then we took a tram ride to the Meidling train station where I will need to go on my own when taking the train to Judenburg and Prague. We went to the library first where Uwe borrowed a book about Vienna for me to refer to so that I get around on my own. Then, slowly we walked by foot to a small Christmas market. The various Christmas decorations were very lovely and eye catching but expensive. Then all of a sudden, it started to snow lightly! Fortunately the snow fell like raindrops so it wasn't too bad but the blowing wind was pretty cold. We then headed towards the Christmas market at Maria Theresien-Platz which were packed with people, mostly tourists from all over Europe, enjoying the Christmas atmosphere and especially the hot wine. By the time we were inside the Hofburg Imperial palace compound, the snow had finally stopped falling but the place were just packed with tourists. Uwe suggested that I come back on a working day to go inside the palace where it's not as packed as the weekend.

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We then walked towards Stephansplatz and walked around the square which just consist of shops and concert halls. We went into St Stephen's cathedral (lots of tourists also) which is a typical gothic, gloomy church setting. They were in the process of cleaning the exterior building which had been covered with black soot over the years. The Imperial Crypt was not far away from St Stephen's cathedral, which like other tourist sites, it was just too full of tourists, so once again Uwe told me to come back on a working day. Next, we went to Hundertwasser village which was built by the artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1990 and 1991. The Hundertwasserhouse used to be a car tyre factory before and its original structures had not been removed but improved by changing and adding components with new shapes and colours. We then stopped by at the Rathausplatz Christmas market located in front of the City Hall. This market was pretty unique compared to the others as there were different types of lights hung on each tree like teddy bears, snowman, guitars and music notes. For dinner, Uwe brought me to his favourite palatschinken restaurant which well, they weren't selling the usual pancakes like we have in Brunei for breakfast. Both of us ordered a 3 pancake set with different fillings. Not only were they delicious but also very filling. By the time we had finished dinner, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C so it was nice to go back to Uwe's apartment where it was warm.

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Sunday (8/12/2013) After breakfast, we went to the nearest train station again to buy a 1 week travel card for me before heading towards Schloss Schonbrunn by foot. It was a nice day for a walk where it wasn’t too cold nor hot even though the sun was shining. On the way, we passed by a primary school, shops and heard the church bell ringing. We walked to the side entrance of the castle which leads to the garden area and then slowly walked up the 60m high hill to see the Gloriette as well as the whole of Vienna city and the back of the castle. After taking some shots of the landscape, we slowly walk down to the garden area where there are no blooming flowers but a few interesting sculptures and structures. After all the walking, we headed to the Christmas market in front of the palace. There were more snacks and cookies and all sort of pastries here than the previous Christmas markets that we went to. After enjoying some snacks, I wanted to see the grand tour inside the palace but since it’s the weekend with so many tourists stopping over Vienna, we decided not to go in like the other touristic places but leave it on a working day.

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So we went back to Uwe's apartment and took his car up to Kahlenberg which is 484 meters high and lies in the northeastern foothills of the Eastern Alps. The wind on top of the hill was freezing cold and very strong even though it was only 7 °C with the sun still out. After struggling to take some photos of the evening view of Vienna and the Daunbe river, we finally head back to Uwe's apartment and decided to have dinner at a Turkish pizzeria just below his apartment. Nice pizza though the cheese was slightly too salty and I also tried Almdudler (which means "singing in the [alpine] meadows"), Austrian’s national drink soft drink made of apple and grape juice concentrates flavoured with herbs. Very nice because of its sweet and fruity taste! By night time, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C again.

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Monday (9/12/2013) Today’s itinerary is visiting the Schonbrunn palace. Since Uwe was working, I walked by foot on the same way as we did yesterday. It was drizzling slightly so everyone were either inside the castle, the souvenir shop or the restaurant which offers the apple strudel show. I was interested in learning how to make the apple strudel but the restaurant was fully packed with people so that plan was cancelled. Instead I went into the palace and took the Grand Tour which covers 40 rooms and we were lead from one room to another by just following the audio guide. It was very interesting as the audio guide tells the life story of the Habsburgs family especially Sisi (Empress Elisabeth). There were elaborate paintings of the Habsburgs as well as their original furniture. It was a very educational visit for a rainy day. By the time I was done with the tour around the palace, it was already afternoon and since most place of attraction close early during winter, I decided to call it a day. On the way back, I stopped by Billa and did a bit of grocery shopping to cook for dinner at night. Salmon and plums were so cheap compared to Brunei that I couldn’t resist buying them. Temperature throughout the whole day was 2 °C.

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Tuesday (10/12/2013) First stop today was to go to Meidling station to see if I can still remember the way and how long it would take to go there since I will be taking the train to Judenburg tomorrow. After feeling satisfied that I won’t have difficulty in knowing where to go, I headed straight to Karlsplatz. Not far from Karlsplatz station is the Karlskirche with a small Christmas market. There were not many people there except for some students who were studying in the Vienna University of Technology which was just next to the church. After taking some photos of the church and checking out the Christmas market, I walked towards Belvedere Palace. It was difficult at first to find the correct direction to walk since the map provided on the guide book wasn’t fully detailed so it took me quite a while to figure it out. On the way, the architecture of all the buildings are just fantastic.

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I finally found Belvedere Palace and bought the ticket to see the Lower and Upper Belvedere. Between these 2 buildings, there is a large garden area where you actually had to walk quite a distance upwards to reach to the Upper Belvedere (good exercise during the winter season). Both buildings houses paintings and the ceiling painting of the Marble Hall in the Upper Belvedere was just magnificent that you can’t help but wonder how long did the painter take just to finish that ceiling alone. At the back of the Upper Belvedere was the Christmas market and there were more people here than the one in front of Karlskirche. I bought a mini Carnival Venetian mask made of clay as a souvenir to remind me of the Christmas markets in Vienna. I had my lunch of latspeck-lauch-krauternockerl made of pasta, bacon, leek onion, herbs and seasoning for 4.90€ which was delicious but a bit too salty. I made an attempt to find the Naschmarkt but wasn't able to find the accurate direction and was heading towards Karlsplatz station instead. Since it was getting dark after 5 pm, I decided call it a day and come back another day to find it. Temperature for today was once again 2 °C which was pleasant as it was not too cold at all.

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Wednesday (11/12/2013) Today I headed to Judenburg to meet up with Michaela who I have been corresponding frequently for 5 years now. I board the 10.30am train at Meidling station and since it was my first time travelling from 1 place to another by train, it was also a learning experience. The last stop of this train route is Villach so along the way to Judenburg, the train passed through a lot of villages. The scenery along the way was very lovely as most landscape was covered with snow with a lot of mountains. The train finally arrived at Judenburg station at 1pm and I had to wait for a while for Michaela to come. When she finally arrived and the feeling of meeting up with someone who you have never seen face to face except reading their thoughts through letters for first time is just wonderful and exciting and it’s just like we’re just old friends who actually see each other daily. We had a lot to talk about so it was fun catching up in real life. We had lunch at a nice simple restaurant just below the cinema. She recommended me to try weiner chicken with pumpkin seed oil (shocking to see that it was green in colour at first but it didn't taste bad at all) which was different from the one in Vienna. We then stop by her lovely house, had tea and Christmas cookies (a tradition which I noticed is quite common in Europe around this time of the year) before going to town centre. Although her house is smaller than in Brunei, her backyard is pretty spacious with a garden and a small swimming pool!

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The town centre is pretty small with a tower that was next to St Nicholas church. Unfortunately, the tower had closed by the time we reached there so we went inside the church instead. Then we headed to the small Christmas Market by foot and since both of us are not really drinkers, we just had warm orange punch with cinnamon and other herbs. Since there was still time before I had to go to the train station, we dropped by Michaela's brother, Mathias and Suzie’s apartment to see Nico. When I first saw him in the photo sent by Michaela, he was just newly born baby but now seeing him in person, he already can walk and talk, though he is so shy but so excited to see new faces . Unfortunately, he was too shy to take photo with me but he’s so cute. By the time we got to the train station, I had 15 more minutes before the train arrive, so we talked a bit more before going to the platform. It’s such a nice trip to Judenburg even though it’s a small town, lovely change of scenery but unfortunately it is a very short visit. Temperature in Judenburg was -0 °C and but the time I reached back to Vienna, the temperature was 0 °C.

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Thursday (12/12/2013) My goal today is to find Naschmarkt which I failed to find before. I remembered passing through a station with the word Naschmarkt when I was taking the metro towards Stephenplatz so I decided to use that route again. After passing a few stops, I found that station and got out through the nearest exit. Temperature was 1 °C and the wind was colder than when I first arrived in Vienna. Goal achieved, I finally found it! It’s a very nice place for taking photos as you see all sorts of food at this market. I was surprised to see jackfruit sold there too since I didn’t think European people even know how to eat it. Most of the stalls were selling almost similar stuffs like olives, pastries, spices, vegetables, fruits, dippings, etc but still very interesting to see the range of food available daily. Then I came across a stall which sells my favourite flower, tulips of various colours! Was so tempted to buy them but then again, I couldn’t bring them back to Brunei and even if I could, they would have wilted by the time I reach to Brunei.

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Since I was already in that area, I then headed towards Wien museum which was pretty interesting. I wasn’t aware that Vienna had an old city wall around it and from the model that they have created on the whole of Vienna, it wasn’t actually a big city at all. Votivkirche (Votive church), a neo-Gothic church was my next target which isn't too difficult to find once you come out from the underground station because of its unique 2 slimline towers. Inside it like every catholic church that I've been to, it has that dark, cold, gloomy atmosphere. By the time I’ve finished touring Votivkirche, it was still bright enough to go around some more and I was planning to find Scottenkriche (Scottish church) which was not far away and thought I was heading towards it since I was coming from the back side. Instead after a while of walking around, I realized that I’ve been to this place before and it so happens that I actually went through the side of the City hall with the Christmas Market that I came with Uwe during the weekend. So I had a late snack and decided to buy a pair of Austrian traditional dolls for my collection. Since Uwe is attending his company's Christmas party, I decided to go to Stephansplatz to check out the souveniour shops since I haven’t got much of that to give away. I also found a fairly cheap priced shop called Forever 21 and bought a bag and 3 spaghetti string vest. After having enough of shopping, I headed back to Uwe's apartment to check how to pack the things for tomorrow night since I'll be headed to Prague on 14th December. Temperature today is 4 °C.

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Friday (13/12/2013) I decided to do some packing before going out so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time packing tonight. Today's target is to find Hoher market to see the Ankeruhr, a large gilded clock in Jugendstil style and The Imperial crypt (Kaisergruft). I started off looking for Hoher market but could not find the exact location so I ended walking around the area a bit and instead, checked out Jesuit and St Peter church. Not wanting to give up on Hoher market, I kept on walking and ended up at Stephensplatz instead. Since I’ve reached to Stephensplatz, I decided to check out the Imperial Crypt which is beneath the Capuchin church and actually had to walk almost 1 whole round passing through the Hofburg palace before finding it. It is very rare and amazing to see 107 metal sarcophagi in the Imperial Crypt, all members of the Habsburg family. The last crown prince of the Habsburg family to be buried in this crypt is Ott von Habsburg who passed away in 2011. I tried to find Hoher market again but the more I walked, the further I went to the other direction and ended up in Karlsplatz so in the end, I decided to head back home.

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I was surprised to find Uwe home early and since it was my last day in Vienna, I decided to treat Uwe for his hospitality, He took me to an Austrian family run restaurant which surprisingly, did have English menu. I tried the traditional Austrian veal snitzel which was delicious and had crispy coating. The only thing I didn’t try is the Viennese Sachertorte as I don’t think I could finish the whole piece of cake if it is too sweet nor would Uwe help me to finish it off since he doesn’t like very sweet food either. Well, after staying in Vienna for a 1 week, I kind of got used to living there and it feels kind of sad that I have to leave already when there are still some more places to check out. Temperature today was surprising slightly warmer than before which is 6 °C.

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Saturday (14/12/2013) Since today’s the weekend, Uwe sent me to the train station and after we said our goodbye in Vienna (since we’re going to meet up in Berlin again), I was on my own heading towards Prague. It’s a 4 hour ride and unlike the route going to Judenburg, there wasn’t much things to see along the way since there’s only flat lands and farms so it was kind of boring. The train was expected to reach Prague at 1.20pm and I am to meet up with Dan and his girlfriend at the train station. The train was very comfortable and unlike the train going to Judenburg which has 2 seats in each row on the left and right side, this train has 6 seat compartments which means privacy and it was a good thing that not many people were heading to Prague. Upon arriving at the Prague station, I finally met up with Daniel and his girlfriend, Silvia. They are a nice couple though sometimes we do have communication problems since English is hardly spoken in Czech. I had booked a room at Benediktska and although both Dan and Silvia do come to Prague often and with the help from the GPS, they still had problem finding where it is and I had to call Vincent at least 3 times before finally finding it. After putting our luggage in the apartment, we went to the Prague castle area.

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We walked to Petrin Lookout tower which according to Dan is Prague’s “Eiffel Tower” and in order to go there, we had to use the tram to go to Petrin hill. Petrin Tower, a steel framework tower of 63.5m tall has 299 steps with no elevator for people to use. While climbing that 299 torturous steps in winter with the cold wind blowing, I was not in a good shape especially when my knees start to ache after climbing a few steps. I actually had to rest for quite some time on the top platform before I could enjoy the night view. Going down was not as bad as climbing up but that was enough exercise for a day. We then headed to the mirror maze room where we had to find the way out and came across various types of mirrors that distort your body to different shape and sizes.

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We then headed slowly down towards Prague castle and I was told that there is changing of guards at noon time tomorrow. We walked on Charles bridge (which is said to be a very romantic bridge if you have a partner with you) and I can't believe that I am finally in Prague, walking on Charles bridge and looking at Prague castle! Unfortunately, night is not the best time to take photos of the scenery of this romantic bridge so, I will have to come back again during day time. We continued walking towards the Christmas Market in the Old Town Square where the main attraction is the astronomical clock which is 600 years old already. Every hour, there would be the procession of the Apostles and it’s just amazing to see it still running smoothly. Food, people and Christmas decorations are just everywhere on the square. I tried a dish called Slovenska Bramborové halušky, a Slovak potato gnocchi. It looks similar to the one I had at the Christmas market in Belvedere Palace in Vienna but less saltier. Then we drove to Wenceslas square just to check out the Christmas market which has lesser stalls than in the Old Town Square before going back to the apartment. After coming back to apartment, I talked with Dan until 1 2.30am before having a late night bath. I can’t believe that my hair can be so damp even though I didn't sweat at all since the temperature today is 4 °C.

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Sunday (15/12/2014) Today’s temperature is still 4 °C with the sun shining brightly. Silvia dropped me and Dan near to the Old Town square and we walked towards the Prague castle through the Charles bridge to see the changing of guards. It is very similar to the changing of guards at the Buckingham palace though the only difference is that these guards walked by foot from their station to the palace so when they march, you can just hear total silence and their footstep stomping the ground whereas the guards in Buckingham palaces uses horse. It was very interesting and I’m glad that Dan told me about it because I wasn’t aware that they also have it in Prague. Fortunately, the people who also watched this show were not as many as those always waiting to see the changing of guards in London. I love the winter uniform and hat of the Czech guards, it makes you feel like you’re still in a communist country. There was also a man who was protesting at that time but the guards did not do anything to him as people are allowed to do demonstration as long as they don’t get violent.

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After taking some photos, we then walked back to Charles bridge where Silvia picked us up and we head towards Ostrava which is a 3 hour drive. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and they treated me with a traditional Bohemian platter which is roasted pork with knedliky (dumplings) and cabbage. I don’t know whether if it’s because we are hungry but that dish is very, very delicious! By the time we reached to Ostrava, it was almost 6pm and I met up with Daniel's mother (she also has the same name as me) who was looking after their son, Daniel and their cute smiling daughter, Natalia. Initially before I started my trip, I was told by Dan that I will be staying at his mother’s apartment but due to unavoidable circumstance, I ended up staying at their apartment which was not too bad but indeed small. I slept in their son's room and fortunately, I was not very tall so I could sleep on his bed eventhough Daniel is only 10 years old. Dan offered me their homemade family wine which to me, I can’t tell whether if it is good or not since I am not a frequent drinker. It has been a long day with long driving but well, at least I get to see another part of Czech and let’s see what Ostrava has to offer tomorrow.

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Monday (16/12/2013) According to Dan, Ostrava does not have much to offer as is an industrial city with a lot of factories. So, to start of the day, he took me to his work place which is a juvenile institute for problematic youths (mainly from parents who are drug addicts) between 13 to 17 where they are taught discipline, academics, sports and also life skills. The institute has very strict security as every door has to be locked to prevent the youths from escaping but they have good facilities for them like yoga room, games room, tv room, etc. According to Dan, the youths will be allowed to use those facilities or even go out if they have earned a certain number of points for good behavior but if they escape or do not return back to the institute on their day out, then their points will be erased and they have to start all over again from 0. It’s an eye opener on how an European country deal with their juvenile delinquent problems and I’m glad I know Dan who is willing to show me how his institute work or else I wouldn’t have any chance to even step into these sort of institute. Since Ostrava is an industrial city, one should not miss visiting a factory and that is exactly what Dan brought me to see. We went to visit Dolni Oblast Vitkovice which is the number 1 attraction in Ostrava and has been inscribed on the European Cultural Heritage list. After 170 years of producing pig-iron that is used in the Eiffel Tower, this factory has been discontinued. Everyone who study Chemistry has learned about iron production and about the blast furnace in theory only so it is amazing to actually see a blast furnace in an iron factory in real life. A senior worker who has been working in this factory for a long time took us on the tour and explained about how the factory worked. We saw the coking plant, blast furnace and was also explained on what happens to the melted iron once it comes out of the furnace. To me, it’s like learning about iron production all over again but this time with the real stuff. The highlight of this tour is actually the ride on the funicular, followed by climbing up a few flight of stairs to the top of the blast furnace. The view was not really that spectacular as you see smog below the blue sky since there are still factories in operation. However, the wind at the top was freezing cold even though we were only 65.7m above the ground.

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We then went home for a late lunch and waited for Silvia and Daniel to come back. Dan gave me honey wine and one of Czech’s best wine which are all very strong for me. In the evening when Silvia and Daniel has returned home, we went out to the New Town City Hall at Prokeš Square to go up the tower to see Ostrava by night but unfortunately, they closed very early on that day. So, we walked to the Christmas market which is pretty small compared to the ones in Vienna and Prague but there is a skating ring. Since it was cold, Dan bought me a hot wine punch which makes your body warm on a cold night. Since it was my last night in Ostrava, Dan wanted to buy me a drink (which actually end up to a few) even though he knows that I’m not a drinker. So we walked to the pub area and he took me to a pub with cool decorations. He ordered for me Pilsner, Czech’s famous beer and then while flirting with the bar girl, he also ordered for me a sweet kind of vodka. If I have never drank any and beer or wine before in my whole life, I would have gotten slightly drunk already so I know am aware of my limit when it comes to drinking. Then not having enough of drinking, he brought me to an Irish pub and this time, he ordered Radegast, another Czech beer with Nakládaný hermelín, a Czech appetizer made from hermelín which is a soft cheese soaked in oil and spices that originates from Central Bohemia for our dinner. It is pretty tasty when eaten with bread but a bit too spicy and filling for me since it is cheese plus we are drinking beer with it. I realized that Dan was probably slightly drunk already since he kept on ordering beers compared to me (I only had 2 beers and 1 liquor for the whole night) and kept on flirting with the bar girls. He wanted to go to another pub after that but I said I had enough since I will be going back to Prague the next morning.

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Tuesday (17/12/2013) Dan took me to the train station and I thanked him and Silvia for their warm hospitality even though they do not understand or speak English very well. We said our goodbye and start my journey back to Prague at 10.53am. Czech trains offer better services as we were given free drinks (I asked for mint tea) and they even had internet connection! I managed to use this opportunity to contact Gautier, the host who I’m going to stay with for the next 2 nights. We decided to meet up at Burger King at the main train station at 2.30pm. I didn't expect him to be the same height as me (since all the men I’ve come across in Europe are way taller than me) but he spoke good English though soft at times which makes it difficult to understand what he is talking about. His apartment was not far from the main train station but quite far away from the main town area where I stayed with Dan and Silvia earlier on. There wasn’t much at his block except for a few pubs, restaurants, meat shop and a Vietnamese shop. After trying his lentils and sausage dish, we went out to see Prague by night. First, we went to the Namesti Miru Christmas Market since we were going to use the tram to go to Prague castle area. I tried trdelník, which is a rolled dough, grilled on a stick and coated with both sugar and cinnamon. In addition to that, I requested that the inner side be coated with chocolate (actually the original plain ones without chocolate is more nicer). Gautier showed me the John Lennon Wall which is filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles' songs. Then we walk through the lovers bridge (between Kampa Island and Lesser Town) which is just full of love locks. We finally walked slowly back to Gautier’s apartment by foot from Charles bridge, passing through the Old Town Square where I’ve been to with Dan and Silvia. The temperature today was not very cold at all.

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Wednesday (18/12/2013) Prague’s weather is pretty cold today (1 °C). Since the Hong Kong siblings woke up when I was about to go out, I asked them to go around together since we only have one set of key which I will only give it to them after tonight as I was going to leave Prague the next morning. We decided not to use the tram but walk by foot instead which was pretty interesting as we passed by a lot of places. When we were at the Wenceslas Square Christmas market, we were called by a young guy who was manning a stall that sells coin souvenirs on Prague’s iconic sights but the interesting thing is that you make it yourself. Since I did not buy a lot of souvenirs from Prague and those coin souvenirs were pretty light and small, I decided to get 2 different types of image that is Prague castle and the astronomical clock. I know how heavy the sledge hammer is and if not enough force is being applied, the image would not turn out very nicely and since I do not need to have aching arms the next day when I have to carry my heavy suitcase up the train for my next journey, I told the Hong Kong siblings it do it for me since the sister were pretty interested in trying it out. So the brother did the first coin, followed by the sister as I knew how heavy the hammer is. Both of them did a good job as the image did turn out quite well. As we walked upwards, a lady and a man was playing music and some guys which were a bit high (probably from having a lot of hot wine early in the morning) were enjoying the music. I was suddenly pulled by the lady who was strumming on a huge violin with a man playing the accordion and of course, photos need to be taken. Pretty friendly people.

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Since I was pretty bad at direction, so it took us quite a while to reach to Charles bridge but on the bright side, we took a lot of photos especially on the architecture (not as impressive as in Vienna though). Since there are a number of bridges in Prague, it was difficult to know which bridge we were heading to at first when we reached to the bank of Vltava river but when we turned to our left and saw the Prague castle, we actually saw that we had walked towards Mánesuv most (Manes) bridge. By the time we reach to the Prague castle, we were 15mins too late to enter into St Vitus cathedral so we just looked around. Since we didn't use tram, walking by foot back to Gautier's place was a long way since we weren't familiar with the direction. How I miss Vienna and it's subways. We waited for Gautier to come back at 8.30pm for dinner as I told them that it will be my treat since it’s my last night in Prague and I wanted to try the authentic Czech cuisine. When we got back to his apartment, he seemed a bit drunk from his company party but we went out for dinner anyway. It was a medieval restaurant with armour and weapons from the medieval time. Gautier recommended the onion soup which was nice and it had cheese and meat strips in it. Then our pork hock came as a shock to us as I didn't expect it to be so big but the guys seems to enjoy their food. Gautier as usual, drank more than 1 glass of beer and even on the way back to his place, he was still inviting us for more drinks at the pub below his apartment. At home, he offered abstinence which I declined as I had an early train to catch the next day but he and the Hong Kong siblings went ahead with it. After coming out of the bathroom, I was surprised why the party had already died and apparently Gautier had burnt his fingers while heating up the abstinence. What a funny thing to hear!

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Thursday (19/12/2014) Woke up at 7.15 am with too much acid in my tummy (reason not to drink alcohol if possible). Packed up all of my stuff and left Gautier's place at 8.30am which is a good thing because I got lost going towards the train station. Fortunately, a handsome guy was nice enough to help me carry my luggage down the stairs towards the subway and I had to asked a few people for the direction to the train station which most of them gave different answers (so much for being helpful). Finally, I found the short cut to the platform where I arrived from Ostrava. Fortunately, I had 10 minutes to spare because I was getting panicked that I will miss the train. The train ride to Munich is about 6 hours. The view from the train is so lovely. I don’t understand why the view from Vienna to Czech is the only view that is very dull whereas to other places, they are just so breathtaking.

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We finally reached Munich main train station later than expected as it is the last stop for the train route. It is a pretty cool the train station as the trains just park in front of small kiosks and when you step out of the train, you can go and grab a bite or go shopping. I went straight to find Hotel City Atlas following a man’s instruction which was not quite accurate but I was lucky enough to come across a helpful young American guy who helped me get my direction right through his mobile map. Thank God for that and I managed to find the hotel eventually. The location was not bad as it is pretty near to the train station. However, the room was no different that the size of the hotel rooms in Singapore or Hong Kong but for 1 person, it is alright. After resting a bit, I went back to the main train station which was only a 15 minute walk. I decided to check out Marienplatz which has Christmas markets before heading to Karlsplatz. The metro was easy to use so I didn't get lost as bad as in Prague. Marienplatz is just full of tourists checking out the Christmas markets. They have many types of Christmas decorations which is different from those in Vienna and of course they are more cheaper. My favourite stall in the Christmas market is the fruit stall where they sell fruits for only €1 (B$1.72) especially for blueberries! Obviously, things are more cheaper in Munich than other parts of Europe so far because of the lower standard of living.

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Saturday (20/12/2014) Today’s wind was cold as the temperature was 0 °C. I went to main train station to look for the free city tour and found them next to the Starbucks Coffee shop at the main train station. Jonathan was very good looking British lad from Bristol but he's in charge of the Danuch tour. We left with Scott (an Ozie) to Marienplatz where we were then split into 2 groups before the tour started. Scott introduced us the history of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the City Hall which has a funny story of the dancing figurines and the rooster. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (founder of the world famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white). The Bavarian knight wins every time, of course. The bottom half and second story is about Schäfflertanz (the coopers' dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to "bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions." They remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times.

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We then head to Frauenkirche (also known as the Devil's church) whose twin towers dominate the city’s skyline. The legend said that the devil made a deal with the builder to finance construction of the church on the condition that it contain no windows. The clever builder, however, tricked the devil by positioning columns so that the windows were not visible from the spot where the devil stood in the foyer. When the devil discovered that he had been tricked, he could not enter the already consecrated church. The devil could only stand in the foyer and stomp his foot furiously, which left the dark footprint that remains visible in the church's entrance today. Half way through the tour, when we were at the Max-Joseph-Platz, the wind became very cold and it started to drizzle lightly. We stood in the cold open area while waiting for Scott to explain to us about the history of Bavaria. Finally, we quickly walked to the famous Hofbrauhaus beer drinking hall where it is warm and it still looks elegant for its age. We were told how men actually pee while still having their beer which was pretty funny and yet disgusting as they had pipes installed below the table for that purpose. After 3 hours of learning about Bavarian history, we ended our tour in Vitualitry market which I think I saw rabbit meats being sold. Originally I had planned to go to Nymphenburg palace after the city tour but with the rain and the cold wind, it was wet and too cold to be out in the open. So I decided to spend the rest of the day at Marienplatz to do a bit of shopping and ended up buying more fruits and decided to get Uwe a personalised cutting board. Oh, and I also managed to find a 1 euro store which sold everything for only 1 euro! Then I checked out the neighbourhood around the hotel and found St. Paul's Church and also a restaurant that has Bavarian meal.

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Sunday (21/12/2013) The highlight of the Munich trip is the visit to Neuschwanstein Castle which is said to be the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were a lot of visitors who wanted to go to this trip and they were fortunate enough to be able to go even though they did not do any reservation beforehand. By 9.15am, we started the 2 hour train ride with Michelle (who is an American) to Füssen in southwest Bavaria and the scenery along the way was just magnificent. Everywhere is covered with snow and the mountains were just breathtaking. I also got to know Wai Lan and Ajane who also lived at Vincent's apartment in Prague. Small world after all. We arrived at Hohenschwangau village around noon time was told to have a quick lunch before walking uphill. I can’t believe that I am finally here and seeing this castle in real life instead of from a postcard that I’ve received from a friend! Walking uphill in the cold weather was a challenge but we know that we will get our reward at the end of the trail.

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Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II as his retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner, an opera composer who he likes so much. Ludwig used his personal fortune and through extensive borrowing to have this castle built. Apparently, King Ludwig II’s cousin is the famous Sisi (Empress Elisabeth) who was married to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Inside the castle, we had a German tour guide who spoke clear English and explained to us about each room in the castle. King Ludwig is known as the virgin king who never married because he was gay. He spent 34 million on building 3 castles of which only 1 was complete. He died a mysterious death but seems like a conspiracy complot by the government to kill him because he was spending too much money building castles! After lots of photo taking, we finally left Füssen at 4pm and reached back to Munich main train station at 6pm. I was planning to try out the Bavarian dinner at a restaurant which I came across yesterday but unfortunately it was closed by the time I reached there. Oh well, at least I tried the roasted pork with dumplings and cabbage in Czech and there would always be another trip back to Munich again one day.

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Monday (22/12/2013) Today would be a 6 hour train ride to Berlin. I checked out from the hotel and waited at the main train station. I couldn't find the train which I am supposed to board at first because apparently, there were 2 different trains going to Berlin. Fortunately, a train driver who had just finished his shift was friendly enough to help me find where my train is. The train left at 9.10am and is expected to arrive to Berlin around 4pm. Since it was a long ride, I managed to get some sleep as the train wasn’t that full. Uwe will be waiting for me at the main train station to bring me to his cousin, Ralph’s place as I would be stay with them for Christmas. Although Ralph could only speak a bit of English but Petra couldn't, they were still friendly and hospitable. Their son, Ronny joined us for dinner and we ate at a German restaurant near to their apartment. I ordered creamy turkey with mushroom which was nice. After dinner, we walked back to Ralf's apartment and just chill out while watching Jamie Oliver's cooking show in German.

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Tuesday (23/12/2013) Today after having a hearty breakfast, Uwe showed me the most important sites in Berlin. We walked from Alexanderplatz where the Weltzeituhr (Worldtime clock) shows various times in different countries, passing through the Berlin TV Tower towards the Berliner Dom which is a very nice 19th century cathedral. After showing me where the Museum Island is which consist of the Bode museum, Pergamon museum, Egyptian museum of Berlin and the Altes Museum, we walked to Brandenburg gate where we saw some guys dressed in funny costume like Mario brothers, Star Wars and the funniest ones we saw are 2 guys dressed in German soldier’s uniform but holding flags of different countries so that tourists will pay money to take photo with them. We passed by part of the Berlin wall that had been torn down (which Uwe told me that he will bring me to the part where part of the Berlin wall still exist tomorrow) towards the Victory column to see the whole of Berlin. Climbing up the 285 steps to go to the top of the column was painful but as they say, no pain, no gain. The scenery of Berlin from the top was nice and it was interesting to see the cars going through the big roundabout. We stayed there long enough to see the sun slowly setting in Berlin before heading to Kathy's place which was near to Alexanderplatz since she was going to join us for dinner at Ralf's place. Tonight’s menu is salmon fish and I have to say that Ralf is a very good cook.

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Wednesday (24/12/2013] After another day of hearty breakfast, Uwe and I went out to see where the remaining Berlin wall is. We went to the Berlin wall on West Berlin side to see the artwork of artists from all over the world where they express their ideas and feelings. On East Berlin, the 14m high Berlin wall is still there with the watch tower. We saw videos of how Berlin was separated to East and West Berlin over night and how people from the East side tried to go to the West and how people were killed when they tried to cross over the Berlin wall. There was even a video on how a family from the East side managed to get some people to the West side by digging a tunnel under their house which remained unnoticed by the soldiers until they were finally caught. The place where the wall still exist is a very solemn, quiet place where visitors can only watch through videos and touch the Berlin wall but can’t comprehend how the Germans would have felt at that time when they were separated from their friends and families overnight during the Cold War. Then we slowly walk towards the park and finally to the back of Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin and the only surviving royal residence of the Hohenzollern family. Since it was Christmas eve, we head back to Ralf’s place for dinner. After dinner, it was present time where I was surprised that I was even given a present by Ralf and Petra which was very nice of them. Since there is not much of history left in Berlin due to World War 2, they got me a book on Historic Berlin which is very interesting because it contains black and white photos taken in Berlin in the past.

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Thursday (25/12/2013) We didn't go out today as we were going to have Christmas lunch with Ralf’s family. Having goose thigh for the first time instead of the traditional turkey was different but nevertheless, delicious especially eaten with kale and potato dumplings. Ralf's father, brother and daughter, Anna came with her husband and Johnny, their 10 month old son. After lunch, we all took a walk around the park near their area. At night time, it was only 5 of us left when everyone else went home. We had leftover potato dumplings and food from lunch for dinner which was filling enough and rested for the night.

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Thursday (26/12/2013) Since today is my last day in Berlin and I haven’t seen what I came for in Berlin which is to visit the Pergamon museum to see the Seat of Altar for myself, Uwe took me to see it before my flight in the afternoon. It’s a very interesting museum which shows artifacts from the past especially from biblical times like the miniature model of the Tower of Babel and the huge replica of the Babylonian wall. Finally seeing the life size of the Seat of Altar was just amazing as Ernie mentioned about it in one of our School of Bible lesson. We had beef goulash for lunch which is cooked by Ralf before going to Berlin airport to catch my flight to London. Shocking enough, the arrival gate is the same gate for departure. What a small airport for a big city when compared to Brunei’s airport. The flight was delayed by 1 hour so I arrived in London 1 hour late. Using the tube from the airport wasn’t too difficult but it took an hour to reach near to where I had booked my accommodation. Everyone was caught off guard by the construction they were doing on certain lines and the last station where I am supposed to get out from was also affected. So from Earl’s court station people either have to walk by foot (like me) or get on the double decker bus which has already been assigned to take passengers to the nearest line of the route. I had to call Melinda for the direction to her place by foot which wasn't too far once you know the road and eventually found it after calling her 3 times. There’s a big Tesco shop at the corner on the way to her place but unfortunately, it was closed since I forgot Boxing Day is actually a public holiday in the UK.

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Friday (27/12/2013)– Finally, first day in London for the first time. The first and foremost important place to visit is the Buckingham Palace to see the changing of guards which is done everyday. Since it was cloudy and drizzled a bit before the ceremony start, we were told that there will be no full changing of guard ceremony but a less elaborate one will still proceed at 11.30am. Hundreds of tourists crowded around the area just to watch this event. It was interesting, somewhat similar to the changing of guards in Prague castle. By the time it was over, it was already noon time and I had to find the Hop On Hop Off bus which actually did stop at the side of the palace. I decided to go for a round trip first to get myself familiarize with the city and then decide which place is worth to visit. In the end, since the queue to Westminister Abbey is so long and they were about to close, I decided to do it on the next day and slowly walked towards Nelson Square. On the way, I order big Mac for my late lunch so that I do not waste time on sitting in a restaurant just to eat since every place of attraction seem to close very early during winter time even though it is not even dark yet! A lot of tourists were just taking photos or just sitting around in Nelson square so while eating my late lunch, I was also people watching. Weather was pretty hot in London as I was sweating when I was walking.

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After having enough of sitting down, I walked slowly towards the London Eye to find Thames Clipper for a free cruise along the Thames river. Finally found where the pier for that boat is and took the cruise from the London Eye to the Tower of London only even though they do go all the way to Greenwich but it would be difficult to get transport back to this area again. Tower of London is another place to check out which have to be done the next day before I leave London. After shopping for some souvenirs at the souvenir shops next to the Tower of London, I took the Hop On Hop Off bus again to Victoria station. Before going on the tube, I did a bit of shopping at Waitrose and then tried to find Sainsbury after getting off from Earl’s Court station which I was told by Melinda that it is located at the back road of the apartment where I was staying. After walking for a while and couldn’t find it because all the roads were pretty dark to read the signs, I decided to leave it and checked out Tesco instead. Bought food for breakfast and dinner which was pretty cheap as they had pastas on offer. Enough food to last me until I go back so it was time to head back to the apartment and rest.

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Saturday (28/12/2013) Today is my last day in London and I intend to cover 3 important places. After half an hour tube ride to London city, the first place I went to is to Westminister Abbey. The queue was pretty long as the line went towards the side of the Westminister Abbey but fortunately, the waiting wasn't that long. With St. Margaret's church beside it, Westminister Abbey has a very rich history and with many important people buried inside it. After spending at least 2 hours listening to the history of Westminister Abbey, I headed to St. Paul's cathedral, one of Europe's largest cathedral. It was very big and you could go up to 85m high but you would have to climb up the few hundreds of steps to go to up to each of the gallery above which I opt not to do so since my last target was to see the Tower of London. Unfortunately, by the time I reached to Tower of London, the ticket seller said that they were going to close in 45 minutes time and the guy said that there would not enough time to cover everything and told me to come back the next day which I can't since I'm leaving London tomorrow!! So feeling disappointed, I ended up eating fish and chip from the stall next to the Tower of London and then waited for blue route bus to go to Harrods. Since the bus only stopped until Victoria station, I had to take the tube to Sloan Square since I thought South Kensington station was closed. After walking for a while through the high end shops, I managed to find the famous Harrods. It is a very big department store and I had to look at floor map to find my way to the souvenir section. It was so hot inside that everyone took off their jacket. Harrods' merchandise is just incredible and very expensive but then one should never miss getting something from Harrods if you're in London since that is also one of the iconic symbol of London. Well, after a long walking day, I was glad to be back at the apartment and packed all my stuff, hoping that my baggage won't be excess.

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[b]Sunday (29/12/2013)[b] After more than 3 weeks travelling around Europe, it's time to head back home to Brunei. I took the tube to Heathrow airport which is about 45 minutes ride and since it was pretty full, I had to stand up the whole time until it was near the airport and people started getting off at each station. Fortunately, there is a baggage scale at the airport so time for repacking again but thank God, I managed to keep within the weight limit though my hand carry was pretty heavy. Well, another 20 hours on the plane back to Brunei. Overall, it was an incredible learning experience going to Europe alone. Hopefully I will have the chance to come back again to go to other parts of Europe and see the Tower of London one day!

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Posted by Lingering 04:45 Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Taiwan - Macau

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Monday (3/12/2012) After an unexpected and unfortunate event of missing our direct flight to Hong Kong, we finally arrived there 7 hours later through alternative route. Although we were shaken by our unexpected experience, we were determined to make the most out of our trip as we had paid double for our air ticket already. Right after finding our driver at the airport, we straight away headed for Kowloon to find City Econo Guest House which is located along Nathan Road. Not knowing that the car company I have booked mainly drive visitors to Ritz Carlton and not to budget hotels or Guest House, the driver had some difficulty of finding where it exactly this guest house is as the sign is not even very obvious unless you look upwards to where all the signboards are.

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After settling in our room and not wanting to waste anymore time, 2 of us headed out to survey the area where we were staying and also try to find some nice place to eat. After a short round walk, we ended up back in front of the guest house and decided to have our dinner in a Korean restaurant which was just across the road. Korean food were more cheaper here than back in Brunei but nevertheless, the side dishes are always interesting because different Korean restaurants serve different side dishes. After having dinner, we decided to check out Temple Street which was not far just to survey what is interesting to get later on when we come back after our Taiwan trip. As always, Temple Street is full of foreign tourists and they sell various souvenirs and accessories which you can't find back home. We ended up buying scarfs for now which we plan to wear in Taiwan as we were going to spend some nights on the mountainous areas.

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Tuesday (4/12/2012) Today, we checked out earlier and headed straight to the airport to catch our flight to Taipei. Upon arriving at the airport, we were shocked to see that 2 flights to Taipei was cancelled, including ours. Fortunately, when we checked with the Eva Air staff, they said that we could follow either the earlier flight which will be leaving in about 1 hours time or the later flight which leaves only in early afternoon so not wanting to wait that long, we checked in straightaway and were 1 hour earlier than our scheduled flight. However, later on after coming back to Brunei, I found out that Eva Air has rescheduled our flight to the afternoon flight through email but since I didn't have access to the internet in Hong Kong, I was not aware of the flight changes but nevertheless, we still ended up going to Taipei.

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When we arrived at Taipei, we had to wait for our driver, Charles as I was not able to contact his number since before we flew off because they had this funny code which you have to add first because you can dial the number. I guess he was shocked to hear that we have already landed as we were not supposed to be in Taipei that early but it was at least a half hour wait before he finally showed up. Since it was going to be at least 3 and a half hours drive to Hualien, Charles told us that we will have a stop somewhere before we drive straight to Hualien for a late lunch and also asked if any of us are car sick as it has happened before to his previous clients. We were wondering how could people get car sick since all of us drive or sit in cars all the time and none of us have ever experienced car sick before. By the time we made a stop at Yilan to taste the best beef noodle in that county (or so claimed Charles) it looked like as if it was almost evening even though it was only 3pm but because it was drizzling slightly and cloudy, it became dark faster than usual. I'm not really a big fan of noodle actually but to have a bowl of hot soup in cold weather is a blessing.

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After filling our tummy, we had another 2 hours of driving towards Hualien and we finally found out why people get car sick when they travel on the mountains of Taiwan because it involves driving around the winding, narrow roads which to us is pretty scary especially when big vehicles like a lorry or a bus pass by us. It feels like if we're not careful or drive too near to the edge of the road, the car can fall off the road anytime and it's no kidding matter to fall from a high mountainous area. Little did I know that one of our friend who sat behind me got car sick and she was lucky to vomit into a plastic bag in time before we stop to see the Qingshui cliff. Though it was getting darker by now, we still could see the blue water and it would have been a very nice view if it was in day time.

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By the time we arrived at Marshal hotel, the rain was getting a bit heavier so we rested for a while and waited until the rain stop before we went out to see what the shops around the neighbourhood were selling. As we walked, we noticed that Hualien is famous for its bakeries and mochi as you can see many shops selling similar products at different prices. It was also difficult to choose which shop to buy the most tastiest pineapple cake even though they do give free tasting though as Taiwan is famous for making them. It was also the first time we saw charcoal peanuts whereby the peanuts are coated black which we assume, the flour is mixed with the charcoal. There were also some shops selling cute stuffs like dolls and stationaries as well as clothes but we had to keep on reminding ourselves that we still had many places to go in Taiwan and we'll be going back to Hong Kong and staying there for a more few days so we had to limit our shopping.

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Wednesday (5/12/2012) Today, we are going to the Toroko Gorge and on the way before we leave Hualien, Charles brought us to see the Chishingtan beach which was an amazing view because even though it was drizzling slightly at that time, we could see that the sea is very blue. After a short time of enjoying the view of the beach, we started off our journey towards Taroko Gorge which means back to the winding roads on the mountains. This time, it was another hour drive towards the other side of the mountain, passing through a number of underground tunnels which were made through each mountain. It was a pretty scary ride though as the roads are narrow with some parts having sharp turns and it's supposed to be a 2 way road. At certain places because of the landslide or the road could only let 1 vehicle pass through at a time, either one of the vehicle would have to reverse backwards to let the other one pass through first which well, maybe to the Taiwanese, they are used to it but not for those who come from places where no roads are built at the edge of the mountains.

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When we reached to Toroko National park, all we could see are mountains with fog everywhere with a river flowing through it. Fortunately, the drizzle had stopped and the sun wasn't too hot. By the time we got into Toroko Gorge, the sun was out but the weather wasn't too hot as we were shaded by the mountains. At one point, we were able to walk a distance by foot until where Charles was waiting for us at the other end. It's a beauty to see all the natural formations of the rocks formed by the flow of the winding river through long periods of time as well as the Swallow's grotto whereby the swallows have made their nests inside the holes that was created in the rocks. The feeling of walking through the dark tunnels of these mountains also felt eerie but you can feel the coolness of the air as you walk through them.

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After having enough of walking and seeing the works of nature, we drove on again and came to the Marble bridge where basically some parts of the bridge, the lion statue and the pagoda are made of marble that was obtained from Toroko gorge. We then headed for our lunch in the pitstop which is located at the end of a mountain. Even the air in that area felt cool without any wind blowing at all. After having our lunch, we headed for another 3 hour drive along the winding, foggy road of the mountains again but this time we were heading towards Hehuanshan Mountain (also known as Joy Mountain) which is the one of the highest mountain in Taiwan, standing at an altitude of 3275m. Charles told us that he was told by his friend that it had snowed for a few minutes early that morning at Hehuanshan and I was thinking to myself that we're in trouble because we didn't have any gloves as we didn't expect to even see snow in Taiwan! It was raining and visibility was not good as the clouds came down to the road. Since we had quite a distance to go, Charles decided to stop for a while to refresh himself as we could see that he was tired. So we stopped for a while to see the Bilyu Sacred Tree and also checked out the small shop that was selling dried fruits and fried mushroom chips.

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By the time we reached to Hehuanshan, one of our friend (without any of us realising it) got car sick. So while the 3 of us when to the top of the peak, she was puking by the side of the car. We didn't stay out on the top for more than 10 minutes as the wind was so freezing cold and we rushed back to the car to get heated up again. Boy, the feeling of the hot air from the car heater on my freezing hands felt like just in heaven. We then headed towards Cingjing through the rain and bad visibility of the once again curvy mountains. This destination took us an hour drive which was not too far. By the time we got to Cingjing which was on an altitude of 3100m high, we headed to the Swiss garden first which was quite small but a lovely place to enjoy the scenery if it wasn't raining and foggy. We took time to go around the park and even fed the ducks and birds before going to the main building where the Carlton King cardboard shop was selling products made of cardboard which was a very creative idea.

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Since it was getting dark, we then headed to the place where we will be staying for the night which happened to be one level lower than the main road is. It was a small cottage completely made of wood which looks very cozy though the space inside was quite small and it was cold as there was no heater. There was a small living room, balcony, toilet and a double bed on the ground floor while on the top floor, they provided a king sized bed on the floor with a small balcony looking outwards and no other furniture. After resting for a while, we headed out to check out the 24 hour shop and also try to find something to eat for dinner. It was quite cold as the drizzle did not stop at all. By the time we got back to our cottage and got ready to sleep, the air inside the cottage was cold. The bed was so cold and even colder when we covered ourselves with the blanket provided. But we finally found the trick which is when you have already settled down on the bed in the sleeping position you want to sleep in, do not move at all to a new position again because it will take a while for the heat to develop in that new area.

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Thursday (6/12/2012) We woke up early to enjoy the scenery before we went up to have our breakfast. After enjoying a hearty local breakfast, we headed to the Green Green Grassland where they rear sheep for people to see, touch and feed while their wools get sheared for other purposes. After spending an hour feeding and patting the sheep, we headed off to Alishan which is 5 to 6 hours drive depending on the weather condition. Passing through JiJi, we stopped for a while to see the Wuchang Temple which was still left undisturbed. The centre of the building was destroyed completely by the 7.3 magnitude Chichi earthquake back in 1999 and you could see that second floor had came down and destroyed the ground floor. The way to Alishan was a very long and dangerous drive. Not only did the clouds made visibility almost zero but the street lights made it even worse especially at because all you see are just fog. We almost missed a cornering and would have gone down the mountain at one point when the lines on the road couldn't be seen at all if Charles hadn't break immediately and it was a heart stopping moment for everyone of us! I prayed hard for the next hour that we would reach Alishan safely and Charles had to drive extra slow until we reached to an altitude where we were above the clouds and visibility returned to normal and we were so relieved to finally reach our hotel in Alishan!

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Friday (7/12/2012) Next morning, we started our walk with Charles through the Alishan forest. It's like having a morning exercise but without having to sweat at all because the air was quite cool. We saw cedar trees, ponds and tree stumps of various natural shape like a pig's head and a heart shaped trunk. Then we walked through a wooden canopy to cross the other side and walked through a mini temple for people who want to pray to the God before heading for Alishan's trademark, the train which we took on the Jhushan line to go back to the main railway station. It was a nice ride considering that the only train that I've followed so far is the electric Maglev train in Shanghai. After checking out from our hotel, we headed to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. It was a 3 hour drive to reach there but at least the weather was fine. Since Charles told us that we could take the cable car from this culture village to the Sun Moon Lake, we agreed to meet up with him at the Sun Moon Lake where he will wait for us.

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The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is made up of the Aboriginal Village Park, the Amusement Isle and the European Garden. The European garden is said to be the largest one in Taiwan while the amusement park contains the tallest free-fall ride in Taiwan. We decided to skip the Amusement Isle as our main intention of coming here was to see the Taiwanese traditional tribal lifestyle and the aboriginal traditions. While waiting for the cultural performance, people waiting there were buying mango ice cream from the ice cream shop which was super delicious. After the performance, we decided to have lunch by trying out their local cuisine before we catch another cultural show that is showing later on. The performers were the same people who performed in the first cultural show that we saw but they were dressed in different costumes, singling and dancing differently. After the performance, we headed pass the Amusement Isle to the the cable car ropeway station to go to the Sun Moon Lake. The cable cars are either one of these colours; red, blue and yellow whereby red represents sun, yellow represents moon and blue represents lake. It was a 6.8 minutes ride through the 1.87km route where the cable cars pass through the forest, mountains and the blue Sun Moon Lake. The view of the Sun Moon Lake from the air was just so amazing though the ride was kind of scary for that long distance as we only depend on one rope which could snap anytime.

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After we landed and met up with Charles at the cable car station, we stopped by the Sun Moon Lake visitor centre before heading to Kaohsiung. It has a unique architecture and we could see the water flowing towards the Sun Moon Lake. After appreciating the natural beauty for a while, we then started our 3 hours drive to Kaohsiung which is Taiwan's second largest city in Taiwan. On the way, we stopped over at a resting place which had shops and food courts inside. I finally managed to get the Sun Moon Lake cakes which was recommended by people from the internet which I couldn't find before and fortunately, they had 1/2 a dozen pack which means lesser weight to carry back as we have to remind ourselves that we are heading to Hong Kong again after this trip. We were excited to see the Mirador hotel which Charles have booked for us because when we looked it up on the internet, the hotel is very colourful as the walls are painted with European concept even though the name comes from Spanish. Not only is it unique in Kaohsiung but it is also a first of its kind in Taiwan. To add to that, they have even put a bench inside the elevator for people to sit down! We were not disappointed at all when we arrived there because it looked exactly like what was shown on the internet and the whole building (including our room) is just so lovely like as if you're staying in an European cottage instead of a Chinese country.

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After giving us enough time to check out the lovely paintings and design of the hotel, Charles took us to the Love river for a boat cruise. According to him, in the olden days, men would bring their girlfriend to walk around that river for their dates but now, it's the tourists that are mainly seen hanging around that area. The cruise was nice and relaxing with the cool breeze blowing on our face. All you could see at night are the lights on the buildings and people walking along the Love river, probably couples going on a date. After our short cruise, we headed off to the famous Liuhe Night Market which was full of food, ranging from seafood, fresh offal, grilled stuffs, fruits and drinks that we don't actually know what to buy. We tried the cheese baked oyster which was super delicious and almost wanted to try the stink tofu but then seeing that it's drizzled with a wet sauce, we decided to wait until we go to Taipei and try the real one. After walking to the end of the street and absorbing all the food being offered with our eyes alone, we decided to go back and wait for Charles to pick us up so that we can check out the places near to where we were staying and get a late dinner.

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After reaching back to the hotel, we walked out again to where we saw a lot of people when we passed by earlier on to check out what was happening. Without us realising, we were actually staying near a night market called Xin Jue Jiang where there are restaurants, clubs, shops selling clothing and accessories and also once again food stalls. Since there were sales on winter clothes, we both ended up buying a winter jacket which was definitely way cheaper than the ones we have bought. It's nice to see what is the current trend in Taiwan for winter as different countries have different trends like the time I went to South Korea. Of course the weather in Taiwan wasn't as cold nor are there any snow here than in Korea so it's not surprising to see the ladies wearing skirts. After going one round checking what they were selling in this night market, we headed off to have our late dinner which happened to be McDonald that is right opposite to the entrance of this Xin Jue Jiang night market.

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Saturday (8/12/2012) Today, we checked out from our lovely hotel and headed to E-da theme park which is famous for their Greek concept. It is a big theme park with shopping centre, hotel and a university inside its compound but it is pretty isolated and located far away from the town centre. We decided to skip the shopping area as well as the hotel and headed right to the amusement area. Basically this amusement park is divided into three different land: Acropolis, Santorini and Trojan Castle. The Acropolis building is the main building which has the food and shopping area. Santorini Mountain city is modeled after the Greek island by that name, followed by the Trojan Castle which is located at the end of the park. The only ride we tried was the coaster that goes through the water and boy, were we really wet even though we had a raincoat on. We also found out the reason why they provided hair driers near to the toilet inside the building which we saw earlier as we ended up using them also after the wet ride. For our late lunch, we tried out Greek food which was not bad. After having enough of E-da, we headed out and met with Charles who waiting for us at the entrance.

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Our final destination is to Taipei which was 4 and a half hours drive. It was a long drive along the highway and with the heavy traffic jam towards Taipei, we finally reached to our hotel by evening. The hotel is pretty new and modern and it's the first time we stayed at the basement of a hotel (in fact I think this hotel is the only one that even have rooms on the basement floor) since we were staying in the family room. Lo and behold, since we were staying at the Sports level, there was even a football table for people to play. It's a good place for guys to stay in which will keep them occupied while the ladies go out shopping! Both of us decided to give a test try on Taipei's MRT and headed towards the Main Taipei Station where there are supposed to be an underground Main City Mall. Not knowing that the shopping areas are interconnected under that train station, we didn't know where we were exactly as the first building we went up to happen to be inside a shopping centre where we managed to find the food court and had our dinner. After walking around and trying to find where the underground Main City Mal is, we finally found it but unfortunately, it was getting late so we planned to come again tomorrow since they have a lot of things on sale.

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Sunday (9/12/2012) Today is our free day in Taipei City. I have made plans to meet up with my German friend, Uwe who had also planned for a Taiwan and Hong Kong trip. But since our trip started way ahead before his, today was the only day that we could meet up and discover Taipei together before we fly off to Hong Kong while he start his Taiwan trip. We headed off to Taipei 101 first as that was the easiest place to meet up since we stayed in different location. Me and my friends went up first to enjoy the view of Taipei from the top of Taipei 101 which is said to have the fastest elevator in the world until your ears get blocked like you experience it while the plane is just taking off. I also had the opportunity to send postcards from here as they also sold stamps so while the others were eating ice cream and enjoying the view.

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Close to noon time when the clouds have finally came down and blocked the view of Taipei 101 and Uwe is finally awake after his jetlag, I met him downstairs since he decided to leave the Taipei 101 view to a more clearer day. We headed off to Taipei Main Station by foot where this time, even though we still do not know which shopping centre we are in, we managed to find a food court which was on the ground floor. The food that I chose so far is forever delicious. After having our lunch, we checked out the shops and even the train station. Apparently, a mass wedding was going on at that time and Uwe was so amazed to see such wedding like this (which is pretty common is Asian countries) and also because of all places, it was held in a public place like the train station as they do not have that in Europe.

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Then we decided to check out the famous Longshan temple where they were having some sort of celebration as people were offering food to the deities as well as praying to them. It's a pretty small temple compared to the ones I've seen so far though they have a lot of small Buddha statues. After taking some photos, we headed off to check out Ximending which we consider as high class shopping area where modern fashion and trends can be found. Since most of the things are pretty expensive there, we decided to head off the to famous Shilin Night Market where it is known for offering various types of food and of course my main target is to try their stinky tofu!

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Shilin night market happens to be a very big place where most of the stalls offer almost similar types of food but with variation in their taste. This was the chance for us to taste all the famous Taiwanese food that is well known throughout the world. There were the pearl milk tea which was different that the ones I've tasted before, stinky tofu which tasted way different than the one I had in Suzhou as there wasn't any bird poo smell or peculiar taste after they have become cold, the Taiwanese sausage which was double the size of the normal chicken franks that we have and the fried chicken fillet which was way too big and meaty for us to finish off as they use the breast part. After feasting enough with our eyes rather than our mouth, we finally call it a night as we still have to do last minute packing of all our stuffs since we'll be flying off to Hong Kong tomorrow.

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Monday (10/12/2012) Charles picked us up from the hotel and drove us to Taoyuan International Airport. We finally said goodbye to Taiwan and started our next trip in Hong Kong. By the time we reached to Hong Kong, it was already evening. So after checking into the same guest house that we stayed before we left for Taipei, we decided to grab dinner somewhere along Argyle Street as we wanted to check out what they sell at the Ladies Market and Fa Yuen Street. After walking around looking for places to eat, we ended up in Pizza Hut where they offered pizzas which is not even available in Brunei. When our tummy have been filled up, we headed for the Ladies Market and Fa Yuen Street, followed by a walk to the Temple Street. As the night progressed, more and more people were out on the streets checking out the stuffs that is sold. I would say that this would be a shopping heaven for people who love to bargain and hunt for cheap (though not really that cheap) clothes and souvenirs. I ended up buying a few skirts, dresses, Chinese qipao and some souvenirs to give away.

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Tuesday (11/12/2012) Our plan for today is to go to Victoria Peak. Since it was a sunny clear day, the view must be very nice. So we headed off to the MRT station and hopped off at the nearest station to the Victoria harbour. Along the way, we stopped by Heritage 1881 and took photos with the huge teddy bear which was displayed outside. We also had the opportunity to check out some of the shops while looking for Starbucks. Going on the ferry ride was fun as the cool wind kept on blowing. When we got to Hong Kong island, we were waiting for the Peak Tram bus that pick up passengers from the harbour all the way to the Peak Tram station at the same place where I got on 4 years ago without realising that they have moved upwards and the spot that we were waiting is now for the Rickshaw bus which is like the hop on and off bus in Singapore for tourists. In the end, we finally got on the right bus and headed for Victoria Peak. Fortunately, the queue was not too bad and we didn't have to wait too long or squeeze into the packed tram car.

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We checked out the shops and I went to look for the Post Love To The Future place where they provide the service of sending your postcard the following year according to the date you wish it to arrive. After writing some postcards and buying stamps from the small post office, my postcards were ready to be sent in advanced to several people for their birthday. After that we went to the Madame Tussauds wax museum to take photos with actors and actresses as well as famous people. Then we headed up to the Sky Terrace to see the overview of Hong Kong island as well as Kowloon. Unfortunately by that time, the sky has become slightly hazy so the view wasn't that clear. After spending time taking photos here and there as well as writing our wishes, we then headed to the Peak Galleria to check out their shops as well as the rooftop garden. By the time we headed back to Kowloon, it was evening but not too late to go out again and check out the shopping centres along Nathan Road. We came across Uniqlo which was having sales on their clothes which we took the opportunity to get some. By the time we were done with our shopping, we were pretty hungry and went hunting for restaurants that were still open that late which we were lucky but then again, since it was a small restaurant, they were in a hurry to chase people out after they are done with their food to cater for new clients.

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Wednesday (12/12/2012) Today we went to Disneyland. It was a long ride but fortunately, we weren't caught in the peak time so it was alright. It was a hot day and the sun was shining so brightly by the time we reached there. The new attractions since the last time I came here are the Grizzly Gulch, Toy Storyland and It's A Small World while Mystic Point is still under construction. The Jungle River Cruise, is always forever exciting and we took up the courage to try the Runaway Mine Ears which is actually not a long roller coaster ride but because it goes forward first and then travels backwards which people are not used to it, it looked pretty scary because you can't see what's happening at the back. Good adrenaline rush I should say and it was a good thing that all of us went on an empty stomach. After the ride, we took our lunch before moving on to the other half of the park. The last ride we took was a slow water boat cruise through the It's A Small World building where we saw dolls dressed in different national costumes and the theme song is very catchy too! How we felt like small kids once again!

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After watching the Christmas parade and since we had 1 more hour before the fireworks, we decided to take our dinner first. I tried the nasi biryani which was delicious but a bit too spicy for my taste. By the time we were done with our dinner, we were still early enough to pick good spots to sit and watch for the firework show. No matter how far we sat, we still could feel the heat from the fire but nevertheless, the fireworks were always spectacular! After the fireworks which marks the end of all the performance, people started to head back to the town centre which means full trip and long queues. But it was enjoyable day where we relive our childhood days again!

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Thursday (13/12/2012) Today, we decided to go to Macau instead of tomorrow so that at least we wouldn't be in a rush to come back to Hong Kong to pack up all our stuffs since we'll be going back to Brunei on Saturday. None of us have been there before so our first task was to find out where exactly is the China Ferry terminal which happens to be located inside a shopping centre. After walking around, following signs and asking a few people to make sure that we're on the right direction, we finally found it on the first floor. There were a number of ferry companies selling the same tickets but at different prices and different time so we had to go to each booth and ask how much is the cheapest ticket and also when is the earliest boat that will be leaving and coming back the latest. After getting our ticket, we had to queue for the immigration which also happens to be on the same level and wait for boarding like as if we're in the airport. Fortunately it wasn't a long wait but it was unfortunate that we followed a group of China people who not only refuse to follow instructions but also love to talk loudly. So much for having a rest on the 1 hour boat ride. The boat was pretty stable and you can't actually feel it going up and down like the boats going to Labuan when it was going at fast speed. We finally reached to Macau immigration and even though the queue was long, the immigrant officers were efficient enough to cleared everyone off as fast as they could. Good thing we don't need visa anymore too.

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We're finally in Macau! Our original plan was to walk by foot as I've searched on the internet that the places we wanted to go wasn't too far but considering that 2 of our friends are not used to walking long distances, we ended up taking a van offered by a tour company which will take us to the main places of interest in Macau though we told that man that we wanted to go to Venetian Macao. The driver took us to a Portuguese restaurant where we had our lunch. All the waiters and waitresses are Filipinos instead of Macanese which was a surprise to us at first. The food served were mainly Spanish food like tapas but I chose to try the Macanese cuisine, African Chicken which looked and tasted exactly like the chicken that is cooked with kunyit in Brunei. Not bad though considering that we were hungry.

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After lunch, the driver drove us to Senado Square where we were dropped on the top level and had to walk down a small alley down the hill. There were catholic churches and small restaurants as well as shops selling biscuits, clothes and food. When we reached to the actual Senado Square, there were a lot of tourists, mainly from China taking photos as well as shopping. The buildings were colourful and of Portuguese architecture. The shops range from high end shops to ordinary shops offering anything and everything and I was even surprised to see a stall offering turkish ice cream. We ended up buying some souvenirs and Macanese biscuits before heading off to the see famous tourist attraction that is the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It's one thing to see pictures of it in the internet but the feeling of seeing the real structure with your own eyes is just indescribable and it makes you feel like you're not even in an Asian country!

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Before going towards Taipa where Venetian Macao is located, the driver took us to see A-Ma temple which is noted to be the oldest temple in Macau. There was also a Caucasian man sitting a distance away from the front of the entrance, smoking his pipe while sketching A-Ma temple which was very nice. After seeing people praying to the Gods and rubbing auspicious things like a bowl of water for good luck (believe to bring luck to those who are planning to gamble in the casinos here), we then headed off to a place where we could see Macau tower. We had no intention of going up Macau tower as I have been up to numerous towers before nor was our objective to do bungee jumping so we told the driver that we will head straight to Venetian Macao without stopping anywhere else since that was our original target to come to Macau in the first place.

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By the time we reached to Venetian Macau, the sun was starting to set but we were able to take some photos of the external building and the gondolas before heading in. With the architecture and the presence of gondolas, there a feeling of Venice in the air. We also had the opportunity to see a young couple taking their own wedding shots with the Venetian architecture as their background. So sweet and saving money. The interior design of the place was even more stunning that outside. The hotel lobby was covered with paintings on the ceilings and there were golden sculptures. As we walked towards the centre of the building to where all the shops are located, the scenery changed to Venetian architecture again where each block are of various designs and colours. They even have a small Venetian canal in the middle of the building with gondolas for people to ride on! The shops are mainly selling high end stuffs and the only thing I could to afford to get as a souvenir was a box of Venetian chocolates. The building is so huge and split into several blocks that even to find the Lord Stow’s bakery was quite difficult unless you have the map of the whole building. But we managed to find it in the end after walking around the same area a few times as it was tucked away at the corner, unnoticeable from the main walkway and I finally got to taste the original Portuguese egg tart from Lord Stow. The taste was so delicious, unlike any Portuguese tarts that I've tasted before though it was very oily and they only packed it in paper bag. The last thing we did before we call it a night was to go through the casino area just to have a look and 1 of my friend tried the Jackpot for fun and only ended up winning HK$1.50 which was not even amounting to B$1 so in the end, she just kept the ticket as a souvenir rather than cashing it. To go back to the ferry terminal to catch our ferry back to Hong Kong, this time we took the free Venetian shuttle bus which pick up and drop people off from the ferry to Venetian Macau and vice versa. When we got to the ferry terminal, we were early and we were lucky enough to get on the boat in less than 30 minutes. It was a nice trip in Macau but I wished we had more time and had walked on foot to explore more like the Fisherman's wharf but there will always be a next time. By the time we got back to Hong Kong, everyone was tired but kept on talking about Venetian Macau before going to sleep.

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Friday (14/12/2012) Today is our last day in Hong Kong and we decided to just have a stroll and check out things that we missed out before. We walked by foot this time towards Kowloon Park and it so happened that they have comic characters on display. After taking photos with the characters, we walked to the park and enjoy looking at the birds, roses and people doing their morning exercise. After enjoying the fresh air of the park, we headed towards Miramar shopping centre to check out places to eat as we haven't had our breakfast and it was lunch time by the time we reached there. I happened to be given a tomato by a lady as a form of advertisement for a new restaurant. Not that we'll be going to that restaurant to eat as the sticker on the tomato says, "Bring me to the restaurant and turn me into a tomato soup" and not knowing what to do with a big juicy tomato like that, in the end I just kept the tomato in my bag and we went on searching for a nice place to eat. We chose a Japanese restaurant in the end where the food was nice though service was quite slow but then again, we weren't in any rush so we took our time to enjoy our meal.

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We then went to see St. Andrew's church which had the same name as the church I am attending in Brunei and it's the oldest English speaking Protestant church in Kowloon. After looking inside and taking some photos, we headed off towards the Avenue of Stars. Along the way, we took opportunities to stop by certain shops that caught our interest as some of them were having sales. By the time we got to Avenue of Stars, it became cloudy and windy so the weather was just nice to be out in the open. We then use the MRT to go across Hong Kong island to see Tiffany's Christmas tree which was set up in Statue Square. It wasn't a long distance to walk from one place to another, provided that you have a map to guide you to the right road. After checking out the Tiffany's trees and the merry-go-round where they were guarded by securities and Tiffany's staffs, we walked towards Garden Road where St. John's Cathedral is located. It was difficult to find this place at first because the road sign was not on the main road where we were walking but apparently it was at the back lane which we didn't know we had to walk in from the main road. But if we had kept on walking upwards the main road, we would still have seen St. John's Cathedral name on the side of that building which happens to be the back of the church. Eventually, we followed some visitors who were also going to this church. What's special about this church is that is it the Diocesan cathedral of the Diocese of Hong Kong Island and the focus of the Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. So since our Archbishop lives in Kuching and is under St. Thomas, I had the pleasure of seeing Hong Kong's Archbishop's church.

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We then slowly walked towards the Mid Level Escalators where it starts off at the Elgin Street entrance. In order to reach there, we passed by high end shopping centres which we didn't bother to stop by to check them as we couldn't afford all these branded stuffs. The Mid Level Escalators is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world and they're not kidding about it at all. Going up was fun as you just walk a bit and then you just step on the escalators which keeps on moving upwards while you just enjoy seeing people left and right especially English expatriates hanging out in the bars. We didn't actually reach up to the very top as the escalators seem to go on and on and there weren't any escalators going down at all so it was going to be a long walk down if we kept on going upwards. Coming down took us a while and by the time we reached back to Elgin Street, we were starting to get hungry and went around to find places to eat. We ended up having Subway sandwich as our dinner which I ordered my favourite, the BLT. Since it was still early, we headed back to Kowloon and took the MRT all the way to the Ladies' Market again as I wanted to get something. Before heading back to our guest house, we stopped at an ice cream shop where I ordered ice cream sundae while my friend ordered Durian shaved ice cream which was the first time I've heard and seen before. A good treat after spending the whole day walking, shopping and sightseeing which was fun.

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Saturday (15/12/2012) Since the driver will only pick us up at noon time to go to the airport, we checked out from the guest house and left our luggage with them until the driver come. Meanwhile, we had 2 more hours to spend so we just walked around the area to see where we can have our early lunch. After walking here and there, we ended up in a Turkish restaurant which serves western, Cantonese and Turkish cuisine. Since they had just open for business, service was very slow and the shop was pretty small as it could only fit at least 4 tables only and the kitchen area was next door. By the time we finished our lunch and head back to the guest house, we were just in time because the driver was there already to pick us up. At least this time, we have no more problem catching our flight and if we hadn't missed our flight in the first place, it would have been a nicer trip.

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Overall, I enjoyed Taiwan and Macau more than Hong Kong. It has been a wonderful trip, full of scenic views from mountains and cold weather to cities full of night markets offering various types of food. Not to mention that Charles' Volkswagen has proven to be a very stable car despite of all the curves and narrow escapes that we had encountered on the mountains. Venetican Macao is also for those who wish to go to Venice but can't afford to do so. Anyway, nothing is impossible and who knows, one day I'll be back again in Taiwan and Macau to do more trips to other places that we haven't covered in this trip.

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Posted by Lingering 09:28 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Singapore 2011

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Sunday (21/7/2011) This is my second trip to Singapore but my first time using AirAsia, the Malaysian low budget airline. For those who have used AirAsia before, you would be familiar with the continuous flight as well as the delays which used to be up to 1 hour long when it first started. Very disappointingly unlike other airlines, they do not even have the luggage check through service all the way from Brunei to Singapore and we had to check out of the KLCC airport and then check in again with our luggage to go to Singapore.

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When AirAsia landed on Brunei International Airport (on time surprisingly), after about 15mins of dropping off passengers coming to Brunei as well as their luggage, it was our turn and our luggage to get on the same plane and off we go to Kuala Lumpur. The plane was small, only 2 rows of seat with small leg space but it was alright for a 2 hour and 15 min flight. Funnily unlike the other airlines that I’ve been on, no one uses the toilet nor did anyone make much noise since there wasn’t any entertainment so it was easy to catch up with our sleep. KLCC is surprisingly just next to KLIA and we had to walk down from the plane on the runway with the hot late morning breeze blowing on us while we walked a distance to the Malaysian immigration area. Queue was bad and the process was very slow. By the time we passed through the immigration and gotten our luggage, it was already noon time and we had to check in our bags again before we can have lunch. I had to learn how to do self-check-in which is pretty easy once you know how to do it and the machine print the boarding pass right away but then we still had to queue in the check in counter to drop our luggage. We had a quick lunch in an “open cafe” inside the terminal and boy, not only was the service so slow but the place was full of flying houseflies that it was impossible to eat in peace and enjoy the meal even though the portion was big! The waitress had to stand next to our table and swat at the houseflies which was very unhygienic. I really wonder how the health authorities can allow these types of “cafe” to operate in an airport terminal.

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We arrived at Changi’s airport terminal 1 at 3.30pm and then took a taxi which drove us all the way to Waterloo Street. The road wasn’t that jam as it was a lazy Sunday. When we arrived at South East Asia Hotel, there were a lot of people praying in both the Buddhist and the Indian temple as well as lotus flower sellers. For only S$100, our room is not too bad actually, much bigger than the Brooke Hotel I stayed in Hangzhou last year. It’s just like your typical bedroom that you have at home but the only thing missing is a small fridge which is useful if there is one. After resting for a while, we decided to go out and check on the surrounding. First we went and checked out all the small shopping buildings around and well, basically almost all of them have sales to remove the older stocks so that they can put out new ones. We bought a pair of comfortable shoes each as well as some clothes.

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Since it was already getting late, we decided to drop off our things at the hotel first before going to the Albert food court to see what sort of food they sell. Mostly they had porridge and pig spare parts which both of us don’t eat so we decided to have the Indonesian “ayam” (chicken) BBQ for only S$4.50. It’s not bad though I don’t know why they dip the BBQ drumstick into the black sweet soya sauce for since it’s supposed to be BBQ. Then we walked through Bugis Street and crossed the road to go to Bugis Junction just to see what is available there. They had an exhibition on the smurfs designed by the locals which you can bid in conjunction with the movie “The Smurfs In 3D”. By the time we finished going around Bugis Junction, it was almost 10pm so we made a quick round in the Bugis Street. Most of the stalls had already closed so we didn’t actually see all of the clothes and accessories that they sell and decided to check them out again the next few days since it’s so close to our hotel.

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Monday (22/7/2011) Breakfast is from 8.30am to 10am daily. The menu is either vegetarian Chinese buffet or an American breakfast. We chose vegetarian Chinese buffet since they had fried rice, noodles, fried carrot cake and also vegetarian pao which is not bad at all considering that I’m not a 100% vegetarian. Our plan for today is going to the Universal Studios in Sentosa. In order to get there, we took the MRT all the way to Vivocity and then took the Sentosa Express for only S$3 (return trip) which was located on the 3rd floor of that shopping centre.

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It is similar to Hong Kong’s Disneyland though smaller in size and instead of concentrating on Disney characters, they concentrated on Madagascar’s characters. We didn’t see a lot of mascots going around unlike in Disneyland, probably because of the hot weather. We managed to watch Madagascar Boogie dance by 4 penguins, Alex and King Julien XIII which was pretty funny but we didn’t stick around to take photos with them since it was so hot. Then we went for rides like A Crate Adventure which is a water ride that helped to cool us down slightly from the hot weather and then queued for Shrek 4-D Adventure which is actually a simulator ride that smacked our legs with something when the spiders came and squirted water at our face whenever the donkey sneeze. Feels like you’re riding a horse at the same time too LOL!! After that we tried the Enchanted Airways for some adrenaline rush and I have to say, the last time that I went on one was like 5 years ago and you feel like you’re going to be thrown off the ride anytime. Man, a few seconds just feels like 1 minute!

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Our next target is to watch the Water World which was full of actions (not to mention water too) and it was pretty interesting. It can accommodate a lot of people at one time and it was 30 mins long. By the time the show was over, it started to drizzle a bit so we decided to take a break and have lunch at their food court. It was fully packed as everyone was taking this opportunity to take shelter from the drizzle too. Very good business during raining times I would say! The chicken rice that comes with a soya bean pudding is not bad even though it is expensive (S$10.50) compared to the chicken rice we have in Brunei but it was much more worth it than the one I had at Chinatown which costed S$8 for only a few pieces of chicken. After lunch we went on our way to the Lost World and then to the Ancient Egypt which both wasn’t 100% completed yet. But the Ancient Egypt looks magnificent like the one you see in “The Mummy”.

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Our original intention was to try all the rides in this park as there’s only 3 and we’ve gone on 2 already. However, we had to give up on Battlestar Galactica ride as we don’t want to throw up our lunch but it looks very exciting even though the loops and the ride was much more longer than the Enchanted Airways. So we just kept on walking to Sci-Fi City which was nothing much and headed to New York which is just basically some buildings found in NY like the Rockefeller Centre and its famous statue of Atlas. There wasn’t much attractions to see in Universal Studios unfortunately and the only mascots that we took picture with is Woody Woodpecker’s girlfriend and King Julien XIII who is a very cheeky lemur for sure!

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By 3pm, we ran out of things to see so we decided to go back to Vivocity and look around for a while before heading to South Bridge road to get my new Canon Powershot SX30 IS. I’ve never been to this area before so it took us quite a while to find it but eventually we did. After dropping my things to our hotel, we took a bit of a rest before going to Singapura Plaza as I wanted to get some embossing crafts. Things have changed a lot since I last went there. Spotlight isn’t selling a lot of scrapbook materials as they used to but I managed to get my heat gun from another shop 1 floor below Spotlight. After doing some shopping, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel to get some sleep.

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Tuesday (23/7/2011) Today, we headed for Marina Bay Sands® Hotel. Following the instructions I’ve gotten from the internet, it was pretty easy to go there without using a taxi and we didn’t even need to board any bus as stated as it was only walking distance from the MRT station. It was a pretty hot day and there weren’t many people heading towards that direction either. We entered through The Shoppes which houses so many brand names and walked from one end to the other end, passing by the casino area before we actually got into the hotel area and once again went from one end to the other end of the hotel just to find the entrance to the SkyPark area. They have to improve by putting up signs to show the direction to go to the SkyPark for visitors for sure! Going up 52 floor isn’t anything new to me as I’ve been to towers higher than this one. From the top, you can see constructions going on which is expected to be completed in 2012 and the tall buildings that crowds Singapore city. Since there wasn’t anything much to see and it was getting hot as it was close to noon time, we decided to check out the swimming pool of this hotel which is located on the roof top. Pretty nice view and it looks like as if you’re swimming without any walls at all even though they do have glass panels to prevent their guests from falling off from the swimming pool.

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After coming down from the SkyPark, we decided to have lunch first before continuing our tour to the Art Science Museum which is another small building outside The Shoppes. There’s a wax skating ring around the food court which offers various types of dishes. The Art Science Museum is very small as it only has 3 galleries. We went to the Van Gogh exhibition fist and actually sat down there and just looked at his paintings while relaxing to the music. Then we went to Dali’s gallery which is famous for his Surrealism’s sculptures. Before leaving Marina Bay Sands, we decided to check out the casino and I did try and play the jackpot which was pretty expensive as 1 credit cost 5 cents and the cheapest game to play is a minimum of 50 credits which cost $2.50 per game. I played a total of S$17 on jackpot only, lost more than S$13 at first but in the end during the last 2 games, I managed to cover back most of the money I lost and eventually only lost S$3.75 which is not bad at all. I would say that jackpots are addictive and no wonder a lot of Chinese men and women just sit around all day at the jackpot machine and just keep on pressing the button in hope to strike it big!

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By 3.30pm we decided to head towards Chinatown. There wasn’t much decoration for the Mid Autumn festival like last year and the paper lanterns weren’t as nice as before too. However like always, you can see a lot of tourists from various countries looking for souvenir on Temple Street, ranging from shirts, magnets, keychains, mirrors, etc. We checked out the “bak kua” or the BBQ pork jerky as well as some of the shops around Chinatown. After getting some souvenirs of our own, we decided to sit down and have some snacks. I had ice kacang for S$2.50 while my friend has satay with rice for S$6 which is not too expensive. After having enough of rest for our feet, we walked towards the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple And Museum which was not too far away but unfortunately, it was already closed by the time we found it so we decided to head back to Bugis and have dinner before going back to rest.

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Wednesday (24/7/2011) Today, we head to Science Discovery Centre which took at least 30 mins to reach by the MRT but since it wasn’t crowded, it was a relaxing ride while we just look out the window and see the seneries away from the city centre. We reached to the Science Centre in time to see the IMAX movie first which was quite interesting because it’s about 2 great women who took care of baby organ utans in Indonesia and elephant orphans in Africa all their live and it shows how dedicated they are to their work. Very touching and the orang utan sanctuary in Indonesia looks very interesting. After the show, we headed to the main gallery and watched the Tesla coil show. Most of the things looks the same like last time but they have changed some of the galleries so it was interesting to see new things. They also have the dancing iron filings that moves according to the rhythm of the song being played. They even had a demonstration on fire tornado and explained to us how it is formed. It’s a very educational place for people to bring their kids along as kids gets easily fascinated by animals and things they can’t explain themselves.

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Since were already in Jurong area already, we decided to go a bit further to Jurong point, also another shopping centre selling stuffs at a cheaper price than in city area. I managed to find angry birds stuffs for my boyfriend’s niece and nephews since they’re so crazy about it. They also have a Japanese food court where they sell all sorts of Japanese food but not to our liking so we decided to go back and grab dinner around Bugis area. Man, more than 30 mins ride on a fully packed MRT is not your ideal way of travelling as you have to stand up all the way like sardine fishes in a can!

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Thursday (25/7/2011) Since we have finished all the places that we intended to see, the next few days are just solely for shopping and some sightseeing. I wanted to see how a Jewish temple look like so we went for a walk from Waterloo street all the way to Bras Basah MRT station. There were some colourful houses and I finally found Maghain Aboth Synagogue not too far away from the MRT station. Unfortunately, it was closed so we didn’t have a chance to look inside.

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After that, we took the MRT to Geylang Serai which is located between Paya Lebar and Eunos station since my friend wanted to find cloth materials for her family. It’s a Malay area where there are lots of stalls selling “baju melayu”, “kebayas”, Malay biscuits, decorations and curtains for the “Hari Raya” festival. Not all the eateries are open though since the Muslims are still fasting during the day so we didn’t try any Malay snacks. By the time my friend got the things she was looking for, it was just about lunch time so we decided to head back to the hotel first and grabbed lunch at the Bugis Junction's food junction.

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In the afternoon, we decided to check out Orchard Road since we had to get some things from some of the shopping centres there. After walking from morning until night time, my feet were really aching and I had no choice but to get a foot massage there. When she started massaging it, my feet were really stiff and every massage she did caused a lot of pain but after 25 mins, they felt so comfortable and painless. Ready to walk non-stop for another few more days I hope. So we walked all the way towards Ion Orchard and saw an ice cream man on the way. We decided to have ice cream wafer sandwich for S$1 and sat for a while to rest our feet while enjoying our cold dessert. After walking all the way to the end of Orchard Road, we headed to Ion Orchard where I wanted to get Royce’s Champagne Pierre Mignon since we don’t have chocolate liquor available in Brunei before we ate at the food court since it was already getting late.

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Friday (26/7/2011) Since today is our last day in Singapore, we plan to do last minute shopping before we head back to Brunei tomorrow. We first went to Orchard Road to find Begawan Solo and also some clothes in OG complex. For lunch, we decided to grab a Subway sandwich on the way back to the hotel. Yummy! It’s the first time I tried Subway’s ham sandwich even though I’ve seen it before in US and was trying to find it at Changi’s terminal 2 but couldn’t find exactly where it was. We started to pack some of our stuffs until about 2pm and then went out again to Chinatown to buy bak kua. Since we don’t plan to go out for dinner again that night in order to do our final packing, I ordered bimbibap as takeaway which is not bad and it’s cheaper than the one in Brunei. Our final stop was to Albert Complex to buy some shirts for the men in our family.

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Saturday (27/7/2011) We woke up early today as we checked out the hotel at 6am. Even though it’s dark at that time, there were already people who came and pray at the 2 temples and people selling lotus flowers. We had to wait for the taxi driver since there were 2 taxis parked at the taxi stand without any driver. Finally one of the lady came to her taxi after praying at the temple so she drive us to the airport. Fortunately, we were already in a taxi when it started to drizzle. All our flight coming back were delayed but the pilot from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur managed to make up with the delay time by reaching KLCC in just 30 mins. After all the hassle of checking out from the immigration and taking our luggages and then checking in again, we only had about 1 hour left to grab lunch at McDonald’s and then had to walk quite a distance to reach to the boarding gate. Overall I would say, AirAsia is only good if you only intend to go to 1 country directly instead of transiting but it’s not very comfortable for long distance travelling nor do I like the KLCC system very much. But for less than S$270, what do you expect from a budget airline.

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Posted by Lingering 00:46 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Shanghai - Suzhou - Hangzhou

Shanghai Expo 2010

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Shanghai Expo 2010 on Lingering's travel map.

10/9/2011: Brunei - Singapore - Shanghai
The last time I went to Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou was back in 2006. 4 years later, my main aim is to check out the Shanghai Expo. Ever since before the Shanghai Expo officially opened for the public, there has been a lot of commotion on it for months so a lot of people wanted to check it out since Shanghai is not too expensive to go. Since there was no flight to go to Shanghai directly from Brunei on our scheduled trip, we transited through Singapore to go to Shanghai. Once again like in the past, Singapore Airline flight from Singapore to other destination is always after midnight which once again, this time, we left at 1.15am. It's a good thing that SIA have comfortable planes to rest but still not good enough to catch any sleep.

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11/9/2011: Shanghai - Suzhou
After only a few hour of shut eye, we landed at Shanghai Pudong International Airport at 6.15am. The airport is fully operational now as compared to back in 2006 where it was only 3/4 complete at that time and I remembered we had to walked down the runway and then get on a bus which took us to the airport building. This time, we just walk through the airport building from the plane. We then met up with our Shanghai tour guide.

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The first place we went to is the Oriental Pearl Tower which I've been before. There are some change like now part of the floor is made of glass which you can look down to the bottom of the tower just like the CN Tower in Toronto. Not for those of the faint hearted though as you have this feeling of just falling down from 263m high. Other than that, there's not much changes except that there are some major changes in the scenery around it with more new high rise buildings continuously being built. After that, we had lunch in a Chinese ethnic restaurant and they also had a few dancing performances for us. After lunch, we went to check out a small fruit stall just opposite to the restaurant to see what fruits are available in China. They have the usual peaches, apples, pears, grapes, prunes, berries but most of all, what we didn't expect to find in China are the Thailand mon thong durians!

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We then proceed to Suzhou and stop by the Hanshan Temple first which I visited 4 years ago. My intention was to make a wish and strike the bell again 3 times just like what I've done 4 years ago but this time, there was a long queue of people just waiting to make their wishes. Then we proceed to the Suzhou museum which is something new to me. The most impressive article to me in that museum is actually the carving of miniature warriors from one end of an ivory tusk to the other end. I wonder how many months or even years it took the artist(s) to complete the whole detailed carvings.

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I never did go to any shopping centre in Suzhou before so it was nice to check out the so called Guangqian Street. In order to get to this street, we had to walk through a shopping centre first and the most offensive smell that strike me at that time was like the smell of bird shit inside an air con room. I thought the shopping centre had very bad air ventilation that even the smell of the bird shit could get in but when we went out of that building and stood on that Shantang Street, I finally realised what that awful smell was. It was actually the smell of stinky tofu because the food cart was just next to that building and they kept on frying that stinky food! Of course since stinky tofu is only sold in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, this is the opportunity not to be missed! When you stand near to the frying station, it actually smelt very enticing and delicious, nothing like the bird shit smell earlier on. It looks like a typical fried beancurd but when you bite into it, it looks greenish grey instead of the pure white colour. It tasted very nice and I actually ate 2 cubes with the red salty sauce on it but after that, every bite started to taste funny and the smell started to change to something which puts you off to eating it anymore. I wouldn't say I will be specifically looking for it again next time but maybe 1 or 2 bite would be enough. There are high end shops, medium class shops and food shops selling all sorts of titbits like cookies, candies and mooncakes. Our accomodation in Suzhou wasn't that bad, very spacious and has a very big fridge! Too bad there's no kitchen or else it would become and apartment already.

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12/9/2011: Suzhou - Hangzhou
Today, our first destination was to the silk factory. Very different from the one that I went to 4 years ago as this was located near to town area. It's a very small building where they show how silk quilts are made and how they stretch the cocoon of the silkworm to make the silk sheets. We had a try to pull 1 sheet of the stretched cocoon on a quilt before they push us through the big business area where the quilts and silk bed covers were displayed. One thing that I forgot to mention is that we had 2 guides in Suzhou, one is our Shanghai tour guide and the other one is our Suzhou tour guide since our Shanghainese tour guide said that she doesn't know Suzhou as much as her colleague. We have no problems with having 2 tour guides at all but what we don't like is being forced to buy something so expensive which we are not even interested in and that Suzhou tour guide was rude to us, being impatient because none of us wanted to buy the quilt blankets which was already prepared before hand for each of us. No one told her to wait around since she had to go off at noon time and expect us to buy so that she can get commission when we were just waiting to leave and move on to our next destination since we have nothing to buy. But no, we had to be stuck there for 30 mins before that Suzhou tour guide left and then our Shanghainese tour guide finally took us to the next room to watch a silk fashion show. Never in my whole life have I come across a tour guide who force people to buy things when they already told her that they do not want to buy it at all!

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After lunch, we headed to Hangzhou and went straight to the Dragonwell Green Tea village, the same one I went to last time. Bought 500g of Emperor's green tea because they don't sell in small tins anymore. By the time we left the tea village, it was already time for dinner in a very busy street. We didn't expect people to spit again since we haven't come across anyone doing so for the past 2 days but we were so wrong about it. An old man actually spitted on the restaurant floor while we were still eating! Ewww.. so gross! Good thing I wasn't sitting near to that old man. Mingqing Hefang Street was just walking distance from the restaurant where we had our dinner. They have all sort of shops and even small stalls in the centre of the street. They had one shop selling peanut candies where they smash and cut the peanut candies freshly right in front of you. The hotel we stayed in was in the middle of nowhere, so far away from the town centre. Even though the surrounding and the hotel itself look nice, the room we were given is so pathetic. With our 2 luggages and 2 single bed inside that small room, there was even hardly any space to walk around except to walk in a straight line just to go to the bathroom.

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13/9/2011: Hangzhou - Shanghai
When we complained about the room to the tour guide the next day, she said it's because there were 2 of us in a room. Apparently 3 groups stayed these small rooms while the rest stayed in a spacious big room even though we paid the same price for the tour package like them. We were really not happy with it because we felt we were being ripped off so we told the other members of our tour group about it. They also brought up why we had to pay for some of the places she took or is going to take us on the first day of our trip since it should be included as stated in our package itinerary. So we confronted the tour guide about this and she said it was her company who told her those things weren't included while we showed them the itinerary we got from our Brunei travel agent. Apparently, there was no communication between both travel companies and the China's travel company's policy is, once they get the money from you, they cannot pay you back in cash at all. So in the end, we were only given the option to either see the Madame Tussaud's wax museum or 1 other option which was not even worth up the amount we had already paid.

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Our final destination before leaving for Shanghai is the West Lake. We took a 1 hour boat cruise around the lake on a dragon boat before taking a walk around the park. We saw a lot of people eating black coloured corns so 2 of them went and bought it because they wanted to have a taste of it. Although the black corns looked unique, the taste is otherwise, nowhere even near to it's so called "sweet" black corn at all because it was tasteless. No one finished it and ended up throwing them away only after a few bite. Before heading our way to Shanghai, we had a very nice Hangzhou lunch before going for a free foot massage at the Beijing Tong Ren Tang. Now, I do understand that businesses are trying to make money as much as they can but they should not just stop the foot massage halfway and tell you to leave because they want to accommodate the next tour group coming in. The result of a 1/2 completed foot massage was an aching foot which i had to walk on for more than half a day! The worst foot massage I've ever had in China!

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The ride back to Shanghai was at least 2 hours long and the scenery changed from farmlands to the modern buildings as we got closer and closer. Have I also mentioned that traffic jams in Shanghai after office hours are unbelievable! Barely even moved 500m after 5 mins. Anyway, we got a glimpse of the expo site from the highway. Very fascinating to look at how big the whole site is (and not to mention how far we have to walk from one end to the other too!) Looking forward to 2 full days of exercise tomorrow with an aching foot! After dinner, we had a relaxing cruise around the Huangpu river and we could actually see a row of people with their camera flashes taking photos from the Bund as we cruised through slowly. Full of colourful neon lights on all the buildings, it makes you wonder how much of electricity Shanghai use in 1 day. Once again, our hotel is way out of location but the rooms are very big and spacy. Didn't even realise that it's located in the automotive area where one of the car factory is just visible from our hotel room.

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14/9/2011: Shanghai Expo
Today is the day where the highlight of this tour starts. The SHANGHAI EXPO! Queue was pretty bad and slow at Zone A as they had to check though every bag before they let you in. This happens in all the 8 gates at different parts of the 5 zones. We had a deal with our tour guide who got us VIP access (of course with a price). We managed to check out 4 pavilions within 2 hours without queuing for hours like what most of the other people had to do just to go into 1 pavilion. Of course, the main and most important one of all is the China pavilion with the huge moving wall painting. The most important thing in this expo is not to forgot your Expo passport book where you can get the pavilion stamp on it. The next pavilion we went to is the France pavilion which is also as interesting as the China pavilion. They have the French garden outside the internal building, French food and hundreds (or probably even up to 1000 bottles) of their famous Bordeaux wine. Luxembourg wasn't as interesting as the first 2 but then again, we were the ones who chose to check it out so nothing much could be said about it. However, the last pavilion is the coolest. Italy, which showcase all the modern designs and high class lifestyle like the Ferrari, Biaggi's motorbike, Italian fashion, pasta and wine. A lot of fascinating and interesting taste and designs to see. Not too bad considering we could check out the interesting ones without wasting too much time on queuing just to enter 1 pavilion at a time. However, it's very unfortunate that we didn't check out the Japan pavilion because the queue is just so incredible as we were told that they have to wait at least 4 hours in the queue just to get in and the VIP access for Japan is too expensive for us to afford it.

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After that, all of us are on our own. We checked out the African pavilion first which houses 43 mini pavilion of each African country. Of course we took the opportunity to get all the stamps from each country. Then we opt to check out the pavilions with the least queue so that we don't waste time on queuing itself. We managed to checked out quite a lot of pavilions on the first day alone and also watched the expo parade right in front of us which lasted for half an hour. Our tour guide only gave us until 8pm to spend at the expo but even before that time, our feet were killing us and we had to find places to sit and rest out feet. By the time we got back to the hotel, all I could do is just take a bath and lay in bed only.

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15/9/2011: Shanghai Expo
Final day at the expo. This time we entered the expo zone through Zone D which is less crowded and require people to take a ferry boat to get to Zone A, B and C of the expo site. We checked out the pavilions in Zone D first before using the ferry to get to Zone A. We decided to check out the Asian pavilions as we had not done so the day before. These countries display a lot of artistic skills especially in their fine carvings. Our last pavilion before we finished out Expo tour is of course Brunei's pavilion. It doesn't offer much like other South East Asian pavilions but they did give a button saying "I Love Brunei" and the last stamp to conclude the expo passport is also the Bruneian stamp. The next expo will be held in Milan, Italy in 2014. For those who live near Milan, it's worth checking out this expo if you can't afford to travel all over the world :)

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16/9/2011: Shanghai
Today's the last day in China, packed out stuff and checked out from the hotel. We were taken to a place where they sell puer tea from Yunnan. The lady who explained to us about the puer tea has a very unique way of talking like as if she's singing while talking to us. Then after having lunch, we headed for the Old Shanghai Street. It hasn't changed much but we did pass by all the different lanes and see the items they sell. Things however are slightly more expensive here than elsewhere as this is basically a tourist spot. Then we went to the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum which is smaller than the one in Hong Kong plus most wax figures here are mainly Chinese artists. We then headed for the Nanjing Road where it's packed with lots of people. Managed to find the vacuum packed braised pork leg at a cheaper price than at the Old Shanghai Street. We had an early dinner since it was the last part of our package but we managed to discuss with the China travel company to give us at least 2 hours to look around and shop at China's Walmart since our flight is after midnight.

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17/9/2011: Singapore
Finally landed in Singapore at 6am. Having not enough of sleep and having headache, I didn't actually have the energy to go around Singapore much. We did decide to go for a short trip around Singapore though it was too early as a lot of shops have not opened yet. Went around Chinatown and then Bugis area. Then headed back to the airport by 10am and then waited for our flight at 2.30pm. Taking midnight flights is not an ideal way of travelling. Overall, all I can say is that China has only changed in terms of new buildings but in terms of weather wise, the sky however, is still the depressing hazy, yellowish type like 4 years ago. Oh and one more thing. There's so many brands of China beer which is so cheap that if you exchange a bottle of unopened carbonated drink in any restaurants, they will give you 2 bottles of Chinese beer back.

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Posted by Lingering 22:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

Nami Island - Suwon - Seoul

Christmas Snow In Korea

snow -8 °C
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23/12/2009: Brunei - Singapore - Seoul
We arrived at Changi International Airport at about 8.40pm after less than 2 hours flight from Brunei. From terminal 2, we headed off to terminal 3 whereby we had a 3 hour gap before our next flight to Seoul. Terminal 3 is smaller than terminal 2 but nevertheless, facilities are still available. Did I mention that I thought my mobile was already switched off throughout the whole flight before we left from Brunei hehehe... It was a good thing that they provide mobile charging facility and 3 hours was more than enough to fully charge my mobile or else I'll be going around with a dead mobile for 1 whole day. We also had time to change our clothes for the cold weather. It was actually very cold inside the terminal at midnight. The ride all the way to Seoul was not smooth at all as we experienced turbulence throughout the journey. I only managed to stay awake until after 1.30am but unfortunately, I only had 2 hours of sleep before I was woken up by a baby crying in front of where we were sitting for a whole hour. By then, I was already too awake to go back to sleep. Mental note - Try as best as possible not to sit near a baby or a small kid next time on a plane unless you plan to stay awake throughout the whole flight. Breakfast however, was very early which was at around 5am and guess what I had? Kimchi fried rice though it was soggy but the smell is definitely undeniable!

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24/12/2009: Gangwondo
When we arrived at Incheon airport at 6.38am (not an ideal time to arrive in a country and start the tour right away if you did not have enough sleep on the plane though), not only was it hot in the immigration area but it was also very, very slow. After getting our luggage, we met up with our Korean tour guide, a Chinese lady by the name of Ah Mei who is probably in her late 40s but still very energetic. We also talked to the boss of the tour company who goes by the name of Ali Baba which was very funny because he's a Korean. He's a funny guy though and was teasing those who were still wearing t-shirt when the temperature was only 1 °C. We didn't feel the cold at all at first until we stepped out of the airport. Boy, it really felt like as if we were in a very large freezer with the cold wind blowing even though there was no snow at all. We could even see smoke coming out of our nose and mouth! The last time I saw smoke coming out from my nose was only at the Boston harbour in US in September.

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The windows of the bus were badly fogged up so we can't see much outside without constantly wiping the windows. Our first destination was driving all the way to Chun Cheon for two and a half hours. On the way, we made a toilet stop which I would say, the toilet is very big plus there is a supermarket next to it. I was tempted to buy a Korean wine sold in there since it's not expensive and it came in a very nice box. But then the thought of having to carry in here and there just made me changed my mine though now I regretted not getting it since it wasn't sold anywhere else. Almost everyone had bought some sort of snacks and some of the guys tried the Korean plum wine. We also stop half way to have our first Korean lunch before heading again to Nami island. It was a healthy lunch I would say as it consist mainly of vegetables and rice cake but honestly speaking, the rice cake was actually tasteless and just tasted of flour only. Lots of kimchi to go about and also seaweed soup. Oh, one of the guy who bought the plum wine tasted it on the way to the restaurant and his face was really red during the whole time while having lunch.

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After lunch, we headed all the way to Nami Island, a "MUST NOT" miss island for anyone who comes to Korea. Made famous by the Korean drama, Winter Sonata, this island is only 6km in circumference and shaped like a half moon. A Korean teenager was also trying to take the opportunity to take a photo with me by asking his friend to take a shot of him near me while I was busy taking photos near to the pier. Both me and a guy from our tour group was surprised that this kid was trying to ask me to wait (though I didn't let him take my photo with him) and I got teased by our tour mate after that. He did try again on the ferry but decided not to in the end LOL! Geez, doesn't that kid know that I'm twice his age! It was however, very cold over there and it made me dropped my camera twice. Good thing it didn't drop into the river! I would say the natural scenery on Nami island is just amazing. Straight rows of trees along the way everywhere. A lot of young Korean couples also took the opportunity to come here during the Christmas holidays and take romantic photos of themselves. It would be more lovelier during autumn though because all the leaves would be of different shades of colours.

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After Nami Island, we headed straight to the famous Myongdong Shopping Street before heading to the ski resort. I was actually expecting a long row of shops or at least more than what we saw. On one side, you have the high class shops and on the other side, you have the food lane. We tried the bungeoppang which is a fish shaped pastry filled with red bean paste. Very crispy and not too sweet, just right. Should have bought more though because we didn't see anyone selling it anywhere else. We also bought strawberries which was pretty expensive but then again, it's very fresh and sweet. After getting what we wanted, we headed off to our last destination which is Hyundai Sungwoo ski resort which took another hour to reach from Myongdong.

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We were sharing an apartment with 2 other people from the tour group since each apartment has 2 bedrooms. It wasn't too bad though the bathroom do need some improvement especially not having hot water constantly. Each bedroom has an ondol, meaning that the floor gets heated up at night so a thin bed is just spread on the floor. A must try if you come to Korea. When everyone had settled down, we went to for dinner, a delicious one I have to say or probably it's because we were just too hungry. After dinner, we went to a ski rental outlet and got all our ski attire before heading back to the resort. Our Korean tour guide also held a small Christmas party for us that night in their apartment whereby not only did we have 3 types of Christmas cakes; mocha, chocolate and coffee flavour but we also had fruits and Korean desserts like kkul dduk that is rice cake filled with brown sugar syrup and sesame seeds and also rice cake that is coated with peanut powder. We also exchanged gifts and also each of us was given a Korean pouch with small gifts inside from our Korean tour guide. What a day to end our first night in South Korea. Oh yeah, did I tell you that people were still skiing outside on the slopes even until late at night with all the spotlights switched on?

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25/12/2009: Hyundai Sungwoo Ski Resort
Today is an exciting day because all of us will be having our first ski lesson! First of all before collecting all our ski equipments, we had our bare feet measured and mine's just a 230mm. Next thing is to walk out in the snow to the other part of the slope with all the heavy ski equipments as well as the heavy snow shoes. All inexperienced skiers walked like penguins. I expected it to be cold since it was -8 °C but in fact, it was just alright even though we were out in the snow. We were made to line up sideways in 2 rows facing each other. The first step is learning how to walk upwards the slope sideways without sliding downwards and also how to stop when required. Each of us were then asked to ski downwards towards her and funnily, quite a number of us fell on our butt and our Korean tour guide had to stop us from sliding down any further and also help us to stand up or else we would still fall down again. The guys fair better at it as some of them went higher up the slope while 2 of them tried snowboarding whereas the rest of us were still struggling to stay upright while skiing down the slope. Good thing the snow was soft instead of the artificial ones. After that, we took lunch and I had udon noodles which was not bad. We rested for a while and guess what? Exactly at 2.30pm, it actually snowed and what else did we do but rush out with all our ski equipments and played with the falling snow. Everyone was so excited about the snow and well, who can blame us because we never had snow before in our own country. It got heavier as time goes by and didn't stop snowing until evening. It was really cold though that night but we had the most delicious dinner which is grilled bulgogi which we wrapped with fresh lettuce, put a slice of garlic, spread fermented soya bean paste and a piece of kimchi before stuffing the whole thing into our mouth. After we returned our ski outfit, we headed back to the resort of a rest. We tried out the Korean plum wine and I have to say that it's a bit too strong for me because I felt so light headed in less than 20 mins. I fell asleep quite fast too but work up in the middle of the night feeling very fresh and our bedroom was so cold. If I had known that they had left a bit of the sliding door open, I would have closed it right away instead of wearing all my thick clothes back on again to sleep. Even the ondol wasn't even working.

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26/12/2009: Everland
After breakfast, we headed to Everland theme park located on a mountain in Yongin. I was told in advanced by a Korean friend that it is really cold over there but I never expected it to be that cold even though the temperature was the same like the day before at the ski resort. Right just after getting of the bus, everyone was freezing and complained about their numbed fingers and feet. It was a good thing that they had heaters at the entrance and that was where everyone headed to first to warm up their hands. It did helped a bit for a while but then again, we would be in the park the whole day. At every stop, everyone tried to find a place to stay warm. The guys managed to group inside a telephone booth for a while just to gather some body heat before going out in the cold again. The main attraction of this park is actually the liger which is a cross between a lion and a tiger but because it was so cold outside and the queue was so long, not many people were eager to queue for at least an hour just to have a few minutes peak at those ligers. We just went around the park and looked at the animals they have (and also at the same time keeping ourselves warm from the cold weather). I had cone pizza, corn dog and churros which was a bad choice because I didn't feel so good after that. We then watched the Christmas parade which was well, not as good as the ones I saw in Hong Kong's Disneyland but then again, it's still better than nothing for the Koreans. We only left the park at 7pm which was such a torture because my nose was already so runny. Dinner wasn't that nice, probably because I didn't feel well after eating those oily snacks also. Mandu guk was pretty tasteless to me and I didn't eat much. I didn't feel comfortable the whole night after that. Oh, the main attraction of the hotel we stayed in which caught everyone's attention was the automatic toilet. Everyone played with it but the only thing they (and also me) couldn't figure out was how the massage works or what is it for.

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27/12/2009: Suwon
Today, despite of another day of cold weather, we headed for Suwon where our first destination is the Hwaseong Fortress. Some of them eagerly tried Korean archery but unfortunately, no one managed to hit any target. Then, we walked up the fortress halfway before going to Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, a temporary palace of retreat for the king. It was also the shooting place of a famous Korean tv drama called Daejanggeum or Jewel In The Palace. We also had the opportunity to take some photos with some Korean men who dressed up as Korean warriors. Most women in our group agreed that 1 of those men were good looking and the other one was very masculine that even our Bruneian tour guide teased a lady's boyfriend to be careful as his girlfriend kept on looking at the masculine guy's photo which he had taken with his camera.

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For lunch, we had samgyetang, ginseng chicken in a very cold building. We can't believe that we were freezing inside a building more than outside while waiting for seats. But having that lunch was really refreshing and kept us really warm. Guess what? It started snowing again but this time it was more heavier than at the ski resort. Everyone of course took the opportunity to take as many photos as possible but the walkway had became quite slippery also. We then went to Dongdaemun Wholesale Market to buy some Korean souvenirs before checking out the COEX Shopping Mall which was very big. You can get lost inside it without a map to go about with since there are so many directions which are linked to each other. At night, we went to Lotte World which was what I was hoping for but unfortunately, a lot of rides on the outdoor amusement park were closed because of the cold weather. We went on The Adventures Of Sinbad and also enjoyed a panoramic view of Lotte World in a mid air monorail. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take any photos outside or even of the Magic castle nicely. We also watched the Galactic Odyssey laser show which was not bad with all the flames going up once in a while. Unfortunately, the character was speaking in Korean so all we could enjoy was the laser show. For late dinner, I had the kimchi instant noodle which was unfortunately, a very bad idea because I had to constantly go to the toilet frequently the next morning.

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28/12/2009: Seoul
We had Chinese breakfast today which well, in a way is good because there's no kimchi (again). Another very cold day (-11 °C) since after the snow yesterday and also the kimchi in the instant noodle must have been very effective for my tummy. Not a good start but at least it went away before lunch time. We went to the kimchi outlet where we learnt how to make kimchi. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying much attention to it since I was wanting to go to the toilet but I did get a hand on making it before I had to go. On the other hand, I changed my mind about buying any kimchi for myself as 1kg is too much for me to eat alone since my family do not eat it because it stinks to them. All of us also took photos in hanbok and I had to say that I was given a very nice colour. We then made a stop to the ginseng and amethyst factory as well as at a cosmetic shop which sells Korean cosmetic products. One English mistake we noticed though (or probably the way they use the word inappropriately) on one of the box was that it says, "It will keep your HORNY and rough skin moisturized and arranged for clearness with various vegetable and cosmetic ingredients". People started complaining how cold the weather was and it was so uncomfortable and out Bruneian tour guide told us that we got what we paid for which is true because we get to see real snow falling twice and she also said, when it's too cold, we complain. When we go back to Brunei, we complain that it's too hot. People can never be satisfied LOL!!

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After having a bland Chinese lunch, we passed by the blue house which unfortunately, we couldn't visit because President Lee Myung-bak was not in Korea at that time. Then we headed to the National Folk Museum where we saw all the traditional cultures that a Korean has goes through in life from the day they were born until the day they pass away. Next to this museum is the Kyongbok Palace where the kings used to live. Nice architecture and the weather was so cold that icicles were forming on the roofs. We also stopped at a store selling Korean food products like Korean biscuits, cuttlefish, seaweed, sweets, etc. Our final shopping destination is the Ewha Woman’s University fashion street. They have a lot of cute stuffs like clothes and accessories for women but mostly for the winter season so not so suitable for Brunei weather but the boots did look really nice. For our last Korean meal we had bimbibap with small shrimps which was delicious but I still prefer the one in Brunei. It is much more tastier and had more ingredients. That night, we decided between having McDonald's or Korean noodle for breakfast the next day since we have to be at the airport very early. If we want to eat noodles, we would need to need to leave the hotel by 5am but if we eat McDonald's at the airport, then we can start moving at 6am. Knowing that everyone of us are too lazy to wake up so early, all of us decided McDonald's in the end.

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29/12/2009: Seoul - Singapore
We checked out very early today and the snow was still thick but started to melt already so everywhere was wet and dirty. We reached to the airport close to 7am and with all the luggages each one had, we really did quite a lot of shopping (or maybe the things are just bulky). I had 3 luggages to check in plus 1 small luggage which I am bringing with me to Singapore. The check in counter was really slow and they made a huge mistake on the luggage which had been checked in earlier because instead of checking all the way through to Brunei, they checked it through Singapore only. Due to that error, it delayed the rest of the check ins and also, they didn't managed to find my luggage as well as my friend's but there was nothing much that we could do since we were running out of time already. By the time we queue to go through the customs check, it was already 8.45am whereas our flight was supposed to leave at 9am. It was a good thing that there's 30 of us still together or else the plane would have left without us. Our Bruneian tour guide had to demand assistance to bring us straight to our departure lounge because it wasn't our fault that we were late. A staff then came along and asked all of us to run in order to catch the plane. Thinking about about it, it must have been a really funny sight for those who were watching us running with our bags. We ran to catch the sky train to go to the other terminal and then ran again to catch the plane. It was such a huge terminal that we only finally reached the plane at 9.20am. By the time I actually sat down, I was practically knocked out even before the plane took off from the runway! But it was a good rest because when the plane started to take off, I felt quite refreshed. Now I wonder, how did Incheon Airport managed to get the 1st position for being the best international airport when their service is really slow!

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We landed at Changi airport at 3pm and we had a good laugh over the incident at Incheon airport. Never in our life had we need to run just to catch the plane. One of them even said that it was like running in an Amazing Race and seeing who can be the first one to reach the plane. What an experience! The wind in Singapore is very hot and dry even though it wasn't sunny (we can never be satisfied with the weather). The hotel that we stayed in is not that bad and there are also shopping and food centres around it though we would really prefer if it was near to a MRT so that we could go to Orchard Road. Unfortunately, they didn't have a camera store where I can check for new cameras. We checked out the stores and did some shopping before having dinner. For dinner I had ABC and also nasi bryani with curry lamb which was not bad as compared to having kimchi for the past 5 days. Next day, we headed off to the airport at noon time and it was a good thing that the Changi staff did managed to track where all our luggage are so we do not have to come back to the Brunei airport again another day just to get our luggage when it is finally sent over during the next few days. It would have been a nice trip if weather wasn't too cold and they didn't make a mistake on our luggage which make us ended up having to run for our flight. Overall, I managed to get away with 33kg of luggage in Korea and another 10kg of luggage in Singapore without having to pay for any excess. That's one big advantage of following a tour group :)

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Posted by Lingering 01:30 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

East Coast US - Canada

The Big Apple

22 °C
View East Coast US - Canada on Lingering's travel map.

19/8/2008: Brunei - Singapore - Hong Kong
Our long trip started from Brunei Airport where we left for our flight to Singapore using SQ at 12.20pm. Landed in Changi International airport 2 hours later and waited for our next flight with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong at 6.25pm. By the time we reached to Hong Kong, we just had to go up to the terminal to wait for our next flight to New York which will be on the next day at 9.45am.

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20/8/2008: Hong Kong - New York
Landed in JFK airport at 1.30pm. Depart for Wyndham Hotel in New Jersey which was 2 hours’ drive from New York and met up with our tour guide, Tony. At 7pm, we went for the night tour around New York city. This includes passing by the Empire State Building, Broadway and dropping by the Times Square and Rockefeller Center for sightseeing and photo taking. By the time we reached back to our hotel, it was already 9pm and we had to sleep early because tomorrow we would start our tour.

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21/8/2008: New York - Philadelphia
The tour started at 8am where we departed New Jersey for New York City. The 3 famous part of New York is Manhattan, Chinatown and the Bronx. In this tour we only concentrated on the Manhattan part where the first place that we stopped by was the famous Wall Street and New York Stock Exchange. Along 26 Wall Street, we came across the Federal Hall National Memorial in which it was the first capitol of the United States of America and the site of George Washington's first inauguration in 1789. It is also the place where the United States Bill of Rights was passed. As we walk along Broadway Street, we saw the bronze raging bull known as the Bowling Green Bull. Although the weather was quite cold, no one missed the chance of taking a photo with the bull as it is said to bring good fortune.

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Then, we walked to where the former World Trade Center or now known as Ground Zero. Currently, constructions have been going on in this site whereby 5 new towers and a centerpiece called Freedom Tower will be built on Ground Zero. The Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in US (standing at 540m) and it symbolize the freedom and independence of US.

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Next, we headed for the Empire State Building which is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It was the world's tallest building for more than 40 years since 1931 until the construction of the World Trade Center's North Tower. However, after the 9/11 event, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City and New York State. We went up to the 86th-floor observation deck to the 102nd floor to view the whole city of New York.

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We were then brought to see the United Nations Headquarters. Unfortunately, because the UN meeting was scheduled to be held next week, security had been tightened and public are not allowed to go near to this area. However, we took the opportunity with the NYPD polis which was very funny because they were offering themselves to the tourists to be photographed.

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The next destination was the Rockerfeller Center where we were given time to walk around and take photos. Facing the Rockerfeller Centre is the St. Patrick's Cathedral which we went in for a while to observe the Sunday Mass. Then we went to Times Square to have some lunch and look around before heading of for a Manhattan Harbour Cruise. We passed through the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridge (aka BMW bridge) and were showed where Calvin Klein and Leonardo DiCaprio lived. The highlight of this cruise was that we got to see the Statue of Liberty upfront.

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The last part of the New York tour was a visit to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum which we chose not to go because I’ve seen the one in Hong Kong. So, while the others headed to this museum, we hanged around Times Square and have our caricature done which was pretty funny. I do have to admit that the artists are very good at their drawings and they can finish 1 portrait in less than 5 minutes.

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At the end of the day, we headed off to Philadelphia which was about 41/2 hours drive. 2 hours on the road, we stopped on the way to have Chinese buffet dinner in Cherry Valley and my, I do have to say that seafood must be really cheap as they serve tons of them! Finally, it took us another 21/2 hours before we actually reach to the Renaissance Hotel in Philadelphia.

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22/8/2008: Philadelphia - Washington D.C.
We started off at 8.30am today. Our first stop was to the Independence Hall where the signing of the Declaration of Independence was done and the Old Capital building. We also managed to see and touch the Liberty Bell which now hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, with its storied bell, and the nearby Independence Hall.

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We then headed south through Delaware and Maryland to reach Washington D.C. after 4 long hours. Our first stop was to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum followed by checking out the Hope Diamond in the Natural History Museum. The galleries include Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, Hall of Dinosaurs and Hall of Mammals just to name a few.

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Next, we proceeded to the White House, Capitol Hill, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korean Veterans Memorial. By the time we finish touring it was already evening, so we heading for a Chinese buffet dinner before checking into Courtyard by Marriott.

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23/8/2008: Hershey - Corning - Niagara Falls
Today was an early start as we had to leave the hotel by 7am to head north to visit Hershey Chocolate World via Harrisburg. By the time we actually arrived to the Hershey factory, we were actually the first group to arrive because the factory had not open yet but it was only a few minutes’ wait before they opened the door and we started our chocolate heaven tour. We went for the factory tour where we saw how chocolate were processed from cocoa beans to the end product of Hershey products. The smell of chocolate was so heavy that it actually stuck on our clothes. There’s also so many choices of Hershey chocolates to choose from that it’s impossible to buy everything but they are slightly cheaper compared to the ones sold in other places.
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Our next destination was the Corning Glass Center and Museum which was 2 hours’ drive from our previous destination. Since we didn’t join the tour, we just check out the different sort of glass wares sold in their shop. The price ranges from a few dollars to more than a few thousand dollars.

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The journey to the Canadian border was actually 6 hours long just you can imagine how tired all of us were since we woke up so early in the morning. After arriving to Niagara City, we had dinner in a Chinese restaurant first before checking into Super 8 Hotel. We didn’t have much time to freshen up in the hotel as we had to go out for our night tour to view Niagara Falls by night. The roaring sound of the Niagara Falls on the American side were magnificent eventhough we couldn’t see much in the dark. Then, we spent sometime in the city before actually heading for the Horseshoe Falls. Looking at the Horseshoe from the top felt like as if we were walking in the rain because of the wind blowing all the mists towards us. No one was spared from getting wet that night!

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24/8/2008: Niagara Falls - Canada - Toronto
At 7.30am, we were already at the same spot as where we were the night before, facing the Horseshoe Falls. Today, we were more luckier than yesterday because the wind were blowing away from us, thus, it was a very dry place! In day time, Niagara Falls even looked more magnificent than at night and the sound was as always, very loud and roaring.

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The next part of it was actually what all of us were waiting for that is being on the Maid of the Mist boat and just standing next to the Horseshoe Fall. Most of the time, people will get wet even though a raincoat was given to everyone. I was very fortunate because my raincoat could cover until my toes but unfortunately, it did not help much in protecting my shoes from getting wet. Even our tour guide was checking me out and he said I was lucky because I didn’t get really wet.

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We then headed of for lunch in the revolving dining room of the Skylon Tower, the tallest structure that overlooks both the American Falls, New York and the larger Horseshoe Falls, Ontario from the Canadian side of the Niagara River. It only took us 52 seconds to go up to the 160m high tower from the ground floor. The revolving dinning room offers a 360 degrees view of the Niagara Falls city as well as the American side. Some of us had steak while others had salmon. The food was very nice. After lunch, we went up 1 more level to outer balcony on top of this tower.

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By 2pm, we headed to Toronto which took 2 hours to reach. The scenery along the highway was of course very pleasant as one can see a lot of flat farmlands, dairy cattle and lots of maple trees with various shades of colours.

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When we reach to the Toronto financial district, we stopped by to see the old and new City Hall which was not far from each other because the old City Hall was facing in front of us whereas the new City Hall was just on the left side. Then we left for CN Tower which is located in downtown Toronto, standing at 553.33 m tall and situated next to the Rogers Centre where a baseball game was actually going on. The special feature of this CN Tower is its security check which is actually the only one in the world where they only use bursts of winds from head to toes. Another thing about this tower is that there is an area where the floor is actually made of glass only. So from this glass people can look 553.33m down to the road and the Rogers Centre.

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Then, we headed off for our dinner which was once again, Chinese and after that, we checked into Holiday Inn and slept very early because not only were we exhausted from the long drive but also, we had to leave very, very early.

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25/8/2008: Toronto - Thousand Islands - Ottawa - Montreal
We had an early start today at 6am to catch the boat cruise to the 1000 Islands, a water wonderland along the St. Lawrence River and the shores of Lake Ontario. It took us 21/2 hours to reach there which was good timing because by the time we reach there, it was just 8.30am and we were in time to have our breakfast buffet while cruising along these islands.

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In actual fact, there are altogether more than 1000 islands on this lake and for a place to be considered as an island, it must be able to accommodate a house. There is also a Boldt castle, a monument of love on the Heart Island of George C. Boldt for his wife, Louise. This castle has never been lived in as Louise had passed away before it was completed.

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After the cruise, we headed to the capital of Canada, Ottawa which was 11/2 hour drive. We first headed off to the Parliament Hill which is of Gothic style from Europe. In front of the Peace Tower of the Parliament Hill is a Centennial Flame. The natural gas that feeds this flame bubbles up around a metal dome depicting the centennial year logo (a stylized maple leaf) and the water runs under the coat of arms for each of the 1967 provinces and territories of Canada. The water runs into a moat surrounded by a stone enclosure listing the year each province and territory joined confederation. The use of a combination of fire and water represents the harmony between French and English Canada, with both communities coexisting happily alongside each other, despite any differences or distant history of acrimony, in all of the provinces and territories.

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We then headed east towards Montreal which took 3 hours of driving to the St. Joseph Oratory, a Roman Catholic basilica on the northern slope of Mount Royal in Montreal. We were shown the heart of Brother André and the largest wind organ. Next, we proceeded to the Montreal Olympic Stadium. This is the only Olympic stadium that did not make any money at all but was in debt for almost 30 years since 1976.

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After 11/2 hours’ drive we reached to Montreal’s Chinatown and had French and Chinese cuisine. As usual, there was tons of food to taste and I would have to say, it was the first time that I actually saw fried frogs’ legs being served. I had a try since it was included in the buffet and I have to admit that the meat is really juicier and sweeter than fried chicken. It was really delicious! We finally checked into Gouverneur Hotel after 8pm.

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26/8/2008: Montreal - Quebec - Boston
At 7.15am we drove 11/2 hours to Quebec. First stop was the Quebec City which looks exactly like a small town in France and the weather was colder than the previous few days. The main highlight in this city is the 420m2 mural situated on the wall of house Soumande known as La Fresque Des Quebecois. This mural features many historic characters which contributed to the development of the capital city of Quebec. Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Francois-Xavier Garneau, and Jean Talon are just to name a few. It also features artists and writers and has also capitalized on Quebec's architecture and geography by featuring the fortifications and stairs, plus each of the seasons and how they change over the course of time.

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Next, we headed to the La Citadell, a military installation and official residence located atop Cap Diamant, adjoining the Plains of Abraham. This citadel is part of the fortifications of Quebec City, the only city with extant city walls in North America. This fort is actually star-shaped, built first by the French in the 17th century, then taken over by the British in the 1820s before the Canadian Forces took over in 1920.

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For lunch, we went back to the city to have a traditional French cuisine in a French restaurant. We had French bread, escargos (without the shell), pasta with salmon and the yummy cheesecake (small portion though). After lunch, we have a very long drive ahead because we were going to go back to US but this time to Boston. Since it was a 6 hour drive, we had to make several stops. After three hours on the road, we stopped by at the Canadian Duty Free shop. The specialty of this place which a tourist should buy are the salmons, Icewine, Icewine chocolate and cookies because they are only available in Canada. The US border was another 21/2 hours drive from our first stop. 31/2 hours later, we finally reached to Courtyard by Marriott in Boston.

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27/8/2008: Boston - New York
Today was the last day of our tour but we still had quite a bit to cover so we started our day at 6.30am. Our first stop was to Harvard University where we learnt about the 3 big lies that is:
1) Harvard University was not founded in 1638 but in 1636.
2) The statue in Harvard University is not John Harvard but a young handsome student that was picked out because no one knew how John Harvard looked like.
3) Anyone who touched the statue’s shoes will become intelligent (well, his left shoes looked very shiny from all those polishing over the years so I wondered how many have actually became intelligent?)

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Anyway, we were told that Harvard students do not use the main gate to come in and go out but instead, they use the side gates. The reason for this is that any student who walk through the main gate means that they have already graduated from Harvard University. We then went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and walked within the faculty.

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Next, we stopped by at the Quincy Market where most of the shops are designer boutiques. We then headed for the Boston Harbor Cruise. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily the night before so everything was quite foggy. Only managed to see those near to the harbour and the USS Constitution. Then we walked to Chinatown from the harbour to have our lobster lunch which was very delicious. After that, we were given a short while to walk around Chinatown before we proceed to the next plan that is dropping off everyone at various airports, starting with the one in Boston.
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Our flight was at 11pm at night from JFK airport so we had to wait for a few hours but it was a good thing that we could check in our luggage as early as 6.30pm. The flight however was a very tiring one because we had to transit in Vancouver 4 hours after our flight left JFK before transiting to Hong Kong and finally to Singapore. That was like almost 24 hours on the plane ‘coz we landed in Singapore on the morning of 29th September. We spent another 2 nights in Singapore and I got myself a new Canon PowerShot SX110 IS at a price which was much cheaper than I expected considering that it’s a very new model on the market.

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Overall, a very tiring trip but well worth it and who would have thought we had the chance of sitting on a Boeing 747-400 which actually has 2 floors(main and the upper deck)!

Posted by Lingering 15:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Shenzhen

Here You Leave Today And Enter The World Of Yesterday, Tomorrow And Fantasy

22 °C
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Monday (10/12/2007) It was a two and a half hours flight from Brunei to Hong Kong. We were expecting it to be cold since it is mild winter (22 degrees celcius) there but instead of feeling cool like in an air con room, I still felt hot and sweaty after walking a while and wearing a thin fleece jacket whereas most Hong Kong people were wearing a jacket and they still felt cold So, I only wore a thin long sleeve turtleneck shirt which I still had to roll up the sleeves to feel cool. So much for winter LOL!

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Anyway, we stayed at Metropark Hotel in Mongkok which is only a few minutes walk from the MTR station. The room's not too bad considering that space is very precious in Hong Kong because it's bigger than the one we stayed in Singapore. They even gave us complimentary fruits when we checked in but unfortunately, all of the fruits weren't ripe yet. Then we went upwards from our hotel to check out the Ladies Market. There were lots of boots, winter jackets, clothes, shoes and fruits on sell. After having dinner, we went downwards along Nathan Road towards Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a very, very long walk but we saw a lot of people, streets, shops and side lanes. We even managed to check out part of the Temple Street which was full of tourists.

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Tuesday (11/12/2007) Our plan for today was to go to Victoria Peak. In order to do so, we had to take the MTR from our hotel to Tsim Sha Tsui and walked quite a distance before we reached to the Star Ferry Pier. It was so windy and cool there. In front of Harbour City, there were lots of Christmas decorations. The Star Ferry was an interesting ride and took only a few minutes to reach from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The upper deck cost HK$2.20 per person whereas the lower deck cost cheaper. On reaching the central pier of Hong Kong Island, we had to find Bus #15C because it will drive all the way to the Peak Terminus for us to board the Peak Tram. The ride was interesting because we sat on the top so we were surrounded by skyscrapers. However, on the Peak terminus, the queue to buy the Peak Tram ticket was so long that it went around the fountain. Fortunately for us, we were getting the 3-in-1 ticket that includes the Madame Tussauds' ticket, Peak tram and the Skypass so we didn't have to follow the long queue at all since there was another counter selling this ticket. The gradient of the Peak Tram was so steep that it was sort of scary when the tram stop midway two times but it was also fun because we get to see Hong Kong Island at an angle.

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We went up to the very top floor first (skypass) where we were able to see the whole of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Not only was it hot because of the noon time sun but it was also windy at the same time. After that, we went to Madame Tussauds where we saw famous actors, actresses, singers, presidents and even sportsmen. We also went around some of the shops and I managed to find a doll representing Hong Kong which I did not see in China nor Singapore. By night time, we went back to Kowloon via ferry again and this time, we went to the Star Of Avenue where they have hand prints of famous Hong Kong actors, actresses like Michelle Yeoh, singers and John Woo, the director. Then exactly at 8pm every night, they have the symphony of lights show shown from the skyscrapers on the Hong Kong Island.

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Wednesday (12/12/2007) Today, we spent the whole day at Hong Kong's Disneyland. It cost HK$18 to reach there by MTR and fortunately, it wasn't crowded. However, it was a different story inside Disneyland itself. People were queuing up in Mainstreet USA to take photos with Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie mouse, Chip and Dale and Donald and Daidy duck. If you haven't been to a Disneyland or seen real life Disney character mascots, even an adult can act like a kid, happily lining up just to get a shot with the character. Mickey and Minnie mouse was a popular spot for kids and adults so we had to miss that out or else we would have to stand out under the sun for quite a while before it was our turn.

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We went around Adventureland first and managed to go for a jungle river cruise which was interesting and fun at the same time. Then we went to Fantasyland and there was where we managed to secure a spot to see the Let It Snow Christmas parade up front. Finally, we went to Tomorrowland and tried Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Space Mountain. It's like becoming kids once again when you're in Disneyland but the scariest one is the Space Mountain. My God! Even though I've ride on roller coasters before, it's very scary to sit on a very fast roller coaster in the dark, feeling the strong G force throwing you to one side and not knowing what will happen next.

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The light up on Sleeping Beauty's castle started at 6pm with Mickey Mouse directing which part of the castle to light up and that was much better than the Symphony Of Lights in Hong Kong Island. The finale of the show was the beautiful fireworks which started at 8pm and from the place where we were standing which was more than 20m away, we could actually feel the heat of the fire. It was worth the wait anyway. The most romantic moment however, was watching a marriage proposal of a young couple after they took photos with Winnie The Pooh while we were queuing up to take photos with Mickey Mouse.

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Thursday (13/12/2007) We had to check out of the hotel early today to catch a train to Shenzhen. From the Kowloon Tong MTR station to Lo Wu station, it cost us HK$33. It took more than 30 minutes to reach to Lo Wu Station. After passing the Hong Kong immigration, we had to walk a few minutes to reach the China immigration before we were officially in China. Fortunately because it was still a working day, there wasn't much queue in both immigrations. Finding the MTR station was a bit of a problem so we actually walked around the building where the immigrations was because we found out when going back to Hong Kong that we can just go across inside the building and the MTR station is just below it. Plus there are so many small stalls just connected to the immigration building which we missed out. Oh well, I'm not much of a shopper either and we just came back from China a few months ago so I didn't actually had anything to buy. Shenzhen however, is a heaven for people who are into branded imitation bags or clothes.

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Anyway, Oriental Regent Hotel is situated in the business district surrounded by banks and the Shenzhen Stock Market building was only a few blocks away. Even though there's not a lot of shops around our hotel compared to the commercial districts like Dongmen or Lo Huo, it was actually safer than the later because Shenzhen is actually famous for con-men and pickpockets. So, after checking in, we used the MTR to go to Splendid China and China Folk Culture Village. We checked out a few of the houses in the Folk Culture Village first but then realising that we don't have enough time to cover the Splendid China, we had to missed out a lot of the different nationality houses because Splendid China was actually our main target. Splendid China shows the replica of all the China's famous landmarks like for example the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Potola Palace, Lamasery, Temple Of Heaven, Terracotta Warriors etc. Even that, we couldn't cover the whole place 'because Splendid China closes at 6pm and 6pm actually looked like it was already 8pm. Then night time, we decided to take the MTR to Dongmen District to have dinner. The menu in Pizza hut is totally different from the ones in Brunei or Singapore. We ordered the Christmas set which comes with party cocktail drinks and it's very cheap also! We also finally found the Dongmen shopping area after getting lost for a while searching for it and it was filled with people so we had to be extra careful of pickpockets but there wasn't much time to look around because we were afraid that the MTR station will close since it was late already.

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Friday (14/12/2007) Today, we went to Window of the World which is just directly about the last MTR station in Shenzhen. It's one of the most fascinating place that I've ever been and seen. It's actually incredible that the Chinese people can do an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower, Triumphal Arch, Piazza San Marco and Cologne Cathedral just to name a few. So, what else did we do for the whole day but just taking photos! I also managed to buy a Korean doll and a big Japanese doll which is twice the size of all the dolls that I've bought before. We also went up the Eiffel Tower but since it was already night time, we couldn't see Hong Kong except for the lights. If we were to go up during day, we could have seen all the buildings and houses in Hong Kong which is separated from Shenzhen by a river.

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Saturday (15/12/2007) Today, we had to rush back to Hong Kong because we had managed to get ourselves a free ride on the Duk Ling junk boat for 1 hour at 1pm. Since people don't work on Saturdays, boy, the queue were long long in both immigrations and people kept pushing to go forward to the immigration. MTRs were also packed with people. Since we arrived back to Hong Kong at 11am, we checked back into Metropark Hotel Mongkok again but since they were under critical condition of being fully booked, we only confirmed our reservations and fortunately, we were able to leave our bags at the hotel. We managed to reach to the Duk Ling pier a few minutes before 1pm but it was worth the rush! We did last minute shopping at the night market because we were leaving tomorrow. I bought 1 bag made of buffalo hide. It's quite expensive but hey, if it's real leather, I wouldn't mind paying more as long as it's lasting. There were also Tibetans selling Tibetan handicrafts so I bought 2 small praying wheels.

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Sunday (16/12/2007)Next day, we went to the airport at 1pm even though our flight was at 5pm. It was also a good thing that we were early because the queue to the immigration was quite long but after that, we just walked around and checked out all the shops. I bought a book called The World Of Suzie Wong which I've only started to read the first few pages today.

Overall, the trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen was interesting even though it felt like I've done enough exercise for this month already since most of the places of attractions are very big. However, Hong Kong people are very unfriendly and you have to dress smart for them to respect you. How I wished Hong Kong has snow so that I didn't have to sweat!

Posted by Lingering 07:24 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Beijing - Chengde - Tianjin

You are not a hero yet until you have climbed the Great Wall

sunny 28 °C
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Friday (7/9/2007) Our transit flight to Beijing started at 3pm from Brunei International Airport. By the time we landed at KLIA in Malaysia, it was already 5.30pm. Since our next connecting flight to Beijing was at 12.30am, we had about 7 hours to spare before flying off. So, we checked out the Airside Transit Hotel first and then spent the rest of the time checking out each shop in KLIA. After having dinner, we sat at the Movie lounge and watched movies until our boarding time. The seats were so comfortable that we almost fell asleep but we had to keep ourselves awake or else we would missed our connecting flight.

Saturday (8/9/2007) We departed from KLIA at about 12.30am and by then, everyone was already asleep when the plane started to take off. Half an hour later, light dessert was served which wasn't too bad 'coz it was cream cheese sandwich. However, I only managed to catch 3 hours of sleep 'coz not only was the seat so uncomfortable but the lights came on and off every once in a while. By 5.00am, breakfast was served which was way too early for me so I didn't managed to eat much and by then, I couldn't go back to sleep either. On the other hand, being awake was a good thing 'coz I managed to see the sun started to rise on the right side of the plane by 5.30am which I assume would be Japan. Unfortunately, I was seated on the middle row so I was not able to take any photos of the sun rise. But it was just a lovely sight!

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We landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport at about 6.35am and managed to meet up with our tour guide, Andy. He looks and talk like a typical China man unlike Geoffrey, our tour guide in Shanghai. Anyhow, he can speak good English though I don't know why some of my friends found it difficult to catch his pronunciations and we were actually very impressed that he knows a lot of vocabularies which we don't normally use when we are talking informally. At least his Mandarin is easier to understand compared to other Bejing people that I've come across. We checked into Taiwan Hotel first before starting our tour.

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Our first stop was the Tiananmen Square (天安门广场) which has a total area of 108.7 acres. Within the square, there is a 38m high Monument to the People's Heroes (人民英雄纪念碑) which was built in the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people during the 19th and 20th century. The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (毛主席纪念堂) or the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is currently under renovation so it was closed to the public. On the north side of the square is the Tiananmen Gate, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace which separates the Forbidden City from the Tiananmen square and to the south is the Zhengyangmen Gate or the Qianmen Gate (前门), also known as the "Front Gate".

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Next, we entered through the Tiananmen Gate into the Forbidden City which was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It has an area of 720,000 square metres and took 14 years to complete. Not only was the complex big and very old but it was filled with ornaments and carvings on wood, bronze and stones so it was very interesting to see. It makes one wonder how a big structure cans till stay intact after all these years where no nails have been used to hold them together and how ancient people carve all these things without the use of machines and how long it took them to complete one carving.

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Very unfortunately, the Hall of Supreme Harmony which was used in movies like "The Last Emperor" and "Curse Of The Golden Flower" was undergoing renovation at this moment so we only managed to look at the thrones in the Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity. It was a long walk though around the compound but very fascinating.

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Before lunch, we took a rickshaw ride through the Hutong area which is means only a small alleyway or lane as only 1 car can pass at a time. In this Hutong area, there are about 4 or 5 families sharing 1 courtyard. We also ate lunch in a local family in a small room which happens to be the bedroom also. After lunch, we went up the Drum Tower, also known as Gulou (鼓楼). The tower is only 47m high and has 69 steps. Behind the Drum Tower is the Bell Tower, also known as Zhonglou. The purpose of these two towers was to tell the time during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

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Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Heaven (天坛) which was used by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿) was used by the Emperor to pray for good harvests. The Imperial Vault of Heaven (皇穹宇) is surrounded by a smooth circular wall called the Echo Wall because sound can be transmitted from one end of the wall to the other end. As told by Andy, we clapped our hands while standing in the middle the first slab in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven which did not produce any echo at all. Doing the same action while standing in the middle the second slab produced 2 echoes while doing the same thing again on the third slab produced three echoes but the third echo was not so obvious as the second echo. Finally, we stood at the Earthly Mount (圜丘坛) which consist of an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones that can echo back your voice if you stand at the centre of the circle.

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At night, we tried the food at the Wangfujing road for our dinner. There were scorpions, pupae, noodles, meat, fish, desserts and other stuffs which you would not think of eating at all but it was interesting to see food which we do not normally eat. As they say, one person's food is another person's poison.

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Sunday (9/9/2007) Today's tour started with a stop to the Jade factory. We were shown how jades were carved and polished and also taught how to distinguish between real jade, glass and marble. I bought a jadelite bangle for myself which is a mixture of green, brown and happiness that represents health, wealth and happiness. It is said that the colour of jadelite will become darker as one keeps on wearing it as oil is absorbed from the body of the wearer.

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Then, we were supposed to go to the Badaling (八达岭) section of the Great Wall (长城) but due to heavy traffic jam to that section, we decided to go to the Mutianyu (慕田峪) section instead. Unlike the Badaling section which has cable cars to bring people up, we had to go on foot in this section. Only 4 of us out of 7 decided to climb the Great Wall on the other side of the road while the other 3 just stayed around the parking site. It was an amazing experience to actually reach and climb 1 of the 7 wonders of the world! It was hot though while we were climbing upwards because by then, it was already noon time and the sun was directly above us. But as Mao Zedong saying onthe 'real carrot stone' in the Badaling section said, "You're not a real man if you haven't climbed the Great Wall" ( 不到长城非好汉) which can be found with the saying engraved on it.

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After that, we went for a foot massage before heading back for the Acrobatic Show. The show was impressive if one has never watched any Chinese acrobatic show before but it was not as good as the China National Acrobatic Troupe which came to Brunei last year. Anyway, 2 of my friends actually managed to fall asleep during the acrobatic show even though there was so much noise! After the acrobatic show, we dropped by the Niujie mosque (牛街清真寺) which is the oldest mosque in Beijing. Unfortunately, we couldn't get clear shots of the mosque because it was dark already. Then, we headed for our hotpot dinner which I think most of us were a little surprised and disappointed. The hotpot I saw on tv was totally different from this one and to the others, they thought it was like the steamboat we have here with is either served with chicken stock or fish stock. Unfortunately, we didn't like the sauce that much because it tasted like peanut butter mixed with salty black sauce but we couldn't eat without the sauce also because the meat was tasteless after being boiled in crab water.

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Monday (10/9/2007) We checked out of the hotel today because we were going to spend a night in Chengde. It was a 4 hours drive which was entertaining because we saw the Simatai (司马台) section of the Great Wall, beautiful mountains and agricultural fields. We checked into Jin Jiang Wen Guan Hotel which is located on Mount Seng Guan. It was quite isolated and very quiet but the wind was very cool. It was even cool in the hotel without switching on the air con.

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We then went to the Imperial Summer Resort and because the others did not want to "WALK", we took the bus ride up the mountain and missed out the palaces and temples at the bottom. The scenery on top of the mountain wasn't too bad but could have been nicer if the sky wasn't that smoggy. We also saw the Temple for Potarka Doctrine (普陀宗乘之庙), a replica of Lhasa's Potala Palace on the left side and the Puning Temple (普宁寺)) or Temple of Universal Peace on the right side. On the way out of the resort, we were surprised to see 2 groups of Chinese men playing a traditional Malay game which is also played in Brunei called "Pasang". We were even more surprised that it is even called the same name here. This game could have possibly passed on to China from the 14th century where Brunei and China people used to trade with each other in the past.

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At night, the hotel area was so windy and cold and I didn't even felt hot when there was a blackout in the hotel early in the morning. But I couldn't go back to sleep when they started the generator at 6am. A walk to the next block for breakfast was very refreshing 'coz the weather was very cold. If only Brunei was that cold all the time. After checking out of the hotel, we visited the Puning Temple (普宁寺)) or Temple of Universal Peace. This temple is modeled after the Samye Monastery, the sacred Lamaist site in Tibet and has the world's tallest wooden sculpture of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara of 22.28m high.

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3 of us decided to try the fortune telling just for the fun of it. However, Kolin didn't get her fortune told, Pauline got 1 green paper and I got 2 papers, 1 green and the other yellow. Don't ask me why 'coz I do not know also but according to my understanding, this is what the green paper says:
"Originally I will face extremely bad problems but then it will eventually change into extremely good matters. The person who gets this stick (which is no. 99) has very good opportunities and can find a way out of a desperate situation or problem. Even though bad matters will often bring worry, it can often bring unexpected good matters also. This kind of person can turn misfortune into a blessing. Life is not problem-free, but one can only forgive and the problem does not have any danger but ends with satisfactory. If you are currently having a problem, do not need to fear because the extraordinarily good luck is not far away." So basically, what the paper is say is that my problems are actually blessings in disguise. If my translation is not accurate, please correct me but I must admit that most of my previous problems did actually have a very good result instead of the opposite so I hope the future will still give the same result.

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Tuesday (11/9/2007) Today, we went for a 2 hour drive to Tianjin to visit the Food Street and the Cultural Street. Tianjin is more modern but hotter than Chengde. There wasn't much to see here but the food was delicious. The name Cultural street was a bit misleading because there were more of modern chinese commodities rather than the ancient or antique ones.

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Wednesday (12/9/2007) Before our flight back to KL in the afternoon, we stopped by at the Summer Palace (颐和园). It had rained early in the morning and by the time we reached there, it was only a very light drizzle which was very nice. I love weather like this because it is just so cool whereas if it rains in Brunei, it really rains very heavily. So, Summer Palace was so lovely because of the weather. We walked through the Long Corridor of 728m long which has more than 8,000 paintings of landscapes, flowers and human figures. Before going on a cruise on the man made Kunming Lake that looks the West Lake in Hangzhou, we saw the Marble Boat at the southwest foot of the Longevity Hill. It is very interesting to learn that ancient people used to store ice blocks underground so that they can put them around the Marble Boat during summer before refrigerators were invented.

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On our way to the Beijing airport, we managed to catch a glimpse of the Olympic stadium which is still under construction. Our flight back to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by 1 hour and by the time we landed in KLIA, we were so exhausted that we just wanted to check into the Airside Hotel and sleep. The hotel was nice and spacy and from our room window, we saw a MAS plane looking towards our room. Fortunately, it didn't take off or else, it would be very noisy.

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Thursday (13/9/2007) Flew from KLIA at 9.10am and landed in Brunei International Airport at about 11.30am. The differences between Beijing and Shanghai is that Beijing people are much more laid back and friendlier, crossing the road was not as scary as in Shanghai 'coz cars will stop at zebra crossings and wait for people to walk through before moving on and I feel that Beijing is much more safer than in Shanghai 'coz you don't see a lot of police on the road looking after commercial areas. Most of all, even though Beijing has a large population, it is not crowded everywhere like in Shanghai.

However, both places are worth visiting as they have their own special features. Beijing for the historical aspects and Shanghai for the modern concepts. I admit that it was a long trip especially getting there and coming back by plane but it was an enjoyable one for me. I wouldn't mind going back again and check out the other historical places that has not been covered in this trip yet!

Posted by Lingering 20:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Singapore

Christmas In The Tropics

rain -17 °C
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Saturday (16/12/2006) We arrived at Changi Airport in the afternoon and then took a taxi straight to YWCA Fort Canning Lodge which so happens to be located just next to YMCA and Fort Canning Park. Since it is located in the Orchard Road area, all we had to do is just to walk through Park Mall, cross the road and we have already reached the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Cross the road one more time and we're already at Orchard Road. That afternoon was a really hot day even though it was already late afternoon when we started walking around Orchard Road, checking out the shopping centres.

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We also managed to find the Singapore Visitors Centre @ Orchard where we purchased a 2 day trip; City Tour and a Heritage Tour Sightseeing Pass which includes a free Christmas Light-Up tour for visitors using the HippoTours bus. At night, Orchard Road was very lively with lots of people doing Christmas shoppings, Christian activities and a lot of Christmas lights with Christmas deco. The special thing about Christmas in Singapore is that you can always find a Christmas tree in front or inside a shopping centre. So, just imagine Orchard Road, a whole stretch of shopping centres as well as Christmas trees along the way. There were Christmas trees which represents the 4 seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn, a very huge Christmas tree inside Takashimaya and a special Christmas tree, exclusively decorated with thousands of Swarovski crystal ornaments just at the corner of The Heeren Shopping Centre. There was also a huge Christmas tree decorated with teddy bears that will be donated to the orphans after Christmas.

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Sunday (17/12/2006) Started our first sight seeing around Singapore today. In order to catch the early HippoTours bus in the morning, we had to walk about 8 minutes from the lodge all the way to Clark Quay. Just as we left Clark Quay, it started to rain so we had to sit on the lower deck instead of the open deck of the HippoTours bus. The HippoTours around the City Tour took us one round through the city of Singapore whereby we passed various places of attraction like the Botanical Gardens, Merlion Park, the ever famous Raffles hotel, the Esplanade Theatre, Orchard Road and Suntec City. At the end of the tour, we stayed at Suntec City where we checked out what the fuss is about on the Singapore Garden Festival 2006. Since we only had less than 1 hour before we leave for the Laser Musical Fountain in Sentosa and the Christmas Light Up Tour, we decided to check it out the next day.

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The 45 minute Laser Musical Fountain show in Sentosa was excellent! Although it was raining on and off throughout the whole show, it still went on. Kippy was the icon of Sentosa Island and the musical was really funny. Then we went to Bugis Junction to get some dinner before we were dropped off at Orchard Road since the HippoTours bus had to go through Orchard Road so that we can see the Christmas Light-Up. Rain and rain throughout the whole day!

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Monday (18/12/2006) Today, we took the HippoTours again at Clark Quay. This time the Heritage Tour took us to places like Chinatown, Bugis Street, Little India and Gelyang Serai which is a Malay village. Since Singapore Botanical garden was on the route, we decided to check it out. The place is just so fascinating. For those who love flowers and plants, the Botanical Garden is not to be missed 'coz they have various types of cactus, trees and lots of orchid species. The cool house is also something that should not be missed out because this special glasshouse is installed with air cons and mist sprays that sprays every few minutes so that it feels like you're in the montane forest that is a few thousand metres above sea level. The guide who was in the HippoTours bus that dropped us off in the Botanical Gardens earlier was happy that we actually spent 2 hours there.

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After that we dropped off at Suntec City to see the Singapore Garden Festival 2006. The ticket was $6 and it was worth that price. We took a lot of photos there because the landscapes and the floral arrangements were just so amazing and we ended up just being there for 4 hours. I wondered how they can actually carry up most of the big stuffs there like the Dome, the Chinese pavilion and the cottage because it was held on the 6th floor of the Suntec City Convention Centre. The chrysanthemum flowers were also extra huge! Then on the 4th floor, they displayed all the winners of the floral and ikebana arrangement from schools, educational section on pests and disease management, more orchids and also floral products for the public to purchase. If I live in Singapore, I would have bought most of the plants because they are quite cheap compared to Brunei. What a whole day of just checking out all the botanics of Singapore!

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Then in the evening, we caught a Night Safari Express Bus which cost $4 per trip from Orchard road. Since the Night Safari is located at Mandai Lake Road, it took us about 1 hour to reach there from Orchard Road and it was raining cats and dogs all the way. Due to the heavy rain, the night performances were cancelled so we only went for the tram ride. Of course, the animals were inactive due to the rain so it spoilt the night for us. But we had dinner at Bongo Burgers which serve very big portions and it was just delicious! By the time we got back to Orchard Road, it was almost 12am.

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Tuesday (19/12/2006) Our plan for today was to visit the Singapore Science Centre. In order to get there, we had to use the MRT which was actually new to us because there is no MRT in Brunei since everyone here has their own car. So, it took us quite a while to figure out which line to take from Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (there is a East West Line, North South Line and North East Line) and also which MRT station is the nearest one to drop off so that we do not have to walk so far. Finally, we took the NE line first until the interchange station before changing to the EW line until the Jurong East MRT station. That involved stopping at 11 MRT stations along the way. When we reached to the destination, we had problem finding where the Science Centre is because most people do not know where it is until we found it ourselves. By then, it had started to rain heavily again and we got quite wet by the time we actually reached to the Science Centre.

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Not only was it raining, but the queue from the ticket counter was so long that we had to line until outside the entrance but it was actually worth the wait 'coz this place is very educational especially if you like Science. We bought the Science Centre admission with 1 IMAX movie ticket for only $12.80. First we checked out The Mind's Eye which involves optical illusions and it was quite fascinating because it proves that your eyes can play tricks on you. Then we watched a demonstration on how a tesla coil work when electricity is passed through it. The sound of the lightning was quite loud so we were asked to cover our ears before the start of the demo and we were mesmerized that the tesla coil can light up flourscent lamps held by people among the crowd. There are also various exhibitions related to Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

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The 4D IMAX movie was shown in the Omni-Theatre which is 5 storey high and has a 23m diameter hemispheric giant screen that stretches 180 degrees horizontal from wall to wall and is tilted at a 30 degree angle to the horizon. So, people are actually looking at the wall of the dome instead of the normal flat white screen like in the cinemas. Honestly speaking, I almost fell asleep while watching Deep Sea 'coz the chair was so comfortable but never choose a seat near to the bottom row 'coz your neck will ache by the end of the show even though it only last for 40 minutes.

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After the Singapore Science Centre, we took the MRT to Chinatown to check out the products mostly from China before heading back to Orchard Road in the evening for window shopping.

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Wednesday (20/12/2006) Today, we went to the Jurong Bird Park by taking the MRT to Boon Lay MRT station which was 14 stops. From there, we had to take a taxi to reach our destination. There are more than 600 species of birds in this park like the emperor penguins, eagles and the snow owls. This place also houses the world's largest Lory Flight Aviary, tallest man-made waterfall, largest collection of South East Asia birds and hornbills and the largest colony of Humboldt Penguins bred in captivity.

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Next, we went to Haw Paw Villa which is the quintessential house of Chinese folklore. There are 25 clusters of original statues and figurines replicate Chinese mythology characters like the Laughing Buddha and the Fu Lu Shou (Taoist deities). The most fascinating part of this villa is the Ten Courts of Hell which features the ten steps of judgement before reincarnation. This exhibit serves as a teaching of moral values and Chinese cultural heritage for future generations but honestly speaking, if you have a wild imagination, it was a bit scary to just walk through the whole tunnel. However, even though it was bizarre and scary to just see everything in the villa, it was also quite fascinating especially when you wonder, how do they actually make all those statues and small figurines.

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Thursday (21/12/2006) Today was our second last day in Singapore and our last plan was to visit the Singapore Zoo. In order to go there, we had to go to the Ang Mo Kio MRT station and then take a taxi. The zoo consists of the Australian Outback, The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, Elephants of Asia, primate kingdom, treetop trails, Wild Africa, reptile garden and cat country. We also saw polar bears for the first time in flesh.

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When we reach back to YWCA Fort Canning Lodge late afternoon, we decided to wander around Fort Canning, since we were staying just next to it. It was quite a climb upwards as the hill was quite steep. There is a Fort Gate which is the remain of the fortress that was used from 1861 to 1926, a 9 pound cannon, Fort Canning Green which used to be the old Christian Cemetery, the spice garden which was Raffles' original experimental and botanical garden and the Keramat Iskandar Syah which some people believe that this is the resting place of Iskandar Syah, a ruler of Tumasek which is the 1st Malay king of Singapore during the 14th century.

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Friday (22/12/2006) Our flight back to Brunei was very early. We had to be at the airport by 6am which was quite tiring but honestly speaking, I was getting homesick already because I miss the weather in Brunei which did not rain everyday. Even though if it does rain, I do not need to carry an umbrella around in my bag 'coz I have my own car if I need to go here and there. But I'm glad that we managed to see almost all of the places of interest in Singapore regardless of the wet weather.

Posted by Lingering 21:57 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Shanghai - Hangzhou - Suzhou - Zhouzhuang

上有天堂 下有苏杭 "In heaven, there is paradise; On earth, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou."

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Friday (1/9/2006) What can I say about the Shanghai? The buildings are very modern and they have good transportation systems though the haze and traffic is very bad during peak times. It took us more than 2 hours just to arrive to the New Harbour Service Apartment that we were going to stay even though the distance from the Pudong International Airport was only 45km away.

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We were however, satisfied with the apartment because it has 3 rooms, 2 tvs, 2 toilets, a kitchen, a dining room and a living room. Since our room is on the 12th floor, we could see morning activities going on at the streets. Everyday, there’ll be old people doing tai chi in the park, people selling fruits and also a group of ladies dancing at the side of the street regardless of the cars passing by. It was quite a sight actually ’coz most people seemed to ignore what other people are doing on the roadside while others are just entertained by the sight of ladies dancing with fans in their hand.

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Saturday (2/9/2006) We met up with our first tour guide, Geoffrey. Quite an entertaining guy and a very fast learner. We went to the Yuyuan garden first which is the only place where the old Shanghai town is left now. After taking some photos and looking at some of the shops, we went to a tea house which used to be an opera house. We were shown how the tea ceremony is carried out, how to prepare the tea properly and we were also given 15 types of tea to taste. Good thing we didn’t get drunk just drink different types of tea but we had to go to the loo after that.

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Next, we visited the Shanghai museum which is really big and we were surprised that they allowed visitors to take photos and videocam of the artifacts shown. Then, we went for our lunch in a healthy living restaurant which serves medicated food. We were also offered a free cup of medicated Chinese wine made from seahorses, snakes, lizard tails, etc and surprisingly, it tasted like brandy. We also learnt that if we’re already full, we should leave some food on the plate or else the tour guide will order some more dishes to eat until we are full. What a different culture!

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Finally, we went to the Jade Buddha temple. On the ground floor, there are various gods like the Kwan-yin and Amitabha. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are made of jade. Regardless of how noisy and buzy Shanghai can be, the atmosphere of this temple is very peaceful and transcendent. Then we passed by the French Concession to go to Hua Hai road which is supposed to sell imitation goods but we were unlucky because the authorities have started to stop all these imitation products from being sold in Shanghai.

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Night time, we walked to Nanjing Road which is 3.4 miles long. It took us quite a while to walked there’ coz we weren’t familiar with the streets but regardless of how early or late the time was, there will always still be people walking on the streets. Nanjing road is actually amazing ‘coz it’s a whole stretch of road filled with shops and neon lights. However, things are not cheap there so we just went window shopping. When we got tired of walking, we sat on a trackless sightseeing train which only cost each of us 2 rmb and just watched people walking by us.

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Sunday (3/9/2006) Today, we met up with out second tour guide, Troy who brought us to Hangzhou (Heaven on earth). Troy's character is the oposite of Geoffrey's. He’s very polite, humble and gentle (not to mention tall also so all he had to do was raised his arm for us to spot where he was). It was a long journey to Hangzhou from Shanghai ‘coz it took 2½ hours to reach there but it was worth the time. He also told us that if you go to China, you should go to 3 places; Xian which represent China of the past, Beijing which represent China of today and Shanghai which represent the China of tomorrow.

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The scenery around the West Lake is just lovely and it’s romantic for couples to stroll along the bridges. We visited the Guo Garden Villa first before strolling on the Fish and Flower Harbor and West lake bridge. Then we went on a boat ride cruise around the West lake where we saw the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon and also people paddling in small boats. We were laughing at some of these paddlers ‘coz some of them either got tired of paddling in the middle of the lake or even though they were paddling, the boat didn’t move at all. What a funny sight! Before heading back to Shanghai, we stopped at the Meijia Tea Village or the Dragon Well Tea Village. We were told about the advantages and tips of using green tea for health purposes.

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Monday (4/9/2006) We went with Geoffrey to Suzhou this time. First stop was to the Tiger Hill where the Pagoda of the Yunyan Temple is the oriental version of the leaning Pisa. It is said that the leaning angle of this temple is even steeper than the leaning Pisa. We were also told about the story of the Sword testing rock, Stone peach, Pillow stone, Zhen Niang Tomb, Thousand People Rock and Sword pond which was located throughout this hill alone. Then, we went to the Han Shan temple where each of us paid 10 rmb to hit the bell three times so that our wishes can come true (How true it is, I have no comment but I would consider it as just a mere concidence). Before going to the silk factory, we went to the Fishing Master’s net. The gardens are just so peaceful and impressive. There’s not even a single weed growing at all.

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Tuesday (5/9/2006) We took an extra day trip with Geoffrey to Zhouzhuang Village which is known as Venice of the East. We saw the Chinese opera and then visited the scholar as well as the richest businessman’s house during the ancient times just to compare the differences in the layouts. Then we went on a Chinese-style gondola to cruise on the waterways of the city. The weeping willows along the banks just made the scenery looked so heavenly.

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Wednesday (6/9/2006) We decided to try the Maglev and visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong district today. We had problem at first of finding subway No. 2 but after that, we were able to go to the Maglev station just next to the Lujiazui metro station. It only took eight minutes (maximum speed of 430 - 431km/hr) to reach from Lujiazui to Pudong International Airport and the two way ticket costed us each 80 rmb (B$16). We then took the subway to go to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower which was worth the money we spent on the entrance fee. This tower is 468 meters high (1,536 feet) and is the world's third tallest TV and radio tower. Since we took the 85 rmb ticket, we could only go up to the 267m level at a speed of seven meters per second and because of the fast speed upwards, our ears got blocked a few times. From 263m, we could see most of Shanghai and the wind was really cold but no doubt, you can actually feel the floor swaying from side to side. Then we went down to 259m and 90m where we could still see the roof of most buildings around the tower. At the lobby of the tower, we saw the Transportations Exhibition, Overview Of The Old City, The Architectural Landscape Of Shanghai At The Beginning Of The 20th Century, The Metropolis Infested With Foreign Adventures, Traces Of Old Shanghai and Architectures Exhibition. It took us 4 hours just going around this tower alone.

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Thursday (7/9/2006) Just as we were about to leave Shanghai, the weather was slowly changing as the haze cleared up and the wind started to become cold compared to the first few days when we were in Shanghai. Basically, I would say, Suzhou and Hangzhou have lived up to the standards of what everyone has talked about. Shanghai is a lovely place for if you like to see very modern buildings but not necessary a cheap place for shopping. Hopefully, the next time I go to Shanghai again, there wouldn’t be too many major changes like what we were told as minor renovations will be done every 3 years and major renovations will be carried out every 10 years.

Posted by Lingering 10:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City - Mỹ Tho - Bến Tre - Tây Ninh

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Sunday (18/6/2006) We left for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at around 2.30pm from Brunei and the flight only took 90 minutes. Landed in Tan Son Nhat airport around 3.30pm (Vietnam time) and had slight problem in finding our tour guide, Mai because there were lots of people as well as tour guides carrying various names and labels. Finally managed to find her by calling her mobile.

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Before we checked into Windsor Plaza Hotel, we stopped by a tailor shop to make our ao dai. I chose a purple 100% vietnamese silk for my top which was combined with purple organza and my trousers was light purple. With the materials, workmanship and embroidery, it only costed me US$35. By the time we reached the hotel, it was already 7.30pm. The hotel looks grand. There's a small mini bar on the groung floor, 4th floor is the reception counter for those who are staying in superior rooms while we had to go all the way up to the 24th floor to check into the executive rooms. I stayed with 1 of my friend on the 21st floor because we took the twin beds while our other three friends stayed on the 20th floor which has 3 single beds. Other advantages include free international breakfast and dinner throughout our stay in the hotel. Now I'm about 3kg heavier than before I left for Ho Chi Minh!

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Monday (19/6/2006) We visited Thien Hau temple first before heading for the textile market. They have numerous stalls inside 1 building filled with cloth materials. However, the place was so cramped with textiles that it was quite uncomfortable 'coz it was stuffy and the lane to walk was just enough for 1 person to walk through. Next, we head to Ben Thanh and then Cholon market. These 2 places are famous for handicrafts, bags, souveniors, clothes, hats and other just about anything. Hoewever, prices do not come cheap because you have to bargain. Even after bargaining, the price is still higher than other places where you can get the same thing. Next, we went on to a lacquareware factory where they use mother of pearls and egg shells to do pictures of sceneries, animals and people.I bought 5 pieces for only US$120, 4 of which belongs to the Chinese myth that is the phoenix, unicorn, dragon and turtle. Finally, we headed to a gemstone factory which sells different types of stones and jewelleries before going to the tailor to try our ao dai.

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Tuesday (20/6/2006) We went to Mekong Delta using the Southern Peace boat which was actually for tourists who uses bicycle to travel around Vietnam. However, luck was on our side because since there wasn't any tourist at that time, our tour guide managed to get the boat for us. It's so spacious, very comfortable and relaxing. Pass through many islands before stopping by Mỹ Tho to see the fruit plantation. The first thing which caught our eye on the way to the plantation were longan trees. So, we just picked them off from the trees and kept eating all the way to the owner's home 'coz they were just so big and sweet! Then we took photos with the biggest pomelo fruit which we have ever seen 'coz the fruit is actually bigger than my head! We also tried the 'rambai' which was quite sour 'coz not all of them were ripe yet before we were served with rice cake crackers and tea with honey. The last destination was to another island, Bến Tre which produces coconut handicrafts and sweets before we headed for land to have our lunch. I don't know whether if it's because we're hungry (had it at 3.30pm Brunei time) or simply because the food was just so delicious.

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We went to Cu Chi tunnel in the morning which among all of my friends, I was the only one who could go into the original tunnel because of my small size but all of us had a try to walk in the tunnel in total blackness. Basically, you have to bend down slightly and touch both walls to see where you're heading to 'coz it's just pitch black. The only person who got a torch light was the tunnel guide but he was walking way in front while I was the second last person. It was tiring walking in that manner and quite stuffy in the tunnel wven though the walls felt cool. How the Vietnamese managed to survive in the tunnel is just amazing. After that, we headed to District 1 where the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office is but before that we had our lunch at Restaurant 19. At night, we ate International seafood buffet for about almost B$20 per person. Worth the value if you are into seafood especially oysters, shells and snails.

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Thursday (22/6/2006) We did last minute shopping and packing before checking out at 1pm. Our tour guide, Mai had also managed to buy for us lai chee which is more sweeter and fleshy than those sold in Brunei and it only cost about B$1.60 per kg.

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What we have learnt about Vietnamese are that they love sweet, salty and hot food. But the food are very delicious and the sceneries are beautiful even though Vietnam is not as modern as other developing countries.

Posted by Lingering 14:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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