A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Lingering

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ;)


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Central Java - East Java - Bali

Yogyakarta - Solo - Mount Bromo - Ijen crater - Bali

sunny 33 °C

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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


[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!


Posted by Lingering 04:45 Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Taiwan - Macau


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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