A Travellerspoint blog

Vietnam

From north west to north east of Vietnam and Halong Bay

sunny 17 °C
View North Vietnam & The Lesser Sunda Islands on Lingering's travel map.

Monday (2/12/2019) - After more than half a year of waiting, the time has finally arrive to start this trip. The flight to Singapore was at 11.55am and while waiting, it had started to become cloudy and drizzled a bit. After a bit over 2 hours, we landed at Terminal 3 of Changi airport so I had to take the skytrain to Terminal 2 to catch my next flight to Hanoi. By the time I reached to Terminal 2, it was just in time for boarding already. The flight was supposed to fly at 3.10pm but it started to rain heavily so all planes couldn't take off. We were just sitting in the plane doing nothing and by the time the planes were allowed to take off, there was a queue for each plane to fly off. So while waiting, I watched Godzilla: The King of Monsters and then fell asleep for a while. By the time I woke up, the plane finally took off at 4pm.

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After the delay, we landed at Hanoi International Airport at 6pm instead of 5.30pm. There was a long queue at immigration and while waiting, we witnessed the changing of shift for the officers on duty at that time. Both officers that have finished their shift and those who were going to start their shift stood up and bowed to us. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos. I managed to buy Viettel sim card before going out of the airport to find the driver arranged by Mr Thiep to pick me up. The wind was pretty cold but still manageable even though I was wearing a short sleeve shirt. Hopefully during day time, it would be this cold also. It took 45 min to reach to Viola Royal Hotel and Spa. Mr Thiep was already there waiting for me to receive the rest of the balance and we discussed about tomorrow's program as well as a few places stated in the itinerary.

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After the discussion, I went to my room which is nice but very small but I guess that is how buildings in Vietnam area since they tend to be narrow but goes many floors upwards. After unpacking some stuff, I went out and checked what was around. There were a lot of tourists everywhere, shops and restaurants. I went around looking for a decent place to eat and finally settled for an ok looking local restaurant. Food was not bad and reasonably priced. I just hope I don't get diahorrea tomorrow. After dinner, I slowly walked back towards the hotel and along the way, I stopped at a souvenir shop to buy some magnets, postcards and bookmarks. After shopping, I headed back to the hotel and packed for tomorrow before going to bed.

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Tuesday (3/12/2019) - Today I will meet up with Mr Bien who will be my guide for the next 20 days. I woke up 6.20am to prepare for breakfast and check out since Mr Bien will come to pick me up at 8am. Breakfast was on the 6th floor of the main building and it is buffet style though with not many choices of food. The wind was colder than yesterday night so I hope it won't be too cold throughout the whole day since we will be out in the open areas most of the time.

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By 8am when I went down to the reception area, Mr Bien was already waiting for me. The driver also came to pick us up and I was surprised that we will be using Fortuner throughout the whole trip instead of the standard Innova. Mr Bien told me that it is better to use Fortuner since we are going to the mountainous areas. We went to Hao Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam first in Ninh Binh which was 2.5 hours drive from Hanoi. We reached there around 10.30am and Mr Bien began to explain the Dinh and Le dynasty which was established after Dinh Tien Hoang defeated China and became the first Vietnamese king after their 1000 years rule. However, the Dinh and Li Dynasty only lasted for 1000 years before Vietnam was colonised by the French in 1852.

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After touring around the ancient temple, we had lunch at a local restaurant. Mr Bien ordered the specialty of Ninh Binh which tasted nice but the portion was a lot for 1 person. There is the rice crust (com chay), fried fish fillets, fried Vietnamese spring rolls and goat meat which you wrap with rice paper, pineapple slices, fig slices and mint leaves.

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By 1.30pm, we left for Trang An to go on the boat ride and also to see the King Kong movie set that was filmed there. Unfortunately when we arrived there, we were told that the King Kong movie set had been removed so that Trang An can still be listed as one of the UNESCO heritage site in Vietnam. We were on the boat for 2 hours and visited 3 temples along the way. It was a nice, relaxing scenery actually with many boats next to you that is mainly paddled by women.

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Then we went to Mua Cave (Lying dragon mountain) and started climbing up the 486 steps. I have not done hiking for a year so going up the steps was like a warm up session for the upcoming walks. It wasn't so bad and when we reached to the top where the dragon head was located, the sun was starting to set. From the top, we could see Tam Coc river. Before we head back to the car, we visited Mua cave which didn't have anything much to see.

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Tonight's accommodation is at Tam Coc Rice Fields where Mr Thiep had booked a semi-bungalow for me. The room was very spacious which had 1 queen size and 1 single bed. There was also a pool, garden, restaurant and they even gave hot foot bath to relax the feet after climbing up Mua cave. After taking a shower, I head to the restaurant on the 1st floor of another building. Mr Thiep had already ordered the food in advance for me. Boy was I shocked that he ordered many different dishes and the portion because it can be eaten by at least 3 people. After dinner, I head back to my room and packed ready for check out tomorrow. The temperature outside had now dropped to 17.7 °C.

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Wednesday (4/12/2019) - Today after breakfast, we checked out at 8am and went to Bai Dinh Pagoda, the largest complex of the Buddhist temple. We reached there at 9am and took an electric car to the top of the mountain first to see the ancient pagoda which was inside a cave. Along the way up, they have put 500 Arhat statues along both sides of the pathway of the temple complex. Then we walked slowly down the hill where there were 54 turtles carrying a stone tablet on its back which represent each of the 54 minorities in Vietnam.

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Down the hill, there was the Three Period Hall where there are statues of the Gods of past, present and future. In this hall, one can donate USD500 where your name will be put underneath a golden buddha statue. So you can imagine the sight of the four walls filled with thousands of golden Buddha statues from the top until the bottom.

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After that, we walked by the happy Buddha to see the Buddha with 1000 hands and eyes. I have been to a lot of temples before but this is the first time I have heard and seen the statue of this God. It is said that buddha need a lot of hands and eyes to help answer the prayers of its believers.

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We then walked to the Kuan Yin hall where 2 Kuan Yin statues were carved out of 1000 year old trees that was found growing in the river. Very impressive I have to say. Finally our last stop was the Bell tower pagoda before we head back to the parking area by using the electric car.

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On the way to Pu Luong, we stopping by at a small roadside restaurant for lunch. It took us 2 hours to reach to Pu Luong but before we went to the Homestay, we stopped at a village and went on a 6km walking trip to see the giant water wheels and the village itself. After 1.5 hours of walking, we finally reached to the main road and then head to Paranomic Home where I will be staying for the night.

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The homestay was a traditional stilt house right next to the road with beds on the floor. Since no one else was staying here, I got the whole place to myself which was good. However, the walls were not all the way up to the ceiling so the cold air kept on blowing in. It was very cold inside the room as the temperature had already dropped to 16.4 °C even before 7pm. The place where dinner was served was under the house in the open area so it was even colder than inside the room upstairs! I had to endure 1 hour of the cold wind until I finished my dinner and quickly head back to the room. Good thing they offered me another blanket which is thick or else I would not be able to sleep. By 9pm, the hosts were already asleep when I went down to use the toilet before I went to bed. Somewhere in the village, there was a party going on because the man had been singing non-stop since 7pm while I was having my dinner. I had to wear a layer of Uniqlo ultra warm and an extra warm long sleeve shirt, a pair of extra warm leggings and a pair of heat tech gloves to sleep.

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Wednesday (5/12/2019) - I woke up about 6.20am to see sunrise. It was a bit hazy but not as cold as the day before. I took a shower before having breakfast. After breakfast, we left at 8.30am and started walking to Pu Luong nature reserve to see the white Thai, Black Thai and Hmong minority lifestyle. It took us about 2 hours walk for 5km before we reached to the main road and waited for the driver to pick us up.

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Then we headed to Maichau which only took us 1 hour 20 minutes to reach. Once we were there, we had difficulty locating Stilt House 32 in Lac village where we were going to stay as the number of the stilt houses were randomly arranged. The wind here was colder than Pu Luong during mid day. After putting my stuff in the room, we walked around the small village to have lunch in one of the stilt house on a hill. The driver told us that today's temperature in Sapa is 0 °C and there was light snow in Fansipan. Hopefully by the time we go there, it would not be too cold! Lunch was home cooked meal which was pretty delicious!

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After lunch, we walked around Lac village, passing by many stilt houses which are either homestays or selling souvenirs on the open area of the ground floor while the family stayed on the top floor. We walked around 8 villages which about 6km and I bought some ethnic souvenirs before we slowly walked back to our homestay 4 hours later.

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Before dinner, i just sat at the restaurant area before the other guests started coming back. I had a good conversation with a Hospitality and Tourism lecturer from Danang who was travelling on his own and got some information about central Vietnam. Then a French lady came to checked out if there was anything she could order from our homestay and ended up chatting with us since she knew the lecturer who came to Lac village in the same bus as her. By 7pm, dinner was served and once again, the food was good enough for 3 person but I was the only 1 eating it. If I had known I was going to eat alone, I would have invited that French lady to eat with me. The wind was cold but not as cold as yesterday since it was not blowing as strong as in Pu Luong. After dinner, I went to the room to relax and settle down before taking a shower. The temperature tonight was 18.4 °C.

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b] Thursday (6/12/2019)[/b] - Today, the sound of the rooster crowing and the birds singing woke me up at 6.20am. It reminded me of the olden days when we were staying overnight in my grandmother's place in the village during the weekends. The wind was cold and temperature had dropped to 16.8 °C. Breakfast was served at 8am and then we left for Moc Chau at 8.30am. Before we left Mai Chau, we checked out the morning market in Mai Chau town.

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On the way along Son La, we stopped to look at Flower Hmong houses and peach blossoms. Then further up, we stopped to see a bee farm located near to the main road. There were a lot of honey bee houses and the owner told us that he was selling 1 litre of pure honey for 150,000 VDN (B$10). We did try a bit of the honey which has a sourish sweet taste.

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When we arrived at Moc Chau, we checked in at Top Hill Homestay first. Then we head to the tea plantation where you can see Hmong women waiting around for tourists to rent ethnic Black Thai costume with silver buttons and Hmong costumes to wear for photo taking at the tea plantation. It wasn't my first time at tea plantations as I have been to the ones in China so it was nothing new though it was pretty creative of them to plant the tea trees in heart shape pattern for people to take photos.

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1 hour later, we headed back to town to have lunch. It was a small town with not many choices of restaurant. Since it was past lunch time, there were not may people eating at the restaurant, only us and a group of businessmen. The food cooked by the male cook was not bad.

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After lunch, we head on to the Pine forest and walked to Chimi strawberry farm to pick strawberries. Surprisingly it was Mr Bien's first time seeing strawberry plants. 1kg of picked strawberries cost 350,000 VND (about B$20) which was not cheap. There were not many ripe strawberries left, probably because most of them had been picked earlier in the morning. After half an hour of going from one row to another, hoping to find ripe strawberries, I managed to pick 400g of almost ripe strawberries.

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We also checked out the other strawberry products they sell before we slowly walked back towards the car park. On the way, we saw 2 couples taking their wedding photos. It was pretty interesting to see how wedding photos are taken in Vietnam and the things they have to do to make wedding photos look perfect. We don't see that in Brunei.

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We head on to Vuon Hoa Nhiet Doi (Moc Chau tropical flower garden) where I thought no one would be going there except for us. As it turned out, there was a group of local tourists also going there. Owned by Hong Kong investors, they import Phalaenopsis orchids and lily plants to grow and resell to the Vietnamese. The orchids are the same like the ones sold in Brunei but they only cost 130,000 VND here (less than B$10). After that, we went back to Homestay Tophill and rested.

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The temperature inside the room was not so cold but when we were having our dinner in the open area under the common room, the blowing wind was so cold! So Mr Bien and the driver ordered plum wine to drink while eating dinner. After talking for a while with Mr Bien, we decided to call it a night since it was too cold sitting outside in the open and went back to our room. The temperature inside the room was 11.1 °C but fortunately, there was no cold draft coming into the room. However, the room was so cold and damp in the middle of the night that I had to find socks to wear in order to sleep.

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Saturday (7/12/2019) - I woke up before 7am and prepared to have breakfast at 8am before we start our day. The wind was colder in Moc Chau compared to Pu Luong since the wind was damp. After having a simple breakfast, we left for Long Sap Border gate to see the Lao market. After 1.5 hours driving on the winding, dusty road, we finally reached the border checkpoint. Unfortunately since this border is only for local Vietnamese and Laos people to cross, I was not allowed to cross it even though the Laos border was 200m away from the border checkpoint. So we just walked to the nearby Vietnamese shop which is just few hundred meters from the immigration building to see what is being sold. There wasn't much things to buy except for some lao beer and alcohol. However, Mr Bien told me I could walk on the small path next to the shop and from there I could see a Lao village.

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On the way back to town, we stopped by at Dai Yem waterfall to see what the attraction was since Mr Bien has not been there before also. There is a small man made waterfall and the natural Dai Yem waterfall. The place doesn't look complete yet as they could include more activities for the tourists to do. After that, we went back to the town and ate at the same restaurant we ate yesterday.

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Our last stop for the day is the Bac Phach Oleracea garden at Bac Phach village. It is not a popular tourist attraction as the road was pretty bad but 4WD cars can still go. There is a small Hmong village where they plant peaches and plum trees but since it was not the season yet, there was nothing much to see except the white flowers of the mustard plants.

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By the time we got back to Top Hill Homestay it was only 4.30pm but the sun was already starting to set. Dinner was set at 7pm but tonight, the wind was even colder than yesterday. At 7pm,the temperature outside was already 10.5 °C. I had dinner alone as Mr Bien and the driver went to the town to eat so that they could watch the football match since there were no tv at Top Hill Homestay. After 1 hour sitting in the open area to have dinner with the cold wind constantly blowing, I couldn't stand it anymore and went back to my room. Vietnamese love to eat in open areas which is not a good idea especially during winter! By 9pm, the temperature had dropped further to 7.6 °C before I went to bed. Half way through the night, I couldn't sleep at all because it was too cold even though I already wore 2 layers of shirts and trousers and I should probably have worn 2 pairs of socks as 1 pair were not warm enough compared to the night before, so I didn't sleep well.

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Sunday, (8/12/2019) - Today after having breakfast, we left Moc Chau at 8am and started our long drive to Dien Bien Phu. After 1 hour on the road, we stop for toilet break before heading on. 1.5 hours later, we reached to a town where they happen to have Sunday market. So we went for a walk to see Black Thai women shopping and also to check out what they were selling. We went 1 round before heading on with our journey. Another 1.5 hours later, we stopped for lunch since there was not going to be any more place to eat for a long distance.

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At 2pm, we did another stop at one of the small roadside shop and saw the owners cleaning a pig after killing it at the roadside. After the driver was ready to continue, we drove on a bit before stopping at a nearby village to see the houses of the black Thai people which has a mixture of the traditional and the modern style.

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2 hours of non-stop driving through the curves of the mountain, we finally reached Dien Bien Phu. We checked into Ruby hotel and rested for a while. At 5.30pm, we walked to the ethnic market behind our hotel and saw a lot of Black Thai women selling clothes, vegetables and live animals. There were a lot of people shopping for their daily needs.

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As we walked towards the meat section, I thought they were just selling the usual pork and beef until Mr Bien told me that it was dog meat. I am aware that Vietnamese do eat dogs but I have never seen dog meat for sell before so this was my first time.

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After seeing the market, we head back to the street where we are staying to find a place to eat. In the end after deciding the place, we called the driver to eat together. The street was pretty quiet by the time we finished dinner so we head back to the hotel and called it a night.

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Monday (9/12/2019) - Today after breakfast, we left for Tay Trang International border gate which is an hour drive away from Ruby hotel. The road was very dusty as heavy cargo trucks and motorbikes carrying goods used that road to go to Laos border. When we arrived at the border gate, all the cargo trucks were parked in a line while the drivers were getting their papers approved first before going through the border. I was told the Laos border is another 4km away from this border and foreigners can pass through this border unlike at the Long Sap border which is only for the local Vietnamese and Laos people. After taking some photos and checking out the shop that was selling some simple stuffs, we head back to the city again.

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Once we reached to the city, we stopped at A1 hill to see the defeat of the French by the Vietnamese soldiers. There were cemetery of unknown soldiers, tanks, trenches, an underground bunker where the French commander was communicating with the headquarter and a bomb crater. I am not a big fan of war so I did not include A1 Hill or any of the war related places of interest to visit in Dien Bien but Mr Bien insisted that I must see them since it is the highlight of the tour in this city, Since I didn't have to pay for anything, I just went along with him.

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Then we went for lunch first since the Dien Bien phu museum is closed during lunch time. So we went back to the street where our hotel was located and found 1 restaurant to eat. By 1.30pm, we went to the Dien Bien Phu museum and watched the Victory video first before going to the gallery. For a big building, there was only 1 big gallery to see and a small room to watch the video while the rest of the ground floor consist of shops selling Vietnamese souvenirs. The last war related place we stopped at was the French Command Bunker - Colonel de Castries, the commander of Dien Bien Phu battle which was another underground bunker. We then walked further a bit to see the Vietnamese tanks and weapons.

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Then we went to Men village which mainly consists of black Thai people. The women still wear their hair up in a bun and a lot of families have a big fish pond. The houses are big but there are no walls inside the house except for curtains that separate each sleeping place. From Men village, we walked to Ta Po village before heading back to the main road and then walked to Dien Bien airport which used to be the French army landing field so that the driver could pick us up from there.

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Our last stop is the Dien Bien Phu Victory monument in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dien Bien Phu Victory. In order to reach to the top, one had to climb a lot of steps. This place used to be the D1 hill and is overlooking the center of Dien Bien Phu city. After coming down, we decided to sit by the road and have sugar cane juice while watching motorbikes and cars going around the roundabout. As it was getting cold, we head back to our hotel and rested for a while before heading out again for hotpot dinner.

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Tuesday (10/12/2019) - Today after breakfast, we left for Phong Tho which is about 4 hours drive. On the way, we stopped by at a rice field located down a valley with the fog hanging around so that I could take some photos. 2.5 hours later after going through many winding road, we stopped for a while at a small village's local market for everyone to stretch out and rest a bit after the long drive. 30 mins later, we stopped at a restaurant to have our lunch. They had opium and monitor lizard wine which I have never seen before, even in Thailand.

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After lunch, we drove on for 1.5 hours before we stopped for a while so that the driver could take a break. 30 mins later, we finally reached to Lan Anh hotel. It has the old and new building but with no other occupants other than us since there were no more tourists coming to Pho Thong since the ethnic villages had to be relocated after the dam was being built. Since my room was booked by Mr Thiep, I got the VIP room in the new building which is big and has 2 single beds while Mr Bien and the driver stayed at the old building made of wood.

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We then went to Vang Pheo village which consist of White Thai but unfortunately, this village is already modernised so there are not many traditional houses left. However, they do have 4 large water wheels compared to the ones in Pu Luong which is half the size. We walked from one village to another and ended up on the main road so we kept on walking and went to the market where we saw 2 red Dao women. We walked on and on and didn't actually know where we were but eventually we managed to contact the driver to meet us at a certain location which was not far from where we started walking. We ended up walking 3.9km.

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After heading back to the hotel, we rested before having dinner at 6.30pm. The European style restaurant looked elegant but it was empty. There were only 3 of us eating in a big empty restaurant. After dinner around 7pm, I walked back to my room. There was light on the ground floor but when I came out from the lift to the third floor, it was pitch black as there was no light and no one else staying here except me. Well, at least it was peaceful and quiet night.

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Wednesday (11/12/2019) - Today we left Phong Tho around 8.45am to Sapa. 2 hours later, we reached Heaven Gate (Tram Ton) and took photos of the winding Quy Ho pass. 40 minutes later, we arrived at Sapa town which is small but very touristic with a lot of restaurants, shops selling North Face jackets and hotels. We had lunch at Red Dzao House first which has a lot of tourist customers so service was very slow. One of the specialty dish of Sapa is the Sturgeon fish which I never had it before anywhere else.

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After lunch, Mr Bien had to report to the police about our tour program but since it was still lunch time, we had to wait until 2pm for them to go back to work. So I went around to check a bit. The ethnic market was small and they sell basically the same stuff. I bought some handmade ethnic bags and decorations and boy, they were not cheap at all.

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After that since we still had to wait, I walked by foot towards Stone church which is at the town square. Then I saw a very European building called Sun Plaza. I am not sure if it was a hotel or a shopping mall but since people were going in and out from there, I went and checked it out also. There were small shops and a ticketing counter which sell train tickets to Fansipan. I did not managed to check all the floors since Mr Bien called me and we already had to go on with the tour program for the day.

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The program was to walk around Ban Ho, Tavan and Lao Chai village and I was given the option to walk 8km or 12km. Since I haven't walked for such a long distance already for quite some time, I chose the 12km and also it would be a waste not to see everything since we have already come this far. We started around 2.45pm, walking through different villages located on the Muong Hoa valley, taking photos of the scenery, houses, local people and animals. By the time we reached back to the car, it was 5.20pm.

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When we reached to the town and to the place where I will be staying for 2 nights, it was slightly out of the town center but still has a lot of shops along the road. We walked down from the main road to go to Little View Homestay. The alley was pretty dark with lots of steps but eventually we found the place. The owner was a funny man who could speak funny Malaysian slang. He called himself Diego and used to be a Sapa guide.

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At 7pm, I walked up to the main road and waited for Mr Bien who took me to the restaurant nearby where he had arranged my dinner. It was a classy restaurant with once again, lots of Asian tourists. After dinner, I walked around a bit around the area just to see what the shops were selling and I ended up buying North Face jackets and a pair of trekking shoe since it was so cheap here. After going back to the homestay, I prepared for tomorrow where we will be going to Fansipan. I am not sure how cold the wind will be up there but at a height of over 3000m, it is expected that the wind will be cold.

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Thursday (12/12/2019) - After having woken up around 4am in the morning due to inconsiderate Singaporean guests who love to push furniture around when everyone else was still asleep, I woke up pretty late. For breakfast, I had to go to the top floor and ordered breakfast from Diego's wife. The weather was very sunny and clear so after breakfast, I walked up to the main road and we headed to Sun World Fansipan Legend.

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After taking some photos at the entrance, we walked into the ticketing area and there happened to be some cultural performance. After the short performance, we were allowed to take photos with the performers.

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In order to go to Fansipan peak, we had to use the cable car which is the longest non-stop three-rope cable car in the world and it took us 25 minutes to reach to Fansipan.

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To reach to the peak of Fansipan, we had to climb up many steps and passed by many statues and temples. The day was very sunny and clear so the sky was really blue.

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By the time we reached to the peak (3,143m high) which is the highest in Indochina and also known as the "Roof of Indochinese peninsula", it was already noon time and a lot of tourists, locals and foreign were taking their turns to take photo with the stone marking.

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By the time we came back to Sapa town and had lunch at Red Dzao House again, it was already 2pm. After lunch, we went to Cat Cat village which belong to the Hmong people but instead of seeing traditional houses, all I saw was just rows of shops selling the same things on both sides of the lane. Then we went down to the waterfall area where there were restaurants, man made bridges and decorations.

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Next to the waterfall, they have made an area for performance so we stayed to watch the performance. After the performance, we kept on walking to Lao Chai village were the driver was waiting for us. After 1 hour of walking through rice terraces, some houses, a boarding school and a church, we finally reached to Lao Chai village which has a lot of homestays and shops selling souvenirs indicating another very touristic village.

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By the time we reached to the place where I was staying, it was before 5pm but since I was already feeling tired due to inconsiderate guests from Singapore, I was glad to come back to my quiet room and rested. Mr Bien insisted that I should have western food for tonight since Sapa is the only place that has western food while the rest of the trip is just local food. I just don't know what is his problem about not understanding that the local food in Vietnam is almost similar to the food in Brunei and I do not have problem eating the local food or chicken everyday in Vietnam. So in the end, I had dinner at 6.30pm in an Italian restaurant and ordered spaghetti which was a quick simple meal. After dinner, I just went back to the homestay and by the time I had shower and got ready for bed at 9pm, the Singaporean group came back and started being noisy again. It was a good thing I brought my ear plugs with me to block out the noisy sound.

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Friday (13/12/2019) - Today was more foggy than the last 2 days. After having breakfast, I checked out and Mr Bien took me to where the car was parking near to Ham Rong. Then we went up Ham Rong and saw the statues of the 12 Vietnamese zodiacs which is similar to the Chinese zodiac except that they have the cat instead of rabbit, flowers, the view of the Dragon's mouth and Sapa town. It was getting hot though so by noon time, we came down and then head on to Bac Ha.

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1 hour later, we arrived at Lao Cai. After having lunch, we walked to Lao Cai train station since it was still early and had a look. The train is older than the train from Surabaya to Yogyakarta but tourists still use this train to come to Sapa from Hanoi.

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10 minutes later, we arrived at Lao Cai border which is the gateway between Vietnam (Lao Cai) and China (Hekou). During daytime, people can only cross the bridge by foot to go shopping at Hekou and at night time, only cargo trucks were allowed to pass through. There is a small temple next to the border called Den Mau Temple. Apparently, I was not the only one wanting to see this border as there were a lot of tourists there taking pictures of the border stone.

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Then we drove to Bac Ha which took almost 2 hours to reach. We stopped by the Hoang A Tuong ancient palace first before going to our accommodation. This palace has French and Chinese architecture but unfortunately, it was not maintained since the ceilings in a lot of rooms on the 1st floor was leaking. Built in 1914 and completed in 1921, this palace was owned by a Tay ethnic family who ruled 70% population of the Hmong people. After checking out all the rooms in this palace, we went to where we will be staying.

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Our accommodation in Bac Ha is at Huy Trung Homestay which is pretty cosy and even have a small swimming pool on the 1st floor. There was also heater lamps inside the toilet and the heater machine which can be used at night if the room is cold. The owner, Huy Trung have 2 daughters and the wife is a teacher who had to attend a course in another town 3 hours away and will only be back tomorrow. He is also a freelance architect who design houses.

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Dinner was cooked by Trung and his helper where the vegetables were mainly grown from their garden. We at with him, his helper and his 2 daughters. After dinner, it was time to rest in the cosy bedroom but the air was damp and cold (no wonder there was a heater machine in the room to use).

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Saturday (14/12/2019) - Today after having sour noodle for breakfast together with Trung , we left for Cancau market which is 1 hour drive away. As we approached the market, we saw many ethnic people walking towards it, some even walking with their buffalo for sell. It's actually one of the most colourful market I have ever seen with different ethnic women wearing their traditional clothes. The market is not that big but there were a lot of sellers and people eating or buying their daily needs since this market is only held on Saturdays.

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You can see illegal money changers who change Chinese Yuan to Vietnamese dong since a lot of the ethnic people cross the nearby border to work in China illegally. There were things which I have not seen before like the roots which was said to be used in alcohol making and the ethnic jewelleries as well as the clothes. There was also an area for buffaloes and this is where you can see most of the men over there either talking to their friends, checking out the buffaloes or trying to negotiate with the seller for a better deal. It was also a place for the youngsters from different villages to dress up and meet while trying to exchange contact numbers with the opposite sex. I can't help but notice that a lot of the ethnic women in the market who were carrying their baby on their back were mostly still teenagers as they don't even look like they are in their 20s yet.

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By lunch time, we drove back to the town and stopped by Bac Ha temple first which was built to worship the two brothers Van Uyen Vu and Van Mat Vu who made Bac Ha become fertile and densely populated. It's a small temple so there was nothing much to see so after a while, we head to a restaurant in a hotel to have our lunch. We ate with the owners and the workers of the hotel as Mr Bien seemed to be close to them. I had the chance to eat horse meat which I was thought was beef because Mr Bien did not tell me about it until the next day.

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After lunch, we went to Ban Pho village which consist of Hmong people. This village used to be famous for making corn wine. However, the factory for making corn wine has closed down but I was told that each household still make their own corn wine. After walking around the village and enjoying the peaceful, quiet scenery of village life, we slowly walked back to town.

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The distance of Ban Pho village to town was not very far as we managed to walk all the way to where an expo (which is like a small consumer fair) was held. We went and checked out the stuff they were selling which was not that expensive. There were clothes, blankets, household items, electrical goods, snacks, etc. By the time we reached to the homestay by foot, it was just 3pm. There were 4 other guests who have just arrived at the homestay. The air was very damp even for a sunny day so the clothes that I had washed the night before had not dried yet even though I had hung it outside the room. Since it was still early and there was nothing much to do, we just relax in our room and waited for dinner. The air was already getting colder than yesterday even before the sun start to set. Dinner was at 7pm and 2 of the guests ate with us. While eating, I got to know them where 1 of them is a Vietnamese girl who was born and raised in Sydney but currently living in London for the past 5 years with her British female friend also from London. We exchanged information on places we have been as they started from the south while I started from Hanoi and it was a good talk. We ended up talking until about 8.30pm before we called it a night since they were also tired from the train ride they took the night before from Hanoi to Lao Cai.

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Sunday (15/12/2019) - Today, we had breakfast at 8am before checking out of the homestay. We went to check out the famous Bac Ha Sunday market. By the time we reached to this market, it was just 8.45am and the people (both the locals and tourists) had also just arrived at the market. This market is more bigger than Cancau market but this market is more catered towards foreign tourists whereas Cancau market is catered for the the local ethnic people's needs.

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The things sold in this market are quite similar to those in Cancau market but with more choices. There were more animals sold here than in Cancau market and they were spread out according to the items. The buffalo area was across the river and very crowded so we did not go and check out until the end. By the time we went around the whole market, it was already 10am and getting hot.

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So we head on to Ha Giang (pronounced as Hazang by Vietnamese). It was a long drive so 2 hours later, we stopped by a sleepy town to have lunch before heading on.

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We finally reached to Ha Giang 2 hours later, but before we checked into the hotel, we went to Thon Tha Village, belonging to the Tay ethnic. The houses are different from the Hmong and Black Thai ethnic and the environment is pretty clean since it was selected as a tourism culture village so that tourists can go there and stay. Since it is a small village and there was nothing much to do other than looking at the scenery, we then went to Ha Giang town to stay for the night.

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This town is pretty quiet and the area around Royal Hotel where I was staying was surrounded by buildings but you can hardly see people on the street. This is the first time I saw a cat at the hotel as it was just sitting on the sofa while I was waiting to check in. Since it was still early and Mr Bien had arrange to have dinner at 6.30pm, I had time to relax. While waiting, I heard the cat crying outside my door and when I opened the door, it had just came up from the stairs. So I let it in and apparently, this cat is living in this hotel and is very used to people since it made itself comfortable on my bed. Unfortunately I had to let it out when it was time to go out for dinner.

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We just walked by foot since the town was not very big. There were not many cars on the road and only few people walking like us. After searching for a place to eat, we finally settle for 1 restaurant where there were a lot of people eating. Outside the restaurant just by the roadside, a lady was selling a Vietnamese sweet dessert called che troi nuoc or what we call tang yuan in Chinese which is basically glutinous rice balls filled with mung bean paste. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel and went to sleep since we will have a long car ride tomorrow.

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Monday (16/12/2019) - Today after breakfast, we started our journey to Dong Van. After 1 hour, we reached to Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark which consist of a lot of rocky mountains. Due to the rocky nature of the mountains, there were not many villages around as people find it hard to grow anything here. Dong Van consist of 4 districts which is Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh and Quan Ba.

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As we pass through the Quan Ba Pass, we reached to the highest point of Quan Ba district which is known as Quan Ba Heaven Gate to take the view of the winding road through the rocky mountain. I did not get car sick like when we went to Benguet in June this year but with all the winding curves, it just makes you sleepy so I slept. 30 mins later, we saw the famous Quan Ba Twin Mountains (also known as Fairy Mountains or Fairies breasts).

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We then stop at Lung Cam village, a famous village in Dong Va, located in the Sung La Valley. There are 3 ethnic groups living here which are the Hmong, Lo Lo and Han. This village is made famous when one of the house was used to shoot the award-winning movie 'Story of Pao'. There are altogether 61 households living in this village. Tourists always stop by this village to check out the house of Pao.

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1.5 hours later, we stopped at a restaurant to eat which was good so that we can take a break from the winding roads. I didn't eat much though as I only had 1 bowl of rice and already felt full. It must be because of the heavy head from all the curves.

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After lunch, we head on again to Sa Phin, a tiny village in Dong Van to see Vuong's castle. Vuong was the leader of the Hmongs living in Dong Van. The house costed 150 billion VND (US$7.5 million today) back in the days when it was built in 1919 to 1928. The 2 storey "castle" has Chinese architectural design with terracotta tiles for the roof and ironwood that came from Yunnan for the pillars and roof beams since it was built by skillful craftsmen from Yunnan along with the best of the Hmong workers. Now the house is already 112 years old and is still standing.

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From the castle, we then head to Lung Cu flag border which is located at the last frontier of northern Vietnam. 3.3km away from this flag tower is Yunnan (China) border. From the car park there are 400 steps upwards to the tower which was built on top of Rong Mountain but since it was getting late, we took the electric car instead to at least 3/4 of the way already. Then we had to climb some more steps before reaching to the tower.

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The 30m flag tower with the large Vietnamese flag flying with the strong wind blowing looks very impressive. There were a lot of local as well as foreign tourists wanting to see the last frontier of Vietnam. The 360 view from the top of the tower will reward your effort of climbing up those steps. You can see the mountain areas of Yunnan which look so close by yet so far. A new temple is in the process of being constructed near to this tower. We did not spend too long at Lung Cu flag tower as we had to get back before it got dark since the driver was not familiar with the winding stony road.

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By the time we reached to Hoa Cuong Hotel in Dong Van 1.5 hour later, it was already dark even though it was just 6pm. We rested for a while before heading out for dinner at 7pm. Dinner was typical Vietnamese cuisine.

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After that we went and checked out the expo which was the same one as we went to see in Bac Ha. However, since this time we went at night, there were singing performance and Mr Bien said we must go and see because it is the one and only singing entertainment in the mountain province. Not many people bought the stuff at the expo but the locals just sat on the chairs and tables provided to enjoy the singing while drinking beer and eating some snacks on sticks. We stayed there until like about 9.30pm before heading back to the hotel.

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Tuesday (17/12/2019) - Today after breakfast, we left Dong Van to Cao Bang at around 8.30am. It was going to be another long drive through mountains and winding roads again. However, unlike yesterday, the roads were in much better condition even though there were not many villages. On the way, we stopped by Ma Pi Leng pass before heading on to Bao Lac. Since it was a long drive, we stopped 1.5 hours later when we saw a small roadside market for the nearby villages just to stretch our legs. 1 hour later after reaching Bao Lac, we stopped to have lunch as there were no other places to eat after that. It was so boring with nothing much to see or do that the only thing to do in the car was just sleeping.

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We finally reached Cao Bang city and checked into Sunny Hotel at 4.20pm. That's about 6+ hours of driving on the road. After taking a shower and resting for a while, we head out to have dinner at 6.30pm near to the market. The weather was not that cold compared to the other places and the wind was just cool. Fortunately, there were no more long drives after today.

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Wednesday (18/12/2019) - Today was more of a relaxing day as we only have 2 places to go. After breakfast, we head to Ban Gioc waterfall. On the way, we stopped by at Phuoc Sen village belonging to the Lung ethnic people who are blacksmiths. They make knifes and swords out of used car steels as well tin. I just bought a rectangle shaped knife which is not found in Brunei. The stainless steel chopping knife is very good quality and very heavy but quite expensive as they cost 200,000 VND (about B$12.50) and the knife i bought cost 100,000VND (B$6.25) which is considered pretty expensive for a small cutting knife.

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We finally arrived at Ban Gioc waterfall 1 hour later and the view was magnificent. Located on the Quay Son river between the border of China (Daxin County, Guangxi) and Vietnam (Cao Bang province) Ban Gioc waterfall is the 4th largest waterfall in the world along an international border. It consist of 2 waterfalls and with a height of 30m and 300m wide, Ban Gioc waterfall is the widest waterfall in the whole of Vietnam.

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Since this waterfall is half in Vietnam and half in China, tourists from both countries can go on the bamboo rafts to the base of the waterfalls but no one is allowed to step foot on the opposite side of the land where they came from. There were a lot of tourists on both the Vietnamese and China side. After taking photos on land, we went for the 15 minute boat ride towards the waterfall and passing near China land. It was fun and interesting and I'm glad that it's worth the long hours of boring car rides just to get here.

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After Ban Gioc waterfall, we went for lunch first before going up Phat Tich Truc Lam Ban Gioc pagoda, located on Phia Nham mountain which is only 500m away from Ban Gioc waterfall. There was no one at the temple except for us since the road leading up to the temple was quite steep.
From aerial view, one can see that the main Ban Gioc waterfall consist of 3 levels.

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After taking enough photos of the magnificient Ban Gioc waterfall, we head to Nguom Ngao Cave. Nguom Ngao Cave was named by the Tay ethnic community which means cave of tigers in their language since the cave was inhabited by ferocious tigers in the past. This cave was discovered in 1921 and is considered as one of the most beautiful caves in Vietnam. It is over 2 km long but only the first 1km is open to visitors. This limestone cave is filled with stalactites and stalagmites that is formed by an underground river thousands of years ago. After visiting the cave, we head back to Cao Bang city.

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By the time we got back to the hotel, it was 5pm so we rested until 6.30pm before heading out for dinner. We couldn't decide what to eat at first so after walking for some distance and checking out the eateries, we finally decided to head back near to our hotel as there was a roadside hotpot stall. It had just open for business as they do not open during day time since people have to side on the walkway. So after we sat down and ordered out hotpot, more and more people came and ate also. I had not realise that Vietnamese also eat fertilized duck eggs like the Filipinos until the driver asked me whether if I wanted it before he ate it. In the Philippines, it is call "balut", in Vietnam, it is called hot vit lon. You tend to see unexpected things in unexpected places.

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Thursday (19/12/2019) - Today we started off at 9am to Lang Son. I noticed that there was no sun at all and the sky looked gloomy. The weather was comfortable but colder than before and Mr Bien said a new cold front wind had just arrived from China so it will be drizzling and gloomy for the next few days. I am glad that the weather was mostly clear and sunny during most part of my journey around northern Vietnam and we have covered the important places before the rain came or else it would just spoil all the photos.

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2.5 hours later, we reached to Tan Thanh border gate and had lunch there before checking out the border. This Vietnamese border leads to Guangxi province and unlike the other borders we have been before, the shops in the China border starts just next to the China custom. On the Vietnamese side, there were a lot of shops just before the border doing wholesale business of clothes, shoes, electronics and appliances from China.

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After checking out the custom border, we walked to Tan Thanh Pagoda which is 550m away from the custom border. On the way, we saw people packing stuffs which was bought in bulks into a bus which will be transported to the buyer elsewhere in Vietnam. That is how big wholesale business is at Tan Thanh border. There was also a new mall building being constructed not far from the temple where the wholesalers are supposed to move from their existing place in the future.

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Since we were the only ones at the temple, we only heard the sound made by the wind chimes which was very serene. After going around to check different halls of the temple, the local Vietnamese tourists started to arrive and made a lot of noise. So we walked back to the wholesale market area and checked the things they sell. I bought working socks which only cost 30,000 VND for 10 pairs which is less than B$1.85 where as in Brunei, 3 pairs already cost double the price.

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On the way to Lang Son city, we stopped at control post going towards Dong Dang border gate but we were not allowed to go further as it was only for cargo trucks to pass through. So we went on and reached to Huu Nghi (Friendship Pass) International border gate. This gate is the most popular crossing where the Vietnamese go to China (Pingxiang, Guangxi) and and the Chinese come into Vietnam. I am surprised that this border is like going through an airport as there were scanners to scan whatever the people want to bring across before they walk by foot to go across the China border. Surprisingly, there is also a duty free shop on the way towards the border but not many people go in there as they were rushing to cross to China.

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We were able to walk until the border line which separate Vietnam from China. Apparently, we were not the only visitors who were not crossing the border as there were also visitors from China side who just wanted to look at the border stone. This is the closest border that I have been to throughout this journey as I finally put my foot into China without having to go through the customs. So many chances to cross into China but yet I didn't do so as it was not part of my plan but it was interesting to see and know the different borders and see modern China buildings.

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30 mins later, we reached to Then and now Homestay in the city. It has a very small compound and it is a very narrow 3 storey house. It was not too bad as I had one of the private room while Mr Bien and the driver stayed in the dorm style room. However, the only problem is that there was nothing much to do. We decided to do the night market tonight even though we have nothing much plan for tomorrow since we did all the border gates today. But since the weather was going to be cold for the next few days, tomorrow night would probably be even colder! The room I am staying in was already getting cold even around 4.30pm. We had our dinner at the homestay at 6.30pm and we had to share the table with 3 other guests who were also staying there.

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We then head out to Kylua night market. It was not far from our homestay so we walked by foot. The building looks like a typical Asian wet market but instead of selling vegetables, fruits or fish, they were selling clothes on the 1st floor and electronics on the ground floor. There were not many people shopping there, probably because the locals shop in other places for these stuff. On the way back to our homestay, I stopped at a 24 hour mart and checked out their milk section and guess what I came across! Durian yoghurt and they only cost less than B$1.83 for a set of 4! The taste of Mongthong was delicious and I wish I could buy them back to Brunei but that would not be possible as I will be staying overnight in Singapore before going back to Brunei. I never imagine that there would be durian flavoured yoghurt before. I should try to make it one day.

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Friday (20/12/2019) - Today is going to be a relaxing day as we have covered all the places listed on the itinerary. So after breakfast, we started walking from the homestay at 9am. Fortunately there was no sun so the weather was cloudy and cool. We walked to Di Tich Nui Phai Ve, the flag tower in Lang Son. It is not as tall as the Lung cu flag tower in Ha Giang but on the top, we could see the whole 360° view of Lang son city.

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Then we went to Dong Kinh market where they sell electronics on the ground floor, shoes on 1st floor and clothes on the 2nd floor. There were some interesting stuff they sell but the price they set is high so you need to bargain. The women's winter coats were fashionable as they came from China but not much use in Brunei unless you travel to cold countries. Mr Bien ended up buying a leather jacket.

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Then we walked to Nhi Thanh cave which is pretty big but the sewage smell is also pretty strong since the drainage from the city goes to the river which flows through this cave. The cave is pretty empty compared to the Nguom Ngao cave in Cao Bang. The only thing nice about it was that they put in coloured lights along the way so it looks very nice in the dark.

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Since it was almost lunch time, we decided to have lunch first and waited for our driver to join us before we head on to Nhi Tam Thanh. Nhi Tam Thanh is another cave where the Vietnamese go and pray to the mountain Gods. This cave is much bigger and cleaner than Nhi Thanh cave as there was no flowing river so there was no sewage smell.

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Then we went to see the human shaped To Thi mother statue carrying her baby at To Thi Mountain which has a legend of the wife and child waiting for her husband to come back until she turned into a rock. In order to see this statue, we had to walk through the remnants of the Mac Dynasty fortress which is a big area with few mountains. We walked to one of the mountains with steps because we thought it would lead to the To Thi mother statue and climbed the endless steps. Instead when we reached to the top, we saw another part of Lang Son city. Oh well, it was a good workout after all the eating throughout the trip.

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Then as we walked back towards the remnants of the Mac Dynasty fortress, we decided to try the mountain near to it and true enough, there stand the human shaped To Thi mother statue carrying her baby from far. When we finally reached near to the statue, there was an incense burner for people to stick their burning joss stick after worshipping To Thi.

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Since it was still early, we decided to go back to Dong Kinh market again as the driver and Mr Bien wanted to look for something. There were some interesting things which I could buy like the fairy lights but I had to think of my luggage weight as I want to buy the Vietnamese white beans and do a bit of shopping in Singapore. The driver ended up buying a leather jacket, Mr Bien bought an Adidas track suit and both of them bought decorative lights to decorate for the new year celebration. After shopping, we went back to the homestay to rest before having our last dinner together since we will head back to Hanoi tomorrow.

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Saturday (21/12/2019) - Today we will travel to Hanoi so we left the homestay by 8am without having breakfast there as they take a long time to prepare it. After checking out, we head for a nearby eatery to have breakfast which is rice noodle with crab balls. I never have crab balls made of real crab meat before but it was so delicious! Today was such a gloomy rainy day. Fortunately, it only took us 3.5 hours to reach to Hanoi.

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Since we arrived to MayFlower hotel before noon time and the check in time is at 2pm, we left our luggage and started the street food tour while waiting for my room to be prepared. We walked to the Dong Xuan market first so that Mr Bien can show me the white beans I was looking for. It's not a big market but the whole place is very packed with stuffs inside. On the 1st floor, they sell clothes and textile while on the ground floor, there were souvenir section, dried food section, grain section and decorative section. Then as you head out of the market building, there were the wet market and vegetable area. After showing me where to get the beans and asking for the price, we then walked on around the old quarter area so that Mr Bien can show me what is around those area before heading towards Hoan Kiem lake.

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Around the Hoan Kiem lake, Mr Bien let me try the Vietnamese rice paper salad made with julienne green mango, peanuts, fresh mint, basil, rice paper strips, chili powder and dried beef jerky strips. I have to say that it's one of the most delicious dish that I have tried so far and it is very addictive actually! After snacking, Mr Bien showed me where to go and what to see along the way so that I can explore around on my own in the next few days.

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As we passed by one road, we stop to try fried snacks which was pretty similar to the ones in Brunei but different fillings. It's a very popular small shop where the place was packed with people having afternoon snack. Mr Bien ordered one of each fried stuffs which I have not tried throughout the trip.

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We then slowly walked towards the famous train street to see but now they have put notices that no tourists are supposed to walk or take photos on the train tracks and they have stopped the cafes from operating. As tourists, we can still walk at our own risk since there was no train passing by at that time but all the tour guides were waiting for their clients elsewhere as they would get into trouble if they are caught with the tourists. I would have to come back again on another day at 3pm to see the train passing by.

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Along the way, we stop to try the famous bun cha which is a must try for all tourists. Personally, the meat is a bit too sweet for me and I am not really into rice noodle so I still prefer pho over bun cha. At least I tried it though I wouldn't be ordering it again anytime soon.

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We then walked to the first National University of Vietnam called the Temple of Literature which followed the Confucius teachings. Built in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature became Vietnam's first national "university" at that time. This temple also conducted the Imperial Academy for those who want to become the Mandarins by passing the exam set by the king.. Although the original building has been destroyed by the American bombing, they have tried to built back similar structure but not entirely the same. You can also see the Turtle steles with the names of the people who passed the royal exams which was found during the excavations.

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After a lesson of history and since it was still early for dinner, we went back to the hotel to check in while waiting for Mr Bien to sort out his stuff. By about 5pm, we went out again and before dinner, we went to try the original egg coffee at Cafe Giang who was the inventor of this coffee. I am not a coffee drinker but this egg coffee is somewhat sweet and delicious. The only problem with this narrow cafe was that it was very packed with tourists on both floors and there is no windows at all so ventilation was very bad.

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Then we walked on to find dinner. It was probably a mistake to try the egg coffee first because I became full half way eating dinner. Then again, there was the woman frying food at the corner of our table so smoke was blowing to my face.

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After dinner, we went for sweet dessert. I had mango sticky rice with coconut ice cream which was not very sweet so it was just nice. Since Mr Bien had to go back home which is about 2 hours away, we split ways while I stayed around Hoan Kiem lake.

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There was an outdoor performance by a local group which seemed to be very famous among the youth. After watching the performance for a while and the Hoan Kiem lake at night, I decided to check out the famous Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Each day there are 5 regular show times so I decided to watch it on Monday at 5.20pm after going to the train street and at least I can have dinner around that area before going back to the hotel. I chose the Type 1 ticket which is close to the stage and apparently, there were only 2 seats left so I took the one in the middle but on the 4th row. For 200,000 dong, they also give a set of water puppet postcards.

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After that, I checked out the night market where they sold souvenirs, foods, bags, clothes, shoes, mobile covers, etc. I only bought table runners because in Cancau market, 1 table runner cost 300,000 VND (B$18.60) but here, the similar type of table runner only cost 150,000 VND (B$9.30) and I managed to bargain until 120,000 VND (B$7.40). Then when I decided to buy 3, I bargained some more so in the end, the seller agreed to 350,000 VND (B$21.65). After checking until the end of the night market, I walked back to the hotel. The decoration shops near to the hotel were selling Christmas decorations. If my luggage was not that full, I would have bought some of the nice decorations.

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Sunday (22/12/2019) - Today is my last tour with Mr Bien. We started the tour at 8.30am to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The queue was long but not too bad as it kept on moving. There were a lot of people, local and foreign tourists as well as school students coming to see Ho Chi Minh.

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Security was strict but I managed to take a few snapshots here and there. However, we were not allowed to take any picture of Ho Chi Minh inside. It was kind of eeire actually seeing a dead body of 50 years already still perfect like as if he is just sleeping with 4 guards guarding his glass coffin and the whole room was pitch black except for the lights inside the glass casing.

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After that we went around the complex to see the President Palace, Ho Chi Minh's House and the One Pillar pagoda. For the older generation, Ho Chi Minh will always live in their heart but to the new generation, he is not a significant figure to them anymore as they did not experience the hardship like the older generations.

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Since it was still early for lunch, we went to Vietnam Museum Of Ethnology first which was interesting because they talk about the 54 different ethnics in Vietnam. It's like a shortcut to learning all the ethnic groups if you don't have the time to go to the whole of Vietnam to learn about them and their culture.

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Before going to the Vietnamese Women Museum, we stopped at a restaurant around that area to have lunch first. After lunch, Mr Bien brought me to the museum and then we said out goodbyes. I stayed at the museum until almost 4pm. It's a nice museum even though it is small but the gallery is about Vietnamese women of different ethnic groups and their role at home and to their country.

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Then, I was planning to walk to the Opera House at first but after walking for a while and finding it a bit far, I decided to walk back to Dong Xuan market instead to get the white beans. As I walked towards Hoan Kiem lake, part of the road was already closed but this time, there were no stalls set up. I did not go around to this area last night so I found the famous Trang Tien Ice Cream. While eating and walking, people use the closed roads for children to drive toy cars around, people performaning on the street like dancing K-pop, playing games and just walking around taking photos.

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When I reached to Dong Xuan market, it was a bit after 5pm but everyone inside the market was already busy preparing to close. Even the stalls that sell grains have all closed. That means I have to go back tomorrow morning to get it or else I don't have anymore time to do so. I went around the market to check out the stuffs they were selling and as I walked out to the back part of the market, there were now more people selling fruits and vegetables on the road. After looking around, I slowly walked back to the hotel to rest a bit before coming out again to have dinner.

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I couldn't decide what to have for dinner but I wanted something western for a change. So I kept on walking towards the old quarter area until I came across a pizza restaurant and decided to try it. I thought I couldn't finish the 24 inch pizza but I did because the flour wasn't filling like Pizza Hut's crust. Delicious and not oily at all. After that, I slowly walk back to the hotel, passing by many night market stalls.

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Monday (23/12/2019) - Today I had no specific plan except to see the Water Puppet show at 5.20pm. So there was no rush. I came down to have breakfast after 8.30am and then went out to Dong Xuan market first to buy the white beans. Vietnamese people sure know how to hike the price for foreigners because when I went with Mr Bien on Saturday to search for it, the lady said it was 32,000 VND per kg. When I asked today, she said 50,000 VND per kg and she didn't want to reduce the price. So I tried my luck and ask another stall not far away. Fortunately the lady had the beans and was only selling it for 40,000 VND per kg. I only bought 4kg because it was heavy and my luggage was already heavy. I had to go back to the hotel to pack the beans and all my stuff since I have changed my room to city view suite which is bigger than the deluxe room.

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After sorting out all my stuff, I went out to try the famous Banh Mi 25. It was not really expensive. 1 baguette sandwich with drinks costed less than B$2. I forgot how crispy the Vietnamese baguette is on the outside!.

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After that i wanted to see the ancient Hanoi house but checked that it is probably closed for lunch so I decided to go to Hoan Kiem lake first just to kill time before going back to the ancient house. On the way, I stopped by St Joseph's Cathedral just to take photos of the huge Christmas tree and decorations like the other tourists and locals. We couldn't go inside the church as it was not open.

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I was thinking of having lunch but I was still half full so I decided to have it later. Instead, I went and checked out Trang Tien Plaza which house all of the branded goods. Pretty pricey and not many shoppers.

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Then I came across the statue of Ly Thai To near to Hoan Kiem lake which I didn't notice yesterday even though I walked by that road as it was slightly blocked by trees near the roadside and it is not located exactly right next to the road. Ly Thai To was the first emperor of Vietnam from 972 - 1028 who founded the first dynasty in 1009.

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After that, I walked back to the old quarter and looked for the ancient house. I actually missed it and had to go back because the house were in between all the shops and it was not very obvious. It's a small house with 1 living room and 1 bedroom on the 1st floor. On the ground floor, there is the living room, tea area, kitchen and bedroom. The design and furniture reminded me of ancient China.

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Then I decided to walk to Train street, this time to Le Duan train street instead of the one nearer to the lake. From the ancient house it was about half hour walk so I was rushing to reach there before 3pm as there was supposed to be a train passing by at that time. Unfortunately after the long walk, we were not even allowed to go and walk in the lane between the railway track. What a waste of time! So I had to walk back towards the lake and have my late lunch at McDonald's.

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By 5pm, I slowly walked toward Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre and reached there at almost 5.20pm. They had just started a bit and because my seat was in the center row and there were people already, I had to sit at the end of the row instead. Oh well, at least the puppets were entertaining. After the show, I went to find place to eat and then go back to the hotel as soon as possible since I have to pack all my stuff for tomorrow's trip to Halong bay.

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Tuesday (24/12/2019) - Today, I was the first one to be picked up for the Halong Bay Cruise. After picking up people from various hotels and the Opera House, we finally head towards Halong Bay at 9am. Our young guide is called Dwe (pronounced as Zwe). It was a foggy day in Hanoi so we couldn't even see both sides of the bridge as we passed a river. Hopefully the sky would be clear in Halong Bay. Going to Halong Bay was at least 3 hours drive. 1 hour later, we stopped at Hong Ngoc Shopping Centre for toilet break and stretching our legs. There was a disability handicraft center which provide free vocational training and job creation for people with disabilities.They make embroidery, clothing, ornamental carving, lacquer, ceramic, gemstones and jewelry. At the back of the handicraft area is a small shop selling overpriced Vietnamese food, coffee and imported snacks. There is also a restaurant as well. After 25 minutes break, we head on to Halong Bay.

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There are 2 piers at Halong Bay. The old pier are for smaller day trip boats whereas the second pier is newer and for big boats which do overnight trips. We had to wait for the captain to register all of us before we could leave the pier. Then we got on a tender boat which brought us to the Royal Palace Cruise ship.

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We had a warm welcome from the crews of the boat. While waiting for the boat to move, we were given a welcome drink and we checked out the boat. I didn't recognise the boat from far because in the photos, it looks like a junk boat but this is because they didn't let the sail down today. Hopefully they will do it tomorrow. I paid US$180 for a single cabin ocean view so it was on the second floor which has a better view. I saw a bigger room on the first floor with a small living room which was definitely more expensive than mine.

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At 1pm, lunch was served so we sat together in groups. I got to know a very nice couple, Laurie who is from Wales and Benard from Switzerland but they live in London. There is also Dominic and Crystal, both Filipinos who live in Washington. We were too busy eating lunch and talking even though we saw a lot of beautiful limestone mountains as the boat sailed on. We were then told that we will be going for kayaking at 3pm so we had to change since we will get wet. I was thinking twice whether to do it or not since it normally requires 2 person. Since Laurie was too tired from their 12km walk in Sapa yesterday and Benard wanted to do kayaking so that he could take photos, I ended up doing it with him.

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The tender boat sent us to the kayak area which is also a pearl farm. We didn't see how the pearls were cultivated as we headed straight for kayaking. It was fun and relaxing but you get tiring arms of course. We managed to paddle and take photos which was nice. Then we head back to the ship and rested for a while as the boat head to Titop island.

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Ti Top island was named by Ho Chi Minh after the Russian cosmonaut Gherman Titov who visited this island with him in 1962. This island has a man made beach and facilities which you can rent like snorkeling gears, deck chairs, food and drinks. To reach to the view point of the mountain, one has to climb about 450 steps. The climb up to the top was worth the aerial view of Halong Bay. After taking enough photos, we slowly head down and waited for the captain and male guests to stop playing football before we head back to Royal Palace cruise.

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We were given time to take a shower before dinner at 7pm. Once again, there were different choices of food. Since in was Christmas eve, after dinner, Dwe introduced a game called the cucumber game. This game involves a cucumber being tied at the waist in front of you and the goal is to use the cucumber to knock down a can of beer while being blindfolded. Only 1 sporting teenager boy tried it out, which was funny but this game turned off a number of people so some of them left even though the winning price was alcohol.

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Since no one wanted to play the cucumber game anymore even after Dwe showed how it was done, the program for the night turned to singing karaoke. An Australian mom and daughter sang Dancing Queen but after that, since no one else wanted to sing, Dwe had to sing an English and a Vietnamese song. By 8.30pm, we decided to head in to sleep because no one was interested in playing the cucumber game nor singing.

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Since it was still early to go to bed, some of them tried out squid fishing. I went to see how it is done but after a while of waiting for someone to catch one as I have never seen a live squid being caught before with a fishing rod, no one got lucky so I went to my cabin to relax. Our boat was quiet as I could hear music blasting from other boats celebrating Christmas. We were tired anyway and we also have to wake up early for breakfast tomorrow at 6.45am.

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Wednesday (25/12/2019) - Today, I woke up before 6am and I could have joined or watched tai chi if I wanted to but since it was still dark, I went back to sleep. By 6.05am, when it was slightly brighter, I woke up and got ready for breakfast that was served at 6.45am. After breakfast, we got ready to visit the Surprising Cave which is the most beautiful cave in Halong Bay. It was bigger than the cave in Cao Bang and there were a lot of shapes formed by the limestones. Dwe told us the reason why this cave is called Surprising Cave is because when we look at the shapes formed by the limestones, we would be surprised and be amazed by them which is pretty true. I could see all of the shapes ranging from dinosaur, a lady washing her hair, hanging legs, etc but of course it requires your mind to be imaginative also or else you will just see it as eroded rocks.

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After heading back to Royal Palace Cruise, we got ready for check-out. After checking out, we just relax around and talk while waiting for the cooking demonstration. Dwe showed us how to make Vietnamese spring roll before we had our lunch. For westerners, they find it interesting as they have never done it before.

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Christmas brunch was special. They have stuffed crab which was delicious and western food. Then we settled our bill and just waited for noon time where we will be sent back to the harbour.

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After arriving at the harbour, we had to wait for our bus to pick us up. On the way back, we stopped at Hong Ngoc Shopping Centre again. This time I bought a Vietnamese made green tea and red bean Taiyaki ice cream. It was just nice as it is not sweet at all. Then we continued our journey back to Hanoi where they started to drop off each one of us.

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It was nice to be back at the hotel. I did my final packing before going out for dinner. I decided to have dinner at the pizza restaurant I ate a few days earlier and on the way, I stopped by St. Joseph's Cathedral since it was Christmas day. The place was packed with locals and tourists and they have opened the church this time so that people can go in. I went in to see the interior and there was a choir group practicing even though there was no service at that time. After taking photos, I head on and went to the pizza place. It wasn't as crowded as few days before and after a family left, it was only me alone in the restaurant. It was nice to have the whole place to myself since I was sitting on the first floor looking down to the street and just seeing people walking by as it's my last night in Hanoi.

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Thursday (26/12/2019) - Today, I am flying back to Singapore and my flight is at noon time. My complimentary airport transfer provided by Madam Moon Guesthouse came and picked me up. The airport was pretty small with not many things to see nor do. The shops selling souvenirs were also small and things were pretty expensive since they were sold in USD.

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The plane finally landed in Singapore at 5.15pm. Since I did not have any luggage to bring out with me except for a hand carry bag for just an overnight stay, I headed straight to the place where I will be staying for the night. It was my first time using the MRT from the airport all the way to the city. With no luggage to drag, it was convenient and cheap but it takes up to an hour to reach your destination because of many stops . After checking in, I head out to look for the shop I was targeting to get some stuff from before I went to Burger King to have a quick dinner. I wanted to go to Tangs and Isetan but by the time I reached to Orchard Road, they had already closed so I just walked around Orchard Road and checked out the Christmas decorations before heading back to the hotel since my flight is very early the next morning.

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Friday (27/12/2019): After waking up at 5am to get ready to go to the airport by 5.30am, it was a bit annoying to find out that the flight had been delayed 1 hour later when I checked in at the airport. On the other hand, it was a good thing because I was thinking of checking out Jewel. Unfortunately without much research, I thought Jewel could be accessed after we checked in but it turned out that it could only be accessed before checking in by going to Terminal 1. They should have put more signs so that people would know but I found out that I was not the only one who made this mistake. Since I had 2 hours to wait, I moved from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 and then to Terminal 1 before coming back to Terminal 2 just to check out all the shops. We finally left for Brunei and arrived at 10.50am.

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Overall, this trip has been a very long journey on the road, travelling about 3,416km from Hanoi and all the way back to Hanoi again. It has been a very interesting experience especially staying in mountainous areas where you get to see different ethnic people, learn about different cultures, see things which is not usual for you and the serene, peaceful boat cruise around Halong bay. It was also interesting to see all the borders going to neighbouring countries of Vietnam. What I miss most is the cool weather (not the freezing damp ones) where you don't even sweat at all while walking and the clear blue sky of Fanispan! Next trip to Vietnam would be to the central part.

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Posted by Lingering 08:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Manila-Cebu-Bohol

From one island to another

Sunday (26/5/2019) - Today, I flew off to Manila on the 11.15am flight from Brunei using Royal Brunei Airlines. We landed at Manila airport at 2.05pm and I had made arrangement with Sarah and Jake to pick me up from the airport as we were heading straight to Baguio. It will be at least 4 hours drive depending on how bad the traffic is on the highway. On the way to Baguio, we stopped by Jinky's place to have dinner where Jake's mother who just came back from Hong Kong was also there. The home cooked meal was simple but delicious. Then we continued on with our journey and arrived to the apartment where we will be staying for the night around 9pm. Weather in Baguio was very cool where the temperature was 25.7 °C even though there was no air conditioner in the apartment and the windows were not opened. Since we had to wake very early tomorrow, everyone went to bed early.

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Monday (27/5/2019) - Today, we woke up as early as 4am to prepare for our trip to Mount Pulag. We had to go to Jollibee to be picked up by the driver organised by Tripinas at 5.30am. Since we were going to stay overnight at Mount Pulag, Jake managed to talk to the security guard of the apartment and we left his car there while we used a taxi to go to the pick up place. It was a good thing that taxis in Baguio is unlike those in Manila as the taxi drivers here use their meter so they do not cheat passengers. Initially, we thought we would be the only ones going up Mount Pulag since it wa a working day but when we reached to the pick up area, we saw quite a number of people with their backpacks, waiting for their transport to go to Mount Pulag also. When the driver came, we had the whole van to ourselves which was good because we had a lot of space. However, the driver drove very fast along the winding roads and I thought I was the only one who was having car sickness. It turned out that Sarah and Jake also felt the same and the good thing was none of us vomited in the car. The driver initially stopped at a simple eatery place but Jake told him to moved on until we stopped later at another eatery.

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The scenery at the second eatery where we stopped to eat was very serene and the wind was cool even though it was a sunny day, just like the last time I was here back in 2017. A lot of people going to Mount Pulag were also having their breakfast here. After we have settled down and getting ready to eat our breakfast, I asked Sarah and Jake how come they didn't get car sick because I almost felt like vomiting which I did not experience before when we used the same road from Banuae to Sagada, then finally to Baguio the last time I was in the Philippines. Then both of them told me that they also felt like vomiting which was why Sarah was sleeping and Jake was lucky because he had moved to the front seat halfway when the driver stopped for a while at the roadside so he didn't feel the effect as bad as us at the back.

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After breakfast, according to the itinerary given by Tripinas, we were supposed to go to Ambuklao dam and the hanging bridge but the driver told us that the dam was was closed on that day. Instead, we just went to Badekbek (Declan) sulfur spring. I have been to volcanic areas with sulfur before in Indonesia but I have never seen bubbling sulfuric muddy hot spring before. There is still a lot of development that can be made for this sulfur spring area to generate income for the local community. Basically they already have a small pool for the hot spring since it is believed that the hot water from the spring have some therapeutic effects but unfortunately, it was not maintained at all and there is only 1 hut for people to rest.

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In order for a person to be allowed to go up Mount Pulag, a medical certificate is required which was like when we went up to Mount Semeru in Indonesia. Since none of us had that medical certificate, the driver stopped by at a small house "clinic" with a small souvenir area for us to get it. There were only 2 ladies doing the check up where the first lady took our blood pressure and blood oxygen saturation and then the other lady looked through our readings and listened to our heart beat and breathing. After we got our medical certificate, we head to the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) registration office where the driver registered us and we had to listen to a briefing about Mount Pulag as well as what we were not allowed to do there. We were also shown pictures taken at the summit where the sea of clouds were just amazing and we were also hoping that we could see the same thing tomorrow.

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After the briefing, we drove to Babadak Ranger Station where we were dropped off at SJ Homestay, one of the houses along this road leading to Mount Pulag. This is a very quiet road with only few houses and small sari-sari stores to cater for the basic needs of the hikers. Since we arrived before noon time, we had to wait for our room to be ready. So we just stood outside the house and enjoy the peaceful scenery while watching people who were going to stay overnight at the camp site along the Ambangeg trail pass by. Even though it was noon time, the temperature was only 20.2 °C and the wind was cold as the sky was getting cloudy. After our room was ready for us, we put our stuff in the room and then ate lunch cooked by a local lady. Due to the cold weather, they put ginger slices in the pork with cabbage soup which was just nice. After lunch, we decided to head out for a walk just to check out the trail leading to Mount Pulag.

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It was already cloudy by the time we started walking but the weather was still cool. The road was not too bad but because of the previous rain, there were parts where the road was muddy. There was nothing much to see and not many houses as we walked further except vegetable farms. Since there wasn't much to do, we decided to just sit by the side of the road and just enjoy the beautiful and peaceful scenery around us. Then the hikers started passing by us. Jake was able to ask them how it was and they said they were not lucky enough to see the sea of clouds this morning. Although the weather was getting dark by now, we still hope that we would be able to see the sea of clouds (fingers crossed). After that we head back down towards Babadak Ranger station. There were a few small sari sari stores and a small eatery but nothing else. So in the end, we just sat at the roadside and ate chips while people watching.

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Since there wasn't anything else to do and it was still early, we decided to head back to the homestay and prepare our backpack for the hike. By 3pm, it started to rain pretty heavy and visibility was very bad. Inside our room, after packed my stuff for the hike, I decided to take a shower which took so long because the water was so freezing cold and the water heater was not consistent. Then I also took a short nap like Jake and Sarah and woke up not long after as the homestay were getting noisy with new guests.

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As we waited for our dinner to be served at 6pm, the rain had stop but the temperature had gone down to 18.4 °C. Our dinner was cooked by a village lady and she brought it over to our homestay. The hot chicken soup cooked with potatoes and pumpkin soup was just right for the cold weather. By 7pm, we were preparing to sleep as we need to wake up by midnight. By then, the temperature in our room had already dropped to 17.5 °C.

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Tuesday (28/5/2019) - We woke up at midnight while everyone else in the homestay were still sleeping. After waking up, we prepared ourselves and our female guide had already arrived early with our simple breakfast which consisted of a cup noodle, a hard boiled egg and a peanut butter sandwich for each of us. The temperature outside the homestay was 13.3 °C. By 1.03am, we started walking in the dark. At first it was hard because there were puddles of water everywhere and the wind was wet and cold. I had also stopped hiking for quite a while so my stamina had gone down a lot. As we kept on walking, another group caught up with us and we all just walked in silence, just concentrating on our steps on the uneven ground where some parts were just flooded with water.

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We kept on walking until we reached to a hut for a short break and for whoever needed to use the toilet. After a short rest which Sarah needed, we continued on towards camping ground 2. There were few campers sleeping there in their tents and I was wondering how they could sleep and stand the cold wind blowing through their tent since it was already quite cold inside our homestay which was situated at a lower altitude than where we were at the moment. We took a longer rest here since our pace was not bad as we already reach camping ground 2 in 2 hours only. After using the toilet which is the open air type with just bamboo walls and no door at all for privacy but with only 1 small hole to do your business like at Mount Semeru. Good thing there was one for men and one for women.

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After half an hour of rest, we head on towards the summit. We finally reached to the summit at 4.52am and we were the first few to arrive there. Even though it was still dark, the sun rays were slowly breaking out from the horizon and we could see the sea of clouds even though they were far away. 3 of us were so happy and grateful that we were lucky today compared to those who went up the day before. As time passed, more and more people arrived at the summit. While we waited for the sun to rise, we had to take shelter in between the dwarf bamboo plants because at a temperature of 11.3 °C on an elevation of 2,926m in open area, the wind was freezing cold that everyone had to wear gloves. When the sun finally rose, the view was just amazing that it was indescribable. I am glad that Jake told me about Mount Pulag or else I would have not experience and see the beautiful view.

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After taking enough photos. we started heading down at 6am before the weather got too hot. During day time, it was easier to see the trail and avoid puddles of water. It was also interesting to see what we have actually passed through in the dark and I didn't realise that all those short plants along the way at the sides of the trail were the dwarf bamboo plants. There were also not many trees and the grasses were pretty short. When we reached to camping ground 2, everyone who came down from the summit were resting there. We didn't rest long there as it was already getting hot so we kept on walking non-stop until we reached to the resting hut. By then Sarah was already tired and our bags were getting heavier and heavier. Since we were already getting hungry, we decided not to stop at all if possible so that we could reach to our homestay as fast as possible. By 8.30am, we have finally arrived at our homestay and we had to wash our shoes because it was so muddy. After taking a shower, we packed our stuff and went to one of the shop to buy Mount Pulag t-shirt for our souvenir since we still had time before we leave.

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We decided to leave by 11.30am and Jake told the driver that we will not have lunch until we arrive to Baguio which was a very good decision because when we came to Mount Pulag, he was driving very fast that we all got car sick. Now on the way back to Baguio, he drove even faster than when we came like as if we were in a Formula 1 race and Jake kept on talking to him so that he would slow down but no such luck. So Sarah and I used this opportunity to catch up on our sleep. After we reached back to the petrol station in Baguio where we were picked up, we quickly ordered Jollibee for our lunch and head back to the apartment where we stayed before we left for Mount Pulag to get Jake's car. We then head to another apartment where we will be staying for the night before we go back to Manila since all of us needed to catch up on our sleep. After settling down, we took a nap before heading out for dinner in the evening. For dinner, we went to one of the popular restaurants which serve mainly Chinese style meals and after that, we head to the Baguio Craft Brewery just to try out their beer since it is one of the recommended things to do in Baguio. We could have a taste of which beer we felt like we wanted to have first before ordering it. We tasted a few and most of them were bitter even though they have various taste so in the end, Sarah and I ordered the sweeter tasting fruit beer flavour while Jake ordered one of the India Pale Ale flavour as well as beef nachoes and chicken quesadillas just to munch on. By 10pm, we call it a night and went back to the apartment to sleep.

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Wednesday (29/5/2019) - Today we left to Baguio at 8am to head back to Manila. After a while on the road, we stopped halfway at a roadside carinderia to have our brunch since the journey from Baguio to Manila takes about 4.5 hours depending on the traffic. Although the food was simple, it was tasty and Jake ordered a bowl of clam soup which was pretty cheap considering it is only about B$1.50. Then we drove on to Pangasinan to stop by at Jake's house to take some thing before we finally continue on to Manila.

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Traffic was pretty bad going into Manila and we only arrived into the city at 4pm. Before sending me to Shell Residence, we went and had our late lunch since Jake said I must try kare-kare which all along I though it is curry so I didn't bother to actually try it when I was in Philippines the first time. On the way to Shell Residence, we passed by Shores Residence. Now all the shops on the ground floor of the 2 separate blocks were fully in business while a year ago, these spaces were still under construction. Since I am going to Cebu tomorrow, I quickly went over to Mall of Asia after doing my laundry to do some window shopping and also to have dinner.

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Thursday (30/5/2019) - Today I am supposed to meet up with Albert and Hazel at the airport to catch our flight to Cebu at 12pm. However, due to delay from their side, I only met up with them after 1.30pm. After checking in, we waited for our flight using Cebu Pacific and managed to catch a simple snack for our lunch since we decided to have it in Cebu instead. When we arrived at Cebu airport, we quickly catch a taxi to go to Lapu Lapu city to find the Tarmong coffee shop which specialise in making Tarsier shaped bread with white bean paste filling. Each tarmong bread cost 100 peso which is pricey for the locals but it is a very unique souvenir. After sitting down to have their bun and tasting their beverage, we then head to Express Inn Cebu in Mabolo for our accommodation.

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On the way to the hotel, we saw that SM City Cebu was just walking distance from where we will be staying. After settling in and putting our stuff in the room, we headed out to SM City Cebu to check out the stores there. For dinner, we ate at Tokyo Tokyo which serve Japanese food and they also sell cucumber lemonade and I have to say that it is very tasty. After dinner, we head back to our hotel and rested as we were going to be picked up as early as 5.30am the next day.

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Friday (31/5/2019) - The pick up time was supposed to be at 5.30am so we checked out and waited. We waited and waited and eventually a van pulled up in front of the hotel but no one came to us so we were not sure whether if they were supposed to pick us up. After a while of waiting, the driver then came down and asked if we were following the join in tour. So much for being on time. We were the second last group to be picked up so the best seats were already taken while the rest of the seats were so uncomfortable with no head rest at all. We drove about 2 hours before the driver stopped at a roadside carinderia where there were also other join-in vans already there. It was so hot even though it was just slightly over 7am as we were next to the sea. After everyone had their tummy filled and changed to their swimming clothes, we head on for our first activity. We took a boat ride to Pescador island to do snorkeling. The water was very blue and doesn't taste salty at all. Since the water was very calm, it was easy to swim and see the fishes as well as the corals underwater. Dolphin watching was on the itinerary but it was not done during our trip, probably because it wasn't the dolphin season.

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Then we head on to Panagsama beach to experience the sardine run. I would have to say doing the sardine run is one of the lifetime experience that I would never forget because the sight of just seeing hundreds of sardines swimming in a big school and their shiny body reflecting the light rays, it was just indescribable. It was very unfortunately that I don't know how to do free diving or else the sight would be even more spectacular to swim with the sardines. After the sardine run, we ate our lunch at one of the stall near to the bay. It was then that I started to notice that whichever carinderia we ate, the choices were only mainly pork and minimal choice of vegetables or even none at all.

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After lunch, we head to Kawasan falls where those who choose to do canyoneering were dropped off at a place where there are guides to bring them to do this activity. We opt not to do it as it is expensive for foreigners and both Albert as well as Hazel did not know how to swim and they were not fit enough to walk long distance. So the rest of us who did not do canyoneering went on to Kawasan falls where we could swim in the water or just sit around. It was so packed and there were no place to sit so we decided to swim in the water which was extremely cold! Everyone of us had to water a life jacket when we swim in the water. It was fun to swim in the blue water and even under the waterfall but unfortunately, we couldn't see anything under the water. After 1 hour of swimming, we had enough of the cold water so we went out of the water and found a place to sit. We had to wait for the others and also it was still early as those who were doing the canyoneering would only reach this waterfall around 5pm. There was nothing much to do except people watching and after a while, it got so boring. I was so glad that the guide finally told us that we could go and have a shower at the public toilet next to the church. The queue at the toilet were also long but since we were in no rush, it was ok. After everyone had taken a shower, we were brought to one of the canyoneering place where those who went for the canyoneering activity were given free dinner while those who did not do this activity had to pay for it. We had no choice but to pay for it because there were no other place to eat. Instead of arriving at 5.30pm, 2 hours had passed before those who did canyoneering only started to arrive for dinner. So you can just imagine 2 hours of nothing to do. It was so boring and time wasting! Dinner was so packed that some food had run out. It was just oily so it wasn't an enjoyable experience even though they serve a whole roasted piglet. After dinner, we head to the place where we will be staying for the night. Some of us were dropped in 1 place while the others were staying elsewhere. There was no air con in the room but at least it was not so hot.

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Saturday (1/6/2019) - We were told the night before that we were going to be picked up by 5am but once again, 5am became 5.30am before they came and picked us up. This is getting to be an annoying trend in Cebu. We wake up so early making sure we get ready on time and yet have to wait for at least half hour or more to be picked up. However, today is going to be another interesting day. I am looking forward to the whale shark watching in Tan-awan, Oslob. By the time we reached to the briefing area which is located on the beach, there were a lot of people already queuing up to get their snorkeling gear and life jacket before waiting for their turn to get on the boat. It was a long wait and by the time it was our turn, the sun was already getting hot.

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We reached to the place where 2 whales were swimming around a boat where the man was feeding them, it was so exciting to see them up close and personal. We were allowed to swim in the water to get a closer look at them though we were told not to touch them. However, the waves were so strong and the water was very salty unlike the seawater yesterday when we were doing snorkeling so it was very difficult to balance in the water and those who are not strong swimmers had to hold on to the bamboo floaters of the boat. The whales were not afraid of people nor did they care about how close you are while they were swimming so I was tail kicked by one of them while it was turning back to swim towards the boat that was feeding them. You definitely do not want to be hit by a whale because it was hard and rough. We were only given 15 mins to take photos and see the whales up close before we had to go up to the boat and go back to the shore since there were a lot more people waiting for their turn to see these whales. Once we reached to the shore, we looked for a place to have our breakfast.

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After that, we went to Sumilon Island to see the sandbar since the tide was still low. The water was very blue but unfortunately, you can't see anything underwater. Once again, like every touristic place in Cebu, this island was packed with local tourists taking selfies here and there. Even to go back to the shore again, we had to wait at least half an hour before it was our turn to go on the boat. Then we head back to the place where we were staying, took a bath, packed our stuff and waited to be picked up.

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We then head to Simala church which was 54km away from Oslob so by the time we reached there, it was after 1pm. The sun was so hot and we decided to find a place which is not crowded for our lunch before we check out the church. The church was also a very crowded place. Unlike a typical church, Simala church looks more like a castle. After taking some photos, we slowly head to the car park since it was very hot. After everyone was ready to move on, we slowly head towards Cebu city.

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On the way, we stopped at the roadside souvenir stalls in Carcar city to buy pasalubong such as the famous dry Cebu mangoes and the chicharon (pork crackling). I bought a lot of chocolate coated mangoes to give away as souvenir while typical Filipinos love to buy chicharon. After everyone had enough of shopping, we headed off again non stop this time until we reach to Cebu city area and stopped to shop for more pasalubong, this time t-shirts, key chains, bags, etc before stopping at Taboan Market so that they can buy danggit, a famous pasalubong from Cebu and other dried seafood products. I didn't buy any seafood products as they were smelly and I don't eat dried ones at all. Instead, I bought more dried mangoes, this time in small packs so that it is easy to give to a lot of people compared to the ones I bought in Carcar city. We were then dropped at the accommodation near the IT park where we were going to stay for the night. I have to say that it's not one of the most comfortable place to stay in as the room was pretty small for 3 person. For dinner, we decided to go to Ayala Center Cebu since there were no restaurants nearby.

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Sunday (2/6/2019) - Today we were going on a city tour around Cebu. After being picked up, we head for the Sirao Flower Garden first which is 30 minutes away and is located on the mountainous area of Cebu. The main flowers grown in this farm is celosia but they also have sculptures and Instagram worthy decorations. However, in order to take photos on each photo site, we had to join the queue and wait for our turn. The sun was getting hotter and more people were coming to the farm. As we were the first group coming out of the farm, we had to wait for the rest of the group before we head on to our next destination.

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After everyone had enough of photo taking, we went to Temple of Leah. I didn't look up what this temple was about but when we reached there, I was impressed with the design of the massive building structure as it looks like a Roman temple. Just like Taj Mahal which was built by Shah Jahan as a tribute to his wife Mumtaz Mahal, Temple of Leah was built by Teodorico Soriano Adarna as a tribute to his wife, Leah Albino-Adarna. Unfortunately, it was not 100% finished yet as we could see all of Leah's collections just stored there unorganised in different rooms.

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After that we head to the Cebu Taoist temple. It is a small taoist temple on top of a hill for the Chinese community to pray. In order to reach to the temple, we had to climb up 81 steps (representing the 81 chapters of Taoism scriptures). You can see the scenic view of the downtown Cebu from the top of the temple. There is also a wishing well for people to throw the coins into the pots.

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Next we went to the famous House of Lechon for lunch since the specialty of Cebu is lechon. We ordered 3/4kg of Carcar special which came on a wooden pig's head plate and gising gising na kangkong. The lechon was juicy and tender and the sauce that came with it really fit well with the taste. The price is also not that expensive as it is about B$12 since the lechon is mostly meat with thin crispy skin. It was a very filling and satisfying lunch.

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After everyone was done with lunch, we head on to Yap-Sandiego ancestral house, one of the oldest houses in the Philippines which was built in the late 17th century. We were dropped in front of the Cebu heritage monument and then we walked across the road to the Yap-Sandiego ancestral house. Even though more than 130 years had passed, the wooden house was still in good condition. Inside the house, the ground floor was not cemented but made of soil. The house is filled with a lot of antiques and locally made native furniture. On the top floor, there were a lot of saints and family photos. However, there was a weird smell which according to Hazel is the smell of the rice that was left on the table for days that was displayed with the other food eaten by the family. So it was probably the decomposition smell.

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Then we went to see Magellan's cross and Santo Nino church. Magellan’s cross is a Christian cross planted in 1521 by the Portuguese and Spanish explorers under the instruction of Ferdinand Magellan when they arrived in Cebu. It is kept in a chapel next to Santo Nino church, the oldest Roman catholic church in Cebu. We did not managed to see Santo Nino church because it was fully packed with Filipinos everywhere and there was a church service going on when we were there. So everyone was standing and listening to the sermon while a few others were lighting up candles. Since it was impossible for us to see the church, we head on to the next destination.

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When we arrived at Fort San Pedro, there wasn’t as many people as the other places we went to earlier. There wasn’t much to see at the fort anyway except for a few exhibition like the Magellan's ship made of wood. After going up the fort to see from the top, we headed down and out of the fort to wait for the others to finish going around the fort.

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Our final destination for the tour around Cebu city is the 10,000 Roses Cafe in Cordova which is an hour drive from the city. There were 2 lots of artificial LED roses, amounting to 10,000 of them. We quickly took photos before the sun set completely and by the time, the sun had already gone down, we were drinking inside the cafe. While waiting for time to go back to the van, we saw a guy proposing to his girlfriend with all their family members and other people who happened to be taking photos around. Pretty sweet and romantic actually. Then it was time to head back to Cebu city. After we were dropped off at the accommodation, we took a taxi to send our laundry to the Laundry Express near Mabolo so that it will be easy for us to pick it up once we move back to Express Inn Mabolo the next night. Initially, we were planning to do the laundry ourself but since there were only 3 sets of washer and dryer and people were still queuing to do their laundry, we had no choice but to pay for laundry service instead which we will collect the next day. Then we took a taxi back to the IT park and decided to eat McDonald's for dinner. When we got back to our room, while waiting for our turn to bath, we started packing all our stuff since we will be checking out tomorrow morning before we go to Bohol.

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Monday (3/6/2019) - Today we will be going on a day trip to Bohol to see the tarsiers. We were picked up from our accommodation around 5.30am with all our luggages kept inside the van. Then the driver drove us towards Cebu International Port but before we entered into the port, he stopped by the road to buy our ticket. We were to catch the 6am boat to go to Tagbilaran port in Bohol. When it was time for us to board Oceanjet, we had to walk by foot to the pier where the boat was parked. The boat was not bad, air conditioned with 2 decks. Our seats were on the bottom deck so it was like in an aeroplane for the next 2 hours.

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When we arrived at Tagbilaran port, we did not know who we were supposed to be waiting for but in the end, we found our driver. Before we start our activity, the driver drove us tovMcDonald's to have our breakfast. After breakfast, we went to the Chocolate Hills in Carmen first. It took us 2 hours to reach there and boy, was it packed with local tourists. It was already so hot even though it was only 10am and we had to climb up the stairs to the top of Carmen peak to see the full view of the chocolate hills. After the hard climb, the view from the peak was beautiful! All you can see are endless chocolate hills 360 degrees view. There are 1776 chocolate hills scattered over Sagbayan, Batuan and Carmen. These hills are actually limestones that are generally conical and symmetrical in shape. Since it was not dry season yet, the hills were still green in colour but in dry weather, the grasses become brown and that was how the hills got its name.

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Next, we went to the Loboc Wildlife and Nature Park. It’s a small park with some birds and furry animals like the little famous stars of Bohol which is the tarsiers. Tarsiers are the smallest primate (only 9 – 16cm long) with a tail that is twice its height and they can leap from tree to tree. What is so special about tarsiers are their big eyes which is a bit disproportional to their small head and body and well, their eyes can be very scary to people who have never seen them before because they look like they could pop out anytime. Since it had rained in the night, we were told that many of them did not come down but the park staff showed us 3 individual tarsiers taking shelter under the leaves which were bigger than them. It was difficult to spot them at first since they are no bigger than a hand and even more difficult to take clear photos of them since we were not allow to go very close to them. Well, at least I have finally seen how small the cute tarsiers are. On the way out, we also saw white civet cats (luwak) and bearcat (binturong) which I have never seen before. Then there is the albino python which people were eager to take photo with and the friendly macaw which kept on saying hello and goodbye while hanging upside down in its cage. A pretty nice park but not many animals in it.

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On the way to our next destination, we had to pass through the 2 km stretch of mahogany trees along Loboc to Bilar highway. That stretch of road was fully shaded by these trees so it was so cool to walk on the road. We had to take photos very quickly as cars were still passing by.

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Then we went to the Sipatan twin or the Tigbao hanging bridge which crosses the Sipatan river. These two bridges are 40m long and made of bamboo. One bridge is to go across the river and the other bridge is used to come back. Just at one look, the bridge doesn’t look safe at all especially if you see a lot of people crossing on it at one time while bouncing up and down. We went to try it ourselves and of course it was bouncy but pretty safe actually as they are supported by cables made of steel.

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After all these sightseeing, we were already hungry so it was time for lunch. We went for the Loboc riverwatch floating restaurant which is basically having lunch buffet on a big floating platform which pushed by a small motor boat at the back. The buffet cost 650P (about B$17) per head which is worth it because it consist of 3 types of appetizers, 2 types of salads, 1 type of soup, 8 types of entrees and 4 types of desserts. We were allocated specific boat to go on and once we were onboard, we chose a table to sit and then checked out the food before we started taking the food. The food was pretty delicious and enough for everyone of us throughout the cruise while we were entertained by singers on the boat They made 2 stops along the way for the people to watch tinikling where the dancers were prancing in between 2 bamboo poles and a traditional dance.

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After the 1 hour boat cruise, we went to Baclayon church. There were not many visitors so we didn’t go into the church but just looked at the building which was built from coral stones. There was a lady selling Bohol delicacies such as calamay and peanut kisses.

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Our last stop is at the Blood Compact monument and also at the same time, shop for pasalubong. I have never come across the history of the Blood Compact at all nor were the other people interested in it either so we ended up spending more time on buying pasalubong instead. After everyone was satisfied with all the shopping, we slowly head back to Tagbilaran port to go back to Cebu. Our boat was delayed so by the time we arrived at Cebu, it was around 7.30pm. Then we had to find the driver of the van who was supposed to picked us up and once we did, we got in and then once we reached to the city, the driver dropped us first before the others since we were staying in Mabolo. After checking in, we went out and walked by foot to the laundry shop to get our laundry. On the way back, we stopped at a restaurant and ate dinner before we went back to our hotel to pack and rest.

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Tuesday [4/6/2019] Today, we will be flying back to Manila so we were thinking of finding place to eat breakfast. Unfortunately, there was no restaurant around nor was SM Mall open yet since it was still early. So in the end, we ate simple breakfast at 7-Eleven before heading back to the hotel. After checking out from the hotel, we took a taxi to the airport. We were supposed to fly off at 12.35pm but our flight was delayed to 3pm instead. So we took the time to just have our lunch since there was no rush at all. The airport was already so crowded, then with a lot of flights delayed, there was just not enough seats for people to sit. When we were already waiting at the boarding gate, we heard an announcement saying that the plane that we were supposed to board had just taken off from Manila and I was saying like what! It just took off, so how long is our flight going to be delayed again! Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long to board the plane but it was already late and I had dinner appointment with Sarah and Sunny at 6.30pm.

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When we arrived back at Manila close to 5pm, we quickly took a van to Shell residence where I checked in and put all my stuff in the condo 1st before I walked with Albert and Hazel to MOA and then parted ways. I had to do a bit of shopping before Sunny came and pick me up. By the time I got back to the condo and took a shower, Sunny was already waiting for me. We went to 4 Seasons and met up with Sarah. The buffet was well worth the price because there were so much food that I didn’t even get to try all since I was already full after 1 hour. We had fun talking and eating and we also happened to be the last group to leave when the restaurant was about to close.

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Wednesday [5/6/2019] Today is a relaxing day as I am going to fly back to Brunei. It has been a very interesting trip with with Jake and Sarah to Mount Pulag as well as the sardine run and whale watching in Cebu. However, I would think twice about flying with Cebu Pacific if I have to catch another connecting flight.

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Posted by Lingering 09:59 Archived in Philippines Comments (2)

The Lesser Sunda Islands III

Komodo Archipelago

sunny
View The Lesser Sunda Islands on Lingering's travel map.

Sunday [23/12/2018] - Today, I would be going for the 3 days liveaboard with Yudith only as Teddy has some personal stuff to take care of. So after having breakfast at the hotel, Renyold and Yudith came to pick us up at 8am. On the way to the harbour, we stopped at Blue Ocean hotel first so that I could leave my luggage there since we will be checking in on 25th December. After that, we went to rent snorkeling gear before going to the harbor to find our private cabin bedroom boat. It took us quite a while to find it as there were many cabin boats but finally we did. After saying goodbye to Renyold and Uwi who wanted to walk around the town before heading back to the hotel, we went on the boat and started sailing.

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The boat has 2 decks where the lower deck is the living quarter where there are 2 cabins, 2 toilets, an open air kitchen at the back, eating area in the front and the captain's driving cabin where he also sleeps while the upper deck consist of bean bags and cushions for people to relax and sleep. There is the captain and his 2 crews where 1 of them is in charge of cooking the meals and the other one is helping both the captain and in the kitchen. The boat was pretty comfortable and stable. It was a relaxing cruise with the cool wind blowing even though it was a very sunny day.

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Our first stop is at Kelor island where we were given time to hike up the hill and go snorkeling. There were already a lot of boats docking on that island and people who were not snorkeling, climbed up the hill. We were sent to the island using a small motor boat and we arranged to be picked up within an hour. We decided not do do any hiking up any hill since we did not wear our sport shoes so we just stayed in the water and tried out snorkeling. The sand was white and the water was very blue. We didn't stay too long in the water as there was nothing much to see near to the shore and we did not dare to go further out into the sea since there were not many people snorkeling around. After a while walking on the shore, the small boat came and picked us up.

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Then we head to Manjarite island. This time, the water was deeper than Kelor island but nevertheless, still blue and very clear. There were a lot of people snorkeling here compared to the previous island as the water around the jetty was calmer. After having enough of snorkeling, i walked towards the island on the bridge only to find out that there is a signboard saying "Private property. No tresspassing". So I walked back to the jetty and after a short while, the small boat came and picked us up. On board, lunch was served. Even though it was cooked for 2 of us, the food could actually feed up to at least 5 person. Although the food was simple, it was delicious but also probably because we were hungry. We told the captain not to cook a lot of food for us but he told us, that is the standard portion they cook every time so the rest of the food that couldn't be finished, we always tell him and his crews to finish it for us.

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Our next destination and the one which I was looking forward to is to see the famous komodo dragons on Rinca island. There were a lot of boats there so we had to wait for our turn to go to the jetty. Other than the komodo dragons, there were also other wildlife such as mud crabs, monkeys, buffaloes, deers and birds. As we reached to the ranger camp, we saw people walking in groups with a ranger holding a stick. After buying the tickets and getting a ranger, we head off to see the komodos. There were quite a lot of komodos just resting around the ranger camp area. We were told that the komodos have already eating so they were not hungry to chase after people but we still have to take precautions. We were not allowed to go very close to the komodos and get fooled by their close proximity to humans as its one of their tactic to get our guards down.

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The ranger told us that there are currently 1500 komodos marked on this island with a ratio of 3 males to 1 female. The number of komodos here are higher than those on the Komodo island and the mating season is between July to August. The female can lay up to 36 eggs once a year in September but the hatching rate is only about 40-45%. The eggs are buried in either the hillside nests, ground nests or mound nests initially built by the orange-footed scrub fowls. The eggs will take 9 months to hatch but the female komodo will only guard the nesting site for 6 months. Once the young komodos hatch, they will run away and climb up trees to avoid being eaten by their mother or other komodos. Unlike the adult komodos which feed on carcasses and animals, the young ones feed on small lizards, insects, snakes and birds. When they are 4 years old or have reach 20kg in weight, they will come down and live on the ground. The feeling of finally seeing the komodo dragons up close and personal is so unreal as I never thought I would be able to do so.

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The last thing to do for the day is to set sail to Kalong island. On the way to that island, the crew had fried banana fritters topped with chocolate syrup and cheese shredding for us but we were still full so we only had a few and had to ask them to finish off the rest, We reached there before 5.30pm and found a spot to dock our boat like all the other boats who were doing the same thing. While waiting for the flying foxes to come out, I saw that most boat crews were already starting to prepare the ingredients for dinner. The bats didn't come out until an hour later but once they came out, they came out continuously. The sight was so amazing with the sunset and the bats flying. As we started sailing again to find a place to dock for the night, the bats were still coming out from that island. There were probably few hundreds of them dwelling on the mangrove island.

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By the time the ship was docked, it was already very dark but we saw that we were near to some island inhibited by people as there was a bright spotlight shining. I thought we had docked somewhere near Padar island since we were supposed to go up there tomorrow but the captain told us that we had gone back to Rinca island and docked there because the water was calm. Dinner was served at 7.30pm. Since there was nothing much to do after dinner, we went into our cabin which has a double bed double decker and went to bed. The power for the air conditioner was switched on for the night so that we could sleep comfortably. I have never slept on a boat overnight before but I have to say, it is very peaceful.

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Monday [24/12/2018] - I woke up automatically at 5.30am just to see how sunrise look like at sea. Unfortunately, the sun hasn't come out yet but I could see how calm the water was. The other boats which had also docked for the night were still there but the crew were getting ready to start the day. We were supposed to sail to Padar island today but due to the sunken boat incident that happened around 5am yesterday, all boats were not allowed to go to Padar area at the moment as they were still trying to find the missing bodies and also the waves were pretty rough at the moment. So we had to cancel Padar island and after discussion with the captain, he suggested that we go to Komodo island and then to the village instead.

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When we started sailing towards Komodo island before 7am, breakfast was served which consist of french toast and fried egg. We reached to Komodo island around 8.30am and there were some boats there already. There were kiosks selling things unlike on Padar island but we went to check out the komodos first before checking out the kiosks. After buying the tickets and getting a ranger, we started our walk. Komodo island is very different from Rinca island because we did not see any komodo resting around the ranger camp nor were there any wild animals. The komodos here are also difficult to see because they are wilder and due to shortage of food, they have to go further to hunt for food. Since the komodos here are hungry, we had to be extra alert as they could attack people anytime. We were also told that there are only 1377 komodos recorded here.

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As we walked along the trail, the ranger from another group told our ranger that they spotted 2 komodo dragons on a particular spot so we headed there and sure enough, there were 2 adult komodo dragons and 1 small one. The small komodo was afraid of people so it went away very fast. As for the other 2 adult komodos, one was sleeping while the other one was pretty active. There were groups of tourists around and their rangers were helping them to take photos with the komodo. Suddenly, the active one seemed to sense blood around while one of the female tourist was getting her photo taken so the ranger asked if any of us were on our period and we said no. After having my photo taken with the sleepy komodo, we walked back to the ranger camp since we did not come across anymore komodos and thanked our ranger. Then we walked to the kiosk and I bought a few komodo souvenirs as well as a face mask made from jackfruit wood. Since it was still early, we decided to have fresh coconut before heading back to the jetty at 10.30am.

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Once we were picked up from the jetty, the boat sailed to Komodo village which was not very far from the komodo park. Komodo village is small and when we were walking towards the village, I could see a lot of rubbish in the water. An elderly man chatted with Yudith and offered to guide us around for a fee so we agreed. Basically, we walked through a small path where there were houses on both sides. I could see people in this village still help each other out and kids were playing around barefooted. There wasn't much to see but I managed to find komodo postcards which I have not come across so far, in one of the small home store selling souvenir. After the short tour, we decided to get back to the boat since it was getting very hot already and then head on to pink beach.

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There were not many boats at pink beach so we docked there and had lunch first. We rested until 2pm before we went to the shore to check this beach. It is called pink beach because there were supposed to be a lot of broken red corals on the shore that results in the pink colour. There were a lot of broken white corals instead and nothing much to see unless we snorkel far out into the sea. After staying for a while there, we decided to head back to the boat and discussed with captain what else could we do since it was still early. He told us that it would be better that we head towards Manta point for docking. On the way, we passed by Taka Makassar island and saw some people walking on the shore.

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By the time we arrived at the docking area in the middle of the sea, there was already a diving boat docked already. It was a lucky thing we arrived there early because the captain told us that only few boats could dock there and if the dock is full, other boats have to find somewhere else to dock. By then, the sky had already become dark and the waves were getting rougher. Then came the rain, thunder and lightning. Good thing the rain did not continue for long so we had dinner before going to sleep.

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Tuesday [25/12/2018] - Today I automatically woke up before 6 am just in time to see the lovely view of sunrise. After the storm, the water was so calm and clear that you can even see your own reflection in the water from the boat. It was low tide so we could see a lot of islands which was not present yesterday. The boats that had docked around us had either gone off early or drifted away from our boat. While I was taking a shower, Yudith told me that I had missed seeing a manta ray flying out of the water. After breakfast we head back towards Taka Makassar where we had passed by yesterday.

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The water was so low that a lot of corals were exposed on and around Taka Makassar island. The small boat could only take us to a certain part since the water was so shallow that we had to walk in the water until we reached to the sandy area. The sand on this island was white and very hot actually since it seems to reflect off the heat of the sun. The captain and 1 of the crew went walking around the island with us to check out all the different types of animals and corals that were stranded in puddles of water due to the low tide.

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It was very fascinating to see all the living creatures because there are some which I have never seen before like the blue starfish whose body is soft, long worm like creature and corals of different shapes and sizes. If we went there in the afternoon, we would not be able to see all these creatures up close and personal. After an hour, we head back to the boat since it was getting so hot by then.

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Then we went to the manta point, hoping to see the manta rays. I am not a strong swimmer nor have I ever tried jumping from a boat into the sea before but the captain told us that the water was only 10m deep. When the captain saw manta ray swimming by our boat, we had no choice but to follow one of the crew and jumped into the water right away. It was scary yet exciting and we did see a manta ray swimming by us. It was so fast that even though we tried to catch up with it, we couldn't and in the end, it left for somewhere else. Since It was not the manta ray season, we were not able to see anymore swimming around but hey, at least we saw one which is better than none. After no more manta ray passed by us, we went up the boat and then head on slowly towards Labuan Bajo direction.

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Our last stop is at Kanawa island which took 2 hours to reach from the manta point. At one point near to this island, the waves were so strong that the boat was rocking left and right until that the bench we were seating on near the front deck almost threw us off. It was a good thing that it didn't last forever and I was glad I didn't get seasick like when we were heading to Karakatau in December 2017. After that rough patch, the waves were calmer all the way until Kanawa island. There were few bungalows and a restaurant on this island but since we were not interested in checking them out or doing any hiking in the hot sun, we straight away went snorkeling. There were a lot of corals and marines fishes near to the jetty and the water was very clear. While snorkeling I could feel the hot and cold current mixing together in the water. I spent 30 minutes snorkeling in the water before I went up the jetty to see the fishes near to the steps. Unfortunately, the crew thought we wanted to go back to the boat already s they came and picked us up before I had the opportunity to snorkel near to the steps.

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After taking a shower, we had our late lunch and then slowly sail towards Labuan bajo. We reached Labuan Bajo port at 3.30pm and with our stuffs, we walked by foot to return the snorkeling equipment first and then to Blue Ocean Hotel so that I can check in. Uwe had already checked in earlier and his room was next to mine. After saying goodbye to Yudith, I sorted out my clothes to be sent to the laundry and took a bath again because it was so hot in Labuan Bajo. I talked to Uwe and we decided to just stay in our room until late afternoon when it is not so hot, then we will take a walk to find somewhere to have dinner. By the time it was slightly cooler, we decided to head upwards away from the harbour towards Luwansa beach resort direction to check out the post office. There were a lot of small local shops and tour operators offering liveaboard but other than that, there was nothing much to do. So in the end, we decided to try out an Italian restaurant where both of us ordered a pizza each for dinner which was not bad. This restaurant was pretty crowded and people seemed to know it from reviews given by people who had eaten in this restaurant before. By 8.30pm, I was already feeling sleepy so we head back to our hotel and call it a night.

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Wednesday [26/12/2018] – Today is a free and easy day and we did not have any specific plan since Uwi refused to go on a boat or ride a motorbike and there was no car taxi waiting for passenger so we could not even visit other places outside of Labuan Bajo. The only thing we could do is just to walk around Labuan Bajo so I woke up around 8am. Then we went to the rooftop to have breakfast by 9am while enjoying the view of the harbour. I already miss the liveaboard and the best thing about it is that we still get mobile signal everywhere we went to. It was a very hot day and the hot breeze did not help much either. After breakfast, we went back to our room and decided to go out later since Uwi said he had walked around the whole town while I was living on the boat and there wasn't much to see and do. So I used the time to write a few postcards in my room since the post office is open today.

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We started walking at 10,30am and the weather was even hotter than earlier in the morning. We went to the post office first to send off the postcards before going towards the harbour. Labuan Bajo is actually a very small sleepy town as there was nothing much to do if you are not going out to the sea. We went and checked out the fish market which was dirty and smelly and then went on walking to the back of the street which leads back to the main road in front of Blue Ocean hotel. Since breakfast was just 2 slices of bread and omelette which is not filling and doesn't last until lunch time and Uwi didn't want to have lunch because he was still full from breakfast, I decided to stop at a small cafe called Catur'z Kopi Club to snack on something and also to get out of the hot sun since it was already noon time. I ordered fruit juice and what we called in Brunei and Malaysia, kuih lenggang which is basically pandan pancake with shredded coconut cooked with gula melaka syrup. After spending some time cooling off in that cafe, we slowly walk back to our hotel to cool off in our room and I started to packing my things since we were going to leave Labuan Bajo tomorrow.

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At 3pm, we walked out again this time to Bajo Bakery since I was getting hungry. I ordered a savoury quiche, meat pie, danish pastry, chocolate banana muffin and tuna wrap to share with Uwi. We sat at the window area overlooking the harbour just to pass time while eating the pastries. We came back to hotel around 5.30pm to check on my laundry but it hasn't arrive yet. So after taking a shower, we head out to Le Pirate restaurant for a light dinner. They have interesting interior design and food was alright. We stayed there until 9pm before heading back to the hotel to pack our luggage since my laundry has finally arrived. At 10pm, I received an email from Garuda informing that our flight tomorrow morning had been changed to evening due to technical problem with the plane and we will only reach to Bali after 9pm. For me there is no problem arriving late since I fly back to Brunei on 28th December 2019 but it was such a big deal for Uwi since he stubbornly booked his flight back to Berlin that evening also without taking into consideration that flights can be delayed. So in the end, we had no choice but to throw away our Garuda ticket and purchase new tickets from another airline that has morning flights. I told him that the other airlines are not safe and they also have delays but he rather take the risk and said that he didn't trust Garuda at all. So after searching, the only earliest flight available in the morning is Wings Air which was not what I wanted because Wings Air is famous for its poor air safety records due to numerous accidents. However, Uwi didn't care at all because he rather not miss his business class flight instead of being concern about the safety inside the plane. So fine, I let him have his way but after all the things have happened in Flores, this will be the last and only time I will ever travel with him so we went ahead and purchased the tickets.

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Thursday [27/12/2018] – We checked out of Blue Ocean Hotel at 8.30am without having breakfast since Uwi wanted to go to the airport as early as possible and told me that we can have breakfast at the airport. Komodo airport is still pretty new and has limited amenities. Since Wings Air only give 10kg free check in baggage and I couldn't even purchase additional pre-paid baggage through their website, the ground staff let me off the hook for checking in 3kg excess while I have to carry the rest of my stuff in my hand carry bag. This is also another reason why I refused to buy Wings Air ticket at first even though it is cheap unlike Garuda where you get 20kg free check in baggage. Then we went to check the gate where we were supposed to wait and there were a lot of people also waiting to board their flight. Since it was still early, I walked around to see what was available. There were a few souvenir kiosk, a book shop and 3 kiosk which is supposed to be selling snacks and drinks but only 1 of them had food for breakfast but they had limited number of beef pastry left. So everyone who was hoping to get breakfast at the airport could only order the beef pastry and after it had run out, people could only order drinks. So much for Uwi's idea of having breakfast at the airport. Our flight eventually departed at 9.55am instead of 9.35am and we arrived at Bali 30 minutes later than the expected time. Wings Air live up to their status of never been on time and not being safe at all since I saw cracks on the ceiling of the plane. No meal was served on board as no one purchased any food. Uwi on the other hand did not say anything but after the flight, he posted on his Facebook saying that Wings Air is the unsafest plane he had been on. I already told him about it but he refused to listen since his business class ticket was more important than safety at that time.

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After landing at Bali and getting our luggage, I looked for Gusti as I have arranged with him to pick us up. Since Uwi's flight was only in the evening, I told him that we could go around Denpasar for a while and we will send him back to the airport but he refused because he didn't want to miss his flight so I just let him be. Gusti took me to a restaurant for lunch and after that, we went to Krisna to and then to Lotte supermarket to look for some souvenir before checking in to Tanaya Bed and Breakfast. In the evening, I made arrangement with Gusti to have dinner together at Mama's German restaurant which is not far from Tanaya Bed and Breakfast so before that time, I walked along the streets of Legian just to see what shops and restaurants are around. At Mama's German restaurant which serves German food, we ordered their famous pork knuckle which the waitress told us that it's at least 500g. We didn't expect it to be huge when it was served so I couldn't even finish half of it and also it was very greasy unlike the one I tasted in Prague. After saying good night to Gusti, I went back to my room, packed all my stuff and went to bed early since my flight is at 7.10am the next day.

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Friday [28/12/2018] – I woke up at 3.30am because Gusti was going to pick me up by 4am to go to the airport. There was no traffic along Legian street as the bars and pubs have closed already unlike late last night where the traffic couldn't even move at all. There weren't many people in the airport so everything was pretty quiet and I am glad that Royal Brunei Airlines left exactly on time so that I could catch up with some sleep on the way back. This trip has been long and I have learnt a lot of things about both Lombok and Flores as well as how it is like to travel with Uwi. Honestly speaking, without Rinjani, Lombok does not have anything much interesting to see or do unless you head out to the Gili islands and it is still a long way from being developed like Bali. Flores on the other hand is pretty much surprising to me as they have similar food culture and Malay language like Brunei. The places are still unspoiled by tourists and not commercialised yet since most tourists just tend to go to Labuan Bajo in order to get to the komodo islands or at most they will travel to see Kelimutu lake and Wae Rebo village rather than going around different cities of Flores. I love to go back to Flores again one day to climb Mount Inerie and do liveaboard again as I enjoyed it so much and hoping to go to the top of the hills of Padar island to take the lovely view of the island.

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Posted by Lingering 08:27 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

The Lesser Sunda Islands II

Flores

sunny
View The Lesser Sunda Islands on Lingering's travel map.

Saturday [15/12/2018] – We left Mana Retreat at 4.13am after the taxi arranged by the retreat came and picked us up. Since no one was at the reception counter, we just left the key of the bungalow there. Surprisingly, there were already quite a number of people at the airport waiting for their flight. As it was still early and there were not many shops to check out, we decided to have breakfast while waiting. At 6.10am, we flew to Bali where we had to transit at the airport for 2 hours until 9.05am before we flew to Maumere using a fokker airplane. The last time I sat on a fokker plane was back in 2013 to Kuching. It was a pretty small plane and the stewardess just gave us a snack box rather than serving us meal on the tray since there was not enough time to distribute and then collect the trays back after we were done.

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When we landed at Fransiskus Xaverius Seda Airport, the weather was very sunny and hot. We had to walk by foot on the runway to the terminal building. The arrival hall is very simple and pretty empty except for 2 luggage belts where you collect your luggage. While waiting for our luggage, I saw Teddy waiting for us outside. Teddy reminded me of Bob Marley because of the iconic reggae hairstyle. Since it was noon time, we checked into Amrita beach hotel first which is built next to the beach. After having the welcome drink of papaya juice and leaving our luggage there, we head out again to a local warung where they serve babi guling for lunch. It probably wasn't up to Uwi's standard to eat food like this as he never had in before in Bali in a small warung and it's not western standard.

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After lunch, we head to Wuring fishing village. It is a small fishing village where houses are built near to the concrete pier. On land, there are 2 storey wooden houses whereas those on the water are just single storey wooden houses built on stilts. We noticed a lot of children kept on saying hello when they saw Uwi. According to Teddy, western tourists in the past who visited this village gave the children pen so they were also expecting Uwi to give them a pen also. There were also a lot of rubbish in the water, pretty similar to the water village in Brunei but the water here is clear. Teddy told us that the people who live in this village are the Bajo people.

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After taking some photos, we head back to the car and then drove to the tip of the peninsula to see the view from the top of a hill. Unfortunately, it started to rain so we didn't get down from the car and decided to go back to the hotel instead. On the way, we stopped at a local supermarket to check out the price of cashew nuts which is mainly grown in Flores but surprisingly, it was more expensive than the cashews sold in Brunei. When we were back at the beach hotel, we checked out the surrounding which was pretty simple and nothing much to do. We ordered dinner to be sent to our bungalow since there is no restaurant area and after that, we just relax in the room. The bathroom was once again open style but the good thing is that they provide mosquito coil to be used in the bathroom and the bedroom so we will not bitten by mosquitoes like at Mana Retreat. By 7pm, the ladies brought dinner to our bungalow where we ate outside since there is a small patio with a bench and a small table with 2 chairs. I ordered daging rendang and it tasted exactly like the ones cooked in Brunei! After dinner, we relax for a while before turning in for the night since we woke up very early this morning.

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Sunday [16/12/2018] – Today we woke up early and started packing our stuff before our breakfast arrived. Once again, we had breakfast at the patio and waited for Teddy to pick us up to go to Sikka village where we will visit St. Ignatius Loyola church. Built in 1893 and established on 24 December 1899, this Roman catholic church still maintain its Portuguese architecture. The roof frames are still the original teak wood that has not been replaced at all even after 119 years. The warden of the church explained that there are 3 different service per week. The first week service is conducted in Latin, the second week service is conducted in Bahasa Indonesia, third week service is conducted in Sikka language and the fourth week service is conducted in Bahasa Indonesia. For a very old church, it can accommodate up to 600 people.

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After the church visit, we went down from the back of the church to a Sikka village. Over there, Sikka women gathered together and their ikat products were hung for display. According to Teddy, he had asked the women to gather together to demonstrate the steps of weaving the ikat. It is a laborious task as it can take up to 2 months to complete a sarong or blanket size ikat. I bought a Sikka motif ikat scarf just for souvenir and also to support the local community as the women depend on selling their ikat products to support their family.

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We then head towards Moni but on the way, we stopped at Paga beach to stretch out a bit and have lunch. Surprisingly, the way they cook their food is similar with the way we cook in Brunei. After lunch, we kept on driving until we reached to Koka white sandy beach. In order to go to this beach, we had to drive through the villagers' private property where the land are mostly used for farming. Although the sea was very blue, no one went swimming because the waves were strong. In order to go up the view point, we had to climb up the steps made of bamboo and wood which were not only steep but each step is also far apart from the next. By the time we reached to the top, the view was just so amazing! We couldn't get over the fact that the water was so blue! After having enough of the view, we slowly climbed down again and then head on to our final destination for the day.

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It was more than 1 hour drive before we reached to Moni and we reached to Kelimutu Crater Lakes Ecolodge before 4pm. The air was already getting cooler and people were wearing jacket. After checking out our room which comes with a balcony and the bathroom's roof is party exposed to the open air for ventilation, we head out to check out the surrounding. The restaurant is very simple and we also placed our order for dinner since we were told we had to do so before 6pm. Then we walked around the garden which has a small bridge to go across the river to the other side which leads to people's rice fields.

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After checking out everything, we slowly head back to our room and quickly took a bath as the wind was getting cold. It was a lucky thing that there was hot water for the shower because it felt like bathing in an air conditioned room with the cold wind blowing in from the gap of the roof. By 7pm, the temperature had already dropped to 24.2 °C and walking towards the restaurant was like walking in a very big air conditioned room. We ordered the set meal which comes with rice, tomato soup, stir fry cabbage and carrots, ayam masak merah (chicken cooked with sweet tomato sauce), tomato and cucumber salad as well as pudding. It was a bit too much for both of us so we had to give the rest to Teddy and Constantin to help finish for us. Teddy told us that we have to get ready and make a move by 4am to watch sunrise at Kelimutu lake. By then, Uwi was not feeling well already so he decided not to go and chose to sleep in. By 9pm, the temperature had dropped to 22.4 °C

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Monday [17/12/2018] – Today I had to wake up very early as we were going to leave for Kelimutu by 4am. The temperature had gone down to 18.8 °C. Without having breakfast and going alone without Uwi, we reached to Kelimutu National park area 25 minutes later and started walking to the viewpoint of mount Kelimutu to see the sunrise. The path was not that difficult as one could even walk up using slippers if you can stand the cold wind. By the time we reached to the viewpoint, it was already 5am and the sky was not as dark as we started off. The wind was strong and people were just sitting around, taking photos while waiting for the sun to rise. Well known for the 3 colour lakes, even in dim light, one could see how green Tiwu Ko'o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Bewitched or Enchanted Lake) are which were separated from each other by a shared crater wall. The third lake, Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People) located away from the other 2 lakes, is not so outstanding as it is smaller in size and the colour of the water is brown.

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We stayed until 7am when the sun is fully up before heading back down to the car park. On the way down, a lady was selling markisa (passion fruit). Unlike the passion fruits found in Brunei and Malaysia which is usually purplish in colour, the one in Flores are yellowish orange in colour. We reached to hotel half an hour later and Uwi was already up. I took a shower first before packing and then went for breakfast. Breakfast was simple, scrambled egg and toast only. I also tried the passion fruits and true enough like what they say, it is very sweet unlike the purple ones which is sourish. After that we checked out and made a move to a nearby waterfall called Murundao waterfall. It was not really an impressing waterfall as it was only 8m tall and nothing much to see. On the way to our next destination, we stopped at the fruit and vegetable stalls in Nduaria where I bought some more passion fruits.

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After a while on the road, we arrived at Wologai traditional village of the Lio tribe. It is a small village with few traditional houses made of wood and palm leaves. In the center of the village, there is a ritual area where visitors are not allowed to step into it. There were not many villagers around, only a few elderly women who were busy drying coffee beans and walnuts on the ground which they had picked from the nearby forest. The men in this village are wood carving masters. Teddy brought us to see the chief's home just to give us an idea how the interior of the house look like. We had to bow our heads to enter the house which was pretty dark since there were only a few windows and the light rays were blocked by the low roof. There was no electricity, furniture and toilet. The house consist of 3 bedrooms, 3 cooking area, 1 area for storing musical instrument and 1 area for storing stuff. Since there is no fridge, the food cooked is usually dried so that they can be stored longer.

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We then travelled on towards Ende on winding roads for 3 hours before stopping for lunch at the Blue Stone beach (Penggajawa beach). It was a hot day and even though we were near to the beach, it was not windy and the wind was hot. I ordered sweet and sour prawns cooked with tomatoes in watery tomato sauce whereas Uwi had gado-gado. After lunch, we walked down to the beach to check out the turquoise, blue and purplish stones. The stones were pretty smooth and if you have the patience to search through the stones, you can find various colours which you don't commonly see on the beach. The locals collect stones of different colours and sizes to be sold as a source of income.

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After taking enough break from sitting in the car, we drove on to Bajawa. Our accommodation was at Manulalu Bed and Breakfast which is located in Jerebu’u Village. It took us a while to reach there and by the time we arrived at there, it was already 5.30pm. The sky was starting to get dark as the sun was already setting and the weather was pretty cold. Inside the building of the front office, they have a living and dining area with a fireplace. Outside the front office building, they have made long cement table with chairs for people to sit outside and enjoy the view of the mountains and the partial view of mount Inerie on the right. We were supposed to stay in one of the room at the Bed and Breakfast building on top of a small hill but since those rooms were used to accommodate the construction workers who were currently working on their new restaurant, our room was upgraded to Manulalu Jungle. It is few minutes drive down the road from the front office where there were several domed roof bungalows built on a sloped terrain facing the open valley.

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Each bungalow has a terrace equipped with a wooden daybed and a set of dining table where you can sit and do nothing but just enjoy the prefect view of mount Inerie. The bungalow is so spacious and there is 2 floors where they have put a double bed on each floor but it seems like it is either still new or probably hardly used as the bed on the first floor was pretty dusty. The dome of the roof is made of glass but since we were sleeping on the ground floor, our view was blocked by the ceiling unless whoever sleeps on the first floor, then you can enjoy the stars at night when you lay on the bed. As for the ground floor bed, it was so comfortable and they have installed netting also just in case we open the doors at night for the breeze to come in since there is no air conditioner. Oh, did I mention that all of the walls of this bungalow consist of glass door panels which can be open? Even in the bathroom, they have installed 2 full glass panel at the corner of the toilet so that you can enjoy the partial view of mount Inerie while sitting on the toilet seat. The bathroom is somewhat simple as the walls are just plastered with cement and they used wood for the floor and the bench for the sink whereas bamboo was used to decorate the floor and also used as hanger for clothes and towel.

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For dinner, we had to order the car provided by Manulalu to bring us up to the front office building. Surprisingly, the menu consisted more of western cuisine rather than Indonesian food. There is grilled chicken breast, grilled tuna, chicken wiener schnitzel and pasta as well as sandwich. The only Indonesian dish which is filling for me is the nasi goreng which comes in big portion but at a touristic price. After dinner, since there wasn't anything much to do, no internet nor tv to watch, we decided to go back to the bungalow and just relax outside the terrace while enjoying the cold breeze. Before we left, we ordered our breakfast to be sent to our bungalow for tomorrow instead of us coming up again since Teddy was going to pick us up from the bungalow. Once again, we had to wait for their car to send us back down to our bungalow. Since it was still early, we just sat at the terrace while eating chocolates. By 9pm, the temperature was already 21.9 °C, even colder than in Moni but it was cozy inside the bungalow where it is not too hot nor too cold even though we had closed all the doors. We slept early since I was a bit tired from waking up early to go to Kelimutu.

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Tuesday [18/12/2018] – I automatically woke up at 5.30am to check out the sunrise view from the terrace. The view was lovely with the orange hue of light coming from the back of the mountains as the sun was slowly starting to rise. Since it was still early, I just went back to bed to get some more sleep until my alarm rang again. By the time we were already up and ready for the day, the workers have sent our breakfast to the terrace. While enjoying our breakfast, we noticed that the day had became hotter as the sun was already shining brightly unlike evening where the wind was very cool.

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By 9am, Teddy came to pick us up and we drove to the starting point of Bajawa area to start our visit to several Ngada traditional villages. From there, we walked by foot first to Luba village which is located at the foot of Mount Inerie. There were several cemeteries and numerous houses where the walls are made of wood but the roofs are made of dried leaves. The men and women were out in the fields and the only ones left were 2 women weaving ikat on the balcony of their home, an elderly woman and a young boy.

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Then we head on walking quite a long distance through tall grasses around the foot of Mount Ineire, passing through villagers' farming land before we arrived to the next village, Tololela. This village is smaller than Luba village and there was some construction going on. There were also cemeteries in this village but we could see more adults here in their house and a new house was in the process of being built. The children were also helping to carry bamboos from the road to the place where the new house was being built. I bought a book about this village and also dark chocolate produced here to support their economy. We stayed there for quite a while since it was already noon time and very hot before we walked back to the parking area where Constantin was waiting for us.

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Next, we went to Wae Bana Malanage hot spring near Bena village where the hot spring meets the cold water from Wae Roa waterfall. It was a unique experience because on one side of the river, the water feels hot whereas the other end, the water was cold but in the middle, the water became warm. After soaking in the water for quite some time, we decided to have lunch cooked by the women who were the only ones living next to this river. We had tapioca leaves and chicken cooked in turmeric, also similar to the cooking style in Brunei. After lunch, we dipped in the river again for a while before we decided to move on to the last destination which is Bena village.

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Bena village is the most well known village among all the Ngada village. There were more houses here which has similar style like the other 2 villages and there were big monolith stones. I bought a scarf weaved by the one of the villager as a souvenir. We then finally head back to our bungalow and had dinner at 6.30pm. We met and discussed with Ryan who will be guiding us up Mount Inerie. Based on his experience, the weather was not very good so we had to wait and see at 2am to see if the weather was favourable for us to go up. By 8.30pm, we had to go back to our bungalow to get some sleep as we had to get ready by 2am. By then Uwe was very cranky because we had to sleep early and wake up early for the hike.

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Wednesday [19/12/2018] – I woke up at 1.30am to get ready for the climb. From our terrace, I could see thunder and lightning surrounding mount Ineire so the chance of climbing up is very slim. When Uwe woke up, he was already scolding me for making him having to wake up very early which made no sense at all because he already knew what we were doing more than 6 months ago from the itinerary I gave him. By the time Ryan came at 2.30am, I went up to talk to him and he also said that it was not safe to climb the volcano due to the lighting. So we decided to cancel it and I went to sleep again. In the morning when we woke up around 6 30am, it was a very hot day. By 7am, Constantine and Ryan came to our place again and told us that since we did not managed to go up Mount Ineire, we will be hiking to Wawo Muda lake instead which is still in Bajawa. After breakfast, we started our journey at 9am to Wawo Muda lake. On the way, Uwe being sarcastic (after scolding me the night before) said it was too bad we couldn't climb mount Ineire but I just ignored him. Wawo Muda lake is located at Ngoranale village and we started hiking behind the catholic church. We had to walk pass a few village houses and coffee plantations before we reached to a vast area of eucalyptus trees. It was quite a distance before we reached to the top of the hill and saw the 2 colour lakes, where one is yellow and the other one is green in colour. We didn't stay long there as the sky looked cloudy so we decided to head down.

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On the way down, we stopped by the first house we saw as they produce their own coffee powder. We tried their coffee which was not bad but then again, I am not a coffee drinker so I do not know the difference. Then it started to rain heavy all of a sudden. I had my raincoat as always ready and I thought Uwi had his rain suit with him but I didn't know he didn't bring it in his backpack because he was so confident it will not rain at all. So Ryan had to cut banana leaf for Uwi and himself as "umbrella" and I saw that an elderly couple were also given the same thing by their guide. They were laughing of course while we head down and so did I because it looked funny but Uwi was swearing all the way down instead like as if he had never been in the rain before at all in his life!

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Since the rain didn't stop and Uwi didn't stop swearing, when we reached towards one of the house which was actually not far from where our car was waiting for us, Ryan asked us to wait there for shelter while he went to the car to get umbrella for us. I would have gone with him since I was wearing a raincoat and I am used to getting my pants and shoes wet when it rains but since he insisted, I had to stay with Uwi. The owners of the house which were 2 women were very kind as they offered us chair to sit while waiting for Ryan. When Ryan came, they insisted on offering us coffee and biscuits while waiting for the rain to stop and told us to sit inside. I politely decline to have coffee as it was troublesome for them since one of the woman had to walk to the other house in the heavy rain and flowing muddy water to get warm water just to make coffee for us. There was no furniture inside the house at all so the two women were sitting on the floor while 3 of us were sitting on the plastic chairs they offered. We waited quite a while until the rain became lighter and because of their warm hospitality even though they are very poor, I decided to give them some money. They were very happy of course and I wished Uwi would learn from them to be grateful for everything instead of being angry and swear at every little thing. By the time we reached to the car, the rain had already stop and the sun had started to shine again.

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We drove to town to have lunch and so that Uwi could change out of his wet clothes. Only then he took out his rain suit from his luggage and wore it when the sun was out. By then, he started to have his so called "diarrhoea" again and he became cranky that he scolded me in front of Teddy at the restaurant when I asked him what was wrong since he was swearing non-stop. It was so embarrassing so both me and Teddy just kept quiet while Uwi just kept on swearing by himself. We ate our meal in silence and I only talked to Constantin while ignoring Uwi because his attitude was unacceptable and very immature. It kind of spoil the whole mood and I was starting not to enjoy travelling with him already. After lunch, we went to Mengeruda natural hot spring in Ngada regency which was 1.5 hr drive from Bajawa. All the way there, no one spoke in the car which was fine by me because I was already not in a good mood and Teddy knew that after hearing how Uwi spoke to me.

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When we were at the hot spring, I wasn't in the mood to be around Uwi but he was very happy to be able to go into the hot spring. I just stayed in the hot spring for a while, didn't talk much to Uwi and then got out and walked around instead. I left Uwi to enjoy as much as he want since he has such a horrible attitude. After walking around to check out the place, I walked towards the car park and then saw Teddy drinking coffee at one of the warung while talking to someone so I decided to wait with him. He tried to make a joke to lighten up the air by joking about Uwi's name since in their language it means potato and both of us ended up laughing a bit. After a while, Uwi came out and headed towards the car so we continued on with our journey to our accommodation for the night.

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It took 2 hours to reach to Gemo Beach Cottage at Aimere. This cottage was built just next to the beach so the wind was very warm at night. Teddy had ordered our dinner in advance which was a lot for us as there were 2 types of fish which was very fresh. We also got to try a bit of moke, locally produced alcohol which is mainly produce in Aimere. The taste is not really that strong. After filling our tummy, we relax a bit before heading back to our room. There was no air conditioner in the room but fortunately, there were small holes on the wall for ventilation and I had to open the window a bit to let some air in so it wouldn't be so hot when we sleep.

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Thursday [20/12/2018] - After waking up, having a shower and then packing, we head out to have breakfast. Breakfast was simple which consist of papaya, hard boiled eggs, breadfruit fritters and buns. The sun was already so bright and hot in the morning so it is no surprise why Flores people are very dark. By 9am, we left the place and head to the alcohol distillation village in Aimere bay where we saw and learnt how moke was produced from the lontar palm juice. The process involved bruising the fruits so that they will secrete the juice which is collected in a bucket and fermented for at least 6 days before they carry out the distillation process. The concentration of the moke produced range from 15%, 30%, 40% and 50%. There is free tasting for visitors so I decided to try the 50% which was very strong compared to the one we tasted the night before and I felt a little light headed in the car after that. The good thing was that it was quite a while before we stopped to get out of the car so but then, I had already sober up.

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Halfway before we reached to Ranamese lake near Ruteng, we stopped at an area where there were a few warung at the side of the road for people to rest and have something to eat after a long drive. This place was on top of a hill so when we look down the hill, we could see terrace rice fields while enjoying a bowl of simple but delicious bakso. After having our tummy filled and enough of stretching our legs, we head on to Ranamese lake. The weather was not that hot and this crater lake was surrounded by the forest so it was cool to walk down. By the time we reached to the lake area, the clouds have slowly come down and we saw people fishing in the lake though no one was swimming in it. After taking enough photos, we slowly head up to go to Ruteng.

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When we reached to Ruteng, we had lunch first before we checked into Spring Hill hotel. After putting our luggage in our room, we went and said goodbye to Constantin who has been driving us around since day 1 as he is still not familiar with the routes that we will be going to until we reach to Labuan Bajo so Teddy had engaged another driver, Reynold for the rest of our journey.

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We head out again and this time Teddy took us for a walk passing through paddy fields in Ruteng. It was a long but relaxing walk even though there were nothing much to see as most of the paddy have already been harvested. Towards the end of our walk, we met 3 village boys playing near to the bridge so we talked and took photos with them. What I noticed about the boys in Lombok and Flores is that they are pretty shy unlike kids in other countries. One of the boy was pretty talkative compared to the other 2. He asked me where I am from and when I told him I was from Brunei, he said Brunei Darussalam. Imagine how surprised I was to hear him say that because for an island like Flores which pretty unknown to people of Brunei and from a village boy, Brunei seems to be well known. Then Teddy explained to me that they learnt about Brunei in school which was the reason why the boy knew Brunei's name. Since they learnt about Brunei in school, I decided to give each of them a B$1 note and that same boy asked me again how much is it worth in rupiah. I told him that it is about 10,500 rupiah and I told them to keep as souvenir so that they can show it to their friends and of course they were very happy. When we reached to their village, we noticed there were a lot of children compared to adults and they were heading towards us, standing around and looking at us as I guess the boy who was talking to me must have told his mother about the money I gave them.

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After that, we went back to our hotel, had some rest and packed our stuff for tomorrow's trip where we will stay overnight in Wae Rebo village. By evening, the weather had become so cold that we had to wear a jacket just to walk to the hotel's restaurant. There were a lot of people eating here and since it was full inside, we had to sit outside which was alright because it feels like you are eating in a big air conditioned open area. Food was not bad and the portion was also just right. Since we had to leave early the next day, we had to sleep early and by the time we went to bed, the room was quite cold like as if the air conditioner was on even though there was none.

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Friday [21/12/2018] - We woke up by 7am to get ready since we had to leave early today. There was blackout so there was no hot water and the wind was still cool. Uwi started becoming grumpy again early in the morning as his "diahorrea" came back. He kept on complaining he was a very sick man which is over dramatic since he never had to find toilet all the while we were driving from one city to another for few hours. So he did not want to have breakfast and since there was also no electricity, I just snack on the biscuit that I brought for the trip. It was not filling considering that we have to trek later but better than nothing at all. By the time Teddy came to pick us up, it was after 8am and this time, they brought another guide, Yudith with them who will be bringing us to Wae Rebo village.

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After checking out of the hotel, we head to the famous Lingko spider web shaped rice field. To see this field, we had to hike up the hill which can be pretty exhausting if you did not have much for breakfast but I'm glad we finally reached to the top in the end. We could see the patterns of the rice fields which is shaped like big spiderwebs. Each field belongs to a family and the size of the field depends on the number of people in the family. Smaller families will get smaller field and vice versa. After taking some photos, we head down to where Teddy and Reynold was waiting for us. The house owner's daughter brought out freshly roasted coffee beans which smelt so nice even though I am not a coffee drinker. Since Teddy recommended that he always get his coffee supply from here since it is the best coffee he has tasted so far, I decided to buy a few packets home to give away.

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From Ruteng, we slowly drove 2.5 hours to Denge village which is the last village before we will walk by foot to Wae Rebo village. Before we reached to the village, we stopped by the beach to have our brunch at 10.30am because once we reach to Denge village, we will hike right away until we reach to Wae Rebo village. We were all pretty hungry and finished our food since the portion was small except for Uwi who is always very picky on food and he complained that it was too early to eat even though he had nothing for breakfast. By the time we reached to Denge village, it was almost noon time and very hot. Since the car couldn't reach all the way to the starting point of the hike, we had to go on a motorbike as the starting point to hike to Wae Rebo village was 2km away from Denge village. Uwi refused to get on the motorbike so in the end it was only Yudith and me being driven by the locals while Uwi walked all the way to the starting point under the hot sun. We had to wait for him until 12.30pm before he reached to where we were. The hiking is all the way up and surprisingly with all the stopping for Yudith to rest, it only took us 2 hours to cover 5.44km where we finally saw the iconic Wae Rebo village with the 7 conical Mbaru Niang houses.

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We headed down to the village towards the Gendang house, the largest Mbaru Niang traditional house among the 7 of them. This house belongs to the chief of the village of the Manggarai tribe where he carried out the Waelu (welcome) ceremony and prayed for our well being as well as safety during our stay here. Then we went to the first Mbaru Niang house as we entered into the village earlier on because this house was especially built by the government to cater for visitors who wants to stay overnight in Wae Rebo. Inside the house, the structures are supported by thick wooden frames and then bamboo frames are arranged in a conical shape to give the house its shape as well as to support the reeds and fibers which acts as the roof so that wind and rain do not go into the house. There are 5 levels of the house where Level 1 (Tenda) is the floor area where people can gather around and sleep, Level 2 (Lobo) is for storing food and things, Level 3 (Lentar) is for storing seeds of plants, Level 4 (Lempa rae) is for food reserve storage space and finally, Level 5 (Hekang code) is for storing offerings to the ancestors.

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We were offered a welcome drink of coffee and then we were free to explore around the village. Since it was still early and we were the second group to arrive, each of us were given a pillow and a blanket and we could choose where we wanted to sleep. After that, we checked out the kitchen, toilets, bathrooms and whatever was around. It must have been a shock for Uwi to see the local toilet and bathrooms as there was no shower heads because after checking the toilets and bathrooms, he studied the map of what was around the village and he saw a shower area. He was so determined to find it that he left first without even waiting for us even though what came across in my mind was that in a village like this in the middle of the forest, they will not make shower heads far away from the village for people to shower so something was actually off. I told Yudith that Uwe wanted to find the shower area and she was also surprised so both of us went to find him. Half way, we met up with him as he turned back since he didn't know where exactly it was but since there were 3 local children following me and Yudith, we told them to take us there. When we reached to the "shower" area, I wanted to laugh and so did Yudith because Uwe was even more shocked when he saw it and straightaway told us he is not going to bath there. Uwe's "shower" happened to be spring water which was following through bamboo sticks. The water and the wind was already getting cold so if one wants to bath there, he or she must be really out of their mind to do so.

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So we head back and quickly took a shower because even though it was only 5pm, the water was already freezing cold since it comes from the mountain. After that we just relax in the house and as time pass by, more and more people arrived. Each of us had a mat to sleep on which was hard but at least the pillow was alright, We were told that during the peak season, the house would be full so when they sleep, they have to squeeze 2 person on 1 mat. We went into the kitchen which was located in another smaller hut behind the house to see what we were going to have. The local women were busy preparing and starting to cook our dinner in the dark kitchen (there was only 1 small window and 2 doors) and everything including the floor is made of bamboo. The food were cooked with firewood instead of gas stove so it was pretty smoky in there. Dinner was served exactly at 7pm so all the guests gathered around in the middle of the room to eat together. There were local tourists from Java and foreign tourists like us and those from India, Italy and France. The Chinese squash, tapioca leaves with chicken and banana was just enough for all of us and there was nothing left so it was good since the village did not have any fridge to keep leftover food. There was no night activity in the village so most of us just relax, some went out to enjoy the full moon while some people have started preparing to go to sleep since everyone would be heading back down to Denge after breakfast.

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Saturday [22/12/2018] - I woke up around 5.30am because it was already starting to get noisy with people talking. The day was already bright and people were starting to take their shower and packing. There was quite a queue waiting for the toilet and the bathroom since there were only 1 bathroom with squatting toilet, 1 bathroom with seating toilet and another one is only for bathing. The water was so freezing cold so it was best to get it done and over with very quickly. Breakfast was served exactly at 7am where we had nasi goreng, omelette and crackers. After breakfast, everyone took the opportunity to take group photos and said goodbye to the chief of the village. We started hiking back around 7.43am and reached the starting point at 9.14am. On our way down, there was already a group of elderly men hiking slowly up to Wae Rebo village.

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When we arrived at Blasius homestay, Teddy and Renyold were waiting for us. We quickly took a shower before we head on to Labuan Bajo which would be a 5.5 hours drive. We went through an alternative route where there were not many villages and along the way, the villagers had just poured concrete to fix the bridge and did not allow any car to pass through it until the concrete had dried. It was already noon time and we weren't the only ones stuck there just waiting for the concrete to dry. After waiting for almost 1 hour, Renyold and the other driver, decided to just drive through the bridge since the concrete was already drying up and we continued on with our journey. By the time we reached near to Labuan Bajo, we stopped for our late lunch before continuing on for another 2 hours to Luwansa beach resort.

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Before we head to Luwansa beach resort, we stopped by at Roxy mart to buy whatever we wanted to eat on the boat as we would not have enough time to go shopping tomorrow morning since we are heading out to Komodo island. While I was shopping inside the mart with Yudith, Uwi was outside checking out the waves of the Flores Sea. When we were done shopping and was in the car heading to our hotel, Uwi repeatedly said he will not go on the boat tomorrow and since it wasn't the first time he refused to go on this and that, Teddy and I just kept quiet all the way even though to us, the waves was not even that strong. After checking into the hotel, I checked with Uwi again just to make sure before I messaged to Yudith to confirm that only I will be going with her on the boat for the next 3 days while Uwi will just hang around in Labuan Bajo so everyone was fine with that arrangement. I was also not bothered to convince Uwi to join even though he had already paid for the liveaboard trip because if he follow, he would only be in a very grumpy and foul mood and will just spoil everyone's mood in the end. Luwansa beach resort is a 4 star but out of location as it is far away for where the main activity is in Labuan Bajo. Since we did not see any taxi when we passed by Labuan Bajo earlier on and this resort is in the middle of nowhere, we decided to have dinner in the hotel instead and we happened to be the only ones eating there. After dinner, we went back to our room and I started packing my stuff for the 3 days liveaboard. Uwi decided to stay in this hotel until I come back to Labuan Bajo on Christmas Day since I had already booked our accommodation at Blue Ocean hotel which is just next to the Labuan Bajo harbour.

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Posted by Lingering 08:17 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

The Lesser Sunda Islands I

Bali - Lombok

sunny
View The Lesser Sunda Islands on Lingering's travel map.

Thursday [6/12/2018] To start off the first part of my trip, I took a flight to Bali. Arriving in Bali at 11.30pm, the queue at immigration counter was horrible as there were several flights landing at the same time. I only left the airport around 12.30am after buying a sim card at the Telekomsel booth in the arrival hall. The sim card was supposed to have 25GB of internet but when I checked the data, it only came with 15GB of internet. What a rip off! Then the taxi driver also tried to cheat me and wanting to charge 400,000 rupiah to the hotel I am going to stay in but I was told by the guy who was selling the Telekomsel card that it should only cost around 150,000 rupiah from the airport to Legian area. So in the end 1 taxi driver agreed for 150,000 rupiah when I said I will go inside the arrival hall again and get a taxi from the taxi counter . By the time I checked into Tanaya Bed & Breakfast it was already 1am. After I finished sorting out my stuff and took a shower, it was already almost 2am when I finally went to bed.

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Friday [7/12/2018] – After only 3 hours of sleep, I had to wake up at 5.30am to get ready to be picked up by Gusti around 7am. We had to make an early move as it will take 2 hours to reach Lempayung temple. On the way, we stopped by at a warung which is famous for its fish satay to have breakfast. By the time we finished breakfast and continued on with our journey, we reached Lempayung temple around 10am. There were a lot of cars already parking on both sides of the road. In order to go into the temple area, I had to wear sarong and then, we walked uphill on the road. By the time we reached to the temple area, people were already queuing for their photo to be taken at the famous Balinese gate with mount Agung at the background. Unfortunately, today mount Agung was totally covered by thick clouds so it was unnoticeable. I waited half an hour for my turn and the photos taken by the young boy turned out really cool with the special effect. After that, I walked up the steps to see the first temple from outside as we were not allowed to go in. With enough of photo taken, we left the temple at 11.30am and people were still arriving.

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Then we went to Oka coffee plantation as I wanted to buy the luwak coffee. I was first given an introduction on the plants they planted around the area. The man also explained the process of making coffee powder from coffee cherries. After all the introduction of the plantation, we sat at a table and the man brought different samples of the products they make so that I can have a taste of each of them and then decide which one to buy. I ordered a cup of luwak coffee and Balinese pancake made of rice flour covered with coconut After all the tasting, I bought some of their products and the luwak coffee which is actually more expensive than the ones I bought in Java.

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Our next destination is to the Pod Chocolate Factory which took 2 hours to reach. By the time we arrived there, there were no customers at all except for us and unfortunately, we were slightly too late as the Pod Chocolate factory tour has ended by 4pm. Since we can't do anything else, we decided to see the 2 sun bears which unfortunately, the caretaker had already gone home or else we could hug the bears if they are in a good mood. We also saw elephants at the elephant camp which is near to the factory and the mahout were giving some of them a bath. Then, we went into the cafe to check out their chocolates. There were many varieties of chocolates with testers for you to try. Since I couldn't decide on a which chocolates to get, I ended getting a box of the Complete collection of 20 different flavours of Pod chocolates. On the way back to Kuta, we had early dinner at Iiga Warung which was recommended by Gusti because of their pork rib. The ribs were grilled in sweet and sour sauce but it was very juicy and come in big portion. After a heavy dinner, we drove back to my hotel where I packed everything for the next destination.

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Saturday [8/12/2018] – After breakfast, I checked out from Tanaya Bed & Breakfast at around 9am. I arrived at airport at 9.30am and met Uwi
inside the depature hall. We were flying together to Lombok at 11.20am. After less than an hour's flight, we arrived in Lombok at 12.30am. Being so ill prepared and overconfident that he could get rupiah from the money changer just by using his credit card, we had to go to the money changer so that Uwi can get some cash since he did not bring any cash at all but with no luck at all. So the other alternative is hoping that he could withdraw cash from the atm around the area where we will be staying.

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From the airport to Puri Bunga Beach Cottages in Senggigi took 1.5 hours. On the way to Senggigi, there was nothing much to see as everywhere were still mainly paddy fields and simple houses made of bamboo and leaves weaved together to form the walls and roof. Lombok is still pretty very undeveloped even though it is known as the second Bali but somehow, tourism did not really pick up as most tourists end up going straight to the Gili islands where the party is at after landing at the airport.

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After checking into Puri Bunga Beach Cottages where we had our own cottage which is pretty spacey but pretty old looking, we decided to head across the road to check out the Art market and get something to eat for our late lunch. We were pretty much the only ones at the Art market but fortunately, there were 3 restaurants located next to each other. So we decided to have our late lunch at Lotus Bayview restaurant. I ordered their wooden oven pizza which wasn't bad like any other Italian pizza.

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After that we walked along the road to check out what was around Sengiggi area. Basically it was a very quiet area with no tourists except for us walking around. There were a few restaurants, atms, tour agents, mini arts, a massage palour, mini marts and a souvenir shop with no one going in at all. After checking out which atm machines Uwi could withdraw money from, we continued walking downwards to Senggigi beach to check out the beach and wait for the sun to set. There were locals fishing by the pier while others just go their to take photos. There were people walking along the beach but no one swam in the water. Basically, there wasn't must to do unless you are into people watching. After waiting for some time and with nothing else to do or see, we slowly walked back to our cottage. For a place which is considered the next Bali, this was way too quiet and the place was dying for tourists to come. For dinner, we just ate at the hotel restaurant which once again, we were the only ones there. Service was pretty slow even though they only had to serve us but then again, we had all the time in the world so we didn't mind the waiting. After settling down in our cottage, we sorted out what we needed to bring for the next day as we will start our activities in Lombok before going to bed.

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Sunday [9/12/2018] - There were not many choices of food for breakfast but with a plate of nasi goreng, scrambled egg and fresh fruits, it was enough to keep the stomach full. While having breakfast, Omar came and waited for us at the lobby. By 9am, we were ready to make a move to Senaru which is a 2 hour drive. As we headed towards the north, we could still see houses that has been ruined by the recent earthquakes and people living in tents. This was one of the reason why we had to change our initial plan which was to go to Lombok to climb Rinjani but in the end, after the earthquake happened and we had already bought our tickets, we had to change our climbing activity to a sightseeing one since northern Lombok was badly affected by the earthquakes. When we reached to Senaru, there were some local guides waiting for tourists to come which was minimal since everyone was avoiding to come to Lombok for the moment but Omar had already arranged 1 to take us to the waterfall area. We had to walked 25 minutes down the steps to go to the Sendang Gile waterfall. With a height of 30m, the water was pretty cold so we did not bath under the waterfall nor did we want to get wet since we had to walk further to check out the other waterfall. Since we didn't take a bath at the waterfall, we just sat on a big rock while Omar bought us banana fritters and coffee from an elderly woman who was running a simple stall to snack on while we relax and talk. It was interesting to talk with the local guide as he also does the Rinjani trekking. It's pretty sad to hear that ever since Rinjani was closed indefinitely for hiking after the earthquake, many of the local people in Senaru had lost their income and they were trying to find other ways to attract the tourists back.

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After stuffing ourselves with a lot of banana fritters, we headed on to Tiu Kelep waterfall. In order to go to this waterfall, we had to climb up a bridge with stairs that had missing or damaged handrails to cross a bridge before we walked through the side of the big concrete drains. Some parts of the path were blocked by landslides from the earthquakes since both of these waterfalls are located at the foot out mount Rinjani so we had to climb over fallen trees. Then without knowing in advance that we had to cross the streams, we had to take off our shoes so that they wouldn't get wet. If I had known we needed to walk in the water and step on rocks, I would have worn slippers instead but all these while, the local guide were bare footed from the start. So we walked slowly cross streams and climbed over fallen trees barefooted like the local guide. It was a good thing that the local guide was there to hold us while crossing the stream because the current was pretty strong. Since there was climbing involved on slippery rocks to get near to Tiu Kelep waterfall, we decided not to go ahead since we were barefooted. So only Omar climbed up the rocks just to have his photo taken with the waterfall as the background. The water was cool and refreshing but we didn't stay around long as there was nothing to do. So we slowly walked back to the car park and headed to a nearby restaurant for lunch. There were few people eating at the restaurant which was on top of a hill. From the viewpoint, we could see part of Sendang Gile waterfall. The wind was cool so it was nice to just sit and relax while waiting for our food. Service was once again slow for a small number of customer but then, probably that's the lifestyle of the local people.

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On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at Malimbu hill to see sunset. While waiting for the sun to set, Omar bought for us grilled corn and fresh coconut. We were supposed to be able to see mount Agung in Bali from here but it was too hazy. It's so refreshing just to sit and enjoy the breeze as well as the view while eating corn and drinking coconut juice. Sunset wasn't that all extraordinary as it was partly covered by the thick clouds. After arriving at the hotel, we tried swimming in the pool which was small and crowded since a Taekwondo group had just arrived and were practising their moves. In the evening, we walked to the atms for Uwi to withdraw money again and after that, we had dinner at Yessy Cafe which was recommended by Omar. I ordered ayam taliwang which is the must eat food in Lombok and I got a shock when it came out. I was expecting a standard size chicken but instead it was the size of a quail so I wasn't sure whether if it was actually a chicken or a quail bird. It tasted alright but it was pretty dry and hard to chew. The waiter tried to be funny with Uwi but I didn't get his jokes most of the time. After filling our tummy, we went back to the cottage and just relax inside our cottage.

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Monday [10/12/2018] – Breakfast was once again pretty similar to the day before but we could order pancake so we ordered 1 each. The pancake that we normally eat is thick and fluffy so I thought it was going to be like that also but what came to us was a thin sheet of pancake and since I ordered banana pancake, 5 small banana slices were added to the flour mixture. The pancake itself was pretty bland since it was basically flour mixed with water and a bit of salt. So the pancakes came with a small glass of black palm sugar which is a bit bitter sweet. Omar came and pick us up at 9am and today, we were going around Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara.

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We went to Kebon Roek traditional market first to see the everyday fresh produce that the locals come and buy. It was a pretty crowded place where you can see cidomo, the local traditional horse-drawn carriage lining up in a straight line outside the market area waiting for passengers after they have done their shopping at the market. Outside the market building, sellers were putting all their produce on the ground next to each other and even blocking the stairs going up to the first floor. So you can see elderly women selling vegetables, fruits, fish, chicken and even kuihs with no specific allocation for each type of produce like markets in other countries. Although the things they sell are pretty common which you can find in any market in Borneo, it is still interesting to see all the different things and colours and the traditional weighing scales rather than the modern ones. The stalls inside the market building were a bit more organised. On the ground floor, you can see the fruit section, the dry goods section, vegetable section and meat section whereas on the top floor, you can buy clothes but hardly anyone goes up. It would something very unusual for Uwi to see as he had probably never seen such a disorganised market since markets in Europe are very clean and organised.

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Then we head off to the old town of Ampenan which still consist of colonial style buildings. The 2 storey buildings reminded me of the old shops in Lampung. Although the buildings are old, the price of these buildings have gone up over the years. Those some buildings are abandoned, some businesses are still running like one of the old Chinese bakery shop run by an elderly Indonesian Chinese couple who originated from Surabaya. Omar ordered Lombok coffee and some of their buns for us to try.

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After that, we went to the West Nusa Tenggara State Museum to learn more about Lombok and its culture. Inside the exhibition, one can check out the flora and fauna found in Lombok and Sumbawa, miniature replica of Mount Rinjani National Park , the traditional wedding clothes worn by the Sasak, Samawa (people in Sumbawa), Bima, and Balinese people, jaran kamput, weaving tools and daggers, just to name a few.

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After the museum visit we went to Mayura water palace which was built in 1744 by the king of Karangasem from Bali. The architecture of this water palace is similar to the Balinese bale kambang and is used as a court of law and a meeting hall. During the era when the Balinese princes ruled the island, By then, it was already noon time and it was very hot under the open area. So we head off to our last destination which is the Narmada park.
Also built by the king of Karangasem in 1727, this park became as the resting place of the royal family. While take shelter from the hot sun and just relaxing to enjoy the peaceful scenery from the open area which is the living room of Bale Terang, Since we didn't have anything else to do, we actually spend quite some time just sitting there while eating the jackfruits and tapioca that Omar bought for us.

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On the way back, we stopped for our very late lunch and I ordered ayam taliwang again but this time, it tasted way better than the other 2 that I have ordered before. Since it was still early in the afternoon by the time we reached back to the cottage, we decided to go for a swim in the pool for a while before going to the street again to send our laundry and getting some food to eat for dinner. After sending laundry and Uwi getting his money again, we head back to the Art market to find a place to eat. In the end, we decided to try Coco Loco cafe which is just next to Lotus Bayview restaurant. We sat by the beach to enjoy the sea breeze and food was not too bad though it was pretty spicy.

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Tuesday [11/12/2018] – Today, we had to leave by 7.30 am for our activities so we were fortunate that breakfast was almost ready when we headed towards the restaurant. Omar drove us to Gunung Sari village to meet up with Jun, our cycling guide and another guy who brought the mountain bikes for us. It has been more than 2 decades since I rode on a bmx bicycle and it was also my first time using a mountain bike and cycling on a busy street with lots of cars and motorcycles also using a narrow street. Since they saw that I had problems riding the bike on the busy street, they took us to a quiet empty space for me to practice riding the bicycle and getting used to a mountain bike. Took quite a while for me to balance on a bicycle but eventually, I was able to ride it. Once we were all ready, we followed Jun slowly. I still had difficulty cycling in a straight line and also it was pretty scary to have cars and motorbikes coming towards you or overtaking you from the back. Going uphill was a real challenge for me as I didn't know how to use the gear and always had to end up getting off the bike and push it uphill before getting on the bike again once we reach to flat ground. Our first stop was to a small scale cottage industry of the village women making tapioca chips and other kerupuks. There's salty chips and spicy chips where they fry them in a big pot of cooking oil in a hut. We then cross the road to go to the house just directly opposite the hut to see what they were doing there. Basically the house is just 4 walls with no cement flooring. Stacks of tapioca were put on the ground which were going to cut into slices there and packed chips were also stored in a small section of the building. Sometimes it would be better not to know how they process food and snacks especially in village area as they would not even pass the hygiene standards.

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We continued with our tour and then Jun signaled us to stop at a traditional market in one of the village which was mainly made of zinc roof and wooden poles holding the roof up. Jun showed us what the women were selling and after a while, probably because they hardly have foreign tourists especially a Chinese and a westerner, the women who were selling things started to talk to us and became busybody. One of them even wanted to know what powder I use for my face because she wanted to become as fair as me! Indonesian can be very funny sometimes but it was fun talking to them. After passing through paddy fields and houses, we stopped at a roadside stall to taste Lombok coffee and also to rest for a while.

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The day became hotter and we could start feeling the heat from the road. While stopping to take some photos of the paddy fields with the mountain on the background, a man came over with his daughter and wanted take a photo of his daughter with us. After finding out that I came from Brunei, he told us that he has worked in Malaysia before. I think it is very typical for village people in Indonesia to take photos with tourists especially if they are westerners because you don't see a lot of white guys around unless it is in touristic places. By the time we finally reached to the parking area at Lingsar temple, it was past 1 pm and we were glad we were under the shade because it was extremely hot to be out in the open now. Well, I finally survived 11.5 km of cycling on the main road and it was something different for a change.

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For lunch, Omar brought us to his home where we had home cooked meal by his wife. Temporary, he and his family, 2 daughters and 1 son were staying at his father's house as their own house were damaged by the earthquake. After resting for a while and with tummy full, Omar sent us back to our cottage. Since it was our last night at Senggigi, I decided to start packing my stuff while Uwi went for a swim. For dinner we ate at Lotus Bayview restaurant.

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Wednesday [12/12/2018] – After breakfast, we checked out from Puri Bunga Beach Cottages and Omar drove us to Lingsar. We started our panoramic walk by foot where we walked along the big concrete drain where the water was flowing down swiftly. We could see the locals working on their rice fields and a few women doing laundry and taking a bath inside the drain and there's a big river with a lot of rocks. There's also a small concentrate bridge across the river to connect the other side of the land to where we were and at that time, there were a group of boys still in their school uniform just hanging out on the bridge. Omar talked to them as he always sees them whenever he is there and he asked them to come with us. So we kept on walking until we walked down to the river where there are rocks for us to sit on. The boys of course were with us too and it was interesting to find out about them. They were studying in a religious school in the next village and staying at the school hostel. Since that day was the last day of school, it explained why they were at the river instead of in school at 10 am. They are pretty shy but they probably have not seen much of tourists before which was the reason why they were with us.

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After taking few photos with them and tasting the local mango that Omar cut for us, we continued on with our walk. We kept on walking, saw more farmers ploughing the land for planting paddy or looking after their paddy from being eaten by the birds and stopped by once in a while to take photos until we reached to a village. There was a group of people threshing rice and since Uwi has never seen the process before, we stopped and looked at it. Since it was already lunch time, we continued with our walk until we reached to a small road where cars and motorbikes can pass through.

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We kept on following Omar until we reached to his farm in Murpeji where he is in the process of developing it into and ecotourism area so that he can bring his clients there next time. I was suprised to see his daughter and his wife there also and apparently, they have prepare lunch for us but before that, we went to see how palm sugar is made which is in another place and required more walking. By then, we have already done about 7 km of walking by foot. The owner of the farm had already started the process of making brown sugar where a huge wok of palm nectar was cooking on a clay stove inside a small hut when we reached there. While waiting for the sugar to be caramelised, the owner climbed up a coconut tree to pluck fresh coconuts for us to drink and also gave us salak (snakefruit) to eat. I had seen snakefruit before because we do have it in Brunei and I also saw bigger ones in Bali before but never bothered to try it under I was in Thailand. It's sweet but the texture is hard so it was not one of my favourite fruits. However for Uwi, he has never seen it before so he was pretty fascinated by it and call it the butt fruit because it looks like a butt to him.

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When the brown sugar was ready, we were called to watch how the palm sugar was moulded. First the owner, stir the palm sugar on the top sides of the wok that was taken off the fire a few times until there was a sign that indicate the sugar was slightly cool. Then using a wet coconut shell that was cut into half and putting a leaf just to cover the holes on the shell, the brown sugar was scooped into the mould and then left aside while he kept on scooping the sugar into the next mould. By the time he was done with all the moulds, the brown sugar in the first mould had already solidified so he just tap it out lightly and there you have it, palm sugar. Omar managed to take a bit of the brown sugar and added it into our coconut which was empty already except for the flesh and asked us to try it. It was something new that I have never tried before but it made the coconut flesh very delicious to eat. After we had finished our coconut, we walked back to Omar's farm and had lunch made by his wife which she cooked from home. After feeling full and enjoying the scenery of the nature, we head towards to Kuta where we will check into Mana Retreat.

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The Kuta area is pretty quiet where you don't see a lot of people walking around. Mana Retreat is located inside a small alley and the area is not really that big. The deluxe bungalow we stayed in was pretty comfortable. There is a double bed on the ground floor and another one on the 2nd floor. The shower area has an open concept where there were no windows but just open space on the top part of the walls for ventilation (and also mosquitoes) to enter. After settling down, we didn't walk out of the retreat but just relax and tried out the small pool. For dinner, we just ate at the restaurant and after that, watched the movie that was showing at their "cinema" which was the same area used for yoga during the day. Pretty relaxing except for the annoying mosquitoes. After the movie, we went back to our bungalow, had a quick shower and then rested since there was nothing else to do.

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Thursday [13/12/2018] – After having breakfast, Omar came and picked us up at 10am to do the culture trip and go to Selong Belanak beach. First we went to Ende Sasak village where the indigenous people of Lombok are still living in the traditional way. It's a pretty small village where the houses called bale tani are made of wood, bamboo and dried leaves for the roof whereas the flooring is made of cow dung to smoothen the soil. The roof of the house as well as the door frame is very low so that anyone who wants to enter the house is forced to bow his or her head in respect to the dwellers. The husband and the sons usually sleeps outside the house after the first child is born while the women and the daughters sleep inside the house. The women do weaving to sell to tourists which is the main income of this village while the men work as farmers. It's a pretty small village and before we end to tour, we were brought to the shop where they have all sorts of weaved fabrics and even songket which is similar to Brunei. I was looking for a songket with gold threads and black background which is commonly used in official invitations to the royal palace during certain ceremonies but since they don't have that colour, I end up buying a songket made of gold threads and purple background and some songket bags. It wasn't that cheap at all to buy these weaved materials but considering the amount of time put into making 1 piece of songket, it is alright and at the same time, it's a way to support the local villagers.

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Next, we head to another weaving village called the Sukarara weaving Village. This village is very commercialized where there is a big shop selling weaved products facing the car park area. The local guide of this village took us to the back of the shop to see how the woven fabrics are made. The houses here are modern where all of them are made of wood with zinc roof and they also have electricity supply. You can see few women weaving on their traditional loom at the veranda of their house while the men were sleeping outside the house. The funny thing I saw also here was that they wore a mini drum like pendant to some of the pigeons' neck!

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The guide then brought us back into the shop where they helped us to dress up in their traditional wedding attire and then we walked pass the left side of the shop to take some photos with the weaved fabric as the background. Then we were asked to walked up the traditional Sukarara house which were on stilts so that the guide can take our photo. After all the photo session, we went back into the shop and then looked around at the woven fabrics. The price here was more expensive than those at Ende Sasak village but they have a lot of choices here. Once again, I looked for the gold threads and black background songket but they also don't have it. So I just end up buying simple weaved fabric like a scarf with the work Lombok weaved into it as it was the cheapest thing I could find.

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Next, we head to the Banyumulek pottery center where the pottery is done by the Sasak people. We walked through the shop first to the back where there is a shaded open area. Then each one of us were asked to choose from the sample shown which one we wanted to do. Uwi chose to do a simple plate whereas I chose a 3D cat (later on, my friend who saw the photo of it on Facebook told me that it is Totoro). It wasn't an easy thing to do as we have never done any sculpturing before but the lady assisted us and helped to shape the clay while we were doing it until the shape is formed. Since we didn't have time to wait for them to burn the clay using the traditional method, Omar helped to take them for us to dry under the sun while we went into the shop and see the pottery products they were selling which was handmade individually. Everything was not so expensive and they even have the Moroccan Tagine pot which I love to have but considering we are not even half way through our trip and the flight to Flores only has a 20kg weight limit, I had to forget about it. Instead, I got 2 small terracotta candle holder as a souvenir as they are small and not too heavy to bring back.

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Our last destination is to Selong Belanak beach. Since we haven’t had lunch, Omar took us to eat at Laut Biru Bar and Restaurant, a seaside cafe at Sempiak Villas. The cafe looks lovely with high ceiling and open concept where diners can enjoy the sea breeze and the lovely blue sea while eating their meal. The waves were pretty strong so it’s a good place for surfing. Food was delicious though a bit pricey compare to normal local standard.
After lunch, we walked to the beach and I was hoping to catch the famous icon of this beach which is the group of water buffaloes walking on the beach. There were few local tourists walking on the beach, enjoying the breeze and the view.

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While slowly walking towards the other end of the beach, we finally saw a group of water buffalo walking towards us slowly. Earlier on, Omar told us that the herders will bring buffaloes pass through the beach everyday to go and find food and once again pass through the beach again when they go back to their village as it is a short cut for them. I have seen water buffaloes all my life actually but only in muddy areas. So it is something unusual for us and of course we would not miss the opportunity to take photos. After taking the photos, we followed the buffaloes to the end of the beach and then we hung around there for a while to take some more photos of the sea. The 2 surfing warung offering surfing lessons was very quiet as we didn't see anyone at all and we only saw 2 western women learning surfing. After having enough of the view, we finally head back to the cafe and looked for Omar who was waiting for us while drinking coffee. Before leaving the parking area, we took our hand made sculpture which was left in the open to be dried under the sun. By the time we reach to Mana retreat, it was still early afternoon so we went for a swim. After taking a shower, we head to the restaurant to have dinner and once again, watch movie that was shown in their cinema.

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Friday [14/12/2018] – Since we didn't have any specific plans except for just checking out Kuta beach, we woke up around 8am. After having a healthy breakfast of smoothie, we started walking towards Kuta beach at 10.30am. We were actually the only ones walking by foot, passing by stalls and houses. It was a very quiet town and the weather was very hot too. When we reached to the"touristic" area, we didn't see many foreign tourists around so we walked on towards the beach area. As we reached to the beach area which has a few huts, the local people were either sleeping and just people watching. There was a floating jetty for people to catch the local boat to go somewhere which at that time, there was no one. It was extremely hot by then and there was nothing to do so we just rested under hut until 12.30pm to enjoy the breeze and get out from the sun. Then we decided to keep on walking to see what we can find at the end of the beach. Once again, there was nothing much. We walked until we reach to the Kuta Mandalika signboard and there is a 2 storey viewing point but it seems like we have to pay just to go up which wasn't worth as none of the local tourists did so also. It was a pretty disappointing and boring beach as no one swam in the ocean also. Since it was so hot (even though I come from a hot country, the wind and the sun was not this hot!), we decided to find a place to have lunch and get away from the heat.

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There weren't many choices to choose from, only a local warung and a cafe. So in the end, we decided to try the cafe which is up to Uwi's standard. I ordered seafood jambalaya and spring rolls while Uwi ordered his usual western food. Since it was so hot and there was nothing much to do, we just sat at the cafe and talked until 3pm. Then we slowly walked back towards Mana and on the way back, we turned into a road to find a route to go up the hill overlooking the sea. We walked under the dead end and we couldn't find the path to go up the hill even though Uwi insisted unless we trespass private properties. So we decided to head back to Mana Retreat. We didn't want to carry any wet clothes with us since we had to check out and fly to Flores very early morning the next day. So instead of swimming, we just sat and relax at the hut until the mosquitoes come out. Then we started packing our stuff before we went for dinner. After dinner, once again we watched the movie that was shown on the cinema before going back to our bungalow to sleep early since we have to leave for the airport by 4am to go to Flores.

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Posted by Lingering 22:23 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

It's More Fun In The Philippines


View Manila on Lingering's travel map.

Sunday [10/12/2017] I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the afternoon after taking a 2 hour flight from Brunei. My friends came to pick me up and then we headed to Shore Residences where I will be staying for the whole trip. It's a new residential condominium with a resort style amenities located at the heart of the SM Mall of Asia area in Pasay. Since the amenities were not open yet, all I could do was to just the view of it from the 16th floor everyday. In the evening, we walked to Mall of Asia by foot which is not very far from Shore Residences to have dinner and so that I could buy some food and kitchen utensils to cook when I don't go out.

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Monday [11/12/2017] Today we walked to Shell Residences which is located on the other end of the same road where Shore Residences is. A lot of foreigners were staying there as it is very near to MOA. After doing some documents in the bank, we headed off to Quiapo Market. The train system in Manila is pretty old and not as efficient as other countries as there is not enough trains to carry passengers every few minutes. When we came out of the Carriedo station, I could see rows of tents arranged next to each other along both sides of a narrow road. There were also stalls set up just next to the roadside where cars and jeepneys were passing by along a crowded street. As a foreigner, one could not help but noticed the rubbish just simply thrown everywhere on the road and the people just went about doing their business as usual. You can also buy fruits, food and all sort of items on this street market which you can also find in other countries but at a cheaper price.

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We walked towards the Quiapo church (also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene) which is famous for the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ carved from black wood which said to be miraculous. Outside the church, peddlers were selling religious statues, rosaries and coloured candles for people to burn where each colour represent the wish they pray for (easy way of making money from what I see). The Quiapo church is like any other catholic church I have been to except that it is surrounded by open air markets. Inside this church you can also go up the narrow flight of stairs to kiss Jesus’ foot which was also carved from the black wood.

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Then we slowly walked to Quiapo bridge where there are stalls selling handicrafts under the bridge. I bought Filipina dolls wearing the traditional costume as well as a few star light decoration made of shells. On the way back to Quiapo market, we passed through another market area where this time, the peddlers were selling fresh food stuff like salted fish and vegetables. Our last stop was the Manila City Plaza where Jazel wanted to find mobile cover as well as Christmas presents. I was pretty shocked at the sight of that plaza as there were papers, plastics, food containers, etc. on the floor and the people were just walking on them like as if they don't see anything at all. Coming from a country where people don’t throw rubbish on the floor inside a shopping mall or shop, this is a shock for me as I also find it disgusting and it shows how the mindset of the local people are over there. Even people in China don’t through rubbish inside the shopping area or on the road where there are markets! We had dinner in Mang Inasal which is not bad but popular among the locals because there is a set where you can ask for refill of rice as many times as you like. So what the locals normally do is to order 1 set with the unlimited refill of rice while the rest just order the normal sets at cheaper price and after they had asked for refill of rice, they will share the rice with the others.

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On the way back, my friends bought balut eggs for me to try which was alright but probably some of the balut egg wasn’t that fresh because the first one that was opened smelled like it was a bit rotten already. I tasted the second one which did not have the slightly rotten smell. It tasted a bit like hard boiled egg as I couldn’t taste much of the young duck texture even though I could see fine black feathers and the eye socket but the yolk part was very hard to eat. I stayed overnight at Breeze Residences since I was going to following my friends to San Pablo and we had to catch the bus the next morning.

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Tuesday [12/12/2017] Today, we head to San Pablo’s SM Mall using the bus in the morning to meet up with my friends’ cousins. While we were waiting for their cousins to arrive, we did some shopping in SM Mall and then went to Shakey's Pizza for lunch. By the time their cousins came, we had already finished our lunch. We then headed back to SM Mall again for my friends to discuss about some business proposal with some people. By the time they finished the discussion, it was already evening.

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After that, we headed back towards Manila in their cousin’s car but it so happened to be the day where his car license plate number was prohibited from driving in Manila. License plates ending in 1 and 2 are prohibited from driving in Manila on Mondays between 7 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm. Number 3 and 4 cannot be driven on Tuesdays, number 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, number 7 and 8 on Thursdays and 9 as well as 0 on Fridays. So we had to stop at the rest stop area and have our dinner while waiting for the curfew to be lifted. By the time we reached to Breeze Residence, it was already 10pm and we hung out there for a while before we went over to my unit in Shore Residence so that my friends could show off and try to persuade their cousin and his friend to buy a unit from them. When they decided to go over to Solaire Resort and Casino, it was already close to 1am and when we were in there, people were still gambling. We stayed there until 2am because we had to wait for my friend’s husband to finish gambling before they send me back to my condo first and then my friends back to Breeze Residence.

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Wednesday [13/12/2017] After a late night out, I had to wake up early to meet up with Sunny, a friend I have been communicating online since 2010. He asked me to meet up at Forum Robinsons in Mandaluyong as he was going to have lunch there with his staff. To go to Mandaluyong, I had to take a taxi so I walked all the way to Shell Residence because there was a line of taxi waiting at the roadside for passengers. However, I was shocked to hear that the taxi driver was going to charge me 600 peso (B$16) and giving the typical excuse of it is peak time already just to go there. I have been warned about taxi drivers in Manila refusing to use taxi meters and charging exorbitant price for such a short distance if they know you are a tourist so I walked off and tried to catch a taxi by the main road. The taxi driver I eventually got was better as he asked me first how much would I give him and he asked for a bit more which is half of the fare the first taxi driver was asking for so both of us were happy. The traffic was terrible at the EDSA area so I arrived late to Forum Robinsons. Sunny and his colleagues were already having lunch so I just joined them. It was fun talking to him as he's a cheerful, optimistic and funny man who speaks good English for a Korean. The rest of his female colleagues were also friendly and I learned that their company is similar to Kumon in our country. After his colleagues left (since they had to go back to the office), we stayed on and chatted. He was surprised to see me in Manila because I didn’t tell him that I was going there before until he saw the photos I posted on Facebook. After that, we headed to SM Light Mall since my friends said we will meet up there and Sunny had to go to his daughter's institution which was also near there. We didn’t go around the mall but just sat at the coffee shop and talked some more. It’s funny how we can click with some people so well on the first meeting. We talked and talked while waiting for my friends to come which they ended up not coming at all (which I wished they would have informed me earlier so I didn't have to wait for them there) until it was time for Sunny to go to his daughter’s institution. Unfortunately, he was not able to send me back as his car license plate was prohibited from driving on that day. By that time, it was after working hours and the traffic was horrible! It was difficult to get Grab taxi or even a normal taxi as the waiting queue was so long. So in the end, Sunny hailed a taxi cab for me before it went into the mall area but boy, was I charged 900 peso just to get back to Shore Residence because of the peak time. Oh well, I was glad to get out of the congested area but traffic towards MOA was not that different also.

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Thursday [14/12/2017] Today, we will be heading to Banuae in the evening so I have the whole day free for myself. After packing my stuff for the trip, I walked to the Mall of Asia to find the Science Discovery Center but was not able to find it. Finally, I was told by the security that it was temporary closed for renovation. Since it was closed, there was nothing else to do so I just went around each floor to see what shops were available. There’s an ice skating ring, cinema, entertainment playground for kids and a lot of shops. I managed to do some shopping in Uniqlo and get some thermal wear since Sagada is very cold at night but Uniqlo in Philippines is more expensive that in Malaysia. Most of the shops there were not really of any interest to me and even if they are like Marks & Spencer, it was more expensive than the ones in Malaysia and Singapore. Only SM Mall Hypermart were pretty affordable if you are talking about their locally produced products but not so for imported goods. So by late afternoon, I walked back to the condo and got ready for our trip later at night.

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I met up with my friends in MOA again around 7pm and had dinner with them first before we waited for the driver of the group tour to Banuae, Sagada and Baguio in front of Giligan's Island Restaurant & Bar. By the time the driver came, it was close to 9pm and we had to make another stop at the Caltex North Avenue petrol station to pick up some more people for the trip. When everyone was picked up, there were altogether 15 of us with the driver. It was going to be a long drive because we were expecting to reach to Banuae early in the morning.

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Friday [15/12/2017] After having some sleep on the way, the driver told us that we have to stop to eat something to fill our tummy first because we would not be able to arrive to Banuae early in the morning since there were also a lot of cars and vans heading towards the same destination. I was pretty surprised that there were a lot of cars at the rest stop area where people were having some hot food to eat or just for toilet stop. I don’t normally eat heavy after 12am so it was good to have a hot bowl of porridge at 1.30am. 30 mins later and after using the toilet, we continued our journey non-stop all the way to Banuae. I am lucky that I am used to travelling on the road at night, so it was not so much of a problem for me to get some sleep. Actually most of us slept because we trusted the driver who knew the road better than us and have been bringing people to these places frequently. However, my friend who had never travelled overnight before and is so used to luxury travelling said that she did not sleep at all because she was worried about the road since we were travelling at the sides of the Central Cordillera Mountains.

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By the time we reached to Banuae, it was only close to 7am and it was very cold. After taking some photos at the gateway of Banuae, we drove on to have our breakfast first. Breakfast was like in Indonesia, eating rice early in the morning. At the famous rice terrace, there was a native Igorot man who offered to pose with people for photo taking but expecting some money to be given to him as tip. After some photo taking of the famous Banaue rice terraces and souvenir shopping, we drove on to Sagada and by the time we reached there, it was already close to noon time.

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The driver parked the van at the back of the Church Of St. Mary The Virgin since there is no parking space in the town area. We went into the church first to borrow the toilet and boy, the water was freezing cold! When we started walking towards the town, the wind was pretty cold even though the sun was shining brightly. With a population of less than 11,500 Igorots, the town was very peaceful with people walking on the side of the roads as the road could only accommodate 1 car at a time. We passed by several small restaurants, a souvenir shop and some inns before deciding to enter a simple small eatery place. We tried the pinikpikan, a specialty dish of Sagada and ginsing-ginsing which was not bad. After lunch, we slowly walked back towards the church and on the way, we stopped at a souvenir shop to see what souvenirs to buy. There were local jams, wine, coffee, biscuits, t-shirts, magnets, keychains, etc but we did not buy anything yet as we still have the next day to come back again. So we headed back to the car park area and the driver told us that we will check into our homestay first before going to the Sumaguing cave.

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We were split into 2 groups since the homestay was not big enough to accommodate all of us. So for me and my friends, we stayed in Log-In Homestay which was very cozy because the interior is mainly made of wood and there is also a fireplace. There were 2 beds in my room which 3 person can sleep in and also a bathroom but unfortunately, the water heater was not working at all so the water was freezing cold! The other rooms had to share the bathroom on the first floor which had hot water so lucky them. The second group and the driver stayed in another homestay which was located at the other end of the town. The house wasn’t as nice and cozy as ours and their floor was tiled so it was freezing cold but they had hot shower.

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By the time everyone (including the 3 guides who were going to lead us) was ready for spelunking in the Sumaguing cave it was already 3pm. We had the option of doing the Sumaguing cave or the cave connect (this was more difficult and it starts from another cave entrance) but since the rest were not fit, we all ended up doing the Sumaguing cave only. It was ok but then there were some slippery spots so we were told to walk barefooted to prevent from slipping. There was a place where we had to walk in the water which fortunately was not that deep but the water was cold but not as freezing cold as the water in our homestay. We ended coming out from the cave close to 6pm and it was already dark. By the time we waited for the driver to pick us up, it was already 6.30pm and the wind was very, very cold!

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Before we head back to our homestay, the driver told us that we had to have dinner since the restaurant was on the way. Since our legs were still wet and we did not bring any jacket with us, walking from the road all the way down to the restaurant was like walking inside a big freezer since the wind just kept on blowing! Even when we were already inside the restaurant, it was still cold as the wind was blowing in until I closed the door. When we got back to our homestay, taking a bath was even more challenging! Since my bathroom didn’t have any hot water and I had to take a bath before going to sleep, it took me ages to even get my body wet and I had to get out as fast as I can before I freeze to death! I told the owner that the heater wasn't working in the bathroom in my room but she said to let the water run for a while then it will get hot. So guess what I did, I left the shower dripping a bit so that the water will be hot but when I woke up at 3 am to get ready to see the sunrise, it was even colder! No hot water at all!

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Saturday [16/12/2017] By 4 am, we got ready to go to Kitepan. We rode on a jeep where people can sit on the roof but since it was too cold, everyone just wanted to sit inside the warm jeep. It was a bumpy ride and by the time we reached to Kitepan, there were already people there and the wind was just howling like crazy. The viewpoint for the sunrise is actually at the edge of a hill so it was very windy and freezing cold. There were stalls selling hot drinks and simple hot soupy noodles just to keep the body warm. We had to wait until 6 am for the sun to rise so while waiting, we had to secure a good spot to view the sunrise. Everyone was trying to find ways to keep themselves warm and I tried standing behind someone so that person would block the wind but it was useless. When 6 am finally came, the clouds were still very thick and we couldn’t even see the sun rising but the wind had slowly became warmer. Without seeing the sun rising, we decided it was enough and headed back to the jeep but this time, some of them decided to sit on top of the roof all the way to the orange farm to pick some oranges. I didn’t go orange picking because I didn’t like that type of orange and I also thought the orange they grew were the orange coloured ones like from US but instead it’s the green ones which is even grown in Brunei.

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After orange picking, we were dropped off at the place we were picked up so all of us walked to town to have breakfast. Since it was Saturday, they have the open air market where people were selling vegetables and local snacks so it was interesting to see some of the things they sell like the smoked pork belly and also the various type of Filipino desserts. All of us decided to have breakfast at Salt & Pepper diner and while waiting for our food, a couple bought the famous lemon pies from the Lemon Pie House which they had booked the day before.

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After having our tummy filled, we did a bit of souvenir shopping before we headed towards the car park behind the church. We got ready to go to the Echo Valley to see the hanging coffins which I had wanted to see since 2015 when I first saw the photo in Bangkok. To go down to the Echo Valley, we had to walk pass through the modern Christian cemetery before going down the steps. At the viewpoint where we could see the hanging coffins already from far, this is the start of the Echo Valley where your voice will bounce back. Then we continued to walk down the valley slowly towards the hanging coffins. As we got nearer and nearer, I saw that the coffins were actually not hung from the top of the cliff as they were not very high and there were stacks of coffins inside a cave nearby. Up close, the coffins were just supported by metal rods which were stuck into the holes on the rocks. This traditional way of burying Igorot people is not carried out anymore as most of them have now converted to Christian and are therefore buried in cemeteries. We were told that there are other places with hanging coffins but this is the only place which is still accessible to people.

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Since we had late heavy breakfast, we decided to skip lunch and continued with our tour. We went to the northern part of Sagada to see the Bomod-ok waterfall which is 200m high. The driver dropped us at the parking area of the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin where we went to the Parish Center first to use the toilet before going down to the waterfall. We were guided by 2 ladies who handed each of us a stick and we started our easy walk down the steps. We passed through Fidelisan village where we stopped to wait for the others who were way behind us. While waiting in front of a small stall for the others, we ate buko special ice cream. Once everyone was well rested, we continued on until we passed the rice fields before reaching to the waterfall. No one wanted to take a dip in the water as the water falling down was very strong and freezing cold at this time of the year. However, 4 men were crazy enough to get into the water but for a very short time. After having enough of photo taking, as we slowly walked back up, everyone stopped to have something to eat at the small stall set up not far away from the waterfall. I guess most of them were starting to get hungry as they kept on eating the caramelized banana and some sort of fried dough sold at the small stall. Then we slowly walked up the steps which was a long slow walk as not everyone was fit to continue walking. This time, instead of using the same way down, we walked up through another route which leads to a parking area where jeepneys were waiting to pick up hikers to go back to the parking area. While waiting for the rest to come, some of them started eating again a stall selling balut and lumpia. I only tried 1 lumpia which surprisingly tasted crispy and delicious even though the skin looked soggy, very different from the ones sold in Brunei. On the way back to our homestay, we stopped at the Sagada weaving shop which I only bought a small pouch since it was not cheap at all. After that, we were sent back to our homestay and got ready to sleep early that night since we had to leave Sagada by 4am to make it back to Manila by night time.

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Initially, my friend's husband planned to ask the owner of our homestay to cook dinner for us since he invited everyone over to our place to eat but little did he know that the owner was on duty that night. Since we didn't know what time she would be coming back, in the end he had no choice but to call the driver to pick us up again for dinner at the same place where we had dinner the night before. There were only 8 of us going for dinner as the others had already eaten or were tired. After dinner, we went back to our homestay and we chatted a bit, ate the delicious lemon pie as well as drank the Sagada fruit wine. The lemon pie was irresistible and I had 2 slices since it didn't taste sour at all but I felt the sourish effect the next morning.

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Sunday [17/12/2017] We left the homestay at 4am when it was pitch black. We slept in the car and after 3.5 hours drive on the curvy road of the Halsema highway, we reached the highest point in Atok, Benguet which is 7400 feet above sea level. The wind was so strong and colder than in Sagada that I can't help but shiver so it was difficult to get a good shot of the scenery from the viewpoint. Most of us were hungry so we ate cup noodle just to fill and warm up our tummy from the small shop at the viewpoint. From there, we drove on until we reach to a restaurant where we had our breakfast. It was another heavy one with fried rice early in the morning.

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With our tummy full, we continued our journey to La Trinidad strawberry farm. Everyone would stop at this place if they are heading to Baguio so the car park was full of cars. The farm was pretty big compared to the ones in Indonesia but I have seen enough of the strawberry farms in Indonesia so I didn't go to pick the strawberries. Instead, we checked out the row of souvenir stalls where people were buying strawberries, strawberry jams, peanuts, biscuits, strawberry ice cream, keychains, etc to give away.

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After everyone had done shopping for souvenirs, we drove non-stop to Burnham park which I don't find it interesting as people go there to play some of the rides. We just went on the boat ride where the men were the ones rowing the boat. The place was literally crowded with local tourists riding the bike, going on the boat, photo taking here and there or sitting down and just watching people. It wasn't an impressive place and I would give it a miss if I had the choice. By 4pm, we started our journey towards Manila and on the way, we stopped at Lion's Head statue along Kennon Road. I'm not sure why this Lion's Head statue is so popular that it is a must stop place for tourists to take photos when you can't even take photo of the whole head unless you go across the other side of the road.

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After 2 hours on the road again, the driver stopped at a rest area which has a restaurant for tourists to fill their tummy and use the toilet before continuing their journey. They had a huge variety of ready cooked food and all you had to do was choose whatever you feel like having as you move along the line and then pay for it when you reach to the end of the line. I was getting addicted to the Filipino crispy lumpia wrapper that I couldn't resist ordering the turon and I don't normally eat sweet snacks like that for dinner. It's so sweet and crispy! Oh well, too much of sweet snacks are also not good. After dinner, we continued on towards Manila and by the time we reached Mall of Asia, it was already midnight but there were still a lot of people being dropped off (probably after coming back from similar trips like ours) and people waiting for the vans to be filled before heading back to their province. It has been a very long journey on the road but I enjoyed Sagada very much and I don't mind going back there again some day.

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Monday [18/12/2017] After the long trip during the weekend, I woke up very late and just stayed in the condo. I did my laundry and some cooking while just resting for the whole day. I tried the local corn beef in the can and it was absolutely tasty and moist without even needing to add salt or pepper. I should have bought a few cans back to Brunei since I can't find that brand here.

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Tuesday [19/12/2017] Today, I went with my friends to Greenbelt in Makati. I'm not a big fan of high class shopping malls but it wouldn't hurt just window shopping around. There were a lot of stores and branded boutiques (which were pretty expensive compared to other countries) and Greenbelt 1 to 5 are just next to each other. There is a departmental store where things are of reasonable price and this is the place where you see a lot of people buying stuff. I just bought a few things because I was too lazy to carry bulky stuff around and then by 5pm, we left Makati area to avoid the rush hour as people were starting to get off work already. We took the train to Mall of Asia because my friends who are members of Okada casino wanted to show off to me. Before we headed to the casino using the free shuttle bus from MOA, we ate our early dinner at Jollibee. After our simple dinner, we headed off to Okada using their free shuttle bus and by 7.30pm we were already there since it's just a few minutes ride from MOA. The casino has nice interior designs but to me, casinos are just casinos. You see gamblers (mainly from China) sitting in front of slot machines or gambling tables the whole day trying to get rich fast. After watching the dancing fountain show which plays every hour and going around the whole place just to see the shops we managed to meet up with one of the lady who went with us to Sagada who is a supervisor working there. Since we had to wait for my friend's husband who was happily gambling away while people have to wait for him, there was basically nothing to do since there were no stage performance to watch. By 9pm, I was starting to feel hungry already and the only food which was affordable to everyone is Starbucks (full of people), Chatime and French baker. So I ended up buying danish pastries just to fill up my tummy while chatting with my friend in order to pass time and waiting for her husband to stop gambling. By 11pm, since there was no sound from her husband yet, we decided to find him because we were already getting very bored waiting for him. It was a good idea or else he would not stop gambling at all. After 11.30pm, there were no more shuttle bus to MOA so everyone either had to take a taxi or Grabcar back to where they came from. By the time I was dropped off in front of my condo, it was close to midnight already,

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Wednesday [20/12/2017] After spending a day with my friends yesterday, I needed a day on my own so I decided to check out Manila Ocean Park. I took the Marine Voyage 15 package which was on offer at that time where I have access to 13 different exhibits. I went to check out the Oceanrium first which was pretty interesting because you could see different types of marine fishes, corals, spotted garden eels (everyone was so curious as to what they actually are). The most interesting part of this exhibit is the 220° curved walkway tunnel where you walk through and see the spectacular underwater view of amazing sea creatures swimming overhead.

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Next I went to the fish spa which was on the first floor and just enjoyed the breeze while waiting for the hungry fish to nibble away the dead skin on my feet. 30 mins after my feet first went into the water, less and less fish were interested in my feet already and they moved on to newcomers which gave them more food so it was time to head on to the Back of the House. It turned out to be just an area where all the Oceanarium's operations depend on it so not many people were interested to check it out unless you are very interested to keep marine creatures in your aquarium. Since I was on the first floor, I decided to check out the Trails to Antartica which is a favourite for children because of the Humboldt penguins so the queue to get in was pretty long. Disappointingly for the long queue, the place where the penguins were displayed is just a small area because you have to keep on moving on to the Christmas Village (which is just a small room decorated with Christmas decorations, santa clause, snowmen, etc) since people kept on coming in.

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The Jellies exhibit I have to say is the most therapeutic exhibit I have ever been to. It was so relaxing to just watch the jellyfish swim inside each individual tank in slow motion. But since I was planning to catch the last Sea Lion show, I had to move on and get a seat before the show started. Apparently the show was outside in the open before you enter the Ocean Park building and boy, it was so hot at 3pm with the sun shinning towards us regardless of where we chose to sit. Since I haven't had lunch yet, I bought a jumbo hot dog and ate it while waiting for the show to start. The 2 sea lions from South America were very funny and entertaining and they won the hearts of small as well as big kids.

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Next, I went to see the Shark and Rays Dry Encounter which happened to be in same place where we watched the sea lion show. Disappointingly, the 2 sharks was not really that noticeable in the tank unless you really look for them and the stingray was held by the caretaker so we could touch its surface. By the time I was done checking out the sharks and rays, it was almost time for the All Star Bird Show but this time it was not as hot as before. Once again, the intelligent macaws, cockatoos and eagles stole the hearts of the young and the old. The lesser known Barnyard and Birdhouse exhibits were slight further way from the main building so there were not many people. The Barnyard exhibit was located on the ground floor and here, you can learn facts about the rodent family and see hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs as well as chickens. On the first floor is the Birdhouse exhibit where you see all types of budgies.

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The last bird exhibit is the Birds of Prey Kingdom where they kept the Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus). The last exhibit to finish off was the World of Creepy Crawlies. There were very colourful poison frogs (which you don't normally see), lizards, turtles, spiders and snakes. While waiting for the Symphony of Lights show in the evening which starts at 6.30pm, I had some time to have a quick dinner in one of the restaurant. By 6pm, everyone was already waiting for the show to start. When it started, everyone was enjoying it as they used the latest multimedia technology and the tallest water fountains in the Philippines which can shoot water as high as 40m to display the fusion of earth's basic elements - water, fire, air and light. It was actually more interesting than the dancing fountain show in Okada especially when they used fire because I could feel the heat from the fire even though we were sitting far away from the fountain area. After the show, everyone started to leave while I waiting for my transport back to the condo. Such a lovely day to to spend the whole day at this place!

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Thursday [21/12/2017] Next day, I followed my friends to Los Banos where we would be staying at their cousin's place. We left the bus station at 4.30pm and arrived at Los Banos around 7pm. After we were picked up by their cousin, we went to Isdaan Floating Restaurant which has a theme park like ambiance with a lot of huge sculptures. There were not many people having dinner here so we sat in a floating hut where you can actually feel it going up and down constantly like a boat rocking gently. We waited for the rest of the family members to come before we had boodle fight for our dinner where different types of food were placed on top of a long banana leaf-lined table. It was a very filling dinner as there were so many leftover food even though there were 9 of us. After that, we went to their house and stayed for the next 2 nights before heading north of Luzon.

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Friday [22/12/2017] After breakfast, we head to Makiling National Park and walked on the tarmac road instead of hiking to the summit. So much for being told that we were going hiking by my friend. There was no one except us and after reaching Station 3, it started to drizzle. We kept on walking until Station 7 where we then walked into a muddy trail to get to the hot mud spring where the volcanic heat and sulphuric acid break down the surrounding rocks into clay. The trail was so muddy and wet that it was impossible to prevent our shoes from getting wet and dirty but in we finally reached to the end where it was partly closed off to the public for safety reasons. The water was warm like the one in Papandayan but nothing special. The only special thing about this place is that there were a lot of leeches sticking to my face and raincoat which I normally never had any problems even when hiking through the forest of Temburong. After that, we slowly walked back down towards the flat rock riverbed near to Station 1. It was nothing impressive about the flat rocks but the current was pretty strong after the rain. Once we reached to the registration hut, it was time to spray off all the mud before we went inside the car. How I hate my feet in soggy socks! Before going back home, we went to the market because my friend wanted to impress them with his cooking but they couldn't find what he was looking for.

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After taking shower, we had a slice of buko pie which was delicious when it is still hot as a snack just to fill our tummy first because we were going to attend the church service in Diocesan Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus first which was held every night for the past few days until Christmas. The church service surprisingly was in English and it doesn't seems like a typical catholic church but I enjoyed the service. After the service, we went home and had western dinner prepared by the cousin's wife.

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Saturday [23/12/2017] The next day after a hearty breakfast, we started our journey towards the north to Vigan which was about 14 hour drive from Los Banos. On the way to Quezon, we picked up my friend's mother and uncle who will be joining us for this trip. By the time we reached to Vigan, it was already after 8pm so we checked into a low budget hotel before going to Vigan for dinner. When we arrived there, I thought the famous Vigan city (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was very big from the pictures I see on the internet but it’s just a row of cobblestone street with old buildings that has the native Philippine, oriental building designs and colonial Spanish architecture. Since it was already Christmas holiday, there were a lot of local touists from Manila and elsewhere here. We had dinner in the open air of the cobblestone street which was catered for tourists and the food wasn't that bad. After dinner, we walked along the dimly lit street and checked out a few souvenir shops that were still open. There were also horse drawn carriages which they call kalesa where people can ride on it and go around the town.

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Sunday [24/12/2017] The next morning, after having breakfast in one of the restaurant in Vigan city, we went to check out the souvenir shops. We tasted Tongson's Royal Bibingka, a popular rice cake in Vigan which is pretty delicious when it is still warm. Then we went for the kalesa tour where we sat on the horse carriage to see places like the Bantay church and bell tower, the old Ilocos Sur jail which is now use to exhibit art, Burgos Museum which used to be the home of Padre Jose Burgos, one of the three martyr priests, RG Jar Factory and the Crisologo museum, the home of Floro Crisologo, a congressman who was assassination in 1972 while attending a church service. For our late lunch, we had fried prawn fritters which was as oily as the ones in Brunei and the tasty, oily fried empanada at the roadside stall which had meat, carrot and egg filling. Weather in the north was very hot but I was told by the bell tower guide that it is even hotter in June!

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Our next destination was to Laoag where my friends and I will be staying at their aunty’s house while my friend's cousin and his family will be staying in a hotel. After almost 2 hours on the road, we stopped at the Saint Augustine Church in Paoay which is one of the oldest church in the Philippines and part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we stopped at the Paoay Sand Dunes because their cousin’s son wanted to try sandboarding but by the time we reached there, the sun was already starting to set so we didn’t do anything except just taking photos. One and a half hour later, we finally reached to their aunty's house. I always thought Christmas was such a big event in the Philippines because they are well known for putting up Christmas decorations as early as 3 months before December but in Vigan and Laoag you don't even see much of Christmas decorations. Since it was Christmas eve, I thought dinner was more special like having turkey or the typical Christmas dishes we normally would have in Brunei or other countries which celebrate Christmas but to my surprise, we just had the typical everyday food like pizza and pasta and local dishes. You just don't feel the Christmas vibe at all for a country that emphasize Christmas months earlier than any other countries. After the simple dinner and since it was Christmas eve, we went for the Christmas mass which was pretty different from the mass we have in Brunei. The pastor was funny though and once again, the sermon was in English even though they sung the hymns in Tagalog. I stayed up until midnight before I called it a night since there was nothing much for me to do while they chatted with each other.

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Monday [25/12/2017] Weather today was so hot even inside the house. After breakfast, we drove towards Pagudpud but on the way, it began to rain heavily. So we stopped at Hannah's Beach Resort and Convention Center which was so windy since it is located next to the beach and the rain did not show sign of stopping at all. While waiting for the rain to stop, we decided to have lunch and by the time we finished eating, the rain had stopped. Then we headed to Bangui first which is the home of the first wind farm in South East Asia. The first time I saw these type of wind farm was when I was on the train going towards either Munich or Berlin. The famous souvenirs you get from Pagudpud are the windmill keychains and fridge magnets made of wood.

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Then we went to see the Kapurpurawan rocks which were formed from years of the waves hitting on them. Nothing impressive about that place but a lot of local tourists go there for photo taking. There were also souvenir stalls selling local products and before we headed back, we ate Ilocos
empanada which was sold in one of the stall. The wrapper was different from the ones in Vigan but it was still delicious and just as oily as the ones we had before. We then went to see was the Cape Bojeador lighthouse which was a remnant of the Spanish colonial era. We took a look around before heading back to the car. Our last stop was to the La Paz Sand Dunes because their cousin's children wanted to try sandboarding. The sun was setting fast by the time they tried sandboarding and since it was getting dark to see anything, we decided to slowly head back home. On the way back, we stopped at La Preciosa restaurant, which serve delicious Ilocano cuisine.

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Tuesday [26/12/2017] Today, on the way back to Manila, we stopped by at Marcos museum to see the previous president’s history. Then we stopped at Vigan again to buy some souvenirs and Tongson's Royal Bibingka since it couldn’t last long if not refrigerated. After having a quick lunch, we continued on with our journey. It was a long drive back so we decided to stay overnight in La Union since it was already after 8pm and we haven't had our dinner yet plus it was another 4 hours drive to Manila. There was no elevator in the hotel and our room was on the 4th floor so you can imagine how we have to carry up our luggage.

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Wednesday [27/12/2017] After breakfast, we drove towards Manila. On the way, we stopped to buy garlic and shallots which was not as cheap as the ones in Brunei but since they are native to Ilocos, I was planning to try and grow them when I get back home. We also stopped by at a stall selling dried sea products, local snacks and desserts for souvenirs. After few hours of driving, we stopped by at the rest area to have our late lunch and we finally arrived in Manila close to evening. My friends dropped me off at my condo and they went on to Los Banos again and stayed there at their cousin’s place for another day. I didn't enjoy Vigan and Ilocos as much as I did with the Sagada trip.

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Thursday [28/12/2017] Since my flight was evening, after packing all my things and having lunch, I walked to the Mall of Asia and just spent my time there since there was nothing else to do in the condo until it was time to go to the airport. I was hoping to just sit down in Starbucks and enjoy my time drinking a cup of cold frappe since the weather was hot but no such luck because all coffee places as well as famous fastfood joints were full of people. After going around to find a place to sit down and enjoy something cold, I ended up in Tokyo Ice Cafe and had mango kakigori. After just relaxing and enjoying my shaved ice dessert, it was time to go back to the condo and get ready to go to the airport. The departure area in the airport was pretty unorganized even though it was small and there were very limited place to seat so after clearing the immigration, I bought a cold, pretty tasteless sandwich which happened to be the cheapest food inside the airport even though it costed about B$5 (I could buy 2 loaves for bread for the price of that one sandwich at the supermarket in Brunei) since I was starting to feel hungry and my flight was only at 9pm. Overall, I would say that it is not really safe to travel alone in Manila (unlike in Indonesia) but the highland (province) areas are pretty interesting.

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Posted by Lingering 07:27 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Land Below The Wind

Kota Kinabalu - Kundasang - Ranau

Saturday [24/6/2017] Today we started off early on a road trip to Kota Kinabalu. Since it was still a working day, traffic at the Kuala Lurah border was not bad and we passed through it with ease. At Limbang town, we went to do a few things and checked out the market where I bought 2 bags of Bario rice. Then we headed towards Pandaruan checkpoint where we exited Limbang to go into Temburong through the Ujong Jalan checkpoint. Since there was nothing to do in Temburong, we drove on to the Puni Immigration post where we exited Brunei and went into Sarawak territory again. Since Lawas is only 1 hour drive away from Temburong, we decided to stop in this small town for lunch. After lunch, we drove around the town and found that there is a small weekend market happening. So we went and check out what was being sold and I bought another 2 bags of rice which was slightly cheaper than the ones I bought in Limbang. After shopping, we head on to Kota Kinabalu without stopping anymore. The last immigration point we had to pass through is the Merapok (Sarawak border) and the Sindumin immigration post (Sabah border) where the 2 counters are just beside each other. Since it was still early, we stopped at Mr DIY in Papar which it had just open and also because we need to go to the toilet. We did some shopping and after that, we head on to Kota Kinabalu. By the time we reached to Kota Kinabalu, it was raining heavily so instead of checking into the hotel first, we went to Suria Mall instead. We went for dinner before doing a bit of shopping. By the time we were done, the rain had stopped so we went to check into the hotel. We then head out again to check the night market until there was nothing else to see before heading back to the hotel.

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Sunday [25/6/2017] We had a simple breakfast before going to the Gaya Sunday market which was just behind our hotel. There were a lot of things to see and buy ranging from food, clothes, drinks, medicines, decorations, animals, fruits, etc. We did a bit of shopping and after checking out everything that is sold there, we headed back to the hotel first to put all the things we have bought and also took a shower before heading out again. We went to One Borneo Hypermall and had lunch at Sushi King. After lunch, we did shopping again until late afternoon. Then we head to Oceanus Waterfront Mall where I checked out the hiking shoes and some sport accessories in SportsDirect. I did not find any new hiking shoes as the one I bought in January is still the latest model available but I bought a few other things. Since it was still early for dinner, we walked out to the waterfront area where there were a lot of people taking photos of the sunset. As it was getting dark already, we walked to Koryo-Jeung Korean Restaurant, the best Korean restaurant in Kota Kinabalu. Since it was dinner time, the place was packed with Korean people, so we had to sit outside and place our order. Service was very slow due to shortage of staffs who also went on their dinner break so while waiting, we managed to finally get a seat inside the restaurant. Their bapsang was different from the ones I have tasted before (even in Korea) and instead of giving us lettuce to wrap the samgyeopsal-gui, the lettuces were cut into smaller pieces and mixed with other vegetables and sauce which we just eat with the meat. It was a very filling dinner and after taking our time to enjoy the food, we finally walk back to Oceanus Waterfront Mall to get our car and then head back to the hotel.

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Monday [26/6/2017] Today is another shopping day. After breakfast, we went and check out some of the malls near to our hotel by foot. For lunch, we decided to try the Gam Tong Hong Kong recipe in Imago. So we drove to Imago and tried their bbq duck which is not bad. Then we spent the rest of the day checking out every shop that caught our eye. For dinner, we tried Upperstar restaurant which has very nice interior decoration and the food was not bad,

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Tuesday [27/6/2017] After having breakfast at an Indian restaurant which open very early compared to the other restaurants, we started our journey towards Ranau. The first place we stopped by was Tamparuli to check out the famous suspension bridge which is mainly used by the people if the water level of the river rises since the road is only few inches higher than the water level. Before finding the Upside down house, we checked out the small town and the market. There wasn't much to see there but at least we know how the town look like. Then we went to find the Upside down house which was not far away from the sleepy town but actually we already overshoot it on the way to Tamparuli. There were already people visiting this place of attraction and even though there is one in Kuching, I did not have the chance to check it out. The house is pretty small but it is something different to see home appliances and furniture hanging upside down. We were not allowed to take any picture inside the house but were able to do so outside the house where there is a small Kancil car parked in an upside down garage and an upside down bathroom. After finishing the tour, we went to the souvenir shop and bought a few things before continuing our journey.

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Not far from Tamparuli, we found the well known sinalau bakas (BBQ wild boar), an iconic food of Kadazandusun people. There were 2 stalls selling bakas, one is selling the bbq version while the other one is selling the braised in soy sauce version. We ate the braised bakas there for our lunch whereas we takeaway a piece of the sinalau bakas for later. We drove on until we reached to Pekan Nabalu where people stop to do some souvenir shopping, have something to eat and also for toilet stop. I was looking forward to climb up the 15m watch tower to see Mount Kinabalu but unfortunately, it was closed for people to go up. Since it had drizzled slightly earlier on, the clouds had also came down so since we were already on high elevation, it felt like we were above the clouds instead.

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We reached to Mile 36 Lodge in early afternoon and it's a pretty quiet place. After checking our room, we head out again to Kundasang town. The town area was pretty scenic with houses on the hill and the clouds coming down low. The town only has 2 rows of shop houses and since there was great reviews about the bbq chicken wings in Kundasang town, we went and find that stall. Sure enough, it was there, the only stall selling bbq chicken wings and the queue was long. We had to wait for quite a while for our turn and while waiting we went to see what shops were there. Sadly, there wasn't much to see, only a small mini market and a few restaurants which makes it a very sleepy town. After getting our bbq chicken wings, we went to check out the rows of vegetable stalls at the roadside. Other than vegetables, surprisingly, they also sell strawberry plants which I bought 5 of them. The vegetables were really fresh and all the stalls seemed to sell more or less the same things. It was tempting to buy on the spot but since we would only go back to Kota Kinabalu city on Wednesday, we decided to buy it later when we head down on that day. Since there was nothing much to do, we head back to the lodge and just relax. At night, the wind was cool but not cold and we had the sinalau bakas as well as the bbq chicken wings for our dinner.

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Wednesday [28/6/2017] Today, I woke up as early as 6am to see the view of mount Kinabalu which was alright since we could only see a small part of it. After breakfast, we head to Desa cattle farm first which is located at the foothill of Mount KInabalu. There were already a lot of cars but fortunately, we managed to find a parking spot near to the building. Instead of going in the building, we first went to the place where the cattle were free to roam around the field near the mountain. Although it was a bright sunny day, the clouds have already came down and covered mount Kinabalu. After taking some pictures, we head to the area where you can buy bottled milk and grass to feed the calves and the goats. We bought a bottle of milk and a bunch of grass and it was pretty fun to feed them. Then we went to see the dairy cattle in their pen before queuing up to buy the gelato and their other milk products.

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Next we head to Arnab Village which is a new tourist attraction in Ranau. There were a lot of local tourists bringing their kids to feed and pat the furry rabbits. You can buy a packet of rabbit feed but we were very lucky because as we were going into the area where the rabbits were kept, a couple gave us a packet of rabbit feed each on their way out so we didn't have to buy any. There were young bunnies and adult ones. Since it was already noon time, some of the rabbits were sleeping while others were taking shelter inside hollow tree trunks from the heat. There were also a few guinea pigs and I have to say they look so cute and funny with their big eyes and their hair. After having enough of petting the rabbits, we head to Sabah tea garden for lunch.

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On the way, it was raining heavily so it was a good thing that we decided to have lunch while waiting for the rain to stop. I guess the other people also had the same thinking as us as there were a lot of people at the Sabah Tea Resort restaurant. Their food was not bad and we also tried their green tea pancakes. After the rain had stopped, we took some pictures before I went to check their tea shop and bought some tea. We initially planned to go for the fish spa in Kg Luanti which was not far away from the entrance to the Sabah tea garden but after the heavy rain, we found that it was closed and the river level has rose up and the water was muddy. So no chance of getting our dead skin from our feet eaten by the fish.

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Since there was still time, we head to our final destination which is the Poring hot spring. Although it had rained earlier, it did not stop people from coming here to bath. I was hoping to go on the Poring canopy walk but it had closed by 4pm. We managed to find an empty open air tub and soaked our feet in the hot spring water until it was time for the place to close. When the rafflesia are blooming, there would be signs along the road but I saw none. Since it was getting dark, we head back to the lodge to rest early.

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Thursday [28/6/2017] Today is our last day in Ranau. After breakfast, we head straight to the Kinabalu National Park. I have been here twice before when I was still studying and the last time I came here was back in 2003 when we did our university fieldwork for 1 week at the National Park. After more than a decade after my last visit, nothing much have changed. However, this time with our own car, we explored until the end of the road which I have never been before. On the way to the end of the road, we stopped to see the Kiau Gap View, the Kinabalu earthquake monument erected in memory of the 22 guides and climbers who have lost their lives during the 2015 Kinabalu earthquake.

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Then we drove on up until we reached to the end of the road where it is the starting point of climbing up mount Kinabalu though the Timpohon gate. I could have climbed up mount Kinabalu like I have done so in Indonesia but then mount Kinabalu is monopolised and so commercialised that it's not worth to spend that much. I rather spend the same amount of money or even lesser to climb volcanoes which are still active. There were friendly squirrels which comes towards people (probably for food) instead of running away from us! After coming down to the national park area, we drove around the park to see what is interesting before heading to Ranau town.

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From Kinabalu National park, we head to the vegetable market to get the strawberry plants that I have bought a few days ago and we also shop for some vegetables. Most of the vegetables are sold at a standard price where you can pick 3 different types of packed vegetables for RM$10. There were more stalls opened now compared to the first time we came to check it out. I bought a few plants as well as more strawberry plants. After packing all the vegetables and plants properly in the car, we slowly head back down to the city. On the way, it was raining heavily and the clouds came down making visibility almost nil.

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It was a good thing that by the time we reached back to the city, the rain had stopped. We stopped at the Big Bath shop to get some accessories before going to One Borneo Hypermall to have our late lunch. By the time we checked into the hotel, it was still early in the evening. Since we did all of our shopping already, we just walked to find a place to eat dinner. We finally decided to eat at Little Italy, the best Italian restaurant in Kota Kinabalu. Since it was still early, we were able to find a seat inside the restaurant which will usually be fully occupied as it gets later. The portion of the food was big so it was a lucky thing that the pizza we ordered is small size. After filling our tummy, we walked towards KK esplanade where you see many people just hanging out there. We then slowly walked down towards the night market and checked out the vegetables and fruits that were sold there. Since there was nothing interesting for us to get, we slowly walked back to the hotel and called it a night as we will be heading back to Brunei the next day.

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Posted by Lingering 02:20 Archived in Malaysia Tagged buildings Comments (0)

West Java

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Lingering 06:28 Archived in Indonesia Comments (3)

Central and East Java

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand

Land of a Thousand Smiles

sunny 33 °C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Java - East Java - Bali

Yogyakarta - Solo - Mount Bromo - Ijen crater - Bali

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK And Europe

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and London

snow 2 °C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted by Lingering 04:45 Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Taiwan - Macau

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singapore 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanghai - Suzhou - Hangzhou

Shanghai Expo 2010

semi-overcast 20 °C
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10/9/2011: Brunei - Singapore - Shanghai
The last time I went to Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou was back in 2006. 4 years later, my main aim is to check out the Shanghai Expo. Ever since before the Shanghai Expo officially opened for the public, there has been a lot of commotion on it for months so a lot of people wanted to check it out since Shanghai is not too expensive to go. Since there was no flight to go to Shanghai directly from Brunei on our scheduled trip, we transited through Singapore to go to Shanghai. Once again like in the past, Singapore Airline flight from Singapore to other destination is always after midnight which once again, this time, we left at 1.15am. It's a good thing that SIA have comfortable planes to rest but still not good enough to catch any sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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