A Travellerspoint blog

Dubai

sunny 28 °C

This entry has been particularly difficult to write and upload as we've been so busy the past few days and we haven't had a moment to rest. I'm not complaining, but it's late here on Thursday evening and we're up tomorrow morning at 4.30am to take a coach to Abu Dhabi and from there our flight to Dublin. The three day pit stop is going to be mental busy and on Monday we'll be flying to Costa Rica via New York! Where to start with this entry... well Dubai is a city that doesn't require much of an introduction. Neither of us had been before and it seemed like the perfect place to stop off and finish our ten weeks in Asia. I'll admit I have always been a little cynical of the place, but having visited they've well and truly won me over. First of all, a couple of shots of the city to give you a flavour of what to expect.

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On our first day we visited Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort. It was quite a novelty getting into winter clothes and spending a few hours in the snow park where you can tube, zorb and zipline. You can ski or snowboard too. For a while we almost forgot we were in the middle of a desert! We took a lot of photos on my mobile but I'm having trouble getting wifi on it, so I had to 'borrow' a few from Google Images. I'll upload the others to Facebook when I get a chance.

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That evening we met up with my friend Michael who lives here and he has been kind enough to put us up for a few nights and show us around. He brought us for dinner in 'Downtown Dubai', located by the Dubai Mall (one of the largest malls in the world) and the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world). They're also in the process of building a brand new state of the art Opera House which is still under construction. You can see a picture of the Khalifa just below.

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During dinner we were able to watch a water, fog, light and music show. It's on every thirty minutes and a new song is played each time.

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Yesterday we took the 'Big Bus' tour around the city and stopped off at the Dubai Museum (providing a history from the early settlers to the modern days developments), the zouks (the local markets) and the marina.

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We also stopped off at an Egyptian themed mall for lunch. They love their themes here (there's another mall themed after the Renaissance). Check out the ceiling in the second shot, there are no half measures here!

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That evening Michael took us out for dinner at the hotel he works at, located at the Palm Jumeirah. It's a Turkish themed hotel called the Zabeel Saray and I think only second to the Burj Al Arab in terms of luxury. We enjoyed a delicious Lebanese meal, and it's the first time I've ever had it. I never thought I would enjoy chick peas! This morning we had an early start to visit the Atlantis Hotel's waterpark called Aquaventure. It's probably the best waterpark I've ever visited and luckily there were no queues.

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Aside from the dozen or so slides and an enormous lazy river (with rapids), guest are also able to use the Atlantis' private beach offering a full view of the city including the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel) which you can see below.

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We visited the Dubai mall for dinner and finished off the evening with a trip to the Aquarium (complete with a ten million litre tank and a dozen sharks) and the Cheesecake Factory. It's considered rude not to visit a Cheesecake Factory when you stumble upon one. We almost had to be rolled back to our hotel after.

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There's a lot to be said for working here on a tax free salary and being able to enjoy what is essentially an enormous theme park for adults. Yes there is a severe shortage of culture, historical sites and natural beauty but the government and corporations pull out all the stops to impress you so frequently that it's hard not to fall in love with the place.

Dubai is a very safe city to live and has one of the lowest crime rates you can find. You don't have to be loaded to enjoy it either. I'm not sure if we would be able to stick the forty degree heat during July and August but who knows if the right opportunity came up? Never say never. It was the perfect end to an incredible ten weeks. And we've still four more to look forward to. The next update will coming to you in about a week from San Jose.

Posted by mattld 10:29 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (3)

Java - Yogyakarta and Jakarta

semi-overcast 32 °C

Yogjakarta is a relatively small city not too far from Solo. It only took us an hour to get here by car. We booked ourselves in for two nights. The city is home to Borobudur, the famous Buddhist temple built in the 9th century. It’s an astounding sight given its age and the only religious attraction I’ve been more impressed with so far is Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

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During our trip we were asked a number of times by the female locals if they could have their photograph taken with us. Naturally we were loving all the attention but we were brought back down to earth when our tour guide explained why. Most of them just want to compare their skin colour to ours, and to check how much whiter their skin has gotten since the last time they had their photo taken with another pale tourist! If you haven’t been to Asia you may not know that white = wealth and beauty. You can find skin whitening products everywhere. Many locals laugh when I explain how many of us in the west want to be tanned (or orange in the case of some people).

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One word of caution for those of you visiting… be prepared for ‘sales hell’ as soon as you leave the temple. The sales touts aren’t allowed to badger you on holy ground, but they more than make up for it as soon as you’re back on capitalist soil. Within seconds a dozen touts surrounded us, insisting we buy every piece of Buddha related merchandise they could carry with their two hands. After several minutes of telling them ‘no thanks’ and ‘no money', most of them left us alone. Except two that is, who followed us for the long walk back to the car park. I’m ashamed to say we bought four Borobudur themed postcards and a Buddha head in the end. Offer no more than a third of what they ask for.

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Thursday arrived and it was time to take a short one hour flight to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and home to more than nine million Indonesians. I hinted in my last update that I had set my expectations to low, and if you’ve read my posts on Kuala Lumpur and Surabaya you’ll know I’m not a big fan of these types of cities. I somehow let Bangkok away with it for the fun factor and sheer craziness of the place. So what are my thoughts on Jakarta? Well, it’s exactly as I expected. Imagine London without any underground metro. There are traffic jams all the time, everywhere. The place is huge. And poor old Jakarta has a pollution problem in league with Beijing. Today was the first day we were able to see the sky.

A photo from our hotel room. The Gili Islands feel like a distant memory now.

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The view from one of our taxi trips. It's the only way to get around but thankfully they're cheap.

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We knew we weren't going to be able to traverse most of the city in a few days like Shanghai. Instead we booked ourselves into a hotel that is attached to a shopping mall the size of a small city. It’s so big in fact we got lost several times. So we’ve had a great time these past few days wandering around the shops, visiting the arcade, eating good food and enjoying the cinema at just €3.50 a pop. In the last three days we saw Heroes 6 and Instellar, the latter of which we saw twice (it's that good).

It hasn’t all been shopping malls though and on Saturday we visited the Taman Mini Indonesia park. The park is filled with famous buildings from all parts of Indonesia and what they describe as ‘an authentic example of the various cultures through Indonesia’. Ok it’s tacky and theme park-esque but it’s fun. And the locals made a fuss of us. We're getting used to being the only Caucasians in town. The park is huge and you need a motorbike to get around all of it. Alternatively you can pick a few spots and take a cable car from one end to another.

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During the day we ran into a cobra who ate Alberto. He wasn't happy.

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We also got up close and personal with the Komodo dragon. We were hoping to visit the Komodo islands on the eastern part of Indonesia a few weeks ago to see them in the flesh but the trip was too expensive. This was a welcome alternative.

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Today we took a trip to Jakarta’s Old Town for lunch. It’s run down, crowded but it was good to see a bit more of the ‘real Jakarta’. There was a festival on for kids which was great to see. There's meant to be an excellent night market here too. There's a massive divide between rich and poor. The rich tend to stick to the hundreds of malls in the city and the poorer folks stay outdoors.

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I'm not sure I'd recommend Jakarta but Java is well worth a trip for Borobudur and Mount Bromo. A couple of nights in Jakarta is fine as it serves as a popular transport hub to the rest of the world. We stayed for four but we had the mall to entertain us. And so that's it for Indonesia, we've really enjoyed the variety of sights and experiences over the past eighteen days. Tomorrow afternoon we take a longer flight than usual to our final stop in Asia, Dubai. Central America is just around the corner.

Posted by mattld 01:26 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

Java - Surabaya & Solo

sunny 34 °C

We arrived into Surabaya on Thursday evening and first impressions were not great. It’s a large enough city with many run down areas and traffic is everywhere. Oh horse and cart, we dare not mock you now. Spend time in Java and you can't help but notice a few differences to life back home.

- First of all, seatbelts... it's not that they haven't been fitted to save on cost. It's that car manufacturers or dealers have gone to the trouble of removing them. In many cases you’ll have the belt but not the buckle, or vice versa. We can't figure out the logic.
- There's an evil love affair going on with cigarette advertising. Words like ‘confidence, leadership, power, taste, pleasure’ etc. are billboarded on every street with the local Indonesian brands. And cigarettes are almost free of charge here. The local kids have little hope in avoiding a 20 a day addiction unfortunately.
- The staring we encountered in Beijing is back with a vengeance. You wouldn’t want to be paranoid about yourself because the locals will whisper to their friends and family as they stare at you. I’ve started saying Salam (hello) to them which generally results in a warm reaction. To be fair we’ve seen only a couple of Westerners on Java so they’re probably more curious than anything else. If you make the effort to speak any other lingo like thanks or goodbye they love it. And many have been helpful providing directions.
- Retail outlets are really overstaffed. This is a common theme in Asia but even with cheap labour costs I’m not sure how businesses can afford to have so many people standing around doing so little. One evening we had five people greet us for dinner as we walked into a restaurant. Our waitress stood over our table as we read through the menu. The same five staff stared at us in silence while we ate and our plates were snatched off the table the very second we put our knives and forks down. Java my friend, sometimes less is more!

Ok rant over let me tell you what we’ve been up to the past five days. There are only two reasons to visit Surabaya as a tourist. It provides a transport hub for you to reach the rest of Java and it’s relatively close to Mount Bromo (more on this shortly). On Friday we had time to spare so we visited the famous Majapahit hotel for lunch. It’s a luxurious Dutch colonial-style hotel and worth a visit if you're here.

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After we took a trip to the House of Sampoerna, highly recommended by Trip Advisor (thanks guys). It’s a museum dedicated to Indonesia’s most ‘prestigious hand-rolled’ cigarette. I couldn't help but wonder if children are brought here on their school tour. You can see the old factory floor below where the cigarettes were rolled. Thrilling stuff.

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The next day we had an early start for Mount Bromo, the most well known active volcano in Indonesia. We took an organised jeep tour which was a lot of fun.

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There is a temple located at the base but unfortunately it was closed.

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There's a lot of volcanic ash lying around so don't forget your Michael Jackson style mask!

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We had a one hour steep ascent to the top, with 250 steps waiting for us at the end. With the heat and high altitude I couldn't finish the last few steps quick enough. We were rewarded with an amazing view, and an overpowering smell of boiled eggs (my worst nightmare).

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Surprisingly, there's also plenty of green and natural vegetation on the volcano.

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On Sunday we took a train four hours west to Solo (aka Surakarta). Solo is a much smaller town but we were happy to be somewhere a bit quieter. We stopped off at Solo to visit two temples, the first was Candi Sukuh, a 15th century Javanese-Hindu Temple.

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The second temple we visited is called Candi Ceto (again Javanese-Hindu and built in the 15th century). The first photo was taken in painting mode. Nice eh?

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We noticed at the back of the temple, there are a few independent alters. There's a statue in each one and locals have donated gifts like drinks, fruit or money (insert cynical remark here). The most popular statue was, well take a look below.

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Yep, it's a well girthed stumpy penis! Next up, Yogyakarta and the boiling pot that is said to be Jakarta. Say a prayer for me.

Posted by mattld 04:00 Archived in Indonesia Comments (3)

The Gili Islands

sunny 32 °C

There are three small Islands in Indonesia known as the Gili Islands. They're located just off the western coast of Lombok and we have been staying at Gili Trawangan, the largest of the three. Gili T. has a reputation for all-night parties so we booked our accommodation on the quieter side to ensure a good night’s rest. We must be getting old. The first thing we noticed when we arrived was that there is no motorised transport here. The public transport is a horse and cart. And it’s a balancing act just getting into the thing. We've been walking or cycling most of the time.

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Dusty roads, straw huts, chickens and cows, noisy roosters and coconut plantations cover much of the island.

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This is the city centre.

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We’ve had plenty of uninvited visitors to our room including a scorpion which was hilarious, in hindsight. There’s also a newly built mosque on the island. I’ve heard so much Islamic chanting these past few days I almost know a few of the prayers off by heart. Our stay at the Gili Islands has felt like a time warp back to the 19th century in some respects, but a welcome one (if we didn’t have air con it would be a different story). Night time here is pretty incredible as the sky is packed with hundreds of stars. It’s stunning, but unfortunately it also reminds you how badly we’re polluting the planet.

On Monday we took part in an Indonesian cooking class. Well, I did the cooking and Alberto the tasting. He’s a lucky man. Indonesian cuisine is generally not very distinctive. The distinction lies in the cooking method and the spices used.

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Yellow Chicken Curry

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Mie Goring - a very tasty gourmet pot noodle

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Kelopon - Indonesian for sticky coconut rice balls

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The following day we took a boat around the three islands. We were able to snorkel at each one and we had lunch on Gili Air. There's plenty of fish and reef in shallow depths so if you’re not keen on diving or want to save money, the islands offer an excellent alternative option.

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Alberto looking hot with his snorkel mask

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And an action photo of yours truly

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Last night we ventured down to sunset point, famous for, yes you guessed it, its sunsets. And very nice it was too.

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These islands are a tropical paradise but they're undergoing a lot of construction work and may end up like Bali given enough time. If you're out this neck of the woods try to pay a visit sooner rather than later. We'd love to spend more time here but the clock is ticking and we've less than two weeks left in Asia. Today we break a new 'mode of transport record' as we take a horse and cart, a boat, a van, a plane, and a car to our next destination. We’re flying west to Surabaya, the eastern capital of Java.

Happy Halloween to all our friends and family back home, we hope you have a great one!

Posted by mattld 10:12 Archived in Indonesia Tagged snorkelling sunset indonesia island lombok scubadiving gilitrawangan gilimeno giliair indonesiancooking Comments (0)

Bali

sunny 31 °C

Salam from Indonesia! We’ve been in Bali about a week now. It’s a much larger and more densely populated island than I expected with five million inhabitants. We spent our first four nights at Kuta, south of the island and not too far from the airport. Kuta is the the stereotype of Bali, similar to Koh Samui in Thailand aka Gran Canaria in Asia. It's packed with Western folk who are here to party all night every night. However, there’s more to Bali than just that, so it's worth researching the various towns in advance of any trip. We booked a two bedroom apartment with my mate Phil who moved to New Zealand last Christmas. A good Air BnB deal resulted in our own pool!

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Kuta is an ideal spot to sit back, relax and do very little. And that’s exactly what we did for the first few days. At night we ate out, and a highlight for me was being able to have dinner on the beach. There's a lot to be said for playing cards listening to the ocean and a local playing his guitar.

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As we were in Bali, it would have been rude not to party, so we went clubbing Sunday and Monday night. The main club in Kuta is Sky Garden with four floors. We spent some time there but found another club a couple of doors down that was much better. Who doesn't love a good strobe light?

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We also visited a couple of gay bars and apart from the novelty of an Indonesian drag queen arriving out every ten minutes to perform (using two stages each time), they weren’t much to write home about. Feeling guilty for doing so little during our first few days we booked a taxi on the cheap for the day. We visited two temples, firstly the Tanah Lot temple which is on a small island/rock with a cave style entrance. You have to walk from the mainland to get to it.

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The second temple was a lot more interesting but we were too busy chatting to take note of the name of it. Bold tourists.

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We also visited a butterfly park. This was better than expected. We had zero expectations.

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After four days with Phil we said goodbye as he departed for Java and Hong Kong. We travelled by car to the north east part of Bali, known as Tulamben. It’s a very small and quiet town which offers a nice contrast from Kuta. Tulamben is best known for its ship wreck diving as it’s home to the USS Liberty, sunk by the Japanese during WWII. Alberto spent three days doing his Openwater Certificate. We hired a camera so I'm very pleased to tell you that there's not a Google Image photo in sight.

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I took the Wreck Dive Certificate which teaches you how to safely penetrate a wreck and navigate your way back out.

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The wreck is also full of coral life which makes Tulamben a great town to visit if you enjoy diving.

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And that's it from Bali. Tomorrow morning, we take a boat east to the Gili Islands.

Posted by mattld 01:15 Archived in Indonesia Comments (4)

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