A Travellerspoint blog

October 2014

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)

Borneo - Sepilok and Kota Kinabalu

semi-overcast 31 °C

It's time for another map update. You can see the route we took from Guilin to Hong Kong, down to Northern Thailand before travelling further south to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and finally east to Borneo. Apparently we've travelled 21,692km so far!

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Our four days in Sepilok were very relaxing. The bus from Semporna took about five hours. We stayed at the Forest Edge resort and had our own chalet. It was over our budget but definitely worth it. On Monday we visited the famous orangutan rehabilitation centre. They take care of orphaned, injured or displaced orangutans and rehabilitate them so they can return to the Kabili-Sepilok Forest. They’re wonderful animals and it was a privilege to see them so close in such a spacious environment.

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A sun bear conservation centre has also just opened up next door. Unfortunately the sun bear is almost extinct in Borneo. Again the staff do great work rehabilitating and preparing them for life back in the wild.

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The next day we took a day tour to Sakau. En route we visited the Goamantong Cave. It’s the largest cave in Sabah and home to thousands of bats. If you like cockroaches and bat poo you will definitely enjoy this attraction. You have been warned.

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That afternoon we travelled on a small boat to the Kinbatangan River, home to the Proboscis Monkey.

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We also saw dozens of regular monkeys climbing through trees and playing together as well as parents carrying newborns and grooming them. It was really cute.

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On our final day we went to the Rainforest Discovery Centre and took one of the walking trails.

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The bus to our next stop Kota Kinabalu was going to take eight hours. It was worth paying just a little bit more to fly it in forty five minutes. Thank you Air Asia for the cheap tickets. KK is Sabah’s capital, and it’s a built up town with plenty of shops, restaurants etc. although nothing as grand as Kuala Lumpur.

Many people visit to climb Mount Kinabalu a two day trip involving eight hours of uphill walking, a couple of hours sleep, followed by another four hours of uphill walking in time for sunrise. It’s not a cheap trip and a few people we’ve ran into didn’t have great visibility which kind of defeats the purpose. Another few were sent back down the mountain as it was deemed too dangerous. I'm afraid we weren't feeling adventurous enough but maybe another time! Instead we took a day trip to Kinabalu Park. You can see the mountain in the picture below.

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Our time in Malaysia has now come to an end. Borneo has a lot to offer and I'm really glad we stuck this on the trip last minute. Suze if you're reading thank you for the advice! We are spending the next three weeks in Indonesia. We take a plane in a couple of hours south to Bali. One of my best friends is meeting us there and I can't wait to catch up.

Posted by mattld 23:35 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

Borneo - Tawau & Semporna

semi-overcast 30 °C

Our stopover in Tawau was fine, it’s a very small town and there isn’t anything really to attract tourists (aside from the airport hub). Seafood is one of their specialities though so we joined the locals at a seafood market for dinner and were able to try mantis for the first time. They showed us a live mantis when we were ordering, and it looked like something from the movie Alien. It was tasty but I’m not sure I'll try it again as there wasn’t much meat to be had. The prawns were great though and we would have loved to have ordered crab, lobster etc. but it was too expensive. They have a giant prawn as their town statue/symbol which we thought was amusing. We also had the unexpected pleasure of experiencing the best doughnut. Ever. And we don’t normally eat doughnuts. White chocolate apple crumble doughnut with digestive biscuits? I was practically crying eating it.

Moving on to Semporna, being honest with you it's a run down town that suffers from a severe case of waste pollution (and badly needs a lick of paint). The locals dump their food on the street near the market square and I’m not sure how long it’s left there before collection. Put it this way, I haven’t smelt anything like it since Phnom Pehn in Cambodia and that’s saying something (see Cambodia blog entries). Semporna is however home to a dozen islands with a very rich density of coral life. The most famous island is Sipadan and it is generally regarded as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. We booked a 3 night/2 day package and stayed at the Holiday Dive Inn. It was basic and there was no window in the room, but it was quiet and cool and we slept like logs, finally. I signed up for six dives in total. Our first day was spent at Sibuan. Alberto had two dives, his first ever and he loved it. We also got lucky with the weather. For the first time in weeks we had sun for the whole day. Check out the pictures below it was pretty spectacular and a welcomed contrast from the grey of Kuala Lumpur. If you’re in work right now you might want to look away...

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Yes, well I did warn you...

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Our second day was spent at Sipadan. In order to protect the marine life, there are only 120 dive permits issued daily. In high season you may have to book months in advance to visit. Unfortunately one of the reasons we were able to go at such short notice was because a couple of tourists were kidnapped by the Philippines over the past year. It’s a long and awful story but suffice to say we did our research, weighed up the risks, felt safe enough due to military presence and reassurance from others who had visited and everything went according to plan. Mom if you’re reading, don’t be worrying we’re fine!

They really were the best dives I've done to date, and I’ve had dives on the Great Barrier Reef, Koh Tao and Fiji. Imagine being right in the middle of the Disney film Finding Nemo with hundreds of multi-coloured fish, beautiful coral, dozens of turtles, manta rays, etc. all surrounding you. I saw a few small sharks as well (not harmful). Alberto wasn’t able to dive at Sipadan as you require the Padi Openwater cert but he was able to snorkel and saw plenty. If you’re interested in diving I think Sipadan is a must at some stage. Make sure you research everything regarding the terrorism/kidnapping in advance and weigh up the risks. Who knows what may happen in the coming weeks or months. I didn’t pay to take photographs underwater but I’ve taken a few from online to give you an idea of what we saw.

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Pretty cool eh? And that it’s from me today. We took a bus this morning five hours north to Sandakan. We’re staying at a forest lodge for four nights and then we’ll travel south-west to Kota Kinabalu, our final stop in Malaysia.

Posted by mattld 18:27 Archived in Malaysia Comments (3)

Kuala Lumpur

overcast 30 °C

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m writing this entry on a flight heading east to the island of Borneo, the Malaysian side in a region called Sabah. There are two kids screaming behind us and kicking our chairs whenever they feel like it. I’m doing my best to smile politely at their parents. First of all, let me get the negatives out of the way. Our accommodation has been a disaster the past few days.

We booked into the Citrus Hotel, a ‘four star’ at a really good price. We had read a few mixed reviews but as it was so cheap for a hotel we decided to ignore and booked it anyway. The photos looked fine. How bad could it be? Well, it’s located beside the red light district, drag street car racing seems to be all the rage and the windows are so thin it sounds like the Monaco Grand Prix is taking place just outside the hotel room. You would get a better night’s sleep in Beirut! Initially, we tried to ignore it. Then we found it a bit funny. A short while later, we were crying in tears of laughter and discussing how awful our review on Booking.com was going to be. Another couple of hours later however we were still awake and by now we were fuming. At 5am we had to change to another room. The staff looked at me like I had ten heads when I went to complain. Noise aside, there was also a cockroach in our toilet that came in through the vent, stale cigarette smoke wafting through the corridor and a general feeling that you could pick up a nasty illness from the room itself. We badly needed laundry done on arrival but it was so expensive it would have been cheaper getting the Pope to hand wash our boxers. The other room we were offered had been cleaned by a maid with a fetish for bleach. The next day we complained again, got a refund on the two nights we didn’t stay and booked a guesthouse closer to the city centre. It was a big improvement but paper thin walls and noisy staff have resulted in three night’s without a proper sleep.

No sleep = cranky Matt! But you have to take the bad with the good when you’re travelling. We had two full days in Kuala Lumpur, and I’m afraid we spent our first day hiding out in a rather large shopping centre we had discovered the night before. The Pavilion mall is almost the size of a small city. It has air conditioning, western food and a cinema. What more could one want? It’s amazing how much better a proper smoothie and gourmet handburger can make you feel. And a DC Super Hero store is always good for my inner geek.

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On our second day we got back into sightseeing mode and took the ‘hop on hop off bus’ around the city. We visited the national history museum, the Petronas towers (their tallest skyscraper and landmark) and the KL Tower.

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We spent the evening at Little India. The area has the feel of a night bazaar. Indian pop is played loudly throughout the streets and there’s a strong smell of incense in the air. We enjoyed walking through the various stalls, shops and had our dinner there.

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Can someone please get me an invite to an Indian wedding?

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So, the overall verdict on Kuala Lumpur... I'm afraid we won't be in a rush to return. There just isn’t a lot of interesting things to do. The weather hasn’t helped our visual perception as it has been really dull and overcast the past few days, and there’s also been a fire in Indonesia which is causing a pollution style effect. Everything looks drab and grey. Kuala Lumpur is a bit of an ugly sister during the day, but it scrubs up well at night (thanks to the dozens of coloured street lights). I’m the first to admit weather and lack of sleep are probably clouding our judgement. But you can’t ignore the ‘Macau effect’, plenty of rundown areas located metres away from designer brand name shops.

And now to the positives. We loved the cultural diversity spread throughout the city. It’s only one hundred and fifty years old (prior to that it was a jungle) and walking through the streets you’ll see Indian, Chinese and ethnic Malays, and a fair share of westerners. On one side of the road you’ll spot women in hot pants. On another you’ll see them covered from head to toe in burqas. We haven’t seen such a diverse mix on our travels. Secondly, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to eating. Aside from all the standard stuff, you’ll find Nepalese, Vietnamese, Iranian restaurants etc. We also spotted three O'Briens sandwich bars (disappointingly more expensive than home though and there's not a grain of stuffing)!

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Prices in the city vary greatly but you can always find good cheap Asian food. The Pavilion shopping centre we visited had well over fifty restaurants including an enormous food court. It was a challenge at times deciding what to eat the choice was so good. In conclusion, Kuala Lumpur... don't call us, we'll call you! We stay in a small town known as Tawau tonight before we travel north to the scuba diving haven of Semporna.

Posted by mattld 06:57 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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