Tag Archives: Travel

Laos: An instagram photostory

In the past when I have posted up a bunch of photos from a trip, they’ve generally been photos from my dSLR. But as time goes by and I find taking glamour shots with the dSLR time-consuming and cumbersome, my iPhone has started to take its place. Many people hate those filters they see used so liberally in Instagram photos, but I think photos with these effects look much better than photos without. And with my dSLR, I have to go back to my computer and manually alter a bunch of sliders just to make a photo look half decent. I know many bloggers go to the extent of manually editing thousands of photos in programs like lightroom. I can’t think of a bigger waste of time, to be honest. I’ve got better things to be doing like drinking coffee, sleeping in and laughing at grumpy cat videos.

So with that off my chest, here are some of my favourite instagram shots from my 4 months in Laos. You’ll notice food shots aren’t included and that’s because they’ll come later.

Buffloes on a boat in Laos - perfect travel companions
Buffloes on a boat in Laos – perfect travel companions

It all started on a buffalo boat in September and was the perfect introduction to my worst month of travel ever. We slept little more than a couple of metres away from these beasts overnight on a remote stretch of the Mekong, bugs by the score.

Mekong sunset near Xieng Kok
Mekong sunset near Xieng Kok

But the Mekong never looked so good as it did while bedding down next to those buffaloes.

Sunset in Luang Prabang
Sunset in Luang Prabang

The Mekong has a charming quality as seen here in Luang Prabang…

Sunset in Vientiane
Sunset in Vientiane

…and here in Vientiane where it dries up in parts due to its immense width.

Sunrise on Don Det
Sunrise on Don Det

Down in the southern reaches of the Mekong the river becomes a delta of sorts and thousands of islands pop up out of the river much to the benefit of the local backpacker crowds on Don Det.

Phongsali from above
Phongsali from above

In far northern Laos near the Chinese border is a small provincial capital called Phongsali. Few tourists bother making the trek here due to the arduous bus journey involved, but those that do are rewarding with an atmosphere not found elsewhere in the country and certainly a million miles away from anything experienced down south in Don Det.

Lao woman in traditional clothing - not a tourist in sight!
Lao woman in traditional clothing – not a tourist in sight!

In the northern parts of the country you are more likely to encounter people who still wear traditional clothing and not merely for the benefit of tourists.

Prince Souphanouvong Bridge
Prince Souphanouvong Bridge

There are some quirky attractions in Laos…

Grumpy Dog
Grumpy Dog

…and some quirky animals such as Grumpy Dog.

Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng

But one thing that endures is how beautiful this country is. The mountains…

Blue lake on the Tha Khek loop
Blue lake on the Tha Khek loop

…the lakes…

Twin waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau
Twin waterfalls on the Bolaven Plateau

…the waterfalls…

That Luang, Vientiane
That Luang, Vientiane

…the temples…

Back of nowhere on the Tha Khek loop
Back of nowhere on the Tha Khek loop

…and the desolation during the height of the dry season.

Laos truly is a wonderful country that deserves more than just a passing visit. Most people zoom along a well-trodden route that includes a 2-day slowboat ride along the Mekong, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. But Laos is so much more than those places and the true colours of this magnificent country are only seen when you step away from those places with the thickest of tourist veneers.

Take your time and soak up all that this fascinating country has to offer.

Wat Phou, Champasak
Wat Phou, Champasak

 

 

Worst month of travel ever

I didn’t sufficiently update my followers on plans for the second half of 2012. In fact, I haven’t updated my followers with much at all in recent times which is more a sign of how busy I’ve been rather than a general slackness or lack of interest. Well, this post is part update on what I’m doing and part recap of the hardest month of travel I’ve ever done.

I'm loving it!
I’m loving it!

I’m in Laos right now on assignment for Travelfish (note: things have changed since I wrote this!). The plan is to be here for about 4 months doing an entire country update for their online guide which I must say is a fantastic companion to your travels here. It honestly means you don’t need a Lonely Planet especially if you have an internet connected smartphone.

Susan is with me on this trip which is a new experience for me when doing research as I’ve always done it alone. We started in the border town of Huay Xai with plans to reach Xieng Kok some 100km north in a few hours by speed boat. Great! An easy day of travel! 3 hours turned into 2 days and 2 nights including dodging armed bandits and sharing a full 20 hours sitting and sleep 2 metres from 54 buffaloes.

Military or bandits? The boat driver didn't want to find out
Military or bandits? The boat driver didn’t want to find out

Huay Xai isn’t operating speedboats upriver these days, so we had a tip to catch a bus to the town of Ban Mom instead, a short distance upriver. From here we were under the impression we could get a speedboat to Xieng Kok. After waiting 3 hours for the bus and then spending another 2 hours enroute to Ban Mom, we discovered at the Ban Mom boat dock that speed boat drivers were shit-scared. There have been recent shootings along the river and no amount of money was enough for them to take us to Xieng Kok. Others in town suggested we go to the dock early the next morning and wait for a passing slowboat.

Buffaloes moan and moan much like me really
Buffaloes moan and moan much like me really

After finding an unsigned guesthouse to sleep in, we awoke and begun waiting by the river at 7am. By 12pm, a boat had arrived carrying a cargo of buffalo upriver and we negotiated a price and hopped on board. The boat made slow progress and as the sun set over the jungle-covered hills alongside the northern reaches of the Mekong, it soon became apparent that we weren’t going to be sleeping in a hotel with AC and a comfy bed that night. The boat pulled into the side of the river, out came some blankets and a mosquito net, a bit of food and that was it. Everyone went to sleep. The crew at the back of the boat presumably in beds and 5 locals from a remote village we picked up on the way plus us a mere 2m from the insect-infested buffaloes. Those things kicked and moaned all night and we barely got any sleep. Early the next morning we arrived at Xieng Kok and I promptly did some Travelfish work and then skipped onto our next destination.

The sunset on the Mekong was phenomenal
The sunset on the Mekong was phenomenal

It all sounds so fun in hindsight, but at the time it was stressful and tough.

The second part that made this month difficult was riding a motorbike from Muang La, 28km north of Oudomxai to Phongsali. The road is long. And it’s a long and winding road. At times we felt like we were on a road to nowhere. For the majority of the journey we drove on an extremely windy and rocky road. That’s right, most of it is not surfaced. Worse, it’s also not graded meaning speeds average around the 20km/h mark and your body is tense the whole way as you fight to keep the damn bike upright. Of course, the dust was incredible and I ended up orange. But then it rained and the dust turned to mud and the road in parts became a quagmire which required me to put my feet into it to ensure the bike didn’t slide the wrong way.

The road to Phongsali is a joy to ride on
The road to Phongsali is a joy to ride on

Eleven hours later we arrived in Phongsali absolutely shattered. Of course we were on a schedule so the next day I had to get out and work. Sure, there is time to rest when you work as a guidebook writer, but sometimes visa issues mean you just have to go for it. Phongsali was one of these times. Phongsali is a great little spot by the way and the question, “Is it worth going to Phongsali?“, is one that I think requires more than a passing thought. I wrote about specifically for Travelfish.

The road to Phongsali is hard on the trucks too
The road to Phongsali is hard on the trucks too

From Phongsali the plan was to ride the bike 21km to Hat Sa and put it on the scheduled boat to Muang Khua. Unfortunately, there had been a landslide overnight 1km from Hat Sa and the road was blocked. Bus passengers walked to Hat Sa while we waited 3 hours in the blistering sun for the road to be cleared. By the time we got to the dock the boat had already left. We ended up chartering a boat for about $150 which is an absolute rip off but the boat dudes has us by the balls and they knew it. They knew we’d pay. For Travelfish it would have cost and extra day of expenses for little benefit if we had returned to Phongsali and sat around until the next day.

Amazingly they had heavy machinery to clear the road near Hat Sa
Amazingly they had heavy machinery to clear the road near Hat Sa

But that wasn’t the end of it. We waited a full 3 hours for our charter boat driver to decide to leave. Why? We don’t know. What we do know is that we got wet. Very wet. After waiting 2 hours he headed off down river. Yay! After 100m, he stopped on the river bank and it proceeded to pour with rain only like Asia does when you’re stuck in it. Slowboats offer little protection when it rains like this and we ended up soaked. The rest of the journey down river was fine except when we wanted to get the bike off the boat in Muang Khua and the driver wouldn’t do it unless I bought him and his friend 3 long necks as reward for moving the bike. I bought the long necks, but not without gritting my teeth swearing that all boatmen are shysters. And it’s probably true.

Muang Khua was rather uneventful as was Oudomxai which made a brilliant contrast to the hardships faced earlier. But worse was to come. The road from Oudomxai to Pak Mong is now 4 hours of ungraded dirt, much like the Phongsali road. It’s the same story as the ride to Phongsali, except not as long.

Once in Nong Khiaw, I burned through my Travelfish tasks and was prepared to leave for Muang Ngoi when I got a fever. I thought it must have been heat stroke due to a stupid hike up a mountain to a cave without water in 40 degree heat. The fever stayed overnight and all of the next day and I knew it was something serious. We chartered a minibus to Luang Prabang, but of course they made us wait 2 hours which meant we departed after the public minivan. And of course they touted for business the whole way so that the van was full with random passengers. Of course we argued at the end and refused to pay the agreed price and of course we caved in because I was so ill and just needed to get into our room that Travelfish had so kindly booked and paid for us. And of fucking course the hotel double booked our room (Ock Pop Tok) and we had to get another room at another hotel despite me being near death.

Me climbing out the cave near Nong Khiaw
Me climbing out the cave near Nong Khiaw

Ten minutes after checking in at our new hotel we went to the Luang Hospital or the home for the sick and dying as I like to call it. I knew it would be bad. I knew it would be really bad. But nothing could prepare me for how bad the Luang Prabang hospital really is. If you get sick in Laos, avoid Luang Prabang and get the fuck to either Vientiane or Thailand. The hospital did a blood test *gulp* and said it was probably Dengue Fever. Well, I could have guessed it was probably Dengue Fever as well, but I don’t like to work on probablies. I like to work on certainties when I’m that sick, so after another few days of fever, we decided to take the punishing 10 hour bus ride to Vientiane where I promptly received a certain diagnosis from the Aussie doctor at the Australian Embassy that I had Dengue and I didn’t have Malaria. Cost was $150. Best $150 I ever spent, to be honest.

This is the VIP room in Luang Prabang Hospital - god help those out in the general ward
This is the VIP room in Luang Prabang Hospital – god help those out in the general ward

We were lucky to be able to pay 400,000 kip to get someone to pick up the key for the motorbike from us in Luang Prabang, catch a bus to Nong Khiaw to pick up the bike and somehow get it back to Luang Nam Tha some 9 hours away. We were lucky in many respects really.

And although this whole month sounds like a bag of shit, it has actually been good. Not fun. But good in that it has been a great addition to the tapestry of my life. I’d prefer my tapestry without Dengue Fever, but I do want to be one of those people that that has thousands of interesting stories about their life. I want to be able to spin war stories and this is what I signed up for. So with that I look forward to the coming months in Laos with some trepidation, but a lot wide-eyed eagerness.

Note: the following month got a lot worse and I’m now in Indonesia on a break.

Living in Java: an update

Well, well, well. It’s been a pretty amazing year and a bit in Java. Spending one whole year in Java doesn’t actually sound like that much of a big deal to me right now. But I know that before arriving the thought of living anywhere other than Australia for a year seemed like sheer madness. Now it feels normal.

Just one of the many amazing places I have visited in Java in the past year
Just one of the many amazing places I have visited in Java in the past year

Earlier this year I posted a video montage celebrating a year in Indonesia. It’s a simple video which shows some of the trials, tribulations and delights of everyday life in Indonesia. Some with a keen eye will have seen some of the important moments from my time here in Indonesia so far.

Getting Married

The most important thing that has happened to me in Indonesia during the past year is getting married. I came to Java for a 3-month stint studying Indonesian and ended up getting married. How did that happen? Nobody knows, but I’m extremely happy and that’s all that really matters. Susan and I were married in June this year in Bali surrounded by a handful of friends and family.

Us on our wedding day
Us on our wedding day

Learning Indonesian in Bandung

I came originally to study at IMLAC for 3 months before shooting off to Bali to learn how to surf. Well, since I was getting to know Susan and was generally having a fab time living in Bandung, I decided to extend my Indonesian lessons. I ended up completing 6 months of full-time study. I thought that after completing this much studying that I would be fluent, but I am not. I can hold a conversation with anyone in Indonesian and can pickup a lot of what people are talking about when I overhear their conversations, but I still struggle to talk in the style of locals. Why? Because the proper way of speaking and writing in Indonesian is a long way from how most people actually speak. Many people studying at my school questioned why we didn’t learn the informal language, but that’s not something you go to school for. You learn that on the street and by interacting with people.

One of the classrooms at IMLAC
One of the classrooms at IMLAC

For anyone intending on staying in Indonesia for any extended period of time, I would highly recommend getting some formal training in Bahasa Indonesia. I saw many people arrive in IMLAC with no Indonesian language knowledge getting to a pretty good proficiency within 1 month.

Writing for Travelfish

I continued writing for Travelfish while in Indonesia and this took about 3 months of my time. I covered most of Java. Actually, to cover every tourism aspect of Java would probably take about 5 months, so I hit the spots that foreign tourists are more likely to hit. Even then I spent a week at one point without seeing another white person. Java doesn’t get many foreign tourists travelling through it. Those that do come here spend their time in Yogyakarta and then move on. How very sad.

Working for Travelfish is no holiday, but it's fun!
Working for Travelfish is no holiday, but it’s fun!

Honeymoon

Recently Susan and I spent two months in Australia and New Zealand having our honeymoon. We stayed in campervans for most of the period and it was an incredible experience. Highly recommended. More to come on this.

Sunrise in the outback on our honeymoon
Sunrise in the outback on our honeymoon

Thoughts

Reflecting on the past year and a bit, I can truly say that life is unpredictable when you don’t have the anchor of a proper job dictating events. I’m becoming increasingly keen to start a business or ten here in Indonesia. Everywhere I look I see opportunity for people with my background to make money. Whether it be opening up a small guesthouse, a small eatery, a website or something else. Opportunity abounds here.

Right now Susan and I are experimenting with a new Indonesian travel website called Pergi Dulu which we hope one day will provide destination information to the growing masses of Indonesian travellers. Today it is a blog, tomorrow hopefully something different.

So that’s where I am at now. I’m truly passionate about Indonesia and am bullish on the country’s economic prospects and potential as a tourist destination. If only the rest of the world would wake up.

West Java

Ah yes… Java. Previously I spoke of some of the places I loved from both East and Central Java. Today, it’s the West. West Java was a bit of a revelation to me as I had thought there wasn’t a lot to see before setting off on my travelfish.org adventure. But as it turns out, West Java is absolutely packed with awesome things to see and do. Lots of beaches and lots of volcanoes as well as a few reasonably large cities with Western conveniences.

Pangandaran & Batu Karas

I’d already been to Pangandaran before and knew it was a great little beachside spot to hang out for a while. But on my second visit, I enjoyed it even more. It’s nice combination of enough tourist infrastructure to make things comfortable and not enough foreign tourists to turn it into a mini-Kuta. I also checked out Batu Karas which is just down the road and has a totally different vibe — I liked it! The disappointing thing about both of these beach areas is that they deserve to have masses of foreigners visiting them, but at this point in time they are virtually empty with only a small handful making their way there.

Sunsets like this most nights in Pangandaran
Sunsets like this most nights in Pangandaran

Garut

Garut itself is nothing to write home about. But there are few attractions nearby that are definitely worth a look. I particularly liked Gunung Papandayan, an explosive volcano, Kawah Kamojang, a geothermal area with bubbling pits of mud everywhere and Kampung Naga, a traditional village with no electricity supply (except via car battery – so definitely no playing PartyCasino here!).

Huge volcano near Garut
Huge volcano near Garut

Bandung

I’ve been living in Bandung for the past year and it definitely is worthy of a mention. Mainly for the nearby Tangkuban Parahu and Maribaya forest walk, but also for the great culinary scene. There aren’t many foreigners visiting Bandung and it makes sense when you see how difficult it can be to get to Tangkuban Parahu by public transport without getting ripped off.

Tangkuban Parahu near Bandung
Tangkuban Parahu near Bandung

Ujung Genteng

Ujung Genteng would have to be my favourite West Java destination. It’s small strip of villages which stretches along a remote coast some 100km from the nearest city of any size. The great thing about Ujung Genteng? Total isolation, crystal clear water and a magnificent turtle rehab centre. When I was there, I think I saw one other foreigner, but I’m not 100% sure — they flashed past on a motorbike.

Ujung Genteng is magic
Ujung Genteng is magic

So the same disappointment I have felt in other parts of Java came back again in West Java. Absolutely incredible destinations that have very few foreign visitors. Many of them are not that easy to get to, public transport operators regularly rip foreigners off and accommodation is generally VERY basic. If only some of these people could tune into what foreigners want, maybe more would make their way to this neck of the woods. Until that happens, these places are going to be virtually unspoilt. Go there!

 

Kuala Lumpur – overview

The vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur is one of the most popular destinations in the whole of Malaysia. People travel here from all over the world to browse for bargains in the city’s many malls and markets, dine on delicious cuisine and discover the city’s enchanting attractions. Firstly, if you’re looking for cheap flights click here for cheap flights to Malaysia JetAbroad.com.au and to view some of the exciting options that await you when you visit Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur -- vibrant metropolis
Kuala Lumpur — vibrant metropolis

KL Tower

Riding to the top of KL Tower is the perfect way to get a feel for this dynamic city. Visitors can take an elevator to the panoramic observation pod, where they will be treated to stunning views of the entire city and the surrounding area. Visitors are handed headsets that explain all of the attractions that can be seen from each of the windows in the pod, which makes it easy to plan what you want to see while spending time in Kuala Lumpur.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Twin Towers are without a doubt the city’s most famous landmark and can be found in the Golden Triangle district. These mighty towers are connected by a sky bridge, where you can stand and gaze out at the city. Another great way to see the Petronas Towers without having to join the long queues to ride in the elevator to the observation centre is by booking a table at the elegant Skybar in the Trader’s Hotel. The Skybar features a number of cosy window table set around the edge of an enormous swimming pool. Many of these window tables look out onto the Petronas Towers, and it’s best to book a table for around 18:00 so that you can watch the sun sink behind the towers before the towers become lit by thousands of tiny twinkling lights.

Petronas Towers - worth a visit!
Petronas Towers – worth a visit!

Shopping

If you want to do a spot of shopping, you should pay a visit to the world famous Petaling Market which can be found in the Chinatown district. There are dozens of market stalls that are piled high with copies of designer gear such as bags, belts and perfume. Aside from this great market, KL also features numerous modern malls with the Pavilion being just about the best.

Old KL Architecture
Old KL Architecture

Eating

Lovers of fine dining should check out the gourmet restaurants that can be found in the more upmarket Bangsar. However, eating out in Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have to break the bank as there are plenty of cheap and cheerful places where visitors can go to sample local cuisine. There are plenty of cheap eateries to be found in the Chinatown district, which serve authentic Cantonese cuisine as well as Malay dishes.

Please tell me you want to eat these! :)
Please tell me you want to eat these! 🙂

Of course, these are just a few of the things that await visitors to Kuala Lumpur. There are a bunch of other things to see and do such as visiting the Batu Caves. So, if you’re looking for a good deal, click here for cheap flights to Malaysia JetAbroad.com.au.

Central Java – culture, beaches and natural wonders

I have travelled a lot through Java since I arrived almost a year ago. In that time I’ve travelled the entire length of the island for Travelfish.org covering all of the common sights in Java as well as many that are off the beaten track. To be honest, it’s hard to stay on the beaten track in Java and it’s only because many people freak out when they arrive that they speed through the island towards Bali without so much as stepping on a beach or climbing a volcano (except maybe for Gunung Bromo). Central Java is a magnificent part of Java that surprised as it has a bit of a reputation for being desolate. And when you compare it to East and West Java, that might ring true. But Central Java has Borobudur and that is the biggest tourist attraction in Indonesia outside of Bali. Plus, there are some other places that I reckon are some of the best in the whole of Java.

Semarang – capital of Central Java

Semarang is the capital of Central Java and is where I flew into. It’s simply a big city with a great old section which floods occasionally. It flooded when I was there and the becak driver was driving me home in water that would have otherwise been up to my thighs. Needless to say I got wet — especially when the guy couldn’t peddle any more because we’d gotten stuck in a hole. The old town is basically a bunch of old buildings that are sadly falling into a state of disrepair.

Semarang old city
Semarang old city

Move out of the old town and into Chinatown and you find a part of the city that is surprisingly well-looked after. Chinatown is a great place to go on weekends when food markets are set up there.

Karimunjawa Islands

The Karimunjawa Islands are located about 100km off the north coast of Central Java — a cluster of small islands, some of which are inhabited by fishermen. Tourists go there because the water is crystal clear, there’s plenty of coral for snorkelling and the sand on many of the beaches is simply blindingly white. It’s a basic place where food is simple as is most of the accommodation. You rarely see another white person while you’re there and riding a motorbike around the island truly gets you into virgin territory for foreign visitors. This place is magical and is one of my favourite places in Java.

Karimunjawa has white sand and clear water
Karimunjawa has white sand and clear water
Karimunjawa Central Java
Karimunjawa Central Java

Dieng Plateau

Dieng Plateau is another one of my favourite places, but it couldn’t be more different than Karimunjawa. Dieng is located at 2100m above sea level and is home to the oldest Hindu temples in Java, boiling pits of mud and farms that spill down massive steep mountains. It’s cold, cloudy and absolutely enchanting. Overnight temperatures often dip below freezing in the dry season and day time temperatures can be quite frigid too, especially after having arrived from the stifling lowlands.

Small town on the Dieng Plateau
Small town on the Dieng Plateau

The great thing about sleeping overnight in Dieng is that most of the accommodation is located in people’s houses. This means friendly and warm service and some of the quirks you’d expect in an Indonesian house like no heating when it’s practically snowing outside. Needless to say, you do breathe steam out of your mouth the whole night and if you need to get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, you’re in for an icy trip across the tiled floor in bare feet as of course Indonesian bathrooms are constantly wet. The best way to get around this is to dehydrate yourself.

Boiling water near Dieng Central Java
Boiling water near Dieng Central Java
Telaga Warna, the coloured lake in Dieng
Telaga Warna, the coloured lake in Dieng

Random photos

These random photos are of a place that isn’t in any of the guidebooks and won’t be in the travelfish guidebook either mainly because it took all day to get to on the back of a motorbike. Almost did me in. Only stayed for about 15 minutes and got bored, but it does make for some good photos. Everyone loves a mud pit!

Bleduk Kuwu Central Java
Bleduk Kuwu Central Java
Exploding mud of Bleduk Kuwu
Exploding mud of Bleduk Kuwu

Of course there are other places in Central Java that I went to that I could go on and on about, but no one has time for that. And there’s also Yogyakarta and Solo, both of which are already written up for travelfish and I didn’t have to visit. Central Java is truly magical and almost completely untouched by white folk. I went about a week without speaking to another one. YES! What you reckon? Good place or not?

Turtle hatchlings in Ujung Genteng

I went to a place called Ujung Genteng last month. It’s an awesome and remote place on the south coast of West Java where only very tourists make it. Among the great things to do there such as snorkelling, eating fresh fish and laying around is the possibility to see turtle hatchlings running down to the ocean. So I took a video as the sun set of those cute turtles. Check it out.

Java Guidebook

It’s been over a year since I travelled to Bali to commence writing for travelfish.org. A year in which much has happened. It’s actually a bit crazy to think how quickly the past year and a bit has gone, but here I am now, sitting in a dodgy shack in the back streets of Kuta, Bali once again contemplating writing another guidebook. This time Java!

Java is a petite-looking island home to 135 million (!!!) people nestled between enormous Sumatra and bite-sized Bali. The problem with viewing Java as petite is that it’s often easy to think that as a tourist you can breeze through in a week and more or less have it covered. Java is packed with activities for tourists such as enormous volcanoes, sprawling rainforests, white sand beaches and thousands of years worth of culture. A week is never going to be enough.

I’ll be trying to cover the entire island in about 2 and a half months and I will not be stopping to sun myself on the beach, spend late nights drinking with other backpackers or generally doing anything that wastes time. It’s a big job. And that’s a lot to do with how many cool places there are in Java, how slow travelling through the island is and the detail in which I need to do the research.

Java, here we come!

Yogyakarta

So after leaving Pangandaran, I ignored the advice of the Lonely Planet and headed to a train station that was said to be an inconvenient place to get to Yogyakarta from. But I had a map and it looked close. Lucky for me, my judgement was correct — my journey to Yogyakarta was 4 hours quicker than a guy I had met earlier in the day who was travelling in the same direction.

The Journey to Yogyakarta

Normally I don’t write about journeys between A and B — mainly because people like to hear about destinations and that is fair enough. But the train journey across Java is brilliant and is worth mentioning here. It really is part of the Javan experience to sit on the train outside of the toilet and just chat with all the people that wander past — or go to the toilet. And the scenery is to die for. Take a look at my short short short video if you’re interested in what it looks like.

Yogyakarta City

Compared to anywhere else in Java, Yogyakarta is absolutely packed with tourists. But even then, it’s not like many Asian destinations where white people outnumber local people. Yogya is an easy city to get around, a great place to eat nice food and undertake hassle-free tourist activities. There are a bunch of backpacker hotels located near the train station which I recommend as being the best area to stay. The other backpacker area is slightly more upmarket, but further out of town. That problem is countered by the fact that there are nice cafes around there. I headed over there 4 times during my Yogya stay and a fave of mine was…Via Via. Basically some hippy Western joint with ethical principles or some such thing. I forget. But the food was nice, the staff knew what they were doing and there was a good cause behind it.

Pecel
Pecel

So why do people go to Yogyakarta anyway? Well, there’s a few temples around that are pretty famous and spectacular and stuff. I didn’t see them this time, but have done before. Number one on the hit list is always Borobodur. Number 2 is always Prambanan. There are plenty of others, but it’s not always easy to get to them unless you’re on some sort of comprehensive tour, hire a car and driver or ride a push bike there. And that is possible if you’re a cycling fiend.

The other cool thing to see in Yogya is Gunung Merapi. If you’ve never seen a volcano before, this is a sight to behold. The volcano towers ominously above the surrounding landscape and erupts with frightening regularity often killing many.

Taman Sari, Yogyakarta
Taman Sari, Yogyakarta

In the town itself there are bunch of things to see such as the Sultan’s Palace, some old swimming pools and a the bird market. Forget the bird market. There is absolutely no touristic value there. The swimming pools are good and I didn’t get into the Sultan’s Palace.

In fact, I didn’t do a whole lot when I was in Yogya. I just hung around and chatted with fellow travellers, rode a bike for many kilometres, ate good food and got a lift to a restaurant in Bedhot’s fantastic VW. And absolutely fantastic vehicle.

Bedhot's Amazing Volkswagen
Bedhot's Amazing Volkswagen

Out of all the cities in Java, Yogya is the one that most foreigners will feel comfortable in but it is still a very local city, not a tourist city. That really just says that other cities in Java are not tourist cities in the slightest and you will feel uncomfortable — which is good for some, not for others.

Yogya has it all…temples, swimming pools and good food. Give it a go!

Pangandaran, West Java

After taking care of a few housekeeping matters in Bandung, I decided to head off on a journey to some Javan destinations. The rough plan was to visit about 5 places in 10 days, but I ended up only visiting Pangandaran on the south coast and Yogyakarta in central Java which is more akin to my normal pace of travel.

Getting from Bandung to Pangandaran is easy. You simply find your way to the bus station in the centre of Bandung called stasiun hall and catch the number 1 city bus to Cicaheum. Buses to Pangandaran depart regularly and tickets for the 7 hour journey can be bought on the spot for about Rp35,000. It’s not a particularly pleasant journey because the condition of the road is poor, but the scenery in parts is stunning.

Beach

Pantai Pangandaran
Pantai Pangandaran

So the main reason you go to Pangandaran is for the beach. It’s a grey-looking thing lined with palm trees and it’s really quite picturesque despite the colour of the sand. Few foreigners make it to Pangandaran and you’ll be sharing the main portion of the beach with domestic tourists. Move west along the beach and it suddenly becomes barren and devoid of any human life whatsoever – perfect for a romantic walk along the beach (blergh).

It’s not very safe to swim at the beach due to the large waves and strong currents, but some people give it a go anyway. In the past 12 months, 11 people have drowned there and near-misses are daily occurrences. The lifeguards have a nice, shiny truck that they drive up and down the beach, but I didn’t see them get out of it let alone jump in the water. Maybe they can’t swim…

Whatever the case, the beach is a fantastic place to relax, people watch and surf (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Accommodation

There’s plenty of accommodation in Pangandaran and a basic room with cold water and a squat toilet will set you back around Rp70,000 per night. You can upgrade to an air conditioned room for about Rp100,000 per night. Most of these places cater to Westerners and are located at the far western end of town. The locals all stay in the centre of town and I reckon there’d be some decent cheap options there as well if the Western options are too expensive or not up to scratch.

Green Canyon

Green Canyon, Pangandaran
Green Canyon, Pangandaran

Around the Pangandaran area there are a few cool things to do. Well maybe one. A visit to Green Canyon is a must when visiting Pangandaran. It’s a small canyon with crystal clear turquoise-coloured water where you can hire a boat to take you up to a small swimming area. On the weekends, it’s extremely busy as I found out, but it is still a beatiful place even with the throngs clambering all over the rocks to watch their friends swim. Go here.

Batu Karas

Young Girls on the Beach
Young Girls on the Beach

Batu Karas is a surfing town that is less-heavily touristed than Pangandaran and it’s still relatively undeveloped. To be honest, it feels like a bit of a dump. But this will change as time passes and people invest money into the roads, warungs and seaside infrastructure. Apparently it’s a great place to surf and private lessons can be had for about Rp100,000 per day. I think I might partake in a bit of this later in the year when I’ve got a bit of spare time. Hopefully I can find some more redeeming qualities.

To keep you going, here are a couple of videos I took of Pangandaran and Green Canyon.

So that’s it. Another great tourist destination in Indonesia. If only infrastructure and marketing gave this place a chance. Want Indonesia?