Tag Archives: Travel

How to get from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I really had no idea how I was going to get from Singapore into Malaysia before the day of departure. Was I going to take the train or bus were the main decisions to make first of all. Secondly, is it cheaper to catch a bus to Johor Bahru (Larkin terminal) first and then change to a Malaysian bus or get a bus straight through from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur? After finding out where the bus to Johor Bahru departed from, I decided to give this option a lash!

The bus from Singapore to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, just across the border, leaves from the Queen St Bus Terminal right next to Arab St and very close to Little India. Look it up on google maps for the exact location. From here, there are a number of bus options all taking you across the border to Johor Bahru. Firstly there is the public bus 170 which picks up passengers along the way as it travels to the border. It costs $1.60, there is no space to store luggage and many people stand up for the journey. Secondly there are a few private bus companies charging $2.40. These buses also have no space for luggage, but because the buses travel half empty, you can just plonk your bags on a spare seat. These buses do not stop before reaching customs/immigration at the border.

The Border

Lemur at Singapore Zoo
The border can feel like a jungle

The border has two aspects to it. Firstly you must clear the Singapore exit requirements on the Singapore side of the causeway. Everyone exits the bus here and takes all of their luggage with them as you will not be catching the same bus on the other side. You go through the normal immigration/customs procedures and look for a bus that looks similar to the one you departed 15 minutes before.

Once on the bus, this will take you through the no man’s land to the Malaysian border post. Here you will be required to take all your luggage off the bus again, fill out an entry card and clear customs/immigration. Once you have completed this process, you head back downstairs and try and find another one of your buses. My experience was that the private buses come much less frequently on this side of the border than the public ones. Still, I only had to wait about 15 minutes for a bus to turn up to take me to the Larkin terminal. It is also possible at this point to simply walk into the centre of Johor Bahru if you want to spend the night there.

Larkin Terminal


At the Larkin terminal in Johor Bahru there are buses to all over Malaysia. Everywhere. And the buses are cheap. My 4 hour bus journey to Kuala Lumpur cost just Rm31 — less than $10. There are a range of food stalls here and a market so you can get a cheap bite to eat without any problem. Buses to KL leave 6 times every hour with a range of companies. One piece of advice: don’t purchase a ticket from a tout as they are notorious scammers. Just head to a window and buy a ticket. Transnational have a good reputation, but cost a little more than the rest. My Transnational bus was only 3 seats wide meaning I had plenty of room.

Arrival in Kuala Lumpur

Jaguar at Singapore Zoo
Who doesn't love a jaguar?

You arrive in the outer suburbs of Kuala Lumpur approximately 13km from the centre of town. This isn’t much of a problem as for 50c, you can catch the train towards Masjid Jamek. Every bone in my body wanted to catch the train away from Ampang, but in reality, you want to head in the Ampang direction to get to the centre of KL. Where you want to get off the train is up to you, but be warned that information at the bus terminal/train station is very poor.

So there you have it. It’s easy and cheap to simply catch a few buses and a train to get to central KL. Forget going direct from Singapore for $30 by bus and forget the train unless you’re a train buff. Bus to Johor Bahru, then bus to southern KL bus terminal and then train to central KL is the way to go!

Giving Singapore a Second Chance

I first visited Singapore a couple of years when doing a visa run from Bali which was part of a larger 4 month journey around southeast Asia. I guess the purpose of the visit had something to do with how I felt during my short stay in Singapore — that of a destination that I was simply there to transit through and not to explore with any great effort.

I left Singapore at that time thinking that it was the only non-Asian country in southeast Asia and far too expensive for a cheap-arse like me. I really didn’t like it.

Singaporean Kids
Singaporean Kids

When looking for flights to Indonesia for my current jaunt, I checked all the usual points of entry such as Bali, Jakarta, via Malaysia…and also Singapore. It just so happened that I got a really good deal on a ticket to Singapore from Melbourne — $200 for an 8 hour flight. So rather than skip straight through Singapore as my first instinct told me to do, I decided to hang around a little bit longer to do some walking, some eating and some animal watching. It turned out to be a fantastic experience helped by an Indophile friend I met on my first night, Judith.

Walking

I love walking. I especially like walking when I’m in a new place so that I can get my bearings and feel at ease. It’s also the best way, in my view, to get a feel for a place and to discover hidden treats. It’s often too easy to whip out a copy of the Lonely Planet and make a beeline to a restaurant or activity thereby passing all the cool stuff in between — like creepy alleys, culinary delights and my favourite — banal local life.

The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore
The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore

Around the harbour area there are some really cool things to see on the architectural front. My favourite is probably what is referred to as the ‘durian’. It’s real name is the Esplanade and it regularly hosts world class performing artists in its concert hall and theatre. Other buildings I loved were the Marina Bay Sands which charges $20 to get to the top op unless you are sneaky like me in which case you can as if you are staying there and use the internal elevators.

Eating

Singapore has always been known as a great food destination, but I never saw it on my first journey. This time I was determined to crack the nut that is the hawker centres where I’d read it was possible to get a good feed for under $3 which is good value in anyone’s language. Judith and I hit up the Old Airport Rd food hall for starters and it delievered the goods. I got myself a laksa with a massive dollop of sambal balancing precariously on the side. Needless to say I needed hardly any of it as it was spicy enough for me.

Laksa with Sambal
Laksa with Sambal

I also got around to a few hawker centres near Little India and they all dished up lovely food. The mainstays of most of these joints was chicken rice, prawn mee and miscellaneous crazy Chinese stuff that didn’t take my fancy. It truly is possible to eat great food on the cheap in Singapore.

Singapore Zoo

Apart from walking around aimlessly, was there anything else I did? Why yes there was, as the sub-heading might suggest. Judith and I headed off to the Singapore Zoo. Being a fan of giving local transport a go, I indicated to Judith that I had the directions to the zoo all sorted out. After the first bus told us to get off in the middle of nowhere, we looked for a cab. Apparently there is some weird ‘no pickup’ rule in Singapore (one of about a billion rules that you can’t be expected to get a handle on) and we walked around a little like zombies (sans drool) until we managed to get to a bus stop (perhaps the same one that we were dumped off at). We jumped on another bus, jumped off it again just up the road and changed to the zoo bus. All in all, a silly decision by me to do public transport. For a few dollars more, it would have been better to get a direct tourist bus or even a cab.

Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo
Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo

The zoo itself is incredible. It’s easily the best zoo I have ever been to although that’s not really saying a whole lot since I’ve not been to that many. Top on my list of wishes was to see a mandrill. I did indeed see a couple of mandrills and that made my day. I think the mandrills, 80 hamadryas baboons and the jaguars were my faves. I think it’d be pretty easy to spend a full day there, but we breezed through quite quickly as Judith had a plane to Indonesia to catch. The next time I visit Singapore I wouldn’t mind doing a night safari which apparently goes from next door.

So all in all my visit to Singapore was a successful one. I stayed at the Inncrowd in Little India which truth be told was a little disappointing for the $15 price tag. 10 bed dorms, no decent spot to put your bag and a breakfast not worth bothering with. Free WiFi was nice, but who needs that nowadays anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Singapore. Ever been? Want to go?

Bali Photo Essay – Food

This is the third in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali BeachesPeople and Animals and Culture.

I love food. It really makes travelling much more interesting for me. Of course, not all foods I encounter on the road suit my palate, but when it does, I usually like to take photos. So here is a bit Bali food porn to get you salivating.

Nasi Campur
Nasi Campur

A favourite meal of many Indonesia is Nasi Campur. It literally means mixed rice – a plate of rice with an assortment of vegetarian dishes and if you’re lucky, one or two pieces of meat. A meal such as the one above can be had for about a dollar. Maybe a little more when you start to pile on meat.

Gorengan
Gorengan

This is gorengan. The word “goreng” means “fried”. And gorengan is simply an extension of that with a very general meaning of “fried stuff”. Most of these bite-sized morsels contain potato-like substances and are served cold. I can almost feel the fat stick to the roof of my mouth.

Gado Gado
Gado Gado

Gado gado is popular in tourist restaurants around Bali, but it is also a genuine Indonesian dish. It’s simply a bunch of vegetables mixed in a peanut sauce with a bit of soy. Something like this costs around the 50c mark at a local food stall, but isn’t enough food to satisfy fat Western appetites — so buy two.

Babi Guling
Babi Guling

Babi guling is a favourite meal at ceremonies in Bali. A whole pig such as this one will set back a village about $150, but will be shared between as many as 20 families. The pig is roasted with a bumbu (mixed spice paste) and then served in a variety different ways. Sometimes foreigners refer to babi guling as roast suckling pig, but Balinese more often than not use bigger pigs than those that are still suckling — there’s more meat on a big pig.

Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak
Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak

The local food in Bali is fantastic, but there is also a wonderful Western food scene. Grocer & Grind in Seminyak does the full range of Western food and good coffee as well. I like to go here for brunch…

Food defines many of my experiences in a country. Does it for you?

Australia Roadtrip – Western Australia

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Checkout Tasmania, South Australia and campervan purchase!

Western Australia was almost the place that never was. I think after it is all said and done, my favourite state of the not too recent Oz Roadtrip was Western Australia. Many people rave about Western Australia – particularly the backpackers we met along our journey and I always just put it down to crazy Europeans being in awe of the sun and sand that they never get at home. But I was naive. Western Australia impressed me in a way that was totally unexpected and in a way that could only have been experienced on a roadtrip.

Western Australia is a massive state that defies all comprehension. When entering the state on the Nullarbor Plain, you continue to drive for a full day before you reach a town with more than 50 people. It’s then another day’s driving to reach the western coast. The coastline extends for over 12000km (8000 miles) and most of the interior is completely empty save for a few camels, dingos and emus.

Our first stop was the remote but modern town of Esperance on the south coast, 700km east of the capital of Western Australia, Perth. It is an area with some of the best beaches you will ever see and offers some great camping opportunities in the Cape le Grand National Park.

Stunning Beach in Cape le Grand National Park
Stunning Beach in Cape le Grand National Park

The next area I really loved was Albany. Why? Well… The town itself is beautiful with some gorgeous suburbs. But around the whole area there is beach after beach and vantage point after vantage point that takes your breath away. Really! Plus, you can go on a free tour of a forest at the Valley of the Giants near Denmark which starts at 10am. The best beach I have ever been to is Greens Pool just outside of Denmark. How can a place really look like this?

Greens Pool, Denmark, Western Australia
Greens Pool - My Favourite Beach

Finally, I thought Perth was magic. I’d been to Perth a couple of times before, but not with the same spirit as I did this time. This time it was more about food and Perth duly delivered. What struck me about Perth was how new and shiny everything was. It is clearly evident that the mining boom which has been going on for about 10 years now is paying dividends for Western Australia’s capital. Thousands of people work on remote mine sites around the state and fly to and from work on what they call a “fly in fly out” basis. The mines are desperate for workers and consequently people are lured there with big pay packets. The lifestyle sounds somewhat brutal, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a go one day.

Polenta & Mushrooms at Toast, East Perth
Polenta & Mushrooms at Toast, East Perth
City Beach, Perth
City Beach, Perth

We didn’t get further north than Perth. If you look at a map, you’ll realise that Perth isn’t far north at all! So we had a fab time in Western Australia and didn’t even scratch the surface. Had we headed north to the famed areas of Shark Bay, Ningaloo Reef and the Kimberley, we would have had to drive about 5000km further and taken weeks to do it – we just didn’t have the time. But these places have reputations larger than the areas we visited and I am supremely confident that they will stack up.

I’d like to say that I cannot recommend Western Australia highly enough, but that would sound stupid. So I’ll just say that if you plan to go anywhere in Australia, try to take a roadtrip in Western Australia. It is magnificent.

Buying a Campervan

This is the third in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Check out Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia!

Before embarking on the recent roadtrip around Australia, Heather of theresnoplacelikeoz.com fame and I gave quite a bit of thought to the process of buying a campervan. We really had no idea how much we should expect to pay, what sort of features we should expect or how roadworthy they would be, but after conducting heaps (in other words next to zero) research, we went ahead and bought a campervan. After having travelled in said van and speaking with other campervanners, I’m quite confident now with the state of buying and selling a campervan in Australia and these are my expert (done it once – I’m an expert!) observations.

Roadworthiness

Most of the vans we looked at when purchasing our van looked like bombs. Since that time, most of the backpacker campervans we’ve seen are bombs. We thought ours was bad, but it had nothing on most of the vans out there. Most have a lot of rust, dodgy tyres and bits hanging off them or taped on. This poses a bit of a problem in that many of these are unsafe, but more importantly for people on a tight budget, they are hard to get registered because of mandatory roadworthiness inspections. The only way to avoid this is to pay a lot of money for a van that will easily pass the pre-registration roadworthiness inspection or try and find a dodgy mechanic to pass it for you.

Campervan in Tasmania
Campervan in Tasmania

Registration

In most Australian states, vehicles over 5 years old require an annual inspection to verify that they are roadworthy. If they don’t pass this check, they can’t be registered. The question is, how do most of these vans get registered if they are unroadworthy? Well, it would appear that there are “ways” to pass vehicle inspection checks. Most cheap backpackers seem to be willing to take a few safety risks for the sake of some money. I understand that.

The process of transferring registration from one party to another after purchasing the vehicle is quite simple. You need to make sure that the registration papers are with the vehicle and that the reverse side of these is filled out when handing over the cash as this is how the vehicle registration people know that ownership has been changed. Once this paperwork is filled out, both parties must submit their half of the paperwork to the relevant state registration authority and pay a fee for the transfer (based on sale price – about 5%). It’s quite a simple process.

Mechanical Integrity

Aside from issues of roadworthiness and safety, there are also a multitude of mechanical issues that can arise with an old beat up van. We had to replace our engine before we hit the road because it was so badly damaged. Even a mechanic wouldn’t have been able to determine this prior to it going into a workshop. Most of the vans we’ve seen on the road go OK, but some blow smoke and we’ve heard of countless people breaking down and having to conduct repairs in remote towns.

I guess the point here is that the purchase price of the van is just the start. You are almost guaranteed to have to fork out more money to have it repaired as you go. On top of this, regular servicing will be required as well as run of the mill maintenance issues such as new tyres, wiper blades and cracked windscreens. We saw plenty of vans with pieces of cardboard for windows!

Seats Inside Campervan
Seats Inside Campervan

Features

Most vans we saw were simply an empty shell with a bed and some storage built into the back of them. Most of these vans can seat 2 or 3 people. Ours could seat 5 as the bed could be folded away whereas most beds are permanent fixtures. Most vans also don’t have fridges or external electricity supplies, so keeping stuff cold and charging electronics can be a pain. We regulalry bought ice and used an esky whenever we needed to keep stuff cool and utilised long life milk all the time. We also had a power inverter which allowed the charging of electronics through the car lighter.

So really, none of these vans have any features at all! Most of the stuff inside is just basic camp equiment that can be picked up at Kmart such as camp stove, tent, storage containers, chairs, water canisters and pots and pans. For example, a 3 man tent can be had for $15 brand new as can a portable stove.

Where to Look

There are basically two ways to do this. Either go onto gumtree.com.au and search for vans there or head down to Kings Cross in Sydney and look at all the vans on Victoria Street. There are heaps of them and they all seem to be for sale.

Bed Inside Campervan
Bed Inside Campervan

Prices

So for a featureless campervan that is unsafe, mechanically unsound and an allround nightmare, what would you expect to pay? We had heard $3000 bandied around as a price to aim for and this region proved to be correct for us. Cars with 300,000km+ will generally go for $3,000 and those with 200,000km+ will go for about $4,000. Add fridges, air conditioning and other luxury items and the price climbs VERY quickly to $5,000. Most people are content with the basic deathtraps and hence try for campervans closer to $3,000, although some vans we have seen on the road are definitely not even worth that much. The people inside them have been pretty trashy too. Next time I buy one, I will plan on spending $6k all up. $3k purchase and $3k for repairs up front.

How do the costs stack up to renting a van? Well, let’s just say you did spent $6k in total on a van (purchase + repairs + rego) and sold it for $3k. It cost you $3k out of pocket. Hiring a van is sometimes as cheap as $80 per day. So it would be cheaper to rent a van if you were going for for anything less than 37 days. That’s not really that long. But there is hassle in buying and selling plus the stress of mechanical issues. Realistically, I’d look at renting for anything up to about 45 days. More than that and buying would be my choice. Better than renting altogether would be buying a cheap station wagon and camping… Plenty of people do that too.

So there you have it. My uber-comprehensive guide to buying a backpacker-style campervan. I’m happy to field questions or provide “expert” advice.

Gowalla as a Tool for Travel

Those of you that know me well know that I’ve had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with Gowalla over the past year after discovering that it wasn’t just a foursquare “check-in” clone. I’ve been opening the app wherever I go to discover places that the guide books don’t talk about and to document my travels in a nice neat package.

Gowalla was started by a guy named Josh Williams specifically so that he could record all the different places he went around the world in a virtual passport. This is the principle upon which Gowalla operates. A method of logging all the cool places you’ve been in the world, attaching photos of your time there and sharing them with your friends within Gowalla. So what specifically makes Gowalla a cool app for travel? Well apart from being a great method of capturing memories, the follow things are tops:

Find locations by Highlights

Gowalla Highlight Screen
Gowalla Highlight Screen

The highlights feature in Gowalla is a great concept. At the moment, you can add a “highlight” to any spot in the system. This means that you can add a coffee highlight to a cafe that has great coffee or the free wifi highlight to places with free wifi. The number of different highlights you can allocate is quite large and as time goes by, I’ve been noticing more and more cool places being tagged. So when I get to a new location and start trawling through spots, I can see which spots are highlighted by other users as being good spots for coffee, having free wifi or having great views. There are plans in the near future to make these highlights searchable — essentially allowing you to filter spots so that only spots with certain highlights attached to them appear in the app. Fantastic!

Find Locations by Checkins

Sometimes when you head somewhere new you have no idea where the best places to eat are. Actually, this is a big issue for me because I love to eat a lot. And unless you trawl hundreds of food blogs, it’s almost impossible to know what’s good and what’s not. Sure, the odd guidebook will try and pick out some favourites and this works sometimes. But a better method than all of these is to fire up Gowalla and start looking for locations that have lots of checkins. The interface for this in Gowalla is not ideal as you can’t specifically search for destinations that have lots of checkins. But once you’ve used the app for a while you start to get a feel for how many checkins is a lot and you can readily identify those locations which are preferred by the local populace. Of course, the local populace aren’t always right, but in my experience, they’re not usually far off the mark. Spots with a higher number of checkins usually are more attractive to visitors. A new app on the market called GoodFoot solves this problem as it actually sorts spots by number of checkins and gives a rating based on local people returning to the spot. Gowalla + GoodFoot = Awesome Guidebook.

Trips that Locals Have Created

A much underutilised feature of Gowalla is the “trips” feature. Essentially what users are able to do is group multiple spots together in “trips”. Checkin to all of the spots and you get a pin. But better than this, users are drawn to grouping together their favourite spots from certain cities. For example, you can trawl through the trips created for Singapore and find walks along the river, forest walks and foodie tours. When I get to Singapore at the end of June, I plan to stay in Singapore longer than I originally thought I would because I want to explore some of these trips! A good example of these trips in action is this trip created by HeatherSydney Health Food Shops. One thing that needs to be fixed in Gowalla regarding trips is that they need to be more easily searchable and preferrably through the app itself.

Travel Photo Album

Gowalla Photo Album
Gowalla Photo Album

I mentioned at the start that Gowalla is an app that captures journeys that you have taken and packages them neatly for you in a virtual passport. A top feature of this passport is that it allows you to display all the photos you have attached to your checkins in one neat little screen. At a glance, memories start flooding back of a particular time. It’s fast and easy and doesn’t require sitting down for hours in flickr looking at every single photo you took of your vacation.

Forget Foursquare. Too Much Noise. Cluttered with Crap.

The other thing that is great about Gowalla is that there is an active community of people called the Street Team Elite whose job it is to keep the quality of data in the system top notch. This means that they actively merge duplicates, correct spelling errors and amend spot locations. Those STEs use a nifty tool called spotfixer which allows them to act on reports that users file from within the app. Nice!

Checkin to Foursquare through Gowalla

Gowalla lets you checkin to Foursquare as you click the checkin button on Gowalla so that you don’t have to abandon all your friends that have flocked to Foursquare. With this feature, there really is no reason to keep opening the Foursquare app. Gowalla does it all plus much much more.

So while both Gowalla and Foursquare fill different market niches, community perception is that Gowalla is a clone of Foursquare and that if your friends aren’t using Gowalla, then there is no reason to use it yourself. Well, now you know that Gowalla is not a clone of Foursquare and has a completely different angle, it’s time to make the move. 🙂 Gowalla — double rainbow all the way!

 

Bali Photo Essay – People and Animals

This is the second in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali Beaches & Food!

I think I’m getting the hang of this photo essay thing. Easy! Just chuck up a few photos with a bit of commentary and you have yourself a blog post! Might have to do more of it. Anyway, this one is about people and animals in Bali. Why are both people and animals in the same post? Some might say that I’m seeking to draw the viewer into recognising the commonalities between humans and other animals and begging for there to be a greater understanding of the plight of animals in Indonesia which are often deprived of even the most basic living conditions. Others might just say I didn’t have enough photos to do two separate posts. I have no comment.

 

Important Balinese Man
Important Balinese Man

I was inspecting a hotel near Lake Tamblingan when a man in the distance was motioning for me to come over. It was a little awkward, but he had the most glorious smile, warm spirit and wanted to shake my hand forever. We had a little chat in Indonesian and he then wanted me to take his photo. After snapping a few shots, I showed him the results and he thanked me profusely. Of course I felt humbled by the kindness of one of the most incredible spirits I’ve ever met.

Sad Monkey For Sale
Sad Monkey For Sale

 

Photography experts often talk about how people’s eyes are what make or break a portrait photo. Judging by this photo, the same can be said for all primates. This monkey was chained at an animal market in Denpasar and gave an incredible look of sorrow.

 

Fisherman in Pemuteran
Fisherman in Pemuteran

We can talk about warm spirits all we like, but it means nothing until you experience it. In Bali, there are many of these warm spirits – I met this man after he just hauled in a bunch of fish for his family from the local reef in Pemuteran. He was very humble, gracious and a little bit bemused as to why I would care to look at his fish!

 

 

Fresh Fish in Jimbaran
Fresh Fish in Jimbaran

Bali is overfished – to the point where protected reefs are now the target of fishermen in a bid to keep up with ever-increasing demand. To be fair to Bali, large portions of Indonesia are overfished and waters outside those of Indonesia’s own are now the target of fishermen. The array of fish on display at the fresh fish market in Jimbaran is bewildering and a great reminder that the fish you have for dinner may well have been a spectacular juvenile reef fish caught illegally.

 

 

Young Boys in Rural Bali
Young Boys in Rural Bali

These young boys were running amok as young boys normally do. Except in Bali, the world is your oyster with the freedom to roam around and get up to mischief without fear of speeding cars, the stranger next door or an overly critical community. These boys puffed out their chests when they saw my camera and galloped away to continue their reign of terror in no time at all.

 

 

Baby Monkey with its Mother
Baby Monkey with its Mother

Baby monkeys also have much freedom from an early age although their mothers keep a protective eye out for them at all times. It’s not unusual for a baby monkey to scratch around in the bushes while a dozen metres away its mother snacks on bananas stolen from panicked tourists. A great place to spot this sort of behaviour is the Ubud Monkey Forest, although it can be heavily touristed in the middle of the day. The Monkey Forest at Sangeh is also a spectacular setting for primate observation.

 

 

Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow
Ploughing the Rice Field with a Cow

Man and beast work together to plough the fields near a guesthouse 7km from Amlapura. Many Balinese farmers still use old-fashioned techniques to plough their fields despite the explosion in motorised transport over the past two decades. Preparing a ricefield for planting is a multi-stage process that has not changed significantly over hundreds of years. Scenes like this are played out across the island and outside of the main tourist towns, it’s possible to have a room with views of glorious terraced ricefields such as this one.

 

 

Duck in Rice Field
Duck in Rice Field

An important aspect of preparing a ricefield for planting is allowing hundreds of ducks to forage in the muddy field for spilled rice and unwanted insects. During the process, ducks also add nutrients to the soil which is then mixed through during the ploughing process. I saw this duck chasing its friends across the sprawling fields immediately north of Ubud at the end of Jalan Kajeng – my favourite place to walk in Ubud.

 

 

Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran
Monkey on the Beach in Pemuteran

These is no human counterpoint to this photo – this animal is pure evil. I think monkeys are cute, but they’re mischievous little critters that are entirely unpredictable. This particular cutie was fossicking in the shallows when I thought it’d be a splendid idea to take a few shots. Maybe I should have asked for permission first, but it took exception to the candid shots I was taking and charged me, teeth all over the place.

 

What a fantastic place Bali is. Ever been? Going soon? Want to go? Do you need more convincing?

Learning Indonesian in Java

Those that have read my blog in the past will have gotten a sense that I love one country over and above all others. It’s a strange love affair I have with Indonesia that even I don’t understand, despite the interludes being frequent and varied. Next month I will once again visit my beloved with a mission to learn a bit more about her.

I can already speak Bahasa Indonesia, the single unifying language of a country that has more than 700 active languages and which is spoken by more more than 200 million people. I currently speak at a level that allows me to go to the markets and buy whatever I need, ask where buses are going to or coming from and discuss the generalities of daily life. But I want more. I know my language skills are deficient when I hear news reports or two friends speaking to each other, only picking up the odd word or two – most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And this probably means that I’m only able to communicate with people because they are speaking slowly and simply so I can understand.

Brooding Gunung Merapi, East Java
Brooding Gunung Merapi, East Java

So I’ve been in contact with a school in the Javan city of Bandung called IMLAC. It’s a Christian school used by missionaries before they head off around the country to do their work. For me, it’ll be about the language aspect and I hope to advance from a basic speaker to a fluent speaker. Bandung is a city located in the hills about 2 hours from Jakarta. A friend of mine lived there for 18months and raved about both the school and the city and ever since I’ve thought about actually doing it myself – and now I am. The plan is for 3 months of full time study and I hope to get myself a nice little house in what the Indonesians would call the kampung – the village.

Muslim Girl
Muslim Girl

At some stage I’d love to learn some other Indonesian languages such as Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese. A staggering 80+ million people speak Javanese. True. That’s probably got something to do with over 130 million (!!!) people living in Java. They pack em in, but still you can find solitude. I can’t wait.

Oh yeah, I want to climb a few volcanoes there as well. Anyone with hot tips for Java?

Australia Roadtrip – South Australia

This is the second in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Check out Tasmania, Western Australia and campervan purchase!

There’s something about the recent roadtrip that I embarked on with Heather (theresnoplacelikeoz.com) and Nicole (chasingwonderlust.wordpress.com) that gives me a new desire to travel. South Australia was a point in our travels where we had to decide whether to push on to Western Australia across the Nullarbor or return back to Sydney. Needless to say, we pushed on and it was the best decision of the journey. For me, South Australia was the turning point of something bigger than just the Oz Roadtrip plus there were plenty of fantastic things to see and do after the disappointment of the (not so) Great Ocean Road.

Normanville and Carrickalinga

Normanville Jetty
Normanville Jetty

About 80km south of Adelaide along the coast are the towns of Normanville and Carrickalinga. They’re tiny little things with hardly any reputation and as a result they’re quiet. We went as a bit of detour to try and find some food and ended up falling in love with the absolutely stunning beaches. The water is calm, the sand is bright yellow and the water is unbelievable – double turquoise all the way! I reckon this would be a top spot to hang around with a family for a while – I kind of wish we’d stayed for a bit longer, but the camping nazis are out in force which led us to push on.

Port Parham

Port Parham Sunset
Port Parham Sunset

Port Parham is one of the most bizarre places I have been. It’s about 60km north of Adelaide along the coast, but it feels like you are in the middle of the desert albeit with the ocean on one side. It has a pretty good free campsite with a toilet and this encourages loads of campers to hang out for a while. The town is a small dusty old thing and the beach is not of the variety that you’d choose to go swimming at. In fact, it is the beach that makes this place so weird. Firstly, there is an ocean of dried seaweed between normal land and sand and this seaweed is metres thick and stretches as far as the eye can see – you have to walk over it to get to the beach. Once on the beach you notice the flattest piece of land imagineable. After walking about 300m to the water, you notice the flatness continues right into the ocean meaning that you can walk for kilometres into the water before getting into trouble. As a result, when the tide advances or retreats, you can see a river of water flowing in a particular direction – a sight to behold! Oh, and the sunset here is brilliant. One last thing – we got done by an infestation of mice in the van. Probably half a dozen of them.

Fleurieu Peninsula

Fleurieu Peninsula Sunset
Fleurieu Peninsula Sunset

I already mentioned one part of the Fleurieu Peninsula previously – Normanville and Carrickalinga are located on the peninsula and are just west of the famed McLaren Vale wine region. McLaren Vale is one of my favourite wine regions as it’s relatively compact, the wineries aren’t too massive and it has a focus on good food as well as wine. South of here is the Langhorne Creek wine region which is tiny and is home to a number of great wineries. One I will never return to is Bremerton Wines – on day one we had a wonderful meal there, but when we returned the next day for a coffee (we’d already sampled their wines), the lady took an attitude towards us that is best left in the 20th century. One of complete and utter disdain. How dare we enter their winery and ask for a coffee. This kind of rubbish is common in wineries in Australia and the sooner they stop being precious the better.

Rant aside, there is also the lovely town of Victor Harbor to visit on the Fleurieu. We camped here for free and took a walk along the causeway to Granite Island. They also have a horse-drawn cart taking tourists across, but it’s a gaudy tourist trap that would best retired.

Fave town on the Fleurieu Peninsula? Wilunga. It’s officially part of the McLaren Vale wine region, but it really doesn’t push the wine angle very hard. We were there when the local farmers’ market was on and the selection of cakes, pastries, fresh produce and other great food was amazing. The town itself retains a type of charm that is often lost when the tourist masses descend – but this place has held its own and done it brilliantly.

One last word on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We downloaded the official Tourism SA iPhone app and it proved to be an excellent guide around the place. There were quite a few bugs with the app and it was slow, but the information contained within it was fantastic and enhanced out experience.

Moonta Jetty
Moonta Jetty

So these were the highlights of South Australia for me. In many ways these are unorthodox, but I think tourism in South Australia should avoid the man tourist centres because they are over-rated – much like anywhere else really. Get off the beaten track, make your own path and you can really discover some fantastic places in South Australia. Very impressive.

Bali Photo Essay – Beaches

This is the first in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for People and Animals & Food!

I don’t even really know what a photo essay is, but everyone seems to be doing one so I thought I’d finally get around to putting up some Bali photographs from my recent sojourn.

For many, the beaches of Bali are a disappointment. The main reason is that people dream of an idyllic paradise – palm-fringed white-sand beaches with bare chested beauties bringing fresh coconut juice and pina coladas at the snap of your fingers. OK, maybe that last part was just me. But really, it’s nothing like that. Perhaps they were once like this back in the 70s, but those days are gone.

The best beaches nowadays are off the main tourist trail, but are still popular enough to attract people with an entrepreneurial spirit willing to build decent hotels, provide delicious food and generally make you feel like you’re not roughing it. The beaches in the tourist areas are OK, but places like Australia and the US have better ones. Each of the photos below look better when you click on them as they expand to fill more of your screen. Lucky you!

Kuta Beach
Kuta Beach

The first beach most visitors to Bali see is Kuta Beach. It’s an impressive stretch of sand that is now developed to the point where it’s no longer pleasant in the middle of the day when all the other tourists are around. Harrassing beach vendors, sometimes dirty water and loads of people. Still it’s a great place to stroll in the early morning before most people wake up and it has a chilled vibe in the evenings.

Sanur Beach
Sanur Beach

When looking at the 5 or 6km long Sanur Beach, it’s easy to be torn. Sections of it are beautiful with trees shading raked sand and turquoise water lapping at your feet. Other sections are an eyesore with dated hotels shadowing unpleasant swimming areas. Overall, however, it’s a more family friendly area than Kuta and less hectic. It can be a good spot to relax with a beer and a nasi goreng.

Padang Padang Beach
Padang Padang Beach

Get away from the main tourist areas and everything changes. Padang Padang Beach is one of the best in Bali and is not visited anywhere near as frequently as those in Kuta and Sanur. It’s also small giving you the feeling that it’s a secret hideaway that the masses haven’t yet discovered. Much like the other beaches on the Bukit.

Sunset at Yeh Gangga Beach
Sunset at Yeh Gangga Beach

Yeh Gangga is one of my favourite places in all of Bali because it is so secluded. The beach stretches for kilometres in both directions and there is hardly another tourist to be seen – just locals playing football and the odd family paddling. What tops it all off is that you can watch an endless stream of ceremonies which arrive at the beach to complete the scattering of ashes of the recently cremated.

Amed
Amed

Amed beaches are different from those of the south as they are generally tainted black as a result of volcanic activity plus they are  home to coral reefs. Loads of them. And they’re easy to snorkel. The place commonly referred to as Amed is in fact a series of fishing villages which starts in the west at the actual village of Amed and finishes in the east at Aas. Amed is a top spot that is relatively empty outside of the Christmas period and the European summer. Cheap food, cheap accommodation and unlimited snorkeling. Could this be the Balinese Paradise that people are searching for?

So there you have it. Beaches in Bali. You like?