Singapore $ting

After the bustling streets of Jakarta, we headed south to the lazy town of Bogor. We had planned to spend a few days in the mountains here, but on arrival we changed our minds. We found a nice hotel close to some great restaurants which also had a pool, so we decided to chill there for a few days. We actually realised that we had booked our flight to Singapore for the wrong day, so we didn’t really have time to do much else anyway.

Bogor itself has very little to do, and most people use it just to get to the mountains on the Puncak Pass. It does have a selection of really good restaurants though, still within our budget. We enjoyed local delicacies such as oxtail and bandrek, which is a ginger spiced tea-like drink.

Clarke Quay
Clarke Quay

Our next stop and our last country in South East Asia was Singapore, only a short flight from Jakarta. My first impression of Singapore was all good, and in the few days that we’ve been here I like it more and more. For a start it’s very clean compared to the rest of SE Asia. There are also lots of little things that make it stand out, such as pavements that you can actually walk on. It may sound a bit strange, but after eight months of walking on roads and weaving in between traffic, it’s a nice change.

One thing that we haven’t really enjoyed about Singapore is the costs. It’s a very expensive place to be, especially on a traveller’s budget. What makes it even more difficult is that there is so much to do here, so you have to pick and choose what to do and where to go. Beer averages about £6 per pint, and wine isn’t even worth considering at £50 for the cheapest bottle. Katy did get it into her head that she wanted to go to Universal Studios, but thankfully I talked her out of that.

Raffles courtyard
Raffles courtyard

Food here is actually quite cheap, and we’ve enjoyed some of our favourites since we’ve been here. We’ve had our chicken curry and naan fix in Little India, our pork and cabbage dumplings in China Town, and we even found a proper English chippy in Clarke Quay. We were tempted to buy a Singapore Sling in Raffles (it was invented here after all), but when we arrived and saw that it was £16 per cocktail, we settled for some pictures of the courtyard and gardens instead.

Accommodation here is also quite expensive, so for the first time on our trip we have had to stay in a dormitory. We’re sharing with six other people; three of whom seem to live at this hostel. It’s not too bad staying in a dorm, and potentially can be a great way to meet people. Unfortunately once someone has kept me up for most of the night snoring and then woken me up at 06:00am sorting out their carrier bag collection, my friendly nature seems to subside slightly.

Malaysian Tapir
Malaysian Tapir

One thing that we did do was go to Singapore Zoo; supposedly the best in the world. The main reason that I wanted to go there was to see the Malaysian Tapir, which is my favourite animal. I had hoped to see one in the wild in Taman Negara in Malaysia, but I didn’t realise how rare they were in the wild. So I got to see my Tapirs, and it made me very happy. We even got to see them swim, which I didn’t realise they could do. It is a great place to walk around and definitely worth the money.

We also had a day walking around Sentosa, which is an island just off of the city. This is where Universal Studios is, but also has other big names such as Café Del Mar to spend your money at. We just had a walk around the nature trail on the island and then along the beach. You could spend a lot of money here as there are loads of things to do. Unfortunately we had to walk past them all before we spent all of our money.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Light Show
Marina Bay Sands Hotel Light Show

The best thing we did while in Singapore was spend the afternoon and evening in the Clarke Quay area. There are loads of riverside bars and restaurants, with live music and a great atmosphere. We managed to find a pub with a decent happy hour, and grabbed a pint of Stella for £5. As we walked up the river, we found that the Singapore Civilisation Museum had some live music outside. The music was great, and can only be described as Indian jazz (think The Cinematic Orchestra crossed with a Bollywood soundtrack). The museum had free entry for the evening so we had a look around, before heading to the most famous statue in Singapore, the Merlion. The hotel opposite has a light show every night, so we watched that before making our way back to the hostel, and our snoring roommates.

China Town
China Town

Today we have been out to the equivalent of Oxford Street, Orchard Road. Katy had spotted that there was a big weekend of sales. So the money we had saved by not doing certain things, she then spent in the shops on some more Katy treats. A new pair of jeans and three new tops later, we headed back to the hostel with our cup noodles as we now couldn’t afford dinner.

Tomorrow we have a very quiet day before we head to the airport for our flight to Tokyo on Monday morning. We had planned to stay an extra night at the hostel and get up early for our 07:00am flight, but we decided that it would be cheaper to just stay in the airport lounge for the night. Katy will be ok though, as she has her new pair of jeans to keep her warm as she sleeps on the floor.

Until the next time…

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Bringing the lava into Java

Before we left Kuta in Lombok, there was the small matter of the last game of the premiership season to take care of. Even in this tiny little village in the middle of nowhere, we managed to find somewhere with the game on. We were the only customers in the bar, but were joined by a small group of Indonesians who tended to cheer whichever team was winning. It was an interesting night, but ended on a negative note. Bolton were relegated, and $amir Na$ri lifted the premiership trophy.

We had a day to recover from the football before leaving Lombok for Java. We had found a flight that was as cheap as doing the trip by bus and boat, so after a short and painless trip we landed in Surabaya. This was just a brief stopping off point before we made our way to Cemoro Lawang, and Mount Bromo. Bromo is an active volcano, and one of three peaks rising from the Tengger caldera, a crater stretching 10km across. Bromo’s last major eruption was in January 2011, where huge ash clouds caused a 5km exclusion zone to be introduced in the area.

We were making our way towards the bus, before being accosted by a local tout. He offered to drive us to Cemoro Lawang, find us a cheap hotel and then take us to Bromo; all for a low price that we couldn’t quite believe. But we double checked and he assured us that the price was correct.

View of Bromo from our hotel
View of Bromo from our hotel

So we had been expecting a long uncomfortable journey on a hot, crowded bus and instead were treated to a private air-conditioned 4×4 with half of the journey time. He even took a detour so that he could take us somewhere nice to eat. Apparently the food at the airport isn’t good enough or cheap enough. The journey there took us through some spectacular sights while twisting around mountains. But as we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, our driver became stranger and stranger. I’m not sure if this was due to altitude sickness or whether he just had mental problems. He started to make racing car noises when going around corners, he tended to stick his hand out of the window every minute or so and most worryingly he started to speed up.

We did however manage to arrive in one piece, and as promised our driver found us a cheap homestay guesthouse with hot water and a great view of the mountains. But when we started to ask him about our trip to Bromo, he told us that we would need to book that through our hotel. So even though we had double checked and he’d assured us that this would be included, we then had to go and book another vehicle to take us to Bromo the next day (Note to self: If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is).

Sunrise over Bromo
Sunrise over Bromo

Cemoro Lawang is a sleepy little town with a few places to eat and drink, but with great views over the crater and the three peaks of Bromo, Kursi and Batok. One thing that was different here to the rest of Indonesia is the climate; it was very cold here, especially at night. We were prepared though, and we soon sat in the restaurant with five layers of clothing on eating Rawan, which is a thick beef soup; perfect for the occasion. As we had hot water in the room I was looking forward to a shower, but I was disappointed to find that we actually had no water at all. So after another night of brushing our teeth over a squat toilet we had an early night, as the next morning (if you can call it that) we had a 3am start.

Bromo from the viewing platform
Bromo from the viewing platform

After managing to drag ourselves out of bed, we made our way in the pitch black to our jeep. We were accompanied by two Indonesians and two Koreans for the bumpy journey across the crater towards a viewing platform on Gunung Penanjakan, a higher peak nearby. It was a steep climb up the mountain, and after 30 minutes or so we arrived at the top. Sipping some local Javanese coffee was perfect to both warm and wake us up, while we waited for the sun to rise. It was surprisingly busy at the viewing platform, but people soon started to file out after the sun was up.

Our jeep then took us to the base of Mount Bromo, back across the crater next to a Hindu temple. There are loads of people offering ponies to take you towards the top of Bromo, but somehow I managed to get Katy to walk it. So we started the climb up, and the higher it got the hotter it got. We had soon stripped off some of the five layers we had on before arriving at the top. It’s quite a short walk to be honest, but at that time of the morning it seemed longer.

Bromo steps
Bromo steps

The views from the top of Bromo were stunning with clouds covering some of the crater below and clear blue skies above. Big plumes of steam were rising from the bubbling volcano, while people threw in flowers as an offering to the volcano God. It was just nice to take a seat and take in the amazing views. This trip was quite expensive, but the scenery and views from the top definitely make it worth it.

After the short walk back down to the base of Bromo, our jeep took us back to our hotel for some breakfast. By 09:30 we were back on the road to Surabaya, where we spent most of the journey sleeping. Surabaya isn’t a very nice place, with very polluted and dirty streets and very little else. It’s a hard place to walk around as all of the roads in the city are four-lane carriageways. But walk around is what we did.

Kota, Jakarta
Kota, Jakarta

We had found out that it was a national holiday that weekend in Indonesia, and as usual that ruined our plans. We tend to make a habit of this, but this holiday wasn’t mentioned on any website or guidebook so it wasn’t entirely our fault. This did mean that our planned trip to Yogykarta had to be changed as every bus, train, flight and hotel we could find were fully booked. We only found this out after walking to every station, travel agent and internet café in the city. By the end of the day we had managed to book a cheap flight the following evening to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Katy’s brother Dave had put us in touch with an old friend of his who lived in Jakarta, and he kindly offered to let us stay at his home. So after a long day waiting for our flight in Surabaya (as there was very little else to do) we arrived in Jakarta. This is one big city. It’s very busy streets of shopping malls, fast food restaurant and endless traffic remind me of Kuala Lumpur, but just on a much bigger scale. That evening we settled into our luxury room with a great view overlooking the city, and got some tips of where to go and see.

We got up early and got a bus into the city and just walked around to see what we could find. Like many of the big cities in South East Asia, it’s not easy to walk around. Pavements don’t really exist, and those that do have huge cracks and holes in them. After a long day walking around, we headed back to the apartment for a night sat on the sofa watching TV; something you miss on your travels.

Cafe Batavia, Jakarta
Cafe Batavia, Jakarta

Yesterday we were treated to lunch and a guided tour of the city’s old quarter, Kota, by our host Andy. This area has loads of old Dutch colonial buildings left over from the 1600s. It’s very different from other areas of the city, and quite relaxing. We ended the tour with cocktails in the famous Café Batavia before heading back to the apartment for an afternoon nap. We had a big night ahead of us, with the Championship playoff final and the Champions League final.

We went out to a different area of Jakarta that was full of bars and clubs…and West Ham fans. It was very strange to see so many Indonesians supporting them, almost more than you would find in an East London pub. It was a great night where we met other expats and exchanged football banter. It was a late night as the football didn’t finish until about 04:30, so I’m writing this with a sore head and a cup of tea. This afternoon lazing by the pool seems like a good idea.

Until the next time…

A breath of fresh Air

Finally I had found my bit of luxury on Gili Air, a beautiful little island off the East coast of Lombok. Our bungalow was fantastic, just a stone’s throw away from the beach and a pool to use at our leisure…heaven and just what I needed. We had a very lazy few days most of which started with breakfast on the beach, followed by some swimming and ending with a few Bintangs and local seafood BBQ.

Gili Air
Gili Air

We had breakfast brought to our room on my birthday which was a real treat and then spent most of the day snorkelling where we saw lots of turtles and many fish. We had already decided to eat at what looked like the poshest place on the island, a restaurant called Scalliwags. After a few pre dinner cocktails, we headed to the restaurant where Sam had not only booked us a table right on the beach but had somehow organised for some flowers to be put on our table too, although they weren’t real but lovely all the same. I was really looking forward to having some wine but when I saw that a bottle of Jacob’s Creek was £35 (yes the Jacob’s Creek that you can buy for a fiver in Tesco) I just couldn’t bring myself to order any so I settled for a Mojito instead.

My birthday night
My birthday night

Of course it wasn’t just my birthday that day, Arsenal were playing too which meant that the laptop accompanied us to dinner… very romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t a great result for Arsenal and the laptop was eventually packed away. Soon after, the heavens opened so we swiftly moved inside to take cover. Suddenly Happy Birthday was played and a cake (choc brownie) with a candle bought over to our table which was a lovely surprise. I think they were hoping that I would order a dessert but apparently Sam had told them that if I didn’t to bring something over anyway.  It was a great birthday with lots of lovely messages and emails received throughout the day…a birthday to remember for sure.

Our next stop was a place called Senggigi on the east coast of Lombok. We’d heard that it was a small town but quite lively and worth a visit. We had two nights here which were both spent in the Happy Café as there was a live band on each night and served pretty good sushi. There wasn’t much to do during the day so we had a wonder around, walked along the beach and booked our bus ticket to our next stop in Lombok.

Beach in Kuta Lombok
Beach in Kuta Lombok

We’re now in Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with Kuta Bali) and it’s a very quiet and relaxed town. We came here really because we needed a few cheap days and figured it was easy to keep it cheap just lazing on the beach. It also means that we’re back to cold shower and mosquito nets. Well we’re three days into our five night stay and it’s been overcast and rained a lot so we’ve had no lazy days on the beach so far. I know you’ll probably have no sympathy for us considering all its done is rain in the UK for the past few weeks. We did manage to take a bike (scooter) out yesterday and explore some nearby beaches and villages.

Kuta attracts a lot of surfers so we headed out towards one of the surfer beaches to watch them, which involved a few steep hills and plenty of pot holes. Anyway we didn’t make it as half way up one particularly steep hill, we started to slide backwards. I was shouting at Sam saying ‘what are you doing…brake’ and he was shouting that he was, but we kept on sliding backwards and were eventually rescued by a bush. The result, a small cut on my foot and Sam has a burn blister on his leg but no damage to the bike. I think we’ll just give the surfers a miss. On route to one of the beaches we managed to take a wrong turn and ended up on a rickety old bridge. It probably wasn’t meant for driving a bike over but we persevered and managed to avoid the nails sticking out and various wood slats missing to find that at the end we couldn’t get off. We noticed some locals laughing at us who eventually came to our rescue and practically had to lift the bike off for us. So all in all not a successful day on the scooter.

A bridge made for walking, not scooters
A bridge made for walking, not scooters

On our first night here we found ourselves in a place called the Full Moon Café as they offered free WIFI. We were having a drink and checking emails etc…when one of the barmen came and asked if we could help him set up a Facebook account. So Sam got to work and helped him out. We took his photo for his profile picture and by this point all the staff were gathered around our tiny laptop fascinated by what Sam was doing. They had their own laptop but needed help setting up the accounts. At one point when we had finished, we noticed them all gathered around their laptop laughing and Sam even joked that they were probably hacking into our accounts. Well they weren’t thank god and when Sam went over to have a look, one of the guys was filling out the security question about ‘who is your favourite author’…his answer was ‘chicken’. Lost in translation I think but it was very funny.

We’ve had company for most of our meals here…young children selling bracelets who just won’t take no for an answer.  It’s all very sad really especially when you see their mothers standing watching and encouraging them. If it was just one or two I might be tempted to buy a bracelet from them but there are too many. Cambodia was the same unfortunately.

We’ve just moved hotels yesterday as we’ve managed to find a cheaper room with a pool which is nice but it’s still raining so whether we get to use it remains to be seen.

Its Sunday now and its still raining but more importantly its the big day…last game of the season. We’ve checked out various bars and it looks like we’ll be subjected to either of the Manchester games but we’ll have the laptop to check other scores. I have a horrible feeling in my gut but all I can do now is wait for a miracle. #COYW and #COYG

Until the next time….