Ally off duty

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Yangon, Myanmar: One day in Yangon

Myanmar has been on my list for quite some time and finally, I've packed my bags and gone. Sad to say, I'm a bit late and most parts have already been tourist-fied. We decided to explore Yangon briefly in a day and take an overnight bus to Bagan since we had to be back at Yangon for our flight. Let me correct myself, Yangon in an insanely HOT day with our backpacks.

We exchanged our USD for local currency at the airport bank, the rates were not too good but we had no choice. We hired a taxi at the airport counter and bought our tickets for our bus. It's cheaper to get the bus tickets from the bus station itself but the bus station was 30 minutes from the airport to the North while the city center was 30 minutes from the airport to the South. So it made more sense to us to just get the bus tickets from the airport since we were worried that the tickets would be sold out.

We decided to go to Inya Lake since it is the largest lake in Yangon. The unconditioned taxi was supposed to be 8000 kyat (which is pronounced something like 'chart') to the city center but the taxi driver charged us 9000 after we got on, claiming that Inya Lake was very far. Sheesh, Inya Lake is like halfway between the airport and the city center! I guess petty scams are part and parcel of travelling. After 10 plus minutes, we arrived at Inya Lake. The lake was really nice and peaceful and we ate our sandwiches as lunch there.

Then we decided to walk to the city center. It took us almost two hours. It was a nice way to check out the city, we passed by a school and saw children going home for lunch break. Finally, we caught a glimpse of the huge pagoda and walked towards it. When we reached a junction, we weren't quite sure which way to go so we asked a local couple and they told us to follow them and so we did. They weren't even going to the pagoda but yet they brought us there! So kind of them. :) It cost 10USD for foreigners to enter while it's free for locals so we decided to skip it and visited the toilet instead haha. I saw an old lady spitting out 'blood' much to my horror and later learned that it was a 'tobacco wrapped in leaf' thing which almost all of them chew and then spat out. I don't know why it's red but you can see all these red markings all over Yangon. I suppose it's a cheaper version of cigarette.

We continued our way to the city center and crossing roads in Yangon is almost as bad as crossing roads in HCM city. There are rarely any traffic lights for pedestrians so you just have to weave in between the traffic. While we were crossing the road at this particular junction, this local ladies offered their umbrella to us to shade us from the merciless sun. Aw :) We reached the Shwedagon Pagoda but we didn't go in because it seems to look a lot nicer on Google Images hahaha. Besides, you have to be decently dressed and take off your shoes AND socks when you enter temples. We were decently dressed alright but it was such a chore to remove our shoes and socks  every time we wanted to visit a temple and then wearing them back again. #firstworldproblems I guess I'm not a temple person, I've seen enough of this style of temples in Thailand and Cambodia.

We visited the local market which was a lot more exciting. We didn't get to try all the things there but we did try some 'cake'/'pudding' thing that one of the stall owners offered us.

This is the tobacco wrapped in leaf thing I was talking about. You can see pushcarts like this selling them all over Yangon. These are the freshly made ones, there are also those that are premade and sold in packets. It had been a long day of walking for us and we were super tired so we took a break at Yakun (YES YAKUN! haha) and drank familiar tasting coffee/barley.

 We found out that a local bus (number 43) goes to the bus station so instead of taking the taxi, we decided to try the bus. We went to the bus stop where the bus stops (near Shangri-La and this Pagoda) and asked every bus that stopped whether it was 43 since we couldn't read the Burmese numbers. Then two ladies asked us what bus we were waiting for and they told us that they were taking the same bus too. So we followed them up the correct bus and they even told us how much to pay. :) The bus was very full and we had to squeeze with two others on the bus bench. I noticed that the locals are very warm towards each other. Like when three ladies with baskets boarded but there was no seats, the ladies seated down placed their baskets on their laps and one of the boys offered her his seat. Then when a monk got on, the ticketer (there was no ticket, he just collects money from you when you get on, but it doesn't seem right to call him the money collector) asked a boy to make way and squeeze with the monk.

The way they pick and drop passengers was very fascinating too. They would shout the destination that they are going and passengers would jump/get pulled on to the bus, they jump off to alight too. The bus doesn't really stop, it just slows down. The ticketer actually remembered us and told us when it was time to alight. Since the bus station was still further in so we wouldn't have known if he didn't tell us. We managed to find JJ Express after the locals pointed us to the right direction. We caught a beautiful sunset while waiting for our bus. :)

Then it was off to Bagan! The overnight bus wasn't crowded so we managed to get two seats to ourselves and slept quite well. They provided blankets and water and we made two or three toilet rest stops along the way. Blogger Widgets

Friday, 8 May 2015

Ranu Pani, Indonesia: Mt Semeru

After our Mt Penanjakan and Mt Bromo tour, we took a jeep and headed to Ranu Pani village, the nearest village to Mt Semeru. It was SUCH a bumpy ride, I was jolted left right center and bumped my head a few times.

It was even colder at Ranu Pani since it's located higher above sea level. We took a walk around the small village and visited a misty lake. Then we found our homestay and was welcomed warmly by the host, Thomas and his mother. It was near dinner time when we arrived so we went food hunting but there aren't too much food options around the small village so we had fried rice at the homestay. We played cards and then went out to the lake to star gaze and freeze ourselves. We managed to spot one or two shooting stars! It was my first time seeing shooting stars so you can imagine my excitement.

We really wanted to do the 2D1N hike up Mt Semeru but realised that we didn't have enough time so we opted for a hike to the Ranu Pani lake and then turn back. We began pretty early the next day and it was absolutely FREEZING when we woke up, the alarm rang and rang but nobody budged haha. My friend had half the mind to not join us but I managed to get her to come along and she did not regret it. :)

A part of the forest was burned. :( As we hiked, the sun came up and it got hot so we started stripping haha. And after about 4 hours, we finally saw the Ranu Pani lake. :)

We had our breakfast beside the lake which was sadly a bit polluted with rubbish left behind by the campers? :( Nonetheless, it was a view worth hiking 4 hours for. If we had done the 2D1N hike, this would have been the camping site. It would be a beautiful place to camp and spend a night, though I imagine it would be seriously cold during the night.

After we got back to our homestay, it was time to pack up and head back to Surabaya. We spent one night there and our host at Surabaya brought us out to eat. We didn't see much of Surabaya but we saw the "Singapore of Surabaya" and why you ask? Go and find out haha. We also passed by a super wealthy estate full of mansions. We asked our host if he has a house there, he was like, "No house, just a piece of land." Pff.

Then it was goodbye to the cold and hello sunny home!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Cemoro Lewang, Indonesia: Mt Penajakan & Mt Bromo Tour

To continue our journey from Batu, we took a bus to Probolinggo then a taxi-van up the hills to our accommodation in Cemoro Lewang, the nearest town to Mt Bromo. By the time we reached, it was pretty late at night and we couldn't see much but an overpowering smell of sulphur engulfed us. We had this crazy idea to trek up to Mt Penajakan in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise (ok maybe not so crazy since we did see people along the way doing it) but our driver persuaded us not to. It's dark, cold and it's a really long hike. So we turned in and got 3-4 hours of sleep before waking up to catch the sunrise at Mt Penajakan. We were wrapped from head to toe, it was really cold! Thank goodness we brought enough clothes. And once we stepped out of our room, we could hardly breathe due to the sulphur. I guess it was a good thing we decided not to hike. The drive up was pretty daunting (for the driver at least), there are no street lamps and you could hardly see 1m in front of you even with the headlights. I have no idea how he managed to navigate around with such low visibility, I'm guessing years of experience.

We reached the viewing point of Mt Penajakan when it was still pitch dark and gazillions of stars greeted us. It was beautiful. My neck hurt from looking up but I was mesmerized by the galaxy of stars. You have to be quick to claim your spot or else you will be have to crane your neck from behind a sea of people. We witnessed the sky slowly changing colour from a deep blue to a gorgeous orange. It was beautiful. I can't stress enough how much I love sunrises/sunsets.

I LOVE this picture taken by my friend! It's so magical. Look at the twinkling stars above the mountain!!

And then the sun was up. Don't you just love the sea of clouds? We were super reluctant to leave but Mt Bromo was waiting for us so we went down to find our driver.

We got some barbequed corn along the way, it was really sweet! It's always good to have something hot when you're cold. Then our driver drove us to Mt Bromo. It was really dusty/cloudy so we felt as if we stopped in the middle of nowhere. We were immediately approached by men with horses asking if we wanted a ride to the base of Mt Bromo. It wasn't that long a walk but we decided to take a joy ride. I would suggest you bring a mask along because sand was flying all around.

We reached the base of Mt Bromo where we had to walk up a flight of stairs. I spotted a white horse and wanted to take a photo with it but while I was posing, it bit/licked me! Leaving a wet spot of horse saliva on my jacket T_T It didn't look guilty/sorry at all!

The fog cleared up after a while and we didn't know we walked past a temple!

On top of Mt Bromo. The view kind of reminded me of Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand. Interestingly, the smell of sulphur wasn't that strong even though we were right next to Mt Bromo. I wonder why it was stronger early in the morning...

We reached one edge of Mt Bromo where there was nobody around and took some photos. It was a really beautiful spot, with the gorgeous blue sky above us and a volcano behind us. Then we walked back to our driver and went back to our accommodation to wash up and leave for our next destination.

Goodbye Mt Bromo! You were amazing :)

Monday, 27 April 2015

Batu, Indonesia: Gone Paragliding!

Indonesia has become my favourite South East Asia country after several trips there recently. It's so close to Singapore and so diverse! Mountains, beaches, volcanoes, history, city life... you name it, Indonesia has it!

On my first trip to Indonesia, we touched down in Surabaya but instead of staying in Surabaya, we headed straight to Batu. We had to take a bus to the bus station from the airport then a bus to Malang before a taxi to our accommodation in Batu. So we basically spent the whole day travelling. Batu is a small town located to the South of Surabaya. It's known as a vacation city and it reminded us a lot of Genting. We decided to stay in Batu instead of Surabaya was because we wanted to get away from the big city and also because there's paragliding there!

We checked into our dorm in a villa, our jaws dropped at how beautiful our accommodation was given that it was really cheap. It looked more like a villa than a dorm. After a good night's sleep and a hilarious conversation with the hotel staff using Google Translate, we were off for paragliding!

We were drive up a winding road until we reached the top of a hill. We got our gears and waited for our turn. There was nothing that I had to do, I just had to sit back and let the instructor do all the work. It was SUPER fun and not scary at all! There's no sudden drop but you'll experience a lift when you 'jump' off the cliff. Then you float all the way down with a gorgeous view right in front of you.

Batu is also famous for her apples so we visited an apple and guava farm. We picked our own fruits and had apple fried rice at the farm. The apples were organically grown so they weren't too big. We also visited a pasar malam (night market) where there were a lot of roadside game stalls, ate some food at an organic farm fair and popped by a small amusement park.

The next day, we took the local van-bus back to Malang. We had to change a grand total of 4 different coloured van-buses before we reached the Malang bus interchange where we took the taxi the day before. The colours represent different routes so we asked around for directions using our trusty Google Translate again. :D Then we took a super long bus ride to Probolinggo where we hired a taxi/van up to our accommodation near Mount Bromo. I'll save that for another post. Till then!