Tuesday, 25 October 2011
Travel Adventures: Culture Capital to the Bright Lights Big City.
Sampling the local cuisine of snake in Solo made me realise the beauty of travelling and how unique it is at giving strange, exciting and nerve racking opportunities to people. Snake didn't taste amazing but the whole experience of being in a very Indonesian place, surrounded by locals, watching a man sift through his bag of snakes, really is my idea of a travel experience that is hard to forget. It is events like that which stick out in your mind once you are home, not necessarily the times you spent doing the same thing as 100 other tourists on an organised tour.
Yogyakarta, or Jogja as the locals say, was a place I had been looking forward to visiting since the start of the trip. We arrived with expectations of seeing fabulous displays of Indonesian culture, food, religion and people and our five nights there suggested it ticked all the boxes. We arrived and an immediate feel of relaxation and friendliness was obviously present. Yogyakarta is surrounded by two of South East Asia's most prominent religious temples. Having mastered the roads in The Philippines and Borneo we rented motorbikes for the 40km drive out of the City to Borobudur - an 8th Century Buddhist monument famed for being one of the largest of its kind.
The grounds of Borobudur are green, tranquil and calming, an atmosphere the insides of the temple more than hold true to. We spent over two hours wandering the six layers and 504 Buddha statues that help comprise the impressive structure, snapping pictures, marveling at ancient stonework and staring at the picturesque views across the Javanese landscape. The sunset was sublime and it made the drive home go too quickly. Winding through valleys and passing between rice paddies made it difficult to dodge the temptation of taking your eyes off the road.
The next day we continued our temple trend. This time heading East to the Hindu temple of Prambanan. Although not quite as well preserved at Borobudur it remains impressive in the sunset light. Had it not been for our getting lost in the City outskirts for a few hours we had planned to spend more time exploring but I think what we did in the evening more than made up for any time lost. The Ramayana Ballet Group perform the Hindu story of Rama and Sita in an open air theater in front of the 9th Century temple. My camera battery painfully died at the wrong moment but fortunately the sight of the performance against the back drop of the spot lit Hindu temple will stick in the mind forever.
With our culture tanks full to the brim and Yogyakarta firmly in our travel memories we moved on, heading West as we slowly made our way to Jakarta. Batu Karas, a sleepy fishing village on the south coast of Java, was positioned nicely to give our journey to the capitol a break. Learning to surf (or not swallow sea water) during the day and reading books at night it was a slow passed village life for a few days, a great way to prepare ourselves for what was coming in Jakarta.
Sharing a taxi with a Swedish traveller I asked him, "Do you like Jakarta?", knowing he had been before. He replied, "Know one likes Jakarta!". Not a great start but I thought I would form my own opinion. Unfortunately, I agree with him. It is boiling hot, pretty dirty and the people are the least friendly we came across in Indonesia. Most people are there for a flight to somewhere else, the city isn't built for tourists and when we were there many attractions were at a stand still for the end of Ramadan - an Islamic month of fasting.
The bright lights and buzz of Singapore were very welcome after Jakarta. Apart from the heat, being in Singapore felt more like home than anywhere we have been so far. I knew I would be returning in a month for the Formula One so it was good to get a bearing on the City. In Marina Bay, The Sands hotel has a rooftop garden equipped with infinite pool, bar, restaurant and panoramic views of the city. The modern buildings, designer shops and EXPENSE weren't hard to adapt to and we spent three days enjoying our cosmopolitan lifestyle. Sipping cocktails with the high fliers in Raffles and wandering the streets in awe of the imaginative architecture involved in creating the unique feel the city holds.
Another day, another boarder crossing and into Malaysia. After much debate we headed to Malaka on the West coast. Filled with history and charm it is easy to get to grips with a place like Malaka and much harder to leave. Kuala Lumpur was next on our hit list. It is a comfortable city with lot to do, most impressive are the iconic Petronas Towers lit up at night and the height of the skyline dominating KL tower.
Malaysia, without holding as unique a place in my heart as The Philippines or Indonesia, does tick a lot of boxes. After KL we spent two weeks sampling the best islands the peninsula has to offer and although the sun gods did not shine on us in Pulau (meaning island) Langkawi - not the best news on an island that boasts so many beaches - we kept ourselves entertained.
Luckily the weather on the East coast could not of been more contrasting. 35 degree beaming sunshine for five days! We slotted nicely into the category of 'beach bum' - splashing in the bath like water of the South China Sea during the day and sipping rum from the bottle by the time the moon was out.
Pulau Perhentian was where I spent my birthday and what a place to be! Captained by a 12 year old Malaysian we spent the afternoon island hopping, sunning on perfect beaches and mingling with turtles and sharks. It definitely entered the list of 'best birthdays' near the summit!
With only ten days before I set foot on English soil again I still have the jewel in my travel crown to come - The Singapore Formula One Grand Prix. I'm hoping for a long week and a half because at the moment, sat on a beach looking at the sunset, slipping back into the Yorkshire lifestyle seems pretty far away.