A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Malaysia look, Malaysia stare, Malaysia lose your underwear

by Kt

Oh yeah - we think we may have reached the pinnacle with Mark's blog title this time. He has quite possibly crossed over that line from juvenile idiot to creative genius!!

Anyhow, we are still in Malaysia. In Georgetown to be precise. This is situated in the far north west of the country not that far from the Thai border. Penang is a small island, accessible by a large bridge or by ferry. We caught a coach up from KL which took 4-5 hours. It was super cheap and all ran smoothly apart from it turning up an hour late and us not really having a clue what was going on. When we did get on though it was pleasant enough. Good air con - big seats as they'd ripped out the standard 4 berth and put in 3 larger ones on each row. I was audio-booked up, which was a treat and when the journey finally ended I didn't actually want to get off. Mark, unfortunately was not feeling particularly well. It had been touch and go if he could even travel that day but tabletted up and sat in fairly smooth, air conditioned comfort it worked out ok. The hot walk from the bus station onto the ferry was a touch challenging when we eventually arrived in Butterworth (hang over from British rule that one I should imagine). Within a few hours of being in Georgetown, I knew I was gonna like the place. It was everything KL wasn't. Kind of spacious and full of character. It was even a little cooler, as being on the coast there was a bit of a breeze (still sweltering though!) There was old, colonial buildings, a lot of the old style chinese shop houses, colour, vibrancy but also a quiet charm.
I'd been put off of coming as the prices are a little higher than other locations but I really wanted to go and once I read that you could sort out your Thai visas here, it seemed to make sense.

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The place we were staying, 'Moon Tree 47', looked interesting when I booked it but it far out weighed my expectations and we ended up extending there, eventually for 10 days. It was an old chinese shophouse from the 20s which had recently been restored. Georgetown got UNESCO world heritage status a few years ago which is such a good thing because it means that all these beaten up old places are being restored, as they work as a great tourist attraction and therefore money maker. What better incentive to keep historical things from being knocked down/left to disrepair than make it a money spinner. The standard shophouse, as was ours, are fairly narrow but really, really long.
There was a main front area which had seating and a bunch of vintage stuff on display and for sale. There was a little reception desk in the middle, underneath the stairs, then a narrow coffee bar, then a partially outdoor courtyard area with fish and greenery (shop houses were built to feng shui guidelines), then another bit undercover, then another outside bit, a tiny kitchen and finally at the back stretched out a few of the rooms. We never really saw these but I believe they were air conditioned but fairly small. We had one of the 3 upstairs rooms which are massive. It only has a fan, which has been tough in this kind of heat, but an aircon unit just wouldn't work. Our room has a high ceiling and wooden panelling. It, like the downstairs areas, has furniture in fitting with the heritage theme with simple deco type styling and a big glassless window with shutters. The bathroom is actually semi outdoors out on the roof terrace. Bricked around the sides with just a corrugated plastic roof, it's nice to be showering outside again.

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The whole vibe of the guesthouse is vintage, eclectic, quirky and nostalgic. It achieves a style, that many try hard places never will.
I couldn't be happier than when am sat in one of the beautifully shaped vintage leather and wood chairs, supping earl grey, reading a magazine
They also have (generally) great music playing - a really eclectic mix but even the cheesey stuff (some Whitney, instrumental 'Heart will go on' or Julio Inglesias) sound classy here. Lots of it is early to mid 20th century - Louis Armstrong's 'The Saints Go Marching in', jazz (and I normally hate jazz but this is cool), even opera and cinema paradiso style, tango-esque instrumentals.
There are old photos of Malaysian people, getting married, in school photos and stuff like that. Piles of books and nicknacks, bakerlite switches, a huge collection of baby food crockery which looks to be post war - possible 40s/50s which I'm now obsessed with wanting. Beaten up old mirrors, old luggage.
Vintage and retro loving folk will get what I'm on about here. It is a haven or the likes of us!!

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As the many shop houses are being restored, there are some interesting cafes. One we went to, was in an old tailors so was done out accordingly with vintage sewing machines and the like. Another, called Edelweis, although I'm not sure why, was a little grander and was a very sophisticated environment for an afternoon cuppa.

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It was a good thing we liked where we were staying as we didn't spend a lot of time out for the first few days. Mark was still not feeling very well. Unfortunately as he was feeling so dodgy he couldn't face the idea of anything asian, not even plain rice. He could barely handle being in any food establishment but we ventured out to find places that did mainly plain, western food. A bit gutting being in the foodie capital of Malaysia, which is in itself a foodie destination. The food we had for those first few days was decidedly unispiring, as were the establishments. Turkey ham seems big here, I guess due to the muslim population. Have come across this a lot in the States and I really just don't get it. It's just hideously processed turkey. Yuck. I spent an uncomfortable 45 minutes picking turkey ham out of an omlette in a decidedly odd hostel cafe, with a guy who clearly had OCD, lining up the cutlery, salt and pepper, napkins etc on our table. Another guy was singing the same song over and over even though there was 2 lots of music being plaid simultaneously already and the lady just descended on our table at some point to stare. Just to STARE!
I did feel sorry for Marky. Poor thing. It's not nice when you're ill away from home let alone abroad and especially when having to deal with things like shared bathrooms and hot, humid days and nights. On the whole though, in all honestly, I mainly found it annoying. You do though don't you? Other people being sick is tedious and gets in the way with what YOU want to do and worst of all you can't complain (much) about it, as you seem like a right cow. Those few days did drag on to say the least! When I reached out a comforting hand what I was really thinking in my head was I'd like to slap him with that hand and tell him to get over it. It's not just me who's florence nightingale side is not fully developed. I know it's not just me. You know who you are the rest of you. And to be fair, Mark is worse than useless when I'm ill. I was really sick once and he'd been out all day and evening and still came back and didn't bring me anything - I'd had no food or medicine for 24 hours - nada. I have a bad back and he'll do something odd like pull my leg! No, not metaphorically - literally. Or jokingly punch me in the stomach when I have a stomach ache. He is terrible to be around when you have anything wrong, so we are as bad as each other then I'd say. Although at least I mostly pretend to be caring and don't bizarrely attack him when ill. Anyhow, it took a fair few days for him to get back on track and we could get out and about and eat in more interesting places.

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Malaysia is a mix of Malay muslim (predominantly), Indian and Chinese cultures. Georgetown is a happy mixture of all these if ever you did see one. In the centre of town you can be stood metres away from a mosque, hindu and buddhist temples. The call to prayer rains out at the relevant intervals, the incense burns outside the buddhist temples (they have cool, big incense sticks!!). It really is a great example of cultures working alongside each other and not segregated into different quarters. I'd say that the Chinese are definitely more prominent in Georgetown.

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There are lots of different types of buildings - some from 1800s, much from the 20s and 30s and some very identifiable with the 40s and 50s too.
Even the largest building in Penang, a hideous 70s tower kind of is okay - it's it's own thing.
It's a pretty quiet place. The traffic mainly circles the centre of town but it's not that crazy or fumey. They have kind of pavements - it's part of the front of the shophouses and you can walk on it most of the time but sometimes need to go off into the (probably quite empty) street to get out of the way of a moped or some boxes from a business. It has an old fashioned feel to it that I like. You go past these places and people are running proper businesses. The guy with the printing press down the road is always there, late at night, churning out the paper. Lots of wholesalers and old fashioned trades. I have likened the place to France. Mark doesn't really get what I mean. But you know those, quiet, middle of france towns - where it functions as a town - the businesses generally support the town, with a sprinkling of tourism mainly. Even the 70s bits reminded me of the purpose built areas on the outskirts of Paris. Or in someways it's like Valetta, in Malta, which is almost like an abandoned city of old. It's the old fashioned-ness but with it an every day practicality. I don't even know what I mean really, but all in all, I jolly well like Georgetown.

The further out of the centre you go, of course, the more modern it gets. That's when the maccy d's and the furniture outlets appear. Not in a bad way though - nowhere is garish. Most of it retains an air of character and interest. We went out of town to a massive mall, by the sea. It was full of large modern buildings but along the street by the sea, and at the night market slap bang next to the 8 storey mall, were cheap food places and hawker stalls. It just works here. No-where really feels contrived. The mall was pretty impressive - my mall hating ways have been changed in Malaysia. I think it's because, again, there was very few people there so it felt like I had most shops to myself, or the odd other person.
Mark had gone to the cinema complex on the top floor to watch Titanic 3D. Yes, Mark had. Not me. I do not like the schmaltzy rubbish that is Titanic. Mark, however, rates it as one of his favourite films. Uh huh - yep that's right. So he was very excited to spent 3 and a half hours watching the whole commotion in 3D. Meanwhile I walked every inch of that massive plaza - that place was big so at the very least I had some major exercise. Picked up some much needed bargain togs. Mark, although having enjoyed his Titanic experience, had found the 3d effects a little lacking and was also a little distraught that a certain 'scene' had been cut out of the film, presumably to give it his U rating.

Trickshaws
The trickshaws here are the little seats with a bicyclist in the back. Most of the drivers look pretty old and we were most worried the weight of us pair, may give someone a heart attack. Most have flowers intertwined around the structure and some are really souped up with flashing lights, windmills and banging music. They are undeniably cool.

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Toy museum
I had read about a toy museum in Penang and wandering the streets one day we spotted it and decided to go back again later, only to lose it.
When I looked it up I realised this wasn't the one in all the tourist literature anyhow. The toy museum everyone goes on about is outside of Georgetown and is not toys as such but figurines - mainly from movies and anime. It is pegged as the largest toy museum in Asia - but that's not toys in my book. I don't like action movies and neither does Mark really so that was definitely not our cup of tea, but when we found the small shop in town 'Ben's Vintage Toy Museum', that was definitely our kind of place. They had only recently opened and had a great collection of proper vintage toys.

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This was definitely the best collection I've seen and this is the kind of thing I do like to go to. I was particularly obsessed with a set of french musical dolls.

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We ended up chatting to the guy about what he had and where he'd gotten it and he showed us some of the rare wind-up toys going.
Ben's vintage toys facebook page. We took his ebay shop details for future reference but lost it somehow but have the facebook page at least. It was a funny reminder of some of the things we have left behind as we flicked through some of his collectors books - our yellow plastic pacman game and donkey kong for instance managed to sail through the 'sell what you don't need' period of our trip organisations. Well you have to have pacman and donkey kong, don't you?

As with vintage toys there was, of course, some delightfully sinister characters.
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Food
So, as I mentioned, Penang is known for it's food and when Marks health finally returned (sounds very Jane Austen doesn't it?) we got about trying some nice stuff.
There is posh cafe up the road from us that we went to when Mark still wasn't great and he had a chicken pie (yuck at any time) and I tried a Curry Mee which is a local soup like curry which I had a gorgeous version of with fried soya skin (to make it muslim friendly as it often comes with fried pig skin). It had fishballs and prawns and squid and came with chill paste on the side to heat up to your liking. My heat tolerance has definitely increased in the last few months so I got quite brave with that.

Not far from us was the 'Red Garden Cafe' This is an outdoor but undercover place with tons of tables and tons of different eateries which is an absolute gem. It's for tourists you could say, but having, say 20-30, different styles of food to choose from, meaning you don't have to have the same thing was fantastic and it was cheap too.

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They had the most amazing Dim sum, we had some fried soft shell crab, mark had lots of pork and we we finally had some amazing Malaysian Indian food that was definitely worthy of the reputation.
On one of our first days we took a photo of the frog porridge claypot and put in on facebook to have a laugh.
On one of our last days, we took the plunge and ordered chilli frog and porridge. How brave of us, don't you think? Well the frog looked very frogish. Had to mind over matter it and get the flesh off old hop along. The flesh was nice. Very soft. Somewhere between chicken and fish Mark said, which I guess kind of sums up a frog to some degree too. The chilli sauce was blow your head off strong whilst the porridge was do your head in bland. It is rice based and has a consistence like that in cheap work canteens where they use some crappy flour to create a gloopy sauce. It didn't taste terrible but I'm not quite sure what you could do to it to jazz it up. It must come under the category peasant food, surely?

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Later in the evenings there is entertainment on which generally consists of some enthusiastic singers. Some of them sure could sing and there was indeed some interesting covers, lots of glitter and swooshing.
An interesting 'feature' of the red garden cafe was it's advertising etiquette was perhaps lacking...
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One night we ate at a chinese recommended to us by the guy who runs our guesthouse. This place only had chinese people in which of course is a good sign and we were a little baffled by some of the menu (Judas's ear wax anyone?) and weren't wildly experimental by opting for squid for me (I LOVE squid) and (you guessed it) pork for Mark. My squid was to die for and I don't really do pork but having tasted his it was darned fine. The accompanying fried rice was also divine and actually reminded me of my mums more so than the rice you get in take-aways restaurants at home. It was more moist and fluffy than that and had lots of egg and tit bits in it. It worked out a fair bit pricier than the red garden cafe and many other places but it is tempting to go back as it was sooo good.

In the early, Mark is sickly, days we ate at westernish places. We chipped up at one indian run pizza and pasta place and tucked in to some surprisingly tasty pasta only for me to choke on my spaghetti half way through the meal when I remembered we didn't have enough cash to pay for the pasta I was currently inhaling. We had about 3 quarters of it but that was it. There are no ATMs in this central area for some reason - the nearest one's were pretty far away considering it was quite late and dark by this time and Mark couldn't go far because he was ill. Cards were a no-no, as were US dollars. The young waiter pretty quickly re-assured us, to our shock and horror, that we could bring the money in on Tuesday night. This was sunday night. They were trusting us to bring in the money owed to them in a couple of days time. Can you believe it? How trusting is that? I felt terrible and thanked them profusely as we left. As we got up the road we spotted a currency exchanger still open and so luckily managed to change up the US dollars and go back and pay them. With a healthy tip for their generosity of course! What an untrusting world I live in that this totally freaks me out!!!

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Posted by KtandMark 21:19 Archived in Malaysia Tagged georgetown_penang_toy_vintage Comments (0)

Malaysia - Lumpy Koala

by Kt

Yes, Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur are tainted by Marks hilarious insistance on calling it that. I want to leave KL as soon as possible for that reason alone!

Well, actually I am happy to be leaving KL after just a few days as have found it a bit of a struggle. Quite probably the culture shock from laid back Bali to a big old city was going to get us anyhow, but the mixture of it being very hot, humid and fumey from all the cars makes it not the most fun to walk around. Add to that the most immense down pours that occur most days and the fact that there's not that much of interest to do and that's us done really.

We're staying in a hostel right next to what is definitely the most interesting part of town. We are practically in China Town and have the old central market building just up the road and up the hill is what seems to be the main restaurant district. Malaysia is known for being a happy hybrid of mainly 3 groups - Muslims, Hindu and Chinese. It is also known for it's amazing food. This was what I was most looking forward to. But we struggled to find this amazing food that is so hailed. We found decent food, but not amazing. We ate at a street sellers one night and had satay and fish and it was good but wasn't blown away.
In the end I got a bit fed up and turned to my usual city bible (everyone should use it) Time Out. We went to a restaurant called Palate Palette which was described as being quirky and arty with good food. The food was indeed very good and it was nice to go somewhere that wasn't super fancy but kind of independent and nice. I had taken to calling the place Palate's Palette, in a Timmy Mallet tribute, which amused Mark greatly. For those of you who didn't watch UK children's saturday morning TV in the early 90s - don't worry about it. It cannot be explained.

The hostel is small, as you would expect in town, the lady who runs it, Joy, is delightful. The place is quite quirky and our room, although without windows has aircon, and thank god for that. Makes it very difficult to leave to head out into the heat. The toilet/shower situation in the hostel is rather interesting. The rest of the place is done out nicely but these cubicles in which the shower is in with the toilet are in basic concrete, floor and walls. I did know this to be the case having read it on a review and thought they were being a bit fussy, but the problem wasn't that they looked shoddy but more that the plumbing was shoddy. The toilet permanently leaked (clean water at least) so the flush never worked properly. Yes - you imagine right. It was often not a pleasant place to visit. The sink also leaked so the floor was just permanently sodden - although it was at least clean but still - yuk!!!

As I say, the city itself is quite hard work but at the same time easy. Does that make any sense? Public transport is easy to work out, cheap and available not far off from most places. They also often join up one station, with another station where you might change lines, with a sheltered walk way so you don't get drenched in the afternoon downpours. And they can be quite far away. I guess they also provide welcome shade when the sun is out also.

The central market, which is just up the road from us is a cute little art deco building which used to be the food market, back in the day. A wet market I believe it is called. Now it is full of 'stuff'. It's very civilised, not a hustle and bussle market at all, more of a sophisticated arcade. The food in there is pretty good and it's air conditioned (happy days). But it's fairly boring after the first wander around if you're not much of a shopper. They had an odd mix of tat, really nice quality stuff and then some fascinating antique things from thousands of years ago!! There was some contraption involving bells that Mark was most fascinated by. Some olden day musical instrument of enormous scale.

China town was ok, but they do tend to be much of a muchness in most cities and I was rather gobsmacked that opposite us there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant. I had never heard of such a thing. I love Kenny, but in Malaysia? Really? But I did discover that they love their chicken in KL, so maybe that explains it. It felt like the whole city was sponsored by KFC. Certainly, lots of the stations were. That creepy kernel was staring down at me from every corner. Sinister!

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We did go to the famous Petronas towers and in our usual style, after finding out it wasn't free to go up anymore and more importantly that you had to book a slot and then come back at the allotted time which was generally hours later - we couldn't be bothered. We did, bizarrely for us, enjoy a good couple of hours in the mall beneath the towers. This is testament mainly to the stifling heat outside, god that air con was lovely, but also that it was actually very quiet there. Not the crowds you would expect. Very few people about and we felt a bit retail-y for a change. We both went crazy and bought t-shirts. You may think this is insignificant, but let me tell you we were excited. New clothes!! New CLEANER THAN CLEAN clothes. I'm even going to save it for a special occasion. Get me!

One of the places I really wanted to go was Little India. We'd come through there briefly on the way in on the bus (didn't I mention the bus - bus from the airport for the 45 minute journey to the city - about 3 quid each - bargain or what?). It was beautifully air conditioned and had swagged gold curtains - glamourous!! Anyhow, we headed off to Little India and I got us off a station which required us walking through a slightly ropey neighbourhood and was more of a walk than anticipated. Let me also explain that we had ended our soberness and had a few drinks the first two days we were here so were feeling a bit worse for wear in the intense heat. When we eventually reached our destination, exhaustion and dehydration dampened our enthusiasm to say the least, but it was also a bit of an odd place. It was cool looking - they'd recently moved the official little india to this site and paid a fair bit to deck it out. I reckon it's because they realise the tourist attractions are a little bit thin on the ground. As I say, it looks great. Very colourful but it was, as Mark pointed out, a bit theme-parky. There was bangra music blaring out, really, really loud and there were lights and big shops selling souvenirs. Not the kind of 'this is where the indians actually come to shop and eat' kind of place I was expecting. I was expecting many, many restaurants too but there weren't that many and in our hungover state we really wanted something easy and air conditioned. We were to have neither and went into a Northern Indian place where I recognised very little (understandable considering most UK Indian food is known to be very un-Indian) but it was a buffet and everything looked a bit ropey. In the end it wasn't half bad. I always choose well in such ventures - always best to be vegetarian, and I did add in a chicken drumstick for good measure - to help fill out the plate so it looked like i had loads when in fact i didn't. I had piled on tons of coloured pilau when the women explaining the buffet to us had for some reason piled Marks plate up with some wet looking steamed rice. It was not a meal of note and I was a it disheartened as I'd been looking forward to having Indian food in Malaysia as we hadn't had any since leaving home.

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On our second night, having had way too much to drink the previous night in an irish bar (long story - involving pouring rain, being dropped off in the wrong place by a useless taxi driver and stopping in the place for a quick one), we ended the afternoon with a hair of the dog at a hostel around the corner with a reggae bar. I don't know why it was a reggae bar but it was a massive place and we could hide happily in the corner. The brick walls all over the place had been written on by visitors, as is often the way in travellers bars and hostels.
I was sitting next to one scribbling which I found most peculiar/intriguing.
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Down and dirty with club 18-30. Malia 4/1/12 - for those of you who don't know, Malia is a town on Crete frequented by young folk 'larging it'. Fond 'shout outs' to lads on tour type holidays in the greek islands or the costas is not unfamiliar to me. But this is someone in Kualar Lumpur - not usually a destination in it's own right so was likely a stop of before or after a far off destination such as Thailand or Australia. So it seemed odd, in this far flung place, that this was all that young traveller could come up with. That was the only words that sprang to his mind? Um??!

We had an absolute treat one day on our way back from the central market area. There was a guy being filmed miming to what was clearly his song. He must have been at least a bit famous as people looked marginally excited. He looked older than he probably was because of his grown up clothes. He had someone holding up some polystyrene beneath his face for the reflection - clearly the budget wouldn't run to the proper reflectors. It felt a bit mean - but it was hilarious. We weren't impolite to laugh outright there of course, we are better brought up than that!

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My strongest memory from KL, will be something that we saw that we just didn't expect to see. We were staring down from our local train station at the graffiti style murals that were done on boards all along the river. After a couple of hours downpour, the day before, the water had been up a foot or so, up the murals and we had wondered how on earth they painted them. However, the next day the water was so much lower and showed it had actually been up and over the walk way the day before. As we were looking at this I spotted something and said something along the lines of 'what the *?>!@* is that?'
A huge lizard thing walked out from under an area of scaffolding and had a bit of a potter around before going back under. This thing was big, really big. Not like an iguana, big, like a freakin dog big!! It was such a strange site to see in such an urban environment. I know we are in an exotic country but surely this thing didn't live there. Maybe it had been swept in with all that water. Maybe it lived there all the time. The photo's zoom was rubbish and you can't really tell the scale but that is certainly a sight that will stay with me!!
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Posted by KtandMark 07:52 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Bali - In summary

by Kt

I'm gong to get the lowlights out of the way first

Lows:
Cockfighting
When we'd walked through the small village to view the herons there were baskets with chickens inside in front of a bunch of properties. I thought that was just where they kept their chickens ahead of putting in the pot or whatever. We also saw a man walking down the road with a large cockerel in his arms. Mark commented on how the cockerel seemed perfectly happy. We realised with horror, as we left the village, that those chickens in the baskets were all cockerels and they were being kept for cock fighting. We drove past two sets of men that were partaking in this 'sport'. It was really disturbing and I hate animal cruelty for sport on any level. It is illegal, having been banned in 1981 and it is enforced sometimes, as people I've met have seen Police breaking up such events, but I guess if it's something they've always done and is common place. I suppose you're gonna have to come up with something pretty cheap and exciting to replace their buzz. Anyone, even the most poor, can easily get involved in this barbaric pass time. It is of course horrifying but I'm aware that I'm not in a position to judge. These things happen and it is a different world to that which I live in. Seeing as our government is trying to weedle stag and fox hunting back on the agenda after it was, happily, being banned for last 10 years. And we are supposedly an 'educated' society (well, educated at Eton, in the governments case). As for the Trump brothers and their sicko jaunt to Africa to kill as many 'trophies' as they could pay for (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-24/trumps-sons-in-trouble-for-zimbabwe-hunt/3910068) Well it's all proof that if we can't stop this kind of thing happening in our so called developed world, then storming in and giving a bunch of guys in a village in Bali a lecture isn't really going to help. Especially as it is linked to spiritual beliefs, such as their cattle will die if they don't partake. The Bali animal welfare groups have their work cut out with so many stray cats and dogs and noisy, ugly old cockerels probably come pretty low on anyone's support list. I've since noticed the cockerel baskets in pretty much every village we've been too. It was common place in villages probably less than 100 years ago in the UK (despite being banned in 1835) and according to the RSPCA still goes on. I believe it's still popular in countries all over the world as wide-spread as South America, India, the Philippines and like the UK, still very underground in France and Spain.

Dogs
When we were driving in from the airport I noticed that there were stray dogs everywhere and this made me a little tense. I love dogs but am a bit afraid of them if I don't know them. The strays, however, turned out to be all good natured. The locals aren't nasty to them, as in other places I've been (we had a particularly nasty incident in Corfu where the hotel owners brother beat a stray dog with a stick outside our room - sick bastard!) and they aren't that scrawny in general, probably because there is so much canang left around with rice and various food in, it sees them right. The dogs that were more of an issue where actually the dogs from the homes who were all loose and were doing what dogs do and protecting their territory. Normally this meant them standing of the steps of their compound and barking like crazy, which was usually pretty much something of nothing. We did find though that sometimes they could be a little more agressive and over zealous - particularly if there was more than one of them. We had to turn back once when we were out on one of the more remote side roads when there was a particularly agressive fella who wasn't going to let us past. On the whole they weren't a problem but it was just added hassle and because I am dog nervous, gave me a bit more stress than I would have liked.

This dog, I am guessing, is not used as security...

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Highlights:
Sooo many highlights. It's a really special island and we are sure to return.

The ice-cream moped
Like an ice-cream van it plays a little tune as it drives about. Ace!

Swastikas
They are everywhere. We had seen them tattooed on someone in Fiji, who was clearly not an aryan white power nut job and had been intrigued but hadn't gotten around to looking it up. In Bali - the symbol is everywhere and there are even places called 'Swastika hotel'. It's actually a reverse image to the Nazi one and it symbolises balance in relationships. Good relationship with each other, all humans, with 'god' and with animals and nature. The total antithesis of the Nazi symbol then. I believe it's used all over asia, as a Hindu symbol but also in Buddism. Having read up a bit about it, I'm still not clear on how Hitler came to decide on this as a symbol for the aryan race. You never see this anywhere in the west and I'm really used to it now and actually I quite like it. With it being a taboo it makes it more powerful - having it appear everywhere under a different guise is good. It's like we're taking it back! Taking away the negative
connotations and replacing them with good!!

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Indonesian TV
We had a TV for just 2 days but in that time I learnt a lot.
It is quite hilarious. They have lots of soap operas, which are quite addictive. There is a Korean soap opera that I particularly liked, dubbed in Indonesian. None of them are in English but they are soap operas so you can kind of guess what's going on - if not - make up your own.
On the indonesian soap operas, the music is this strange, camp, overdramatic, almost medieval mix of piano and strings. Highly inappropriate to the level of drama - I love it!
There was also a panel show where 3 people were shown clips of funny things and had people in the studio doing the strangest thing and they had to try not to laugh.

They also had lots of Tom and Jerry and Woody Woodpecker. Old skool cartoons that for some reason are never on UK terrestrial TV anymore these days. I do miss them so. if anyone knows anywhere you can watch them online or download them, I would so love to have a retro cartoon watching marathon.

There was one thing that came on that was in English and subtitled in Indonesian - a Jean Claude Van Damme film. I found I preferred to watch the Indonesian shows.

Skin whitening
There are tons of products, like 'Fair n Lovely' for skin whitening. They also offer treatments in salons. It seemed a bit odd at first and a bit creepy, but then flipping that, aren't half (if not more) of those of the lilly white persuasion constantly using either fake tan, moisturisers with tints in, or bronzers.

The Ubud royal family
I had read an article about the young members of Ubuds royal family. The family has no real power anymore and the young ones spend a lot of time on Facebook and on buying the latest everything. So I think I could be pretty sure when, up the hills of one of the cobbled streets in Ubud, a big, black Hummer went by - standing out in a town of mopeds, trucks, a few four by fours and vans - it could only be a brash show of wealth. It did seem quite unreal for a moment.

Paul Smith shops
Another thing which seemed out of place and most odd was the Paul Smith shops. They must have been knocks off but where decked out very stylishly and selling british themed stuff. So that was odd and the fact that there was four of them - strange!

Russian Andrey - the most amazing Tattooist ever.
Seriously this guy is amazing. He's obviously a majorly talented artist first of all and he's only been doing tattoos for 3 years but already he's probably the best I've ever seen. Like crazy amazing.
Take a look: http://grimmy3d.ru

Antique sign
A sign Mark spotted when driving on the outskirt of Ubud.
'Antiques - made to order'. Nuff said!

Posted by KtandMark 19:47 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

It doesn't get Batur than this - fish soup and faeces

by Kt

The day we left we were very reluctant to leave Ubud but it was an interesting hour or two's drive up to our next location in the Kitamani region.
We knew we were in the right place when we suddenly reached a huge viewing platform that over looked a glistening lake with a volcano in the background. Was a bit of a good view! We headed down the hill for what seemed like an eternity, stopping briefly to receive a blessing and to have rice sprinkled in our hair, until we eventually reached the village of Toya Bunkhar which lay on the edge of Lake Batur underneath with (active!) volcano behind it.
Despite being a small settlement the accommodation prices are quite steep here as there isn't much about and although we were paying a fair bit more than we'd paid in Ubud, our accommodation was 'interesting'. I kind of knew it would be because of reviews I'd read online but it was only for a couple of nights and was cheapest alternative. The bed was massive which was a great but the room had a bit of a grubby feel and believe me, I've grown not to be fussy. The bathroom was especially interesting. The light flickered when you ran the tap and the bath was surrounded by some kind of concrete... umm... sculpture???

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The outside door of the room had a massive gap at the bottom so we had to load our bags up against it at night to stop the mozzies getting in. There was a TV - fancy eh? - but you had to switch the main light on for the TV to work so it took us half a day to realise that. But as we have found on our travels, when you turn up somewhere at first you can quite often feel a bit freaked out but usually within 24 hours you are acclimatised, get on with it and ignore any oddities/potential death hazards!!!!

Fish soup and faeces
Our first meal there, we had gone for a little wander to find the village very empty (they really get few people there at low season) but found a little cafe and I opted for the lake fish with soup which was quite frankly, utterly amazeballs. I've never really liked the idea of river fish. Probably because at home the rivers are so murky and grim. In fact, it's only been quite recently that I've been more adventurous with fish - used to be a little bit squeamish and bones and the like. Well, I'm glad I'm glad I took the gamble as it was really one of the nicest things I've had since travelling - and I've been to Melbourne for goodness sake!! The fish was just lightly fried and placed on a bowl of a very light broth with bits of garlic, onion and tomatoe floating in it.

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The food we had in the evening at our accommodation was actually really nice too despite the slightly hap hazard surroundings. Mark had a bit of an adventurous turn himself and tried the special coffee from an area we'd passed on our journey up. You may have seen the Vietnamese coffee that became popular as an unusual christmas present a few years ago which was coffee made from berries (I don't know how this is different from beans) which had been eaten and then - passed?? - for want of a better word by weasles. Well this is pretty much the same thing having been passed by the Asian Palm Civit. It's called Kopi Luwak. Mark said it tasted good. I just giggled maturely and kept telling him he'd eaten poo. It's supposed to be the most expensive coffee in the world.

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The next day we were to go out on a visit organised with the hotel across the road. This was a much posher hotel and had a lakeside cafe, which was an amazing spot to sit and watch the fishermen and the clouds moving slowly across the mountains.

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The hotel had a couple of pools hooked up the natural spa that was available from the thermals of the village. And for some strange reason they had a cute little beetle parked out front.

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Trunyan
One of the main reasons we were in the village was because there was a place I'd read about that I had really wanted to go. I'd recently read an amazing book called Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre by Sarah Murray. This books talks about the way death is dealt with in different areas of the world, the similarities and the differences. It actually featured Bali quite heavily, as their cremation ceremonies and rituals are notoriously big and joyous occasions. The place we were going to, however, dealt with their dead differently to the rest of Bali. This remote village on the opposite edge of Lake Batur, accessible usually only by water, had a small cemetery where they left their dead out in the open. This had become a bit of a tourist attraction but fair play to the villagers, they charged a lot and so at least someone had to really want to see it to make the arrangements to get there by boat and make the various donations necessary for the villagers to grant you access. My fascination meant I was willing to pay that price and off we went in our boat across the beautiful lake which in itself was a fantastic experience.
We first stopped at the village and visited the temple. When you visit the temples, you often have to cover up with sarongs that they supply. With Marks newly shaved head I thought he looked suitably monkish in his.

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The village was clearly the poorest we had seen yet but they had an amazing resource on their doorstep - you could never go hungry with such an amazing lake, which unlike the sea was never going to be ravaged by over fishing. The village covered quite a small area - the temple taking up probably a quarter of it. The backdrop to the village was steep forest, hence it's remoteness. And from the temple you looked over at the active volcano on the other side of the lake.

We then took the boat over to the cemetery. There were 7 or 8 bodies there. They are laid out and covered by a kind of bamboo cage to keep out animals etc. There is tons of stuff everywhere, which turns out to be their belongings which are buried with them. All kinds of things - crockery, clothes, lots of flip flops, a bright orange plastic toothbrush on one. They stay like this for about a year, then their skull and leg bones are lined up in an area to the right of the graves. The other bones and all their stuff is then discarded to the side of the cemetery. This being a very small area, it is just to the side of the bodies and was fascinating in itself. When we eventually realised what it was, you could see that in a box of plates was a thigh bone, or next to that pile of clothes was a pelvis. The hip bones of course stood out with that perfect rounded joint. There was a bra there which looked like it belonged to a young person. This was their history and this was their bodies. The bodies themselves were fresher than I had expected. The latest, being only a few weeks old. We were basically looking at recently dead bodies but it didn't feel creepy or gross, it felt calm and i said a quiet little hello to each of them (quiet as in, in my head so I didn't look completely batty). The reason that this tradition had come about and the reason that we weren't actually gagging around such recently deceased is what makes this site special. The bodies do not decompose in the normal way and they do not smell at all. There has been no absolute conclusion as to why this is. There have been various theories about the water and such things, but the one most agreed upon is that is down to the huge tree that the site sits beneath. I'm not sure how. Something scientific. The villages believe that it is a spiritual thing and even if it is the tree, the fact that something natural has an impact on this is spiritual in itself. Anyway, before I go off and shake my crystals and chakras and get all new age on you, I must add that the pictures below contain the bones but not the corpses so you don't have to look away unless you're squeamish of death in general (dont' be - it's the only certainty we all have).

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The one thing that I do think they may have to consider in this modern world is the inclusion of the flip flops and modern plastic material that is put in with the bodies. This stuff, particularly the flip flops, is never going to decompose and indeed it was the most prevalent thing, besides the old money that covered the floor. Quite practically, gone are the days of using woven flip flops. They don't last as long and the Balinese love colour and looking good (seriously, they are a well dressed people - even the poorest), so plastic of course is going to be top choice.
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As I say, I didn't feel grossed out or anything, I was concerned about how intrusive it was but then people walk round graveyards all the time. The whole point of this is about death being out in the open, not hidden behind closed doors.

The visit also lead to us meeting an interesting pair - Mark got talking to a russian girl who'd just arrived from Ubud about our trip. She had not come to the area to go to Trunyan but oddly she had seen a documentary about it before and it had fascinated her - we got talking about it and she told us about a place in Tibet where their was a tribe who were shunned by the rest of society and their role in life was to do a special kind of body disposal for those important and rich members of society (for this was the most expensive way you could be dealt with after death). They basically took the bodies and scraped the meat from the bones for them to be fed to the mountain vultures. But if they had a couple of bodies at once they would first feed them the men because the womens flesh is sweeter so they would ignore the men if a woman's flesh was on offer. Nice eh? Well that certainly puts Trunyan into perspective as quite low shock value doesn't it??

Well, Yelena, was russian originally but from USA - she had lived all over but most recently had been mostly based in Chaing Mai as was her friend Poncho, from Mexico who had lived in the UK for a fair while - they are both yoga teachers. I had planned for us to go to Chaing Mai so it was great to chat with them and ask them lots of annoying questions. We were amazed when they said how expensive Bali was compared to Thailand. Mark had been a bit sceptical but I think talking to them he realised that Chaing Mai would indeed be a good place for us to base ourselves for a little while. They were both really interesting people and funny and a little crazy. We had a good laugh in that short time and we definitely hope to cross paths again sometime.

We stayed in Toya Bungkhar just 2 nights. It was lucky I had booked just those 2 nights - you couldn't last much longer as there wasn't much to do. Lots of people trekked up the volcano for sunrise. We had decided not to do it as it seemed quite expensive, especially as we had spent so much on the Trunyan visit (although much of that had come out of my personal 'treats' budget as it was my want!). I was happy to find that Yelena and Poncho also thought the charges were very high. You can't do it independently apparently - there are guards up there who will send you back or try to charge you. Anyway, we didn't do that which was probably a good thing as the day we were considering it was apparently quite cloudy anyhow. I'm sure we'll have plenty of opportunities yet to climb stuff.

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Our next stop was Tulamben - a beach resort on the north east coast of Bali. We were to be stopping there for 5 nights so Mark could dive and I could plan our next destination, Malaysia. The journey there was a bit hair raising. Not that our driver was a bad driver - just normal for Bali standards. They just tend to go for the overtake, even on corners. It was more that we were up on winding roads up in the steep mountain. At one point we had a sheer drop on either side. A rickety old wooden bridge was another highlight. To be honest, we'd already had some hair raising experiences in Queensland and so I've just learned to accept that death may come and maybe I'd like to be buried in my flip-flops. The best part of the journey was not the scenery, although it was at times a marvel, but it was in fact the music. For the first hour we had the St Elmo's Fire soundtrack. How this young guy who probably wasn't even born when the film came out came to be listening to it, I'm not sure - I wasn't even that old! Classic tunage!! Even Mark who hasn't seen the film liked it as it was all 80s. For the next hour we were blessed with some old soul classics. Made the time pass a little quicker and took our minds of any potential collisions.

Posted by KtandMark 22:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged trunyan_toya bungkhar_bali Comments (0)

A crackling time in Ubud - caves, temples, paddys & pork

by Kt

We ended up staying in Ubud and in the same accommodation for 2 and a half weeks.
It was so nice to just be somewhere for a while and Ubud is such a great and easy place to be, it's difficult to ever leave I think. We ate in lots of interesting places, braved the market, wandered down some out of the way streets. Wandered back the other way down some out of the way streets when an unfriendly dog clearly wasn't going to let us past. There's always something going on in Ubud and I swear everytime we walked down the street we saw a new store or business that we were sure wasn't there the day before.

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Blackpool and pork
In our second week a couple turned up at our accommodation who we ended up having a right old royal craic with. You know when you just meet people and you just find you're on the same wave length? Well that was Steve and Michelle. Hailing from Blackpool, this pair take a month off every year and take interesting, definitely not run-of-the-mill holidays. Fabulous for us as we got lots of great tips on places we are yet to venture to. Steve is an action man. He's an ice-climber. He goes climbing in winter!?! Yes, I know - barking isn't it? Michelle is newer to the more adventurous type of holidaying, much like Mark and myself, having previously enjoyed more upmarket holiday experiences but over recent years she has become well and truly bitten by the bug - although she did take a hair brush up with her when she climbed a mountain once, but that's another story! Michelle's mum and dad run an old skool b&b in Blackpool. The same guests come back time and time again - and the same set of guests go there every christmas and swap presents with people who were at one time strangers. How cool is that? I love it that these places still exist - long may they thrive. Mark lived in Blackpool for a while, back in his yoof, so the guys swapped stories of the various salubrious establishments and how they had changed over the years. It's definitely time for us to go back for a visit - sounds like lots been going on in recent years - and now with our new found friends - the perfect excuse!! A Blackpool knees up is definitely in order when we get back. We ended up a few evenings in a row, at the restaurant down the road having a right old gas and giggle. Believe it or not, this was with Mark and I still not drinking. Get us! Unheard of! We went crazy on water and ginger tea. Anyhow, it was so great to meet these guys and to have a few days of chatting and belly laughs - something you miss when you're so far from you friends. It was a shame that they couldn't stay longer but they were off to the Gili Islands off Bali for some further adventure. But to top off our bonding, we did all share a pretty special pork experience. Intrigued? Well read on….

For those of you with clean minds, yes you guessed it right, I'm talking about the meat. Pork is big in Bali and is used for special occasions generally as they like to roast a whole pig. There is a place in Ubud that is pretty famous for it's pork. Steve and Michelle had been there but were up for it again as it was so good, so next day we met up for our pig-fest. The place has some high tables, but mainly low ones where you sit on the floor, which is where we were. They are open from 11- 3 everyday and in that time they basically just roast a couple of oinks. Now I don't really like pork but Mark does so I thought I'd maybe see what else was on the menu. Umm - nope - just pig. So I went for the pig special, which consisted of pork meat, pork meat fried in flour, pork blood sausage, pork skin and stuffing and a bit of rice for good measure. It was actually fantastic. The pork was so tender - really yummy. The fried stuff I didn't like so much but the blood sausage I also surprisingly did. It was kind of like a spicy black pudding. I had to draw a line at the skin though - i tried it but is so not my cup of tea - but Mark was more than happy for any of my left over and the guys worked through a couple of plates of what can only be described as roasted pork skin. You could also get some pork scratching like crackers too - so why not? I seriously thought Mark may go into cardiac arrest then and there.
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We really must give a special mention to our favourite eatery in Ubud.
It is called 'Yummy Yummy' and they do the best Nasi Goreng and Satay and in fact everything they do is …. well… yummy, yummy!!!! We've spent a lot more in town on food but it's never been quite as good. It's a brightly painted place and the uber friendly owner likes his rock music and donned an interesting range of cool t-shirts. Once again, there's not much more to say than.. yummy, yummy!

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Green, Old, Steep and a Dud
No, I'm not talking about Mark!! I'm talking about the places we saw when we did eventually venture out of town. First up, we went to what's known as the 'Organic Cafe' (but I think it's got a proper Warung name too). Anyway, the point of going to this cafe is not so much for the cafe itself, but for where it is. To get to it, you go disappear up a lane from Ubud's top main road and walk for 15 or so minutes up a track through the paddy fields. So you have the green and ordered rice fields growing on either side of you and it is really quite stunning.
On the way up (and back down) the path you meet a few people. The odd person going to or back from the cafe, some on mopeds carrying stuff up to where they are doing some building and some tending to the paddy fields. The women, as you see all over Bali (and much of the world) carry stuff on their heads. It is mind blowing the weight of stuff they can carry - large buckets of sand and breeze blocks for instance! There are also ducks tinkering about in the fields - they eat the pests so are a useful part of the process. There was a woman who Mark though was raving mad, shouting things, until I told him (as I'd read about this previously) that she was actually shouting at the ducks as they surprisingly comply with such orders. I would comply with anything this woman shouted - she certainly meant business!! Along the way there is the odd small building where they were selling things such as masks and kites. Stuff you obviously don't need but they know that the tourists traipsing up here may be tempted. Although it was only a 15 minute walk, it was very exposed and very hot. It also took a lot longer as we were taking photos and videos, so it is a great relief to reach the cafe and some shade. The cafe is raised up a floor, so you have amazing views over the paddy fields. There was lots of wholesome food, most of which is grown in their own gardens and it was decced out with lots of big, loungey cushions. You could probably easily lose an afternoon there.

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We also went out to see a couple of things in the Ubud surrounds. The Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah) is a temple complex which was uncovered in the 1930s. It was ridiculously old - from the 11th century. It included a cave that had been dug out of the rock, god knows how, in which people went to meditate. There were chunks dug out on the side a foot or two from the ground, in which people would meditate which only a candle to keep them company, for days on end. The area was built next to the river and had lots of sources of water, which is why it was built there. Years after finding the Hindu temple, they discovered that on the same site, just a little further along there was also a Budhist temple - from a few hundred years before the 'new' hindu one. It's mind blowing how old this stuff is. When we were in Australia and New Zealand it was always interesting to see what was described as a 'historic site' as generally our house was older than such things. Wer'e used to things being old in Britain, but these temples trumped all that - times 100!!! It's a whole other realm of old!

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We also, briefly, went to see the Ceking Rice Terraces. These are basically just paddy fields built on a hill, so the land has been terraced so the water can sit, as the rice needs. There's not much to say about them. They are worth a visit as they're pretty amazing when viewed from the high ridge opposite.

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Our next stop was a bit of a non-event, but interesting none the less. Well that's what I tell Mark when he implies that it was a boring waste of time. He's probably right but a life of no regrets and all that - I won't allow myself to regret sitting in a field watching not much happen for a couple of hours!!
The village of Petula, since the 60s, has been home to a kind of heron called the Kokokan bird. Every night at about 6pm, these birds come back from where ever they have been to roost. There is apparently 15-20,000 birds in this one small village. The villagers believe that the birds presence brings them luck as before they arrived the village was very poor. Oddly, they do not move onto any other village - they stay only here and also don't roost in any of the residents gardens. Whatever the reason for them being here, it has become a bit of a tourist attraction. You get a sprinkling of people turn up for it in the evening and I think pretty much every person there was a bit under enthralled. The idea of these thousands of birds coming in sounds amazing until you get there and realise that they don't literally descend at the same time and land in the same place. It is spread out in time and area. They trickle in and certainly, at the peak time of 6pm they are definitely more impressive in number and coming in from all angles. So, it was a bit interesting but not much. Reading about it is probably more interesting than being there. Another boring place I have dragged Mark to and I'm sure it won't be the last. The village itself is very simple and traditional. My interest was piqued to see a big Westlife poster in one of the small stores which was out of place to say the least.

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Driving around I actually realised how big Ubud was. It is a bunch of villages all joined together but it really does go on for miles in various directions, yet at the same time you can be out into quite paddy fields in no time. The huge carvings you find all over the outskirts are truly amazing. I wonder if the fact that so much is created - art and craft, in Bali and in particular in Ubud, is why it's such a laid back, aggro free place. Lots of people are creating beautiful things and all around you are colourful and bright art and objects. I personally got extremely excited at the huge disco ball selection we saw - disco ball buddhas too - oh I'm so having one of those one day!!!

Posted by KtandMark 00:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

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