Filling in our World Heritage Site gaps around South-East Asia
  • Day33

    Heading Home

    July 31 in Indonesia ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Final day of the trip. Woke up to find that once again the hotel's wifi wasn't working, so we decided to check out early and head for the co-working space again. We arrived right when it opened at 9am and were greeted by the staff as old friends which was quite nice. I even recorded a video testimonial for their Instagram!

    Spent a couple of hours here finishing off stuff from yesterday before it was time to head at 11am. Managed to catch a Grab to the airport which took about 30 minutes, then we waited in the airport for a couple of hours before taking off.

    Flight to KL was uneventful, and we waited in the large food court area for about 4 hours before the flight to Sydney was ready. I had McDonalds for dinner (which promptly repeated on me!), while Shandos had a chicken rice set.

    Our Sydney flight boarded on time, but then we sat there waiting on the tarmac for about 45 minutes while a late-arriving flight from Phuket turned up and sent about two dozen passengers our way. I guess when it's one or two people they just go and worry about the consequences later, but it's more expensive to rearrange people's flights than to delay this one by an hour. Oh well. Overnight flight so we both ended up sleeping for most of it, making up most of the delay and arriving home in Sydney by 10:15am. Through the airport in record time before a bus and a train, and finally home to Prestons after five weeks. We made it!
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  • Day32

    The Co-Working Space

    July 30 in Indonesia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    With nothing planned for the day except work, we woke up to find that the hotel's wifi still hadn't been fixed. Well, it sort of had, in the sense that the front desk access point worked, but we couldn't see that from our room. All of the ones within range had no internet connection, so our plans for the day looked dashed.

    Shandos googled for co-working spaces and it turned out there was one on the main road about 10 minutes walk away, so we packed up and headed over.

    It turned out to be brand new, literally within the first week of opening, and located on the 21st floor of an office building. We had a look around, chatted to the staff a bit and they said we were welcome to stay the day for free. Nice!

    The internet connection was good, they had free water/instant coffee, the bathrooms were clean and all the furnishings were brand new and modern industrial design, so we were very comfortable. The usual price was 75000 rupiah for the day, or about $7.50 per person, which we honestly would've been glad to pay.

    We both spent the day catching up on various things, mainly because we've been basically without much internet for close on three weeks. We haven't had SIM cards since Vietnam, and hotel wifi has been patchy at best (and we haven't had time at worst). I started on my mammoth backlog of videos, Shandos did some blogging work and made some inroads into our China itinerary which will have to come together fairly quickly.

    Cheap lunch from the bakery a couple of blocks away, then eventually it was 6pm and time to leave. We headed straight for the ramen place again - it's a little expensive by Indonesian standards, we paid about $15 for two good quality Japanese meals and iced tea with free refills, but still within budget. Back to the dingy hotel for our last night!
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  • Day31

    Krakatoa

    July 29 in Indonesia ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Longest day trip of the lot today! Picked up at 5am from our hotel in Jakarta for the three hour ride out to the western coast of Java. I snoozed most of the way, so I don't really remember much of what happened or where we went!

    But we arrived at Carita Beach around 8am, met our local guide and had a light breakfast of omelette and toast. Sorted out a few details and then we were in the speedboat, heading for Krakatoa. It was about 90 minutes and the water wasn't too bad - not much wind and fairly flat waves, though it got quite rough in a couple of places.

    Finally, we arrived. Krakatoa exploded in 1883, probably the most violent incident in recorded history. The pressure waves were recorded around the world for days, people heard the eruption as far away as Perth, Alice Springs and Mauritius. The original island is gone, having blown itself apart, but in 1927 Anak Krakatau or Child of Krakatoa rose from beneath the waves and has grown steadily ever since.

    By December 2018 it had reached 350 metres in height and was covered in trees. Until a large flank of it collapsed, triggering a tsunami that killed 400 people and injured thousands more (it was a busy Saturday night during holiday season so a lot of people were on the beach). In that event, it lost all but 100m of height and all of its tree coverage, but we were still keen to check it out.

    It's actually not the main focus of the world heritage site here - that's actually Ujong Kulong national park, further to the south. It's a national park because it's basically the only part of Java not covered in houses or rice fields, and that's directly because it wasn't repopulated after the 1883 eruption.

    Either way, we finally arrived and cruised around what was once the volcano but is now just a smoking hole. There's a two kilometre exclusion zone around it, so we definitely didn't approach it. We definitely didn't land the boat, and we definitely didn't take a brief hike up the ash mounds. It was completely silent, and according to our guide it only has minor eruptions a couple of times a week, so he wasn't especially worried. But he wouldn't have let us climb very far - in the theoretical event that we landed the boat.

    Did another lap of the volcano where we could see a huge area of sulphur bubbling out at sea level, as the volcano builds itself back up again. From here we went around to Rakata, the largest of the remaining islands in the chain. On the far side there's some nice coral reefs, so we jumped in and had a snorkel, checking out the coral and the fish. Fairly good condition, as they don't get many tourists!

    Landed on Rakata and had a pre-packed lunch of fried chicken and rice - Indonesia's national dish, essentially. A few pieces of fruit as well, then back on the boat for the 90 minute bounce back to the mainland. Much rougher this time going against the waves, but eventually it was over.

    A few handshakes and then we were back in the car for the long three hour drive back to Jakarta! Popped upstairs to find the hotel wifi wasn't working, so we dropped our stuff and went to a nice looking ramen place nearby that had good food and good wifi.

    Early night after such a long day!
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  • Day30

    Train to Jakarta

    July 28 in Indonesia ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Time to depart Semarang! Our train was at 11am, so we had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel before getting a Grab to the station. The train turned up on time and we hopped aboard. Annoyingly, we didn't have two seats next to each other - just on the same row but either side of the aisle.

    In the end it didn't really matter anyway, as after an hour or so I wandered down to the dining car with my laptop and spent the next few hours sitting at a table and doing video work. The scenery isn't super interesting - mostly just rice fields - and we've gotten a long distance train across Java before.

    Arrived in Jakarta on time at about 5pm. The station wifi wasn't working and I couldn't find any other free ones, so I ended up going into a co-working space which was oddly enough at the station and asking nicely to use their wifi for a Grab. They happily obliged and after a few false starts, managed to get a driver and head for our hotel.

    The hotel isn't much, really more of a large guesthouse, but it seems clean enough. Last hotel for the trip! It's located in a sort of Chinatown area, where most of the nearby restaurants are Chinese and the locals seems to have Chinese blood too. Most women aren't wearing hijabs and so on. Went to a dumpling place around the corner from the hotel where we loaded up for dinner, though the price was a bit higher than we expected - 60,000 rupiah for a plate of 10!
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  • Day29

    Sangiran Early Man Site

    July 27 in Indonesia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Not sticking around in Jogja for long, although it's a nice city! Had a hurried breakfast since the guys in the kitchen were very relaxed, then walked up to the station to get tickets for Surakarta aka Solo, the next city on our itinerary. Although I'd read online that you could buy train tickets only within three hours of the train leaving, it turned out that was actually 24 hours - though only Indonesians can buy them that early (it's an online process requiring an Indonesian phone # and credit card).

    And of course, the train we wanted was sold out. So was the next one! Our train wasn't for nearly 2 hours! We ended up buying tickets, but just getting on the 9am train we wanted anyway, since it wasn't reserved seating. Eventually our tickets got checked by an inspector who politely but firmly insisted we have to get off the train at the next stop, despite our dumb tourist routine. So we spent just under 2 hours at Klaten station, possibly the only white people to have been there in years!

    Quite a long time when you don't have wifi or phone data. Eventually our actual train turned up and we got on for the remaining 30 minutes to Solo. Grabbed some lunch of CFC at the station (it's like KFC, just .. not), then figured out how we were going to get to the Sangiran museum outside of town. We'd hoped to get a Grab and bribe him into waiting around for the return leg, but with no data and no wifi to be found a Grab wasn't possible.

    Eventually we got a local taxi driver to take us - he originally wanted 400,000 rupiah ($40), but we eventually settled on 200k + petrol. I'm fairly sure he filled his tank as it was 60,000 for that, way more than he would've used on the 30 minute trip to the museum, but oh well.

    The museum was pretty crap, sadly. 95% of the information was in Indonesian, which I'm not complaining about, but when there's no context to anything you're seeing it's a bit hard to enjoy.

    Sangiran is listed because this is where examples of Java Man have been found - Homo erectus, the precursor species to Homo sapiens. Stone tool fossils reveal evidence of hominid occupation in the area from 1.6 million years ago, and human skull fragments found here have been dated to around 700,000 - 1 million years BP. Pretty insane to consider, especially compared to the "ancient" we've sometimes visited here that are a scant thousand years old.

    But ultimately, it's an odd category of site: something important happened or was found here, but is no longer here, and now there is very little to see. Oh well, another tick for the list.

    Back to the taxi where the guy informed us that because of waiting it was now an extra 50,000. Great. And to make things worse he was comfortably the most insane driver we've ever had - flying down the wrong side of the road towards oncoming traffic, driving in the dirt on the side of the road etc. We read later that Surakarta drivers are considered aggressive and reckless even by Indonesian standards, and that was definitely true in our experience!

    When we arrived at the hotel we got our stuff out of the car and I just gave him the initial agreed-upon amount. Shandos had thought that amount included the petrol (I was fairly sure it didn't), and we started arguing. Eventually the guy just drove off without insisting on his extra money, so at least we know for next time how to get rid of scammers!

    At least the hotel was nice - a Red Planet chain hotel which we've stayed at in other places. Stayed in for a few hours before going out for dinner: we found a millenial-targeted cafe with reasonable food and prices. Even ended up having a pisang goreng for dessert (fried banana).
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  • Day28

    Semarang Old City

    July 26 in Indonesia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Another early start, as we caught a Grab from the hotel to the Joglosemar bus terminal. This is a private shuttle bus service that goes between Jogja, Solo and Semarang, hence the odd name. I got the front passenger seat meaning I had plenty of room, but also the most dangerous seat in a collision! Thankfully the driver was quite passive and safe and I felt fine for the 3 hour ride north to Semarang.

    This city was an important Dutch colonial outpost, though never quite as important as Batavia (now Jakarta). We'd come here as the old city is aiming for World Heritage status in the next couple of years, and after checking into our hotel we set off to see the sights.

    First stop was the Lawang Sewu, or House of a Thousand Doors. This was the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company in Semarang, and although it seemed to have a lot of doors, a thousand was probably stretching the truth. It was in good condition though and a nice place to walk around for an hour, being entertained by the locals and their favourite pastime - selfies.

    Grabbed lunch in a shopping mall where there was a large organised video game tournament taking place entirely on mobile phones, then headed for the old city proper. It's fairly small, probably only 3-4 blocks, but fairly nice. Alan (whose wife Hanna is originally from here and has visited several times) said they've done it up a fair bit the last few years: "before that it was a dump".

    Spent a couple of hours looking at the colonial era buildings, some of which were nicely done up into fancy hotels and cafes, others which were derelict hulks on the verge of toppling over. Still a fair way to go I think.

    Had a drink (an actual alcoholic drink!) in a bar before walking back to the hotel, only venturing out across the road later to get some satay sticks for dinner.
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  • Day27

    Back to Indonesia

    July 25 in Indonesia ⋅ ☁️ 30 °C

    And so endeth the whirlwind visit to Malaysia. Had a quick breakfast and walked back to the train station where we caught our pre-booked train back to Kuala Lumpur. As expected, it sat motionless for around an hour in roughly the same spot as a night earlier, but thankfully it wasn't an outrageous delay this time and we were soon moving again. Arrived at KL Sentral where we grabbed a quick snack of roti and then got the coach out to the airport.

    Loads of time before the flight which was nice, so we had a relaxing lunch of laksa and then headed to the gate. Longer flight than we remembered, about 2.5 hours plus we lost an hour due to time zone changes. So it was 5:30pm and getting dark when we arrived in Yogyakarta. It's just a small airport despite being a large city, so we breezed through and started figuring out transport options.

    There was a Czech guy nearby also looking for the bus to the city (taxi guys want $10 for the ride while the bus is about 50 cents), and by coincidence he happened to be staying at the same hostel! After a few discussions with locals we found the bus, boarded and made it to the centre of Jogja. The hostel was easy enough to find so we checked in, dropped our bags, and then headed out for food.

    As we remembered, street food is super cheap here. Ended up just having some nasi goreng (fried rice) and a few satay skewers, total cost for three of us was about $6. Not bad!
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  • Day26

    Lenggong Valley

    July 24 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    After what seemed like a ridiculously short amount of time, our alarms went off at 8am. Downstairs for a quick breakfast before our rental car got delivered at 9am. It was an old Proton with about 200,000km on the clock, quite a few dings but it seemed decent enough.

    On the road for the day, we headed out of Ipoh on the highway north towards the Lenggong Valley. This was a near miss WHS for us, as we decided to skip it last time we were in Ipoh in 2016. Good and bad, since on the one hand it meant coming back to this distant corner of Malaysia, but on the other a good museum had opened in the meantime!

    So after an hour or so driving we arrived at the museum, surprising the guards who according to the registration book received foreign visitors every couple of days at most. The museum was fairly well done, and we enjoyed our visit.

    The main reason for the WH status here is the archaeological remains of neolithic and early bronze age people who lived in the area. Earlier than Ban Chiang, most of the remains recovered here date back to 5000+ years ago. The highlight is definitely Perak Man, the oldest and most complete skeleton found in Asia.

    It's a mostly complete skeleton of a male who lived about 10-11 thousand years ago. Interestingly, he had a deformed left hand, shortened left arm bones, and a twisted spine (probably from compensating for his poor arm). Since he had apparently lived until late 40s or early 50s, you can draw some conclusions about the society he'd lived in: they must have been farmers since Perak Man would've been a useless hunter. And they must've had some sort of social strata, since he was buried in a way that suggests he was important. Fascinating stuff.

    But we were done with the museum by about 11:30, and still had the car for the rest of the day! So we drove into the town of Lenggong and picked a random place to eat. A lady with quite good English convinced us in to her restaurant where we had some fried rice, fish balls and steamed vegetables. The price seemed a bit high and since we never saw an itemised bill or a menu we might've been conned slightly, but it was still fairly reasonable prices.

    Decided to continue north up the highway to the Royal Belum State Park, a large wilderness area on the border with Thailand. It's hoping to get world heritage status in 2020 or 2021. You can only access it properly with a boat, so after 2.5 hours driving we could still only look across a lake at it! But we knew that going in so weren't that bothered. If we eventually have to come back (again!) we'll be prepared.

    Back on the long 3 hour drive back to Ipoh in the late afternoon. Drove through a big thunderstorm which was a bit hectic, but we made it just as the sun was setting. Parked next to the hotel and hopped out, cracked open the window slightly, locked the car and tossed the keys in as we'd been instructed to do so the guy could get the car at his leisure. As soon as I dropped the keys I realised we'd left in the car: Shandos's umbrella. Shandos's hat. My sunglasses. And my passport.

    So I messaged the guy and said we'd left something in the car, and to let me know when he was picking it up. He said 9:30pm, so we went for dinner and had a delicious Hainan chicken rice, then I just waited next to the car until he arrived. It was a pretty slim chance that someone would break into the car and get my passport, but with a flight in the morning I didn't want to take any chances.

    Finally got back upstairs around 10pm where I basically went straight to bed after another super long day!
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  • Day25

    Back to Malaysia & Ipoh

    July 23 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Super long day today, lucky we'd rested up! Had our breakfast and left the hotel in a taxi at 8am bound for the airport. Our first flight since arriving in Hanoi three weeks ago. Just a small airport so we breezed through the formalities and boarded the flight to Bangkok - a short leg of about 1 hour.

    About two hours to wait in Bangkok where we found some early lunch at a food court. Prices were crazy for Thailand but we managed to find something reasonable and use up the last of our baht. Again a fairly standard flight from Bangkok to KL, though the plane landed very roughly, with an almighty thud. Probably the hardest landing I've ever had!

    Immigration into Malaysia took ages for some reason; normally it's quite fast but today we had to wait about 30 minutes. We'd also lost an hour to time zones, so it was now late afternoon. Got the bus from KLIA2 into KL Sentral where we discovered that the next train to Ipoh wasn't until 7:40pm - about 90 minutes away! So we had some dinner in the food court at KL Sentral to kill time.

    The train was late arriving and didn't actually depart the station until about 8pm. We thought it'd be fine for a 2.5 hour run up to Ipoh, but on the outskirts of KL we stopped and waited, and waited .. and waited. There had been some issue with the tracks a few days earlier and so they could only run a single line in one part. Ultimately it meant a delay of three hours, where we basically just sat there doing nothing the whole time! So it was about 1:30am by the time we finally arrived in Ipoh.

    Decided not to trust the taxi drivers hanging around the station at that time of night, so we walked the 20 minutes to our hotel which thankfully had self check-in. Finally to bed at 2am - a very long day!
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  • Day24

    Day off in Udon Thani

    July 22 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Combining the two locations from yesterday into a single long day meant that we suddenly had an extra, spare day! So we basically had the day off, working and relaxing. It was a bit annoying that for most of the day, the wifi wasn't working upstairs so we had a choice between air conditioning in the room, or no a/c but wifi downstairs in the common area.

    Tough choice!
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