Monday, 22 November 2010

RECOVERY- Perhentian Kecil and Bali

There were mixed feelings about leaving India. Richard had a really hard time there health-wise, and of course, after six months there, we were weary and looking forward to going to a place that was clean and easy. So Kuala Lumpur was just the ticket! We basically spent the first week of our time back there stuffing our faces, and rapidly putting back on some of the weight we had lost! Malaysia is the best place for food in Asia, in my opinion. We love the variety of the Indian restaurants roti chennai, flaky bread with curry sauce), the Chinese joint's roast pork/chicken/duck with rice and soup, and the Malay style nasi campur - a fantastic choice of rice with dozens of different meat, curry and vegetable dishes.

Roti Chennai

Pork and rice
A cacophony of tastes!!

We reveled in all the "luxuries" we'd been missing- clean bathrooms, no-one staring at us, no blaring vehicle horns, huge/comfortable buses, quiet rooms, fast food, fellow travellers, shopping centers, milk, easy public transport, no spy holes in the doors of rooms, toilet paper, WIFI........But we also felt a great sadness at the missing humour and character that we found so often in India, and that is sometimes lacking in South-east Asia. It took us a few emotional days to recover from the mini "culture shock"!!

We spent a couple of weeks in KL and up the east coast of Malaysia, stopping at Cherating, a pleasant little beach town, where we tried to avoid sunburn on our pasty skin (unsuccessful),  and Kuala Terrangganu, a great town with an amazing food night market. As Ramadan was under way, much of the town was shut down during the day, but came alive at night. It was especially interesting around dusk, when families all came to the waterfront market with picnic baskets, bought their food an hour before eating time, sat chatting and looking longingly at the food, until there was a huge booming signal from the mosque- the sign they could all eat.

We nearly didn't make it to the Perhentian Islands- our main destination on arriving back in Malaysia. After being in cheap India for so long, Malaysia seems expensive to us, and the ferry fare of 140 RM (AU$ 50) return for the two of us ,was almost enough to make us skip it. But we'd been hearing such good things about the islands for so many years, we bit the bullet, and took the speed boat over to the small island (Perhentian Kecil).

The island is certainly not the picture perfect, tropical island paradise we were expecting. There are a few too many concrete buildings, bars blaring out music, beach umbrellas and construction work for our liking. But we found a cheap hut on the beach, and met up with some long time friends, and enjoyed our time snorkeling, lazing around on the beach with a book, playing cards and, or course, eating! The saving grace of the island is it's soft white sand, and stunning blue, clear water filled with a variety of fish and other marine life.

Our hut, Perhentian Kecil

Long Beach , Perhentian Kecil

View from hut, Perhentian Kecil

Getting Creative!

Perhentian Kecil

Sunset, Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil

A month of island life was enough, and as strange as it sounds, we were kind of happy to leave and find ourselves back in the big towns of Kota Baru, Kuala Terrangganu, and Kuala Lumpur (which has become a real central hub for us now that Air Asia has so many cheap flights in and out of there), in the couple of weeks we spent travelling back down south. It was nice to have all the modern, town facilities again, and also to be in places where our money would go further than on expensive Perhentian Kecil. Of course, it helped knowing we still have another three months of beach bumming time ahead of us, starting with another cheap airfare to Bali for the month of November.

It was a VERY lazy, touristy time for us on Bali, just going with the flow, first in mad Kuta, then serene Ubud, laid-back Padangbai and lastly, Sanur.
We actually enjoyed the crazy fast- paced Kuta for a short while. There's a great variety of accommodation and food, extremely cheap clothes and DVDs (which we stocked up on), and the people watching at Kuta beach kept us amused for hours.
Ubud was a change of pace, and it was a good chance to get away from the traffic, and enjoy the gorgeous country side with lots of walk amidst the rice paddy fields.
Padangbai was probably our favorite place on our last visit to Bali, and as often happens when visiting the same place years later, we found ourselves disappointed with the changes. Our deserted little Blue Lagoon Bay was full of rubbish, and the sand had shifted.... right off the beach, so all that was left was rocks. But we still enjoyed the town, and actually discovered a new beach, so it was not all bad!
The last few days we had a change of plan, and stopped by Sanur Beach, as some friends from Australia were visiting.

Lunch time


Bias Tugel Beach, Padangbai

Hard work!

Bias Tugel Beach

Saturday, 25 September 2010


ATM, Bangkok Zoo, Thailand
Shop front, Bali, Indonesia

Laos hospital

Redneck bar, Canada

Thai market

Thai menu

Vietnam sign about HIV

The Egyptian version

Dahab menu item, Egypt

Another from Dahab, Egypt

Indonesian barber

Breaking the rules, Borobodur, Indonesia

Calcutta- any ideas?

Dubious Indian establishment

Indian rough estimate, Calcutta

Would you trust this man?

Pick the Muslim

Memorial plaque in park, India

Recruiting Indian Army

Interesting qualifications, India

Guard dog, Sri Lankan style
Tough shops, Philippines
Interesting ice-cream flavour, Dahab, Egypt
Suspect restaurant, Egypt
Artistic plants, Java, Indonesia
Dirty movie cinema, India
Dirty movie cinema, India

 Not exactly clean, Varanasi, India

Friday, 13 August 2010

STINKING STATIONS AND FASCINATING FORTS - Sanchi, Gwalior and Allahabad, India

Our journey from Lucknow was the worst so far on this trip. It is quite a long story, so let's just say we slept well all the way on the train to Bhopal, and arrived in this unfriendly, filthy, stinking, noisy, expensive and fly-ridden city. We had a very hard time finding a room, decided to leave again immediately, and after waiting all day for a train that never came, took a bus to Sanchi, our haven!! Bhopal has joined the ranks as one of the worst cities we've visited, alongside such glorious places as Ambala, Guwahati, Indore and Aurangabad, although on subsequent day trips there from Sanchi, we did find some nicer areas in the town.

So, two weeks in Sanchi was a pleasant contrast to the cities we've been in before that. Another re-visit, having been here on our very first trip to India- of course, it's changed, but we found it to be small, friendly, quiet, cheap, interesting and COOL!! The monsoon sort of arrived while we were in Sanchi, after threatening all through June and July. The rain in this region has been very minimal compared to normal years, and we have been very lucky (or unlucky) to have had almost no rain travelling in India during the summer/monsoon!! Still, the occasional shower is a great relief, and still gives us most of the day to do our sight-seeing. There is SO much to see in the area, much of it Buddhist ruins, but also 12,000 year old cave paintings, forts, museums, mosques, giant lingams, ancient Hindu carvings in caves high up in the rocks. Most of the places are recommendations from locals, and not much in the guidebook.

Stupas, Sanchi

Cave paintings, Bhimbetka
Cave paintings, Bhimbetka
Lingam with Shiva face, Udaigiri caves
Udaigiri caves

Bhojpur temple

Biggest lingam in the world- Bhojpur

After quiet Sanchi, Gwalior town was quite full on, but we quickly found a hotel in the perfect location next to the bus and train station, and a short walk to food and drink stalls and internet! Splashed out a bit for Sal's birthday, with a room with TV, hot water, and air cooler. The fact that there were no English channels on the TV, it was WAY too hot to use the hot water, and the "air cooler" was a machine that blew dust into the room, didn't make it any less special! In our travels through the area on previous trips, we'd always managed to miss out on Gwalior, so it was great to finally get here, and explore the massive and impressive fort. Although it was built about 800 years ago, some colourful tiles still remain on the outside of the lovely palace building, and one side of the fort has ancient Jain carvings, some six meters high, and very unusual. Not being much else to see in Gwalior, we left a couple of days later for Allahabad.

Gwalior fort
Gwalior fort
Gwalior fort

Gwalior fort

Gwalior fort
Gwalior fort
Gwalior fort

Allahabad was a pleasant surprise- one of the nicest big Indian cities we've visited. Like Lucknow, it also has spacious streets, lots of established trees and gardens, big mansion blocks, and Moghul ruins.

Ruins, Allahabad

It also had an extraordinary number of homeless/beggars in our hotel vicinity. The best thing about Allahabad, however, was our massive room at the once palatial Royal Hotel. We had an upstairs corner room with 3 lots of french doors leading out to a huge verandah (overlooking slums, rubbish and the local kids shitting area), high ceilings (leaking), massive bathroom (possibly never been cleaned), antique furniture (including a humongous bed with a mattress as hard as a rock), and a sweeping staircase leading up to it (splattered in bird poo and paan (disgusting red colored chewing tobacco))!!!! But the staff were friendly- sometimes a little too much. One night we had a knock at the door. Richard answered it.
"What do you want?"
Staff :" I am wanting to talk with you , sir"
Richard: "Is there a problem?"
Staff: "No problem, sir, I am just wanting to talk with you"
Richard: "We were sleeping"
Staff: "I am very sorry, sir. When can I come back and talk to you?"
So, loads of character and charm, but very dilapidated- all for 200 rupees a night (AU$5).

Royal Hotel, Allahabad
Royal Hotel, Allahabad

Our room, Royal Hotel, Allahabad

Our room Royal Hotel, Allahabad

Royal Hotel, Allahabad

Allahabad is yet another Hindu pilgrimage place, and people come to see the place where the Ganges river meets the Yamuna river- kind of cool, because one's light brown, and the other dark, and we saw them mingling from the shore. The ghat area was disappointing with none of the charm of Varanasi. It was mostly huge, dusty, empty areas used by the 70 million+ (!!!!) pilgrims during the four yearly Kumb Mela festival. We loved wandering through the old town, though, admiring the old buildings and looking at the market stalls. Not quite as hectic as chowks in other big cities.

So, although the second half of our 6 months in India has been a complete contrast to the first (some of the richest states in the country, and then some of the poorest), we've very much enjoyed the vibrancy and craziness of the "real" India. It's also tired us out, and we will be grateful to arrive back in Malaysia in the next few days, and recuperate on the islands for a while. India has turned our bodies saggy from weight loss and no upper body exercise (Richard has lost nearly 20 kilos!!), and EXTREMELY pale, so we will be a scary sight on the beach!!

Ironically, our health has been perfect since we've been down on the filthy, dusty, unhygienic plains, with the first three months in the clean, fresh mountain air being the time we were the most sick (especially Richard). We've been eating well, especially enjoying the fruits in season- huge variety of mangoes, plums, pineapple, papaya and crunchy apples. Of course, being mostly vegetarian, India is great for the range of veggies, and apart from the occasional splurge on meat or western food, we've pretty much been surviving well on rice, roti (bread), and delicious curries, although (I know it's hard to imagine) we are quite over this kind of food.

As for costs, sadly, but inevitably, India is getting much more expensive. It's no longer the bargain basement destination it once was, and although cheap food/rooms/transport are still available, they are harder to find. The petrol prices have risen a great deal even in the last year, and the price hike is most noticeable on rickshaws and food. Apart from in a few areas such as Rajasthan, Gujurat, and parts of the North west, there aren't many rooms under AU$10 any more. Varanasi was our cheapest room at 160 rupees (AU$4), and our splurge in Gwalior the most at 600 rupees (AU$15).

Richard loves to tell the story from 2005, when we leaving Delhi airport after 4 months in India, and having problems with a scam at the airport, and Sally yelled " I'm never coming back to this  $#@**  country again" !! Unlike that trip, we are not happy or keen to leave this time, and are already planning our next trip here ! A lot of that is due to the time we've taken to travel around slowly and steadily, and not tire ourselves out too much (very easy to burn out here!). For us, it's the best way.