Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Impressions

Settled as a tin mining town in 1857, Kuala Lumpur didn’t officially become a city until 1972. Yet it’s the fastest growing metropolis in Malaysia, having exceeded 6.5 million people in just 150 years. Like many other rapidly growing cities, parts of it are construction zones with new buildings and public transport systems being developed.

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While Kuala Lumpur only has a handful of tourist attractions, it’s still a popular destination because of its great food and plentiful shopping areas. It also has a growing arts and theatre scene and many museums, including a very popular Islamic Arts Museum.

Shopping
Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Golden Triangle’ area is centred around Bukit Bintang, veritably the Fifth Avenue of Malaysia with it’s massive TV screens and monorail.

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The area is also known as KLCC, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, an area of sky scraping buildings and numerous shopping malls. Most of the buildings and malls in KLCC are connected on their underground levels by tunnels, some simply covered in advertising, while others have shops along their entire length. It’s easy to get lost in this underground tunnel network, as telling where one mall ends and the next begin can be difficult.

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Towers
At the heart of KLCC is possibly the most popular central city tourist location, the Petronas Towers.

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There are regular tours up the world’s tallest twin towers to the skybridge on level 41 (also one of the highest in the world) and then to the level 86 viewing area. The view out over the second tower with the KL tower and a rain storm in the background…

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The nearby KL Tower appears to be taller than the Petronas towers only because it was built on a hill. Both offer great views by day and night.

Markets
There are two main market areas in Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Street and the Central Market.

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While only two minutes from each other the two markets offer different market experiences. Petaling Street vendors tend to more aggressive, mostly insisting that you really want to buy a watch. The Central Market vendors tend to leave you alone unless asked for help.

Batu Caves
At the edge of the city are the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The shrines are in caves high in the wall of the limestone hill with 272 steps leading up to them. Dedicated to the Murugan, the Hindu god of war, the shines take some effort to reach, especially in Kuala Lumpur’s general humidity.

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Another set of stairs leads from the main cavern to an open-topped cave where the main shrine is located.

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A short distance from the Murugan Caves are the Ramayana Caves. These caves, dedicated to the Hindu god, Hanuman, depicts the Ramayana, an epic indian poem about the avatar Rama. There are many carvings in the cave, although it has yet to be completed.

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Of course, a general favourite of the caves area are the monkeys.

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Overall, Kuala Lumpur is a capital city, a great place to hang out for a few days without the need to visit as many tourists spots as possible. We enjoyed the great food, the nightlife and playing Cards Against Humanity with fellow travellers in the hostel. While little is spoken of it in the travel guides, Kuala Lumpur also home to the grande chicken temple of Nandos. A must visit to all chicken lovers.

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Next, we head north to the small city of Ipoh.

The Trail Wanderers

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Malacca, Malaysia – Impressions

Founded around 1400AD by Sultan Sri Majara, Malacca was established as an international trading port. There must have been something about its location as a hundred years later it was invaded by the Portuguese Empire who slaughtered all of the Muslim inhabitants. A further hundred years on and the Dutch seized the city, near destroying it in the process. Then, two hundred years later and after rebuilding it, the Dutch gave it away to the English.

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After a four-hour bus trip from Singapore, we arrived in the late afternoon to sticky heat and rain. While the rain would stick around for the four days of our visit it didn’t stop us from getting out and about.

Jonker Walk
The Chinatown of Malacca, the street is a popular spot for tourist and locals alike. During the day the street is busy with many local stores and cafes.

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Then on weekends, the street transforms into night markets, bustling with local food and includes a large stage where locals can show off their karaoke skills.

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Red Square
In 1641 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in battle to conquer the Malacca, leaving the city in ruins. The city was rebuilt around Red Square in a classic Dutch design. The square also includes a Christ Church, another landmark in the old city centre.

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Saint Paul’s Hill
Another historical landmark of Malacca is St Paul’s Hill. Situated behind Red Square it contains the roofless shell of old Saint Paul’s Church, now part of the A Formosa complex, an old Portuguese fort.

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During our stay in town, St. Paul’s Church hosted an art festival, with plentiful contemporary dance and music shows.

Break The Code
A more modern aspect of Malacca, Break The Code is an escape room experience. Blindfolded, you are lead into a room and given an hour to escape. The idea is to solve a set of puzzles that lead to more puzzles, which will eventually allow you to exit the room(s), all in the space of an hour. There are four separate rooms available, each with a different theme: ‘kidnapped’, ‘haunted house’ and similar.

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While possible to complete the task with only two players, it’s quite tough. For this kind of game, the more minds thinking through the puzzles and throwing around ideas the better. While the two of us managed to get much of the way through, we ultimately failed to escape. A fun experience and one I’d do again, but perhaps with more people.

Pulau Upeh
Right off the coast of Malacca is Pulau Upeh, an island that is currently under reclamation. With only a short bridge to it, we rode there on bicycles loaned to us by the hostel.

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The island is in a strange state of being semi-built. A large portion of the island is already completed, with shops, housing, hotels built and just sitting there empty. The mosque is perhaps the only building in full use…

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Then at the other end of the island, diggers are working to build more of the island. The island does have perhaps the best beaches in the city.

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Malacca was a nice place to spend a few days where simply walking through the quiet streets at night has a light show of its own.

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As for the local transport, there are the Trishaw’s emblazoned with Hello Kitty that lights up brightly at night and pumps out hard dance music.

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Next we head 92km north to the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The Trail Wanderers

Singapore – Impressions

Measuring 40km by 20km, Singapore is an island city-state off the southern coast of Malaysia. While people have lived on these islands for 1800 years, Singapore was only established 200 years ago as a trading port for the English. Occupied by the Japanese in World War 2, it joined with other English Territories to form Malaysia in 1963, only to be expelled two years later. It has since grown to become one of the Four Asian Tigers, free economic states, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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After nearly 2 months in Indonesia, Singapore seems like the cleanest and most organised city in the world. The downside is that everything is more expensive.

The Central City
Singapore has spread to fill its island quickly and has begun to grow upwards. While the central city boasts many skyscrapers, large portions of the island are covered with high-rises. Singapore is a city of architecture, from the old english style of many central museums…

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…to the more modern and unusual, such as The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay buildings.

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Marina Bay Sands
Completed in 2010 and standing out on the skyline is the most expensive building in the world. At US$4.7 billion The Marina Bay Sands has three main towers, a major mall, casino and a Skypark across its top.

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Most of the Skypark, which is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, is only available to hotel patrons and includes a 150 metre vanishing pool.

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The rounded tip of the Skypark is a viewing platform available to the general public providing 360º views of the city and marina. Even in the rainy season the views were magnificent.

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Little India
Singapore has a large Indian contingent with their own region of the city. Little India has plentiful Indian restaurants and several temples.

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Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday evening when half the population of continental India had popped over to visit. Sunday evening is a common time among the Indian community to go shopping. This was to such a degree that we found it difficult to move through the streets.

Tiger Breweries
Singapore has its only international recognised beer, Tiger. As it happens it was my birthday during our visit, so we headed out to the brewery for a tour.

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Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there on public transport than we’d expected and we missed half of the tour. All was not lost as we did manage to catch the end of the tour, the 45 minutes of free beverages. When my birthday was mentioned, somehow the time stretched to 90 minutes before we decided it best to head off. A good evening!

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Night Safari
Singapore has a world-class zoo with many species of animals. However, a zoo is a zoo and once you’ve seen a few they all start to look the same. Night Safari is still a zoo, but for nocturnal creatures with a tram tour through a portion of the park.

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After the main tram ride, there are several other walks available along dimly lit paths. These lead to various other enclosures, including many great cat enclosures, including two separate lion zones, and a bat enclosure. Other animals include elephants, monkeys, opossums and many other lesser known nocturnal species. With no flash photography permitted, getting good photos was near impossible but we still enjoyed the experience.

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Sentosa Island
Off the southern coast of Singapore is the resort island of Sentosa.

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This entire island is an entertainment zone with a myriad of different activities, such as a large Universal Studios theme park, 2.2 kilometres of sheltered beaches…

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… 2 golf courses, a Megazip adventure park, a Underwater World, a cable car, and many others, including the Luge, which began its life in New Zealand.

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Since I’d never actually been on the Luge in New Zealand(!), I had to do it. What crazy fun!

A lot of time and money can be spent on Sentosa island, but we had only a single afternoon among showers. Thankfully entry to the island is only S$1.

Orchard Road
With a couple of things on my shopping list, we decided to head to the main shopping area in Singapore, Orchard Road. Renown for having 30 malls along its 2.2km length, the street is Mecca for tourist shoppers.

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The start of Orchard road is the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, which exits beneath a 7-level mall. I managed to find the items I was looking for on the first two levels of the mall, so avoided having to spend too much time on the street.

Gardens by the Sea
Behind the Marina Park Sands is a large park area called the Gardens by the Sea. Most of the gardens are free to walk around, with several lakes, bridges and many separate garden areas, including the Supertree Grove…

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Gardens by the Bay also includes a pair of domes that contain specialty areas: the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes respectively. These are pay areas and can be quite expensive, so we decided against visiting them.

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City Lights shows
Most nights of the year Singapore hosts two separate free, light and sound shows. The first is in the Gardens by the Sea where lights dance around Supertree Grove in time to seasonal music. During our visit it was a Christmas theme.

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There is a canopy walk through the Supertree Grove which gives great views of both the Gardens and the Marina Bay Sands.

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The second light show is on Marina Bay in front of the Marina Bay Sands, where plentiful seating is provided. While waiting for the show to begin, there are great views of the central city buildings.

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The main show is about 20 minutes long and is laser light displayed on three fans of water projected up from the bay. The show depicts the life-cycle of humanity. It’s an interesting and most enjoyable show.

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Four days was simply not enough, so we extended to a week and still didn’t get to see everything. But alas, it was time get back on the road. Next stop, Malaysia.

The Trail Wanderers

Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia – Impressions

For our final stop of in Indonesia we flew into the city of Padang in West Sumatra, a 90 minute flight from Jakarta.

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Padang has only 1 million people and this small population is noticeable as soon as you arrive. The sense of being crowded that pervades Bali or the cities of Java doesn’t exist here.

Padang is a major transit point for surfers heading out to the island groups of Batu and Mentawai. Those locations are remote and beautiful but with limited power and amenities. Rainy season was just beginning as we arrived so we chose not to spend the money to visit these islands. Maybe on a return visit.

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Padang has the feel of Bali without the tourists or the aggressive locals trying to sell us anything not nailed down. Padang beach is a well-known place for sunsets and has hundreds of food stalls along its length. Padang also contains many examples of Sumatran architecture, a style different to anywhere else in the country.

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Padang Cuisine
On our first night we were introduced to a local cuisine simply called ‘Padang’ which has spread throughout Indonesia. On being seated, the table is layered with small plates of food.

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There were usually several dishes of chicken, each cooked in a different manner. The same for fish, beef and vegetables, giving the meal a smorgasbord-like feel. At the end of the meal you’re only charged for what you eat, even if it’s only half a plate. A particular favourite was the Rendang, a spicy beef dish.

Angkot Kota
Padang has this public transport system common to other Indonesian cities. But unlike those other cities, Padang does it with more with style. The vans are modern, sportier and many even have spoilers, although by definition they don’t go very fast. And because of the loud Doof Doof music, you always know when an Angkot is approaching.

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Celebrities
On our first day in town we walked along the waterfront for several kilometres before circling back along one of the major roads of the city.

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Not long after we began walking we seemed to become local celebrities. People would honk horns, mothers would bring their children out to wave at us and school kids would call ‘Hey Mister!’ while going up for a high-five. Some people tried to start conversations but between their english being little more than ‘where are you from?’ and our Indonesian no more than ‘terima kashi’ (thank you) it never went far. For the most part we just smiled, waved and continued walking.

The Twin Lakes
With scooters available for hire at the hostel, we couldn’t resist taking a pair out for a day. To make the most of our time we took a long ride across the mountains to the twin lakes, Danau Diatas and Danau Dibawah. While it’s humid in Padang, once in the mountains things cool down pretty quickly.

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We crossed the small mountain range and as we came down the other side I discovered my front tire had a puncture. We drove into a small town, waved down a local and was surprised that he could speak English. Five minutes later we were at tyre shop where the mechanic kindly fixed the puncture for 10,000 rupiah – about AU$1.

Not long after, it began to rain. Thankfully one of the local roadside stalls sold rain ponchos. Then, after three hours we made it to the lakes. Danau Diatas…

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…and Danau Dibawah.

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With the weather closing in quickly we spent little time at the lakes before deciding to head back. The rain got quite heavy, but this didn’t put us off as we were dry under our ponchos. While we had to be more careful on the wet roads, the journey was actually quite fun. Wipers would have come in handy on our full face helmets though.

The mountains protect Padang from the rain, so once we crossed back over the range it became drier and warmer. A most enjoyable day.

Padang Hill
In the mid afternoon of our final day in Indonesia we decided to climb Padang hill, at the end of Padang Beach.

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While the hill only took ten minutes to climb, it was enough to soak us in sweat. The views of the coast line and the city were worth the effort, though.

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But beyond the views, we discovered a shopkeeper and a large family of monkeys at the top of the hill. We hung out watching the shopkeeper fend off the cheeky monkeys with a long bamboo stick. This seemed to be a constant battle. As the rain began to set in for the day we headed down the hill.

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After six weeks in Indonesia, it’s time to move on to a new country and more adventures. Tomorrow, Singapore.

The Trail Wanderers

Jakarta, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

With a population exceeding 10 million, the city once known as Batavia by the Dutch is one of the largest cities in South East Asia. It also has the second largest urban population, behind Tokyo, with 28 million.

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Jakarta is a crushing metropolis and like most other major cities has severe traffic issues. To help out with this, the city has implemented a busway system which works quite effectively, except at highway U-turn zones where it can bottleneck. And, as everywhere in Indonesia, there are millions of scooters.

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It’s can be difficult to see into the distance in the city as there’s often a hazy and dense cover of smog. Yet hidden away in the thin back streets are little gems just waiting to be discovered, such as this Buddhist temple.

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But beyond having an avid nightlife like most major cities, there’s little for a tourist to see in and around the central city. With vast distances to cross just to get to some of the attractions, we stayed around the Northern Jakarta suburbs to see what we could find.

Kota Tua Jakarta

Jakarta Old Town is the old Batavian city centre and is situated in the northern region of Jakarta near the port. The area has many prominent buildings in the dutch architectural style although most were sacked during the War of Independence, leaving only their shells.

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Some buildings survived the sacking intact, while others have been rebuilt or are in the process of being rebuilt. This old building, now the Jakarta History Museum, is in the process of being rebuilt. It currently has a very large sheet hanging over to make it look finished.

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Old Jakarta is now dominated by museums and eating houses, with a stretch of small markets between.

Medan Merdeka – Independence Square
Jakarta has the second largest city square in the world, measuring a square kilometre in area. At the very centre is Monas, the National Monument.

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At 132m tall, Monas is a huge obelisk with a golden torch at its top. Inside the base there are two halls, the lower is used by the National History Museum to display reliefs of periods in the nation’s history. The upper is the Hall of Independence. Above the halls is the lower observation deck, 17 metres above the ground. Then, just beneath the golden flame at 115 metres, is the upper observation deck.

Because of the heat and the great line of people waiting to get in, we decided against the wait.

Bogor Botanical Gardens
Bogor is a city 90 minutes south of Jakarta at the most southerly point of the commuter rail line. For 10,000 rupiah we caught the train to the city which is known for its botanical gardens. The Botanical Gardens contain some 15,000 different species of plants and trees, and 400 types of palms.

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The gardens are more of a grand park with many ponds across its 80 hectares.

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Some showcasing metre wide Lily Pads.

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The gardens are in Bogor’s city centre and are adjoined with the Istana Bogor, the presidential palace.

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We spent a couple of hours wandering around the cooler grounds of the gardens before heading back to Jakarta.

Next and for our final stop in Indonesia, the Island of Sumatra and the city of Padang, popular with surfers.

The Trail Wanderers

Bandung, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Our trip to Java’s third largest city by train provided us amazing views over vast valleys of volcanoes and rice patties. The beauty of inland Java is unbelievable and the locals on the train seemed to agree.

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Bandung, however, didn’t live up to this beauty. Like the other cities of Java, we knew little of the area before we arrived and were determined to see what it had to offer.

A City of Two Halves.
Bandung is loosely split in half by the railway lines.

The area south of the train lines is a mass of street vendors and crowded dirty streets. We were warned about pickpockets and narrowly avoided a group of smug youths and their attempt on the busy street. There was a sense of being crowded with a little bit of danger. There are large areas of construction and so many cars and motorbikes it was difficult to simply cross the road.

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But crossing to the north side it’s like you’ve just stepped out of the 3rd world into the West. On the north side there are malls, higher class shops and restaurants, prominent architecture and more importantly, a relative sense of safety. This is where the few tourist spots are and many of the city’s prominent buildings.

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Finding an Information Centre in the city is next to impossible. With the vague tourist map we had and absolutely no help from online maps, we walked around dirty, hot streets trying to find a hidden shop that turned out to be inside a mosque. When we found it, we were given little information beyond another copy of the map. We headed off determined to find something about the city that we liked.

Jalan Braga
Near the Information Centre we went to check out the south side’s only tourist spot, Braga Street. Called the Paris of Java, the street was made famous in the 1920s as a promenade street, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Now, apparently, it’s the top place locals come to party. When we arrived on Jalan Braga we discovered that it had largely been dug up with dirt and the stink of sewage in many places. And adding to it was the stream of vehicles along what was left of the road.

Frustrated at our day’s efforts, we spied a bar and settled in for a beer before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, determined to find something to like about the Bandung, we set out across the north side with more of a plan.

Angkots
As you travel further west across Indonesia, the Bemos we’d first encountered in Surabaya are called Angkutan Kota meaning ‘city transport’ or Angkot for short. Similar to those in Surabaya the Angkots travel predetermined routes across the city for between Rp2,000 to Rp5,000 depending on how far you’re going. The problems are still the same… if you don’t know the routes, you could end up anywhere. Best to ask the driver just to be sure.

Jalan Cihampelas
Cihampelas Street is a famous shopping area in Bandung which also called ‘Jeans Street’ because of the number of denim clothing stores that opened in the 1990s. The street has many malls and shops for bargain hunters. The area is very popular with Singaporean and Malaysian tourists, who flock here for the good prices. While in the street we stopped by Cihampelas Walk for lunch, a Western mall containing many Western-style stores and every American fast food chain possible.

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Museum Geologi
While generally not a great fan of museums, we stopped off at the Geology Museum for an hour as it began to rain. The first signs of the approaching rainy season. While most of the displays were in Indonesian, some were in English discussing the volcanos of Indonesia and the different time periods of the early earth.

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The museum is popular with local school trips and during our visit the museum was under sustained attack by three separate hordes of school children. Even so, it was still an informative stop off during a brief rain storm.

Saung Angklung Udjo
30 minutes by Angkot from the Museum Geologi is a school dedicated to the Angklung. The Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo tubes strung together that makes a dull chiming noise when rattled. On most days the school hosts tourists for an ‘Afternoon Show’. Listed as the most popular attraction in Bandung, we attended the show, which was made up of small acts and tunes played on the Angklung.

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The show had some dancing and towards the end the children handed out Angklungs to everyone in the audience and we were taught to play as an orchestra through many songs. The show lasted two hours and was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bandung.

Tangkuban Prahu Crater and Kiawah Putih Lake
Bandung is in a valley between volcanoes and as in many volcano towns, tours up the slopes are common. But after climbing Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta only days before, we felt that paying twice as much to be driven up a volcano wasn’t worth it this time.

Next we continue our travels to the west to the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

The Trail Wanderers

Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Yogyakarta – pronounced Jojakarta – is the capital of the Yogyakarta Special Region in Central Java. The city is a centre of education where Indonesians come for higher learning. It was also the Indonesian Capital during the War of Independence.

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Jalan Malioboro
Unlike Surabaya, where we felt like the only Westerners, Yogyakarta is the second most visited tourist destination in Indonesia. Our hostel was near Jalan Malioboro (Malioboro Street), the main tourist area in the city, so not surprisingly this was where we saw most of the Westerners.

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Jalan Malioboro begins at the main train station to the north and runs south to Beringhajo Markets, near the Kraton – the Sultan’s Palace. The street has plentiful stores and street vendors selling all the typical touristic wares. Thankfully the vendors are less aggressive than in Bali, making wandering the street far more relaxing.

Kraton Ngaygyakarta Hadiningrat
The Kraton or Sultan’s Palace is just south of Jalan Malioboro and was the seat of power in the area. While it was once the house of the royal family, it’s now a popular tourist attraction and museum. The Indonesian 1,000 Rupiah bill features an image of The Keaton.

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Taman Sari Water Castle
Two kilometres south of the Kraton is Taman Sari, the Sultan’s royal gardens. It once had an artificial lake with islands, several pavilions and a bathing complex. While most of the Taman Sari lies in ruins, the bathing pools of the Sultan’s concubines are well-preserved and open to tourists.

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Candi Borobudur
Borobudur temple is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and is one of the greatest Buddhist monuments in the world. It was built in the 9th century and abandoned in the 14th only to be rediscovered again in 1811. It contains the largest and most complete collection of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

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We took an organised tour to the site and climbed the structure via the eastern gate, the only proper entrance to the temple. The stairs climb through three large tiers to the top where there are many bell-like structures, each covering a state of Buddha.

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The site is an amazing place for photos, although getting one without tourists can be troublesome. The temple was not the only thing being photographed, Westerners tend to also be targets for photos. When first asked, I assumed they wanted me to take a photo of them with the temple but they actually wanted a photo with me.

Candi Prambanan
Prambanan temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia and was built around the same time as Candi Borobudur. The temple complex was once a collection of 240 individual temples, with the largest six temples at its centre dedicated to the 3 manifestations of the hindu god and the each of their steeds.

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Most of the temples are now just piles of rubble after numerous eruptions of Mount Merapi and the earthquake of 2009. The major temples have been reconstructed and stand like fingers protruding from the dirt.

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This time my brother and I hired scooters and rode out to the temple compound, which is only 17km from Jalan Malioboro. While vastly different to Borobudur, it is equal in magnificence.

Candi Sewa
There are several other temple complexes near Candi Prambana, although most are now little more than stacks of stones. One that has been rebuilt is Candi Sewa, a buddhist temple.

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Its main temple has been reinstated, but most of it’s surrounding smaller temples have not. Yet the guard statues still stand ready to defend the site.

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Mount Merapi
Mount Merapi, literally Fire Mountain, is the most active of Indonesia’s 129 volcanos, with major eruptions occurring every 10-15 years. It’s also a popular volcano to climb, usually to see the sunrise. In my adventures I’ve climbed mountains at night and had sworn never to do it again. But for some reason I forgot and climbed it anyway.

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The climb was difficult and 300 metres from the very top I made the call to go no further. I stopped at a large group of tents belonging to the wise people who had climbed the day before, camped and woken early to climb the final hour and forty minutes to the summit. The views from the camp were still awesome, although it was very cold. My brother and our Italian friend did make it to the top for similarly spectacular views, such as Mount Merbabu, Merapi’s slightly taller twin.

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While it was good climb, I stick with my decision to not climb mountains at night and will never do it again. I prefer to climb mountains when I’m rested and not after a full day. But for those who did reach the top they enjoyed the experience, although for some it was the most difficult thing they’d ever done.

Next we head further across the island of Java to the city of Bandung.

The Trail Wanderers.