Arriving at Inle Lake was a bit of a rude shock: at 2am someone got on our bus demanded money and then told us to get off the bus – all legit but entirely unexpected. It took us a moment to start moving, we paid our $2 entry fee to the Inle Lake region, stumbled off the bus and grabbed our bag. We had expected to arrive at Inle around 5am during daylight hours but were evidently mistaken. A trio of travellers from Peru had booked a hotel, so the rest of us just jumped in the taxi with them and we all headed to the same hotel. Six of us turned up at this hotel at 2:30am, they didn’t ask questions but just gave us each keys and showed us where our rooms were. We were most grateful!
Inle Lake is 22km long and 11km wide. At the very northern top of the lake and up a canal is where the town of Nyuangshwe can be found. This is the main traveller centre for the Inle Lake area.
We stayed at the May Guest House and while I found the bed uncomfortable and for many reasons had the worst sleep here (I’m generally a bad sleeper to start with) – the staff more than made up for it. They were friendly and helpful, they booked tours and transport for us, gave good, helpful advice and their prices were very good. May was located just off the main road, as was basically every hotel since Nyuangshwe essentially only seemed to have one main road. This small town is fairly sleepy and small, and it is easily explored on foot.
Boat Tour on the Lake
A must-do activity at Inle Lake is a boat tour. There are usually a few slight variations to pick from, but they all have the same core activities and essentially the longer tours go further down the lake and visit different villages. You do feel a little bit like a cash cow on these tours; they take you to silver smiths, blacksmiths, umbrella makers, cigar makers, boat builders, lotus fabric weavers and local markets. While they are hopeful that you buy what they are making, don’t feel that you have to. It is a good opportunity to see how some things are made and interesting to see how the people live. It is also good to know that if you do buy directly from the person who made it, more of the money is likely to go to the community rather than to the government.
I really enjoyed the boat cruising between all the stilt houses so we could see the lifestyle of the people living on the lake. The particular boat tour we chose included a visit to the jumping cat monastery, which I found a real disappointment. Most of the cats seemed unwell, were skinny and had gunky eyes and I most certainly did not see any cats jumping through hoops. I call this ‘false advertising’. The monastery itself was quite lovely though, in the lake surrounded by floating tomato crops. Yes, that’s what I said, floating tomato crops – really quite amazing to see.
The tour had two main highlights for me: Inn Daing and the fishermen.
Inn Daing was a little village along the lakes western shore. We stopped here to wander around one of the five day markets and the village itself. Up on the hill behind the center of this tiny village were a number of abandoned stupas, all in various states of disrepair. They were really quite eerie and beautiful; broken down, trees growing in and on them, but still standing majestic on the hillside.
The fishermen were all around the lake in their long shallow boats. Some had nets to throw, others had the small cages to drop into the water, with their nets in the water they were often seen splashing the water with their paddle to scare fish into the nets. If they weren’t busy with their nets, the men would mostly stand at the bow of their boat and somehow wrap their foot around the paddle and paddle with one foot while standing, balanced, on the other. I never saw any fishermen catch fish, but they were pretty cool to watch.
Hot tip for boat tours, you spend the entire day fully exposed to the elements. Bring hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, raincoats etc. We experienced a light drizzle, some glaring sun but thankfully it was an overcast day. Unfortunately for them, our Peruvian friends had a full day in the glaring sun.
Red Mountain Vineyard
An afternoon excursion worth doing is renting a bicycle and riding east and then south roughly parallel to the lake, to Red Mountain Vineyard. It is approximately an 8km ride through some farm areas and smaller towns. As you head up into the hills the jungle-like surrounds are a lush green and the earth beneath is such a deep red colour, which is incredibly striking to see. The vineyard, aptly named red mountain, is on a hillside overlooking the lake. A perfect spot to relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun set. We had a wine tasting for 2000kyats (US$2) each, and this gave us four half glasses of wine to try; Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Shiraz and a Late Harvest. I’m not particularly a wine snob, though I do appreciate a nice wine but I didn’t love these wines. The Late Harvest wasn’t too bad so after my tasting I ordered a glass of that and my friend ordered a Pinot Noir to try (which was better than the Shiraz) and we enjoyed the amazing view and the warmth of the sun as it sank into slowly into the hills.
Day Trip to Pindaya
Approximately 2.5hours drive (our driver was an absolute hoon!) north-north-west of Nyaungshwe is a town called Pindaya. The road between Nyuangshwe and Pindaya passed through many small towns and farmland. Along the way people would stop to wave at the car as it passed by. People could be seen plowing the fields, weeding their crops, crushing rocks and constructing roads. The highlight of the drive for me was the fields of sunflowers, they are such happy flowers.
Pindaya is quite a small town, with not a whole lot to offer. It’s main attraction is the Shwe OO Min Natural Cave Pagoda. Up on the hillside above Pone Taloke Lake, you enter the cave via a covered staircase. Inside the cave are winding tunnels and Buddha’s as far as the eye can see. The caves contain more than 8700 Buddha’s. It was quite enchanting to wander the maze of Buddha’s seeing the different designs and also who had donated (or funded them).
Deeper into the cave were some funny signs “Mythical horse’s tethering pole” and “Fairy bathing”, and funky smells. At the very end of the cave was the sign “Terilinus of Cave” (I assume they meant Terminus) below which was a man sized hole dropping deeper into the cave. The way the path led straight to the hole made you question whether you were supposed to follow it into the hole, until you had a closer look!
After our cave expedition, we made a quick stop at the market in the center of Pindaya. We got caught in a downpour, but still wandered around. The Pindaya market wasn’t overly exciting, but we did see a more bizarre variety of foods to be purchased, including small eels and things that look like silk worms or maggots. We also almost got stuck in the middle of a dog fight where one dog had thieved a bag of offal from a stall and another dog tried to snatch it. There were many bared teeth to be seen and deep growls to be heard – we even almost got splattered with the ‘goodies’ in the bag as the dogs fought over it!
Cycle to Kaung Daing
A really enjoyable half day was spent cycling from Nyuangshwe to Kaung Daing, and back, along the western side of the lake (I would like to say along the ‘shore’ of the lake, but honestly the road is nowhere near the water). Given that the days get so hot and with very little shade, we made an early start to our 26km return trip (13km and 1.5hrs each way). Life in Myanmar starts very early in the day, so by starting our own day early we got to see the local people going about their morning routines, washing themselves and their clothes in the river (I think I have mentioned previously, the Burmese wash fully clothed), fishing, getting into the fields to plow and weed and plant.
At one point along the road I stopped to take a photo of a group of farmers working the field together. As soon as they saw me, they all turned and waved excitedly, called out “Mingalaba” and some even did a little dance for me. They were very excited to have seen us stop on our way past. I thought it was fantastic to see such happy people and it certainly put a smile on my face.
Roughly 1km past the village of Kaung Daing is the Kaung Daing Hotel, inside the grounds is a hilltop pagoda. After parking our bikes in the shade, we walked up the steps to see two things: an adorable pagoda and an amazing view of the lake. The pagoda was very low key, a few monks and locals milling about chatting, preparing the meal of the day or simply relaxing. The décor was all pastels and the columns supporting the roof had beautifully coloured and interestingly design mosaics.
From the pagoda terrace you could see the fishermen in the lake throwing their nets and splashing water with their oars, you could see the floating villages and crops. It was just a stunning spot to be.
Kaung Daing is known predominantly for two things: the Hot Springs and Tofu. We cycled straight past the hot springs, but cycling through the narrow lanes of the village was thoroughly fascinating. It seemed that every second house had reed matting outside drying something different. Some yards were full of tofu, while others had corn or sunflower seeds, mango fruit leather, rice cakes, fish cakes and more. In the yard of one house we also got to see a lady mixing up a batch of tofu in a big steel bowl over an open fire. It was such a pleasant place to cycle through and there were so many interesting things to look at.
At this point many people hire a boat to take them and their bikes back to Nyuangshwe, but we opted to cycle back. It got towards the middle of the day and we ended up getting rather sunburned, but it was such a pleasant trip, one that I would highly recommend.
Just a heads up, doctors advise that you take malaria medication when travelling to Myanmar, and one of the side effects is a sensitivity to the sun. I rarely get sunburned normally, and I got fried in Burma – I expect as a result of the malaria pills and obviously spending so much time in the full sun. So my friendly advice is sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Beautiful Bagan – I have so much and so little to say about it. It is such beautiful place, so amazing that I haven’t the words to adequately describe it. But of course I will try (I will give some general info to start and a more detailed personal account further down).
To be honest we actually went to Bagan twice. We headed there from Yangon and after seeing a bunch of temples, I was like ”yeah I have seen it, we can move on” but after a few days at Lake Inle, I felt that I had actually been a bit rash in that decision and we booked a flight back to Bagan for another few days. The best decision ever! From the 11th to the 13th century Bagan’s kings commissioned over 4000 Buddhist temples covering an area greater than 20 square miles. The temples have suffered damage from earthquakes, as well as neglect and some questionable restoration, yet they are still breathtaking to behold. From anywhere in Bagan you can look out across the plains and see hundreds of temples. Many of the temples look similar at first glance, but they all have slight variations and features that make each one unique and interesting.
Arriving in Bagan:
To enter the Bagan region you must buy a ticket for $15USD, there is a booth at the airport where this ticket can be purchased. If you arrive by train (and I assume bus station) your taxi driver will stop at the ticket booth by the roadside.
These tickets may be checked, ours were checked twice, both times at popular sunset spots.
However you arrive, you will be approached by a myriad of taxi drivers asking you which hotel you want to stay in and to come with them. The airport, train station and bus station are all quite a distance from both towns, so I would recommend a taxi.
Riding in the back of a pickup we paid $10USD (10,000kyat) to get from the train station to Nyuang U and $7USD (7000kyat) to travel from the airport to New Bagan. When some fellow travellers hopped in a proper car as opposed to a pickup they were charged more money for travelling the same distance as us. It may or may not a correct assumption, but I feel that cars may be more expensive.
When our hotel in Nyaung U booked our bus trip for us the ride to the bus station was included in the ticket cost, and when our New Bagan hotel organised a taxi back to the airport I think we paid $20USD (20,000kyat).
So basically, in low season I think you can expect to pay anywhere between 7000 and 20,000 – but I recommend bartering a bit for a good deal.
Where to stay:
Having been to Bagan twice in the one holiday, we stayed in Nyuang U and New Bagan.
I feel that Nyuang U had a few more budget accommodation options and perhaps a few more restaurants. It was a bit further from the temples than New Bagan, and when returning in the middle of the day or in the evening, it was a slight uphill ride the whole way. There were also fewer random temples by the roadside.
In New Bagan we stayed on the outskirts of town, there certainly were fewer restaurants than Nyaung U, but it had a more chilled out feel to it. There were fewer people around which I didn’t see as a negative. Between New Bagan and Old Bagan, the distance was shorter and there were more things to see along the way.
Purely based on distance to the temples and things to see along the way, I would recommend staying in New Bagan.
If you aren’t on a backpacker budget, then I would highly recommend finding a hotel with a pool!
Tours and Transport:
All the hotels have the facilities to book any kind of transport for you, both locally and in helping you reach your next destination. Their prices are competitive and the staff are very helpful, we got some great advice this way! We rented bikes, e-bikes and booked tours, cars, buses and flights through our hotels and they were great.
For a half day trip to Mt Popa we needed a minimum of two people and I think it was going to be 8000kyat each, then once more people joined the group it was reduced to 6000Kyat per person. (I didn’t write down the prices, so I am going from memory on this one)
Bagan is hot! I really mean that, it’s crazy hot. We travelled to Bagan in July, rainy season, though we felt humidity but no rain. The days were 30 degrees Celsius by 7am, and temperatures increased to 36, with a heat index of 41. There were a few (ok multiple) occasions where I got so swept up in “I want to look at that temple and that temple and that temple” that it got to the middle of the day and we were stuck out in the baking heat with no respite. I don’t advise this. Restaurants don’t have air conditioners for a start, and if you are looking at temples there is often no shade to hide in. In being respectful to the culture and taking off your shoes before entering a temple complex you very quickly burn your poor little feet! If you absolutely must visit temples in the middle of the day, I strongly advise sticking to the white tiles.
My hot tip for visiting Bagan: get up crazy early and start sightseeing around 6:30am. Head back to your hotel for a siesta around 11, then head back out in the late afternoon and stay out for a sunset.
It is appropriate to dress modestly, try to have your shoulders and knees covered, take off your shoes and socks when entering temples. I recommend keeping a scarf or sarong in your bag so you can cover up when entering temples, if you aren’t already wearing the right clothing.
If you are sitting on the ground, be mindful not to point the soles of your feet at anyone, a buddha image or a pagoda. Also do not offer to shake hands with a monk or nun, and don’t touch their robes.
How to plan your day:
I think Bagan is a little overwhelming to start with, there are so many temples, how do you choose which ones to visit?
My initial plan was to seek out a combination of “One day in Bagan” and the “Temples of Bagan Highlights” listed in my Lonely Planet, but visit them in the order that was closest to the hotel and work my way out from there.
After a few days of exploring the temples, I think the best advice is to take your time, don’t try to visit too many temples in one go. Be smart about what time of the day you go sightseeing.
A plan that worked for us was to head to the furthest most temple on our ‘to see’ list in the morning and work our way backwards, that way we cycled the longest distance before it got too hot. In the afternoon we did the opposite, cycle short distances and work our way out towards the furthest point. So by the time we cycled back it was cooling down.
While it is probably obvious, decide what order you want to see things in based on their proximity to each other and their location ie. don’t ping backwards and forwards.
My top temples list:
Pyathada (We had our tickets checked here at sunset)
Gu byauk gyi: The temple looks quite lovely from the outside, but has no stand-out aspects. Inside however, it has well preserved paintings and is quite amazing.
Thabeik Hmauk: I thought it was fabulous but possibly more for the gorgeous people who were looking after it, than for the temple itself
The cluster of temples on the opposite side of the road to Upali Thein: Hti lo min lo, Paya nga zu group of temples and Khay min ga
This list is based more on my personal experiences at these temples, rather than the temple architecture or artwork. Most of my favourites were less popular temples and I enjoyed them because they didn’t have many tourists or hawkers.
Other temples worth seeing:
Ananda Pahto: While I didn’t love it, I think you’ve got to see it, but it doesn’t have the same charm as the smaller temples
Shwe san daw: It is a nice spot to view a sunset and as it is quite high it provides a really good view over the plains, but be prepared to deal with larger volumes of people and hawkers (We had our tickets checked here at sunset)
Na ga yon and Abe ya da na: on opposing sides of the road, were both really lovely to visit and not too busy.
That byin yu and Shwe gu gyi: These temples were very close to each other and were quite similar styles. Shwe gu gyi also had roof access and That byin yu had more interesting things to see inside the temple.
There are a few options: private car, horse and cart, bicycle, e-bike and walking; and it’s worth being aware that there are only two main sealed roads and a lot of time is spent on sandy paths.
Everything is very spread out and it’s crazy hot, so I would strongly advise against walking.
If you are very pressed for time then perhaps consider a private car.
Horse and cart, if this is your scene, go for it, but I felt that they were just for tourists and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea. I feel that the horses are poorly cared for and are not supposed to be in the area.
So that leaves two options: bike or e-bike.
My personal choice was good old bicycle, I felt that an e-bike was a cop-out. Bike rentals were $2-$3 (2000-3000 kyat) per day. I really enjoyed cycling around and the slow pace allowed you to take in the surroundings, but I will say that it was exhausting!
After two full days cycling (I expect we did around 15km’s per day), we succumbed to the easier option of renting an e-bike. Rental was a bit more, $8 (8000 kyat) per day, but my goodness me it made getting around so much easier, you were also able to go faster which meant that you experienced a light breeze and had more time to explore the temples!
Child beggars / hawkers:
This is my own point of view, but it does stem from things I have seen in my travels as well as blog posts and articles I have read. While the children asking you to buy things from them or asking if you have any of your local currency are cute, “Do you have Australian dollars, I have never seen Australian dollars”, please don’t give them any. You are essentially paying them not be in school and it can make the problem worse.
My Personal Bagan Adventure
The train ride from Yangon was rather epic. We had a small sleeper car with some seats, bunks and a teeny tiny bathroom, with a leaky roof (the 10+ hour torrential downpour posed a minor problem). The toilet in true Asian style, dropped straight onto the tracks, which meant I avoided using it for as long as possible! We had expected a 14 hour train trip and were a little cranky that it took closer to 20, with no access to the rest of the train and no real stops – food and water were a bit of a problem ie. there was none. A 4 minute train stop around 10pm gave us the opportunity to quickly buy a few samosas though the window, but we were otherwise on an involuntary hunger strike until early afternoon the following day. The train ride itself was “bumpy” and that is probably putting it mildly. The train was bouncing up and down or wobbling from side to side. I slept like a starfish, my arms and legs braced to keep me on the bunk. Numerous times I was convinced we were about to derail, and clearly the train driver agreed because each time it so bad I was starting to freak out, the brake was applied.
Small piece of advice for overnight/long haul train travel (and bus travel) – pack food, drinks, tissues and hand sanitizer!
As the train neared Bagan the red, dry savannah-esque landscape provided such a stark comparison to the damp, green Yangon. Few of the roads were sealed, most of the cars were pickup trucks that locals seemed to use as taxis, the tourists were riding bicycles and e-bikes with the occasional one being driven around with horse and cart. We suspect that the horse and carts we saw everywhere were specifically for tourists, and other than tethered to a cart we did not see any horses whatsoever in Myanmar. If locals were riding some kind of cart, it was usually being pulled by bullocks.
With so much to see, we made a ‘plan of attack’ for sightseeing. Cycling down Bagan-Nyaung U Road I almost instantly diverted from our plan, as I saw a temple with people on the roof. It was a small temple, the name of which I don’t recall and can’t find on a map. Many of these smaller temples are managed and maintained by families. These smaller temples are often locked up and you have to find the “key holder” if you wish to go inside the temple. It is polite to give them some ‘tea money’ or buy one their souvenirs as a thank you. This particular temple is managed by a lovely young man and his brother, he explained how his family had managed the temple for years, by their father before them and their grandfather before him. He gave us a personal tour of the temple, pointing out the original structures and art work as well as showing where restorations had taken place. Something interesting that he shared about the construction was that the original plaster contained palm sugar or something similar, this meant that the bees would fly into the temples, eat the walls and also construct their hives on the them. You could still see the remnants of deserted hives. Atop this temple was our first real view of Bagan and we stood there mouths agape for a few moments just taking it in.
After the first diversion we continued on to the plan and we visited Ananda Pahto, after which we passed through Tharaba Gate into Old Bagan where we visited That byin yu and Shwe gu gyi.
Ananda Pahto is Bagans “most popular temple” which means that it has the most hawkers selling things. According to the lonely planet it is the “largest, finest and best preserved” of the temples. Thankfully we weren’t too harassed by the hawkers, and we got the chance to appreciate the temple. I found it to be a visual contrast, the lower section was all block work, originally a light colour but stained with black streak from, I assume, rain. The centre spire of the temple was vivid gold and red, in great condition, seemingly belonging to a different temple. Inside were four large standing Buddha’s, one for each compass point, and some large hallways. The high ceilings housed some bats and birds, but overall the temple was in good condition.
I’m not quite sure why Tharaba Gate is listed as something to see as it’s rather unimpressive, we headed through into Old Bagan. Just inside the gate and to the south were That byin yu and Shwe gu gyi. Both temples were pretty cool and had the same streaky white and black, square blocky look of Anando Pahto. That byin yu also had a golden spire but it was less elaborate than that of Anando. Pahto. We wandered the halls of That byin yu and checked out the different styles of Buddha’s. Comparatively, Shwe gu gyi was less about the inside and more about the roof, we headed on up and wandered around checking out the view and taking a few photos.
By this stage in our sightseeing adventure the sun was at its peak and we were rather exhausted, so we headed to a great vegetarian restaurant just near Anando Pahto, called Be kind to the animals The Moon. Fantastic place, the staff are really friendly, have good English, provide awesome service and they also put a cushion on your bike seat to protect it from the hot sun. When we ordered beer, we were advised that beer wasn’t on the menu as it was a bit too close to the temples and may be seen as disrespectful. Instead we were served ‘special juice’. This special juice was in glass bottles wrapped in black plastic bags and tasted remarkably like beer! As I said, great staff!
Post-lunch the explorations continued. We headed to a small golden temple by the river, called Bupaya and promptly burned our feet on the hot stone ground as the sun was still at its peak. Bupaya looks pretty, is in a great location with a lovely view of the Ayerwaddy River, but is otherwise not very exciting to see.
We cycled past Shwe san daw (the popular sunset temple) in search of Dhamma yan gyi, but got waylaid by another smaller temple called North Guni. There were a few people there when we turned up, but pretty soon we were there on our own, we had a look around and found our way up to the roof, we then found another stairway leading to a higher tier and then a third, we ended up at the spire of the temple. Sitting on the shady side we were able to look across the plains and see cattle herders, ploughed fields and of course temples as far as the eye could see. There was a light breeze and the sound of birds chirping in the distance, but it was otherwise completely still. Such a sense of tranquillity and peace as we sat there. I think we sat there for at least an hour just absorbing this amazing place.
As the sun started to sink we decided it was time to hop back on the bike, we made a quick visit to Dhamma yan gyi, I believe it is one of the largest temples in the region. While it did look impressive, we were actually rather disappointed with it, it was beautifully made but it didn’t have its own special charm. The other factor was that we were being hassled a bit by the locals to buy things. So we walked a quick loop and were happy to have said that we’d seen it. Back on the bikes we made a beeline for Shwe san daw. This was another sealed temple (At least I don’t recall it having entry points) with a big set of stairs on each side. The base of the temple was square and right up the top it had a conical spire. The lower levels were red brick while the upper levels were painted white, but cracked and chipping. Needless to say, as it was the ‘sunset temple’, this is where the hoards of tourists could be found (however after spending a sunset atop a popular temple in Cambodia a few years ago, this was comparatively quiet with hardly any tourists). Everyone was sitting at the top waiting patiently for the sun to set, each person trying to claim the best seat. The sun began to light the plains with an orange glow and then a huge, thick cloud blocked the sun. It was pleasant and certainly a fantastic spot to be for a sunset, but the sunset itself was not amazing, but we didn’t mind at all.
Our second day of exploration started at Upali Thein and worked back towards New Bagan. Upali Thein is a cute, squat rectangular temple that apparently houses some beautiful art, but is often locked up, as it was on this occasion. We left our bikes here and crossed the road and had the most wonderful morning wandering in and around a cluster of temples including Hti lo min lo, Paya nga zu group of temples and Khay min ga.
Further down the road we stopped at Min o chan tha where we were hassled by some pushy ladies who gave us a flower to give to Buddha for luck and then asked for money for it, which of course we refused. We had some more peace and quiet at a cute little white-yellow temple called Hsu taung pyi. We paid a visit to Gaw daw palin phaya and then a fleeting visit to Mingala zedi a gorgeous cute bell shaped temple surrounded by a beautiful lush garden. The visit really was fleeting because the sun was at its peak, there was no shade and we completely roasted our feet. I had of course pushed our exploration into the peak of the day and we were both completely cooked and exhausted, not to mention nursing sunburn, so we cycled as fast as we could (crazy slow!) the 5kms back to the hotel for a swim and a lie down.
We put a little less on the ‘to visit’ list for the afternoon and just went to two temples: Na ga yon and Abe ya da na, though we couldn’t find them and were very grateful to a local who pointed us in the right direction. At Na ga yon a very friendly lady gave us a tour of the temple and pointed out all the interesting things, she let us wander and take our time and wasn’t pushy in the least. Over at Abe ya da na the local who had helped us earlier was sitting trying to sell some of his artwork, but next to him was a woman doing the same who rudely kept speaking over the top of him. Thankfully they didn’t follow us into the temple and we were able to look around at our leisure. This was also a gorgeous temple, and unless I got them muddled, had some great art work inside. All these temples were very well built to suit the climate, there is good airflow and somehow they are all nice and cool inside, while outside it is sweltering!
Our second sunset in Bagan was spent at Pya tha da. After a day of cycling, we actually hired a driver to take us to this temple as it is quite a bit further out. I found the architecture of this temple to be quite different to the others and at the rear it had a series of interesting arches – arches that were decorative, seemingly modern. Most of the stairs in temples are internal, but this temple was half-half, also to roof had a very large flat area with a small spire, off centre at the top. It has also become known as a good sunset destination and there were a number of tourists, but far fewer than Shwe san daw. It isn’t as high as Shwe san daw, so it doesn’t have as good a view over the top of everything, but honestly any view in Bagan is stunning. The sunset here was also hampered by cloud cover, but we had the most fantastic time chilling out and taking photos, including some fun handstand pictures silhouetted against the sky.
On our last day exploring Bagan we had become a little wiser to the perils of the hot, long days and were a little more chilled in our approach. We saw a quiet little temple called Mya zedi which had a beautiful golden spire. We visited its neighbour Gu byauk gyi which had the best original paintings that we had seen, stunning to see the designs and work that was well preserved. We then headed further afield to Sulamani Pahto which I found to be gorgeous and very well maintained. By this stage it was probably only 8am so the hawkers hadn’t set up their stalls and there weren’t many tourists to be seen. Sulamani has an outer wall, you enter the temple complex through a large arch and walk down a tiled path to the main temple. The intricate block work was lovely to see and there were a number of art works inside to be seen. It was gorgeous to wander around such a beautiful temple at such a leisurely pace.
Hiding behind the Sulamani complex is another temple, it was on our list but quite challenging to find. We think it was Thabeik Hmauk. Inside the small outer wall were some reed huts where the family who managed the temple lived. We were welcomed to the temple by a woman and her young son. They pressed frangipani’s into our hands and put frangipanis in my hair (my favourite flower – these guys won me over instantly!) They showed us around their temple and while we weren’t able to communicate in any common language they were so welcoming and grateful to be able to share some time with us. Their friendly faces were so warming and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting this temple.
Having learned about the perils of midday we pre-empted the exhaustion by heading back to the hotel by around 11am. We booked some flights, a hotel, caught up on journal writing, swam and napped. We really took some time out to recharge.
Our afternoon excursion was a simple one, we cycled out to Bupaya by the river, where we enjoyed a sunset cruise up and down a stretch of the Ayerwaddy River. The sunset was of course affected by clouds (monsoon season is probably not the best time to go if sunsets are your thing) but it was probably the best sunset we saw in Bagan. It was quite cool on the river, with a bit of a breeze. It was relaxing to sit still and just take in the surroundings, see the people by the river side, washing their clothes, bathing (they bathe fully clothed) and the children playing.
One of the things we also did was a half day trip to Mt Popa. The drive was pleasant and it was great to see the countryside and also to be able to see how the locals lived, as we whizzed past. We made a brief stop at one point to see peanuts and sesame seeds being ground to oil by bullock. We saw palm sugar being made as well as a local whisky. It was quite interesting.
Mt Popa is an extinct volcano covered in lush forests. On the slopes of Mt Popa is another, smaller, mountain that just kind of pops up out of nowhere. On top of this mountain is a monastery, accessed by 777 steps. Mt Popa is apparently a very significant religious place for the people of Myanmar, and travelling there on the day of new moon was simply crazy. There were people everywhere, the entire road was blocked by vehicles and we had to walk a few kilometres to get there, leaving our driver behind. The walk up the stairs was long and hot but the view from the top was rather stunning, looking up towards the top of Mt Popa and back down across the green landscape. While it was kind of interesting to have been and seen it, I was appalled at how filthy the place was, rubbish everywhere, people spitting and throwing trash on the ground, throwing things at the monkeys and being generally loud, rude and obnoxious.
After a sleepless night on a plane you step out of the airport and are hit by a wall of heat and humidity, you jump in your taxi and whizz by buildings with six foot walls topped with reels of razor wire or shards of broken glass, the car fumes and foreign, heady smells invade your nostrils and you wonder “Why am I doing this?”
I find the first few hours in almost any country a little overwhelming, but that initial culture shock gives way to excitement in a very short amount of time. By the time my friend Mark and I had checked into our hotel in Yangon and were out on the streets, map in hand, I was quite keen to get out there and see what the city had to offer.
Downtown Yangon is a very busy place, there are loads of people walking the sidewalks and streets, the sidewalks are also filled with street stalls selling food and drinks, fruit and vegetables, books, clothes and other random items. The streets are jam packed with cars, trucks, buses and bicycles (motorcycles and scooters have been banned the authorities), not to mention the pedestrians dodging and weaving between the traffic in an attempt to cross the road. It is chaotic and fantastic.
An interesting thing to note about traffic in Myanmar, or cars rather is that they drive on the right side of the road. By itself this is not so strange, except the vast majority of the cars are also right hand drive, except for the random smattering of cars which are left hand drive. Perhaps this is why only people with a Myanmar drivers licence are allowed to drive in Myanmar, last I read, no international driving permits are accepted.
The food and drink stalls all looked very interesting, some looking and smelling more enticing than others. There was a special type of barbecue which we saw several times where all the customers sit around a table which has pot of boiling broth in the center and skewers of uncooked meat surrounding it. You could sit, cook and eat the things you wanted. This looked like a fun experience and had it not been exclusively pork offal I might have been keen to try it! So I settled for trying the vegetarian options, like pancakes and samosas. The samosa ‘salad’, Samusa Thoke, was delicious!
We also took the opportunity to enjoy various tropical fruits like Mangosteen, Rambutan and Dragons Eyes (otherwise known an Longan).
Yangon is known for its teahouse culture, so in amongst all these little snack foods I took the time to sit down for a cup of sweet tea, which is crazy strong tea topped up with sweetened condensed milk. The first few times I had it I struggled to drink it, but after a period of adjustment I actually found it rather tasty and began to enjoy our little tea breaks.
A fun quirk about service in Yangon (we noticed it predominantly in Yangon, but it may apply everywhere in Myanmar) was that to get a waiters attention you make a loud, wet kissing noise.
With all this eating and drinking I would like to point out the weather situation in Yangon. It is crazy hot and humid, so you simply can’t race around and see everything, the pace is much slower with frequent rest and recharge stops. While you may not see as many different things with this approach, you do get more opportunity to soak up the culture and notice finer details in your environment. We found that Bank Street, off Lower Pansodan Street was a great spot to do this and the stalls offered a great variety of different food and drinks.
Sitting and observing the environment we noticed that everything was grubby, the buildings had grimy black streaks from the pollution filled water streaming down the sides of the buildings. Everything had a damp look and feel, not a surprise really since we were visiting during the monsoon season. All the damp that had seeped into the buildings allowed many to be growing mini forests. While this is structurally terrible, I found that it looked quite enchanting in a strange kind of way.
We also had time to notice peoples faces, and had an opportunity to ask about it. Many people have their faces painted with circles or stripes of a light brown colour. Thanaka is a traditional ‘paint’ made from grinding sandalwood and mixing it into a paste with water. Many people continue to wear this traditional paint which is seen as beautiful, and indeed it is. I am not sure however, if it is simply for beauty or if it serves other purposes.
The central point of downtown Yangon is Sule Paya, a golden pagoda that essentially functions as the center of a large roundabout intersecting all the main roads. While the peak of Sule Paya looks impressive at a distance, it is surrounded by small shops and has an entry fee. After what we read about it, we decided it wasn’t worth paying the entry fee to go into the complex and explore.
Myanmar seems to be the land of pagoda’s and temples, so while we chose not to visit Sule Paya we did however go to Chauk Htat Gyi Paya, home of a reclining Buddha, Nga Htat Gyi Paya, home of a seated Buddha and Shwedagon Pagoda – essentially the number one thing to see in Yangon. As these pagodas are a bit further out, we caught a taxi to the furthest one, Chauk Htat Gyi and slowly walked back towards the city via the other two.
Chauk Htat Gyi and Nga Htat Gyi are both more chilled than Shwedagon and we found there to be very few people visiting these temples. They were both beautiful in different ways. Chauk Htat Gyi houses a very placid looking reclining Buddha who wears a “crown encrusted with diamonds and other precious stones”. Across the road, Nga Htat Gyi houses a seated Buddha, apparently the one of the most impressive seated Buddha’s in southern Mynamar, though it was under renovation and blocked by bamboo scaffolding when we visited. The intricately carved timberwork backdrop was certainly stunning!
A further 15 minutes walk back towards downtown Yangon is Shwedagon Pagoda, which is actually visible from almost anywhere in Yangon. The hill on which Shwedagon stands in 190 feet above sea level and the pagoda itself is 326 feet high. The complex is accessed by four stairways, one for each point of the compass. As with any temple, at the top of the stairway you are asked to take off your shoes so that you may enter the temple clean. You should also ensure your shoulders and knees are covered and that you take off your hat. While the entire pagoda appears golden, the very top of the pagoda has a genuine golden umbrella with other 4000 golden bells chiming in the breeze, a golden wind vane as well as a diamond orb encrusted with over 4300 diamonds. This is one pagoda that sparkles!
Shwedagon pagoda is the central point of a larger complex with many other temples, shrines and bells. The main pagoda, has smaller shrines circling it, one for each day of the week including two for Wednesday. The Myanmar week has eight days, the two Wednesdays represent the morning and the afternoon, one of which is lucky and the other unlucky. If you were to pray at the temple you would pray at the day on which you were born, each day is also represented by an animal such a dragon, pig, rabbit. When asked by a local which day Mark and I were, neither of us were able to answer as our western culture is more about date than actual day of the week. We spent quite some time at Shwedagon, mostly just sitting in the shade observing the people going about their business, watching the sun sink in the sky and the temple light up. We noticed many monks in their maroon robes and nuns in pink; pink being a colour I had not previously seen in Buddhist robes. By far the thing I appreciated most at Shwedagon was the sense of stillness, with the light breeze was chiming the bells atop each of the temples in the complex. It was just such a beautiful atmosphere and so calming.
In complete contrast to the calm of Shwedagon, we caught the ferry across to the delta region of Dala, across the Yangon River from Yangon. The ferry shuttles back and forth every twenty minutes, with people leaping on and off as soon as it is within jumping distance of the dock. People push and shove to get on and off as quickly as possible, though what that achieves I am not sure. Early in the morning the people of Dala bring their goods to Yangon to sell and they return home later in the day. The most interesting thing on the ferry when we crossed was the bicycle transporting chickens. A bicycle had a large bundle of live chickens on the front of the bike and one on the back. All the chickens were hung upside down and bound together by their feet. Surprisingly they did not flap or make a fuss, just dangled there waiting.
When we got off the ferry we were yelled at from all angles by trishaw-wallahs looking for business. We ended up agreeing on a price with a nice man and his buddy who then took us on a cycle tour of the delta region. We saw local villages, temples and markets. It is such a poor area, people live in bamboo and straw huts, the road are dirt and mud, yet the people are all busily and happily working. As we cycled by, we saw many people catch our attention with a smile and a wave as they called out “Mingalaba”.
At one point we got off the trishaws and wandered around a small village, the poverty extreme but the children were some of the happiest I have ever seen. They ran up to us big grins on their faces and keen for a high five. They joined us for a walk, held our hands and giggled when they saw pictures of themselves. Seeing how people live in such poverty is always an eye-opener, it makes you appreciate the life and opportunities that you have.
After a few days it was time to leave Yangon and head north towards Bagan, the location in Myanmar I was most excited to see. We booked ourselves some seats in the sleeper car of a train headed to Bagan. We were mostly lucky with the weather in Yangon, monsoon season hadn’t seem to hit but as we packed up our things the skies opened up and we experienced a torrential downpour, as our train rattled past villages the houses were knee deep in water and roads were flooded.
After the crazy late night Yvonne and I both woke up still exhausted. Our driver collected us at 10am and we dozed the whole 3hour drive to Seminyak (well, apart from the time spent clutching our stomachs, well Yvonne was clutching her stomach and I was sound asleep, because of the windy bumpy road through the mountains. If you didn’t already know, Bali roads suck!)
Once we got to Seminyak we checked into our fancy schmancy hotel and crawled straight back into bed, where we both stayed for most of the day.
We spent the first half of the day wandering around Seminyak, did a bit of shopping and had lunch by the beach. As it was a very hot day, we spent the afternoon cooling down by the pool.
In the evening we headed down to the Legian/Kuta region for some cheap shopping. We also went and got our nails done and finished off the evening with a tasty dinner.
Our last day in Bali. We packed up our bags, had brekky, checked out and put our luggage into storage for the day. A driver collected us at 9:30am to take us to Pura Besakih, Bali’s most important temple. It is a complex made up of 22 temples and is situated on the slopes of Mt Agung (Bali’s principal volcano). The temple itself is quite beautiful and it’s tiered design into the mountain slope is really interesting. Unfortunately though, the whole experience was pretty crap. Being Bali’s most important temple also makes it the ideal place to target and try to scam tourists. Firstly there is no entrance fee, but we were made to pay for tickets and for our driver to park (every other driver we have had paid their own parking fees out of their wage), then we had to go to ‘Tourist Information’ where Yvonne had to rent a sarong (at a ridiculous price – also most temples, will loan you a sarong for free, as wearing the sarong is a sign of respect, and should not be done out of duty) then they claimed we needed to sign the register book and pay some money, people had signed off amounts like $50US which is RIDICULOUS, but eventually out of what the guy was saying we found out it was for donations though he said we HAD to pay. So we paid a small amount each. Walking towards the temple we were harassed by children and adults trying to sell their wares, drinks, food, postcards etc. the kids would get so close to you they were almost getting into your bag.
Then walking to the temple we were followed by a local guide saying there was a ceremony on and we would not be able to enter without a local guide (the guidebook I had read, told me this would be the case and that a guide was not actually necessary). We turned away three local guides before getting to the entrance to the main temple of the complex, and here our entry was blocked by four local guides saying we could not go in. I walked past them and they man-handled me out. So we spat the dummy and walked around the complex checking out the other temples within the complex. On the way back through the complex, it was interesting to see that all the gates to the main temple were open and there we no longer local guides clustered harassing tourists, so we wandered right in!
So while the temple complex was beautiful, it was such a horrible experience!
By the time we got back to Seminyak we were starving! So we found a place to have some lunch. After lunch we chilled out for a bit (I actually spent most of it napping on a lounge chair by the hotel pool), did a bit more shopping and got massages before heading out to the airport for the flight home.
Reflecting on the last few days, I am pretty sure my drink got spiked on the last night in Lovina, because I spent the remaining days struggling to be awake for more than an hour or two at a time, and spent the first few days back home still recovering. So be warned, even if you make friends in Bali, don’t trust them!
Our 9am pickup arrived and we headed further into the hills on our way to the beachside area called Lovina. Climbing into the mountains provided many beautiful views! Our first stop along the way was at Lake Bratan. Almost at the top of the mountain was a big plateau, with a huge lake of glistening blue water. At the edge of the lake was a temple complex with beautiful gardens and lots of brightly coloured flowers. The main temple was not actually within the complex, but a small island roughly 20 metres from the edge of the lake. The temple had a tiered roof – the number of tiers represents what the temple is for. For example, two tiers is for the sky and Mother Earth. There are temples with 2, 3, 7 and 9 tiers. The tiers in between earth and sky are for things like the different gods, such as the Hindu’s version of the holy trinity, they have Vishnu, Shiva and Dewa (I’m pretty sure that’s the three, and I am not convinced I have spelled them correctly). The Bratan temple in the lake was beautiful to look at and on such a clear day, was colour rich.
As our drive continued we drove over the peaks of the highest mountains, alongside the road monkeys sat and watched traffic, or tried to scam some food from the road workers. Descending the mountain on the other side we stopped at Git Git waterfall. On such a clear, sunny day, it was rather a hot hike into the jungle (even if it was only a few hundred metres)…the waterfall was really pretty. There are two tiers, but we only went to the lower one, as we didn’t want a 2hour jungle hike. The lower tier was a waterfall of 40+ metres, crashing into a small rock pool below. The water was crystal clear, bubbling down the stream, and when we dipped our toes in, we’re pleasantly surprised that the water was not so cold (waterfalls back home always have super chilled water!)
In the early afternoon we arrived in Lovina, we checked into our hotel, and then wandered down to the beach to check out the local scene. Lovina is a much quieter town than Legian and Ubud. You still get hassled by hawkers, but they seem to be less insistent here. We checked out a few stalls and had a look at the beach which has black sand. Because there are a number if volcanoes in Bali, numerous beaches have black sand, I think that perhaps it is volcanic ash or dust. Yvonne found out that the sand, particularly when wet, is not as dense as the sand beach home, and walking in the water, she was quickly sucked into the sand up to her knees…and lost her flip flops in the muddy suction. After collecting some more shoes from the hotel we sat down at one of the beachside cafe’s for a late lunch and a beer. While sitting there we chatted to one of the locals, who we then hired for the following day.
After lunch we figured that in being at are relaxed beach location, we should indulge in some relaxation, so we went to one of the massage parlours near our hotel, where we both had an hour traditional Balinese. At $8 each, perhaps I should do this every day?!?
We spent our evening at a local restaurant by the beach, the Bali Bintang, where we got chatting to one of the staff, Budi. Budi said that there was a big volleyball match on, the semi-final and Lovina was playing a team from somewhere near Denpasar (I didn’t recognise the name of the village, so promptly forgot what I was told). So when Budi knocked off work, his friend Gede (pronounced G’Day and I am assuming it’s not spelled that way) collected us from our hotel on their motorbikes and drove us to the next village to join in the fun.
There was a big crowd and everyone was excited! The game started and both teams were scoring, but soon the other team started to have a clear lead. After about 30mins we realised our team didn’t have a chance so we got out of there and headed to the pub (Budi had bet quite a bit of money, so we think he may have been trying to drown his sorrows).
We spent the few hours of the night enjoying live music and bintang beer at Poco’s. Though the music was quite tragic and mostly reggae, we got up and boogied the night away, crashing back at the hotel after midnight (with such a late night, I’m surprised I didn’t turn into a pumpkin!)
With not much sleep but no hangover (bintang is definitely not what you would choose to drink if you were aiming to get drunk. I don’t like getting drunk, so my previous evenings drink of choice was a good one), we got up in time to be collected by our driver for the day (well first half of the day as we planned a relaxed afternoon).
We drove out to a neighbouring village to visit an Buddhist monastery, Brahma Vihara Arama. It was nice to see a different style of temple, and this one was built into the hill and had several different levels. Near the top was a beautiful meditation garden with a large shrine to Buddha, the shrine had a small moat filled with white and purple water lilies as well a some pink lotus flowers. I found the design to have better flow and more of a calming effect than the Hindu temples we had seen.
Our second stop was Air Panas Banjar, natural hot springs in the jungle. There were three pools, a long narrow one at the top that cascaded into a larger one below. These both had a row of sculptures (not quite gargoyles, but that style) which served as water spouts into the pools. Under these water spouts was the place to be, with the warm water massaging your neck and back. It was so relaxing! The third pool was set to the side of the other two and had three spouts set much higher up, the pounding massage you got from standing under these was intense, but very welcome!!
While it was really pleasant to enjoy a natural warm water massage the volume of people on the murky, smelly water meant that we didn’t stay in for very long. So after our natural water massages we headed back to the hotel for a good scrub in the shower!
Since we were both quite tired we spent the remainder of the day doing our own thing. To start with I attempted to walk to Anturan. The area called Lovina is actually comprised of two villages: Kalibukbuk and Anturan. They are 5km apart and Kalibukbuk is the busier of the two and consider to be the centre of Lovina, this is where we are staying. So anyway, I thought I would attempt to walk along the coast to Anturan. The only problem with this idea, aside from the distance, is that there is no path. So I walked along the beach for a stretch, the walked alongside some rice paddies, bush bashed a little and wandered through local villages.in one of the villages a small boy came running out to say hello to me, then he held out his hand to me asking for money, I didn’t give him any yet he continued to follow me, once he caught up to me he actually tried to open my handbags grab some money for himself. A firm “No!” and a stern look made him turn away, cheeky little bugger!!
After wandering in the heat for sometime, I eventually reached a dead end where it was either walk through a rice paddie or swim and I gave up, I asked a local villager to give me a lift on his motorbike, back to town, where I promptly found a cafe with wifi to sit down and have a drink and catch up on email.
Having recovered from my failed explorations and with a tummy full of satay and vanilla milkshake, I headed back to the hotel, making a minor detour to a massage parlour along the way. An hour long foot massage (again for just $8) was absolute bliss!! I’m pretty sure I actually twitched myself awake a few times during the massage. Once it was over I dawdled across the street to the hotel (I literally mean dawdled because I was so blissed out it was amazing I could stay upright!!) and zonked out on the bed for a solid hour!
After I caught up on some much needed ZZZ’s I spent some time blogging and reading my book before Yvonne and I headed out for some dinner.
At 9am we wandered down to the beach where a guy called Ketut took us out to a local reef in his boat for some snorkelling. The coral wasn’t very brightly coloured, but the reef was still teeming with fish. I found Nemo as well as quite a few others. There were many beautiful colours, yellows, blue’s, purples, oranges and many different variations and patterns. The water was lovely and warm, we spent an hour or two bobbing around in the water. It was a very chilled out start to the day!
We spent the next few hours chilling out, reading, emailing, eating etc, at 3pm our friends Budi & Gede collected us and drove us into the hills on their motorbikes to check out the Aling-Aling Waterfall. Yvonne and I both thought it was nicer than Git-Git! It had quite a lot of water-flow and the water was falling from quite a height. The noise was thunderous and even from 50metres away we were getting soaked by the spray.
After the waterfall visit the guys had to get to work, so Yvonne and I enjoyed a wander along the beach chatting to locals and taking in a beautiful sunset. I found it particularly nice to watch the local kids silhouetted against the sunset, hanging out on the jetty and jumping into the water.
What was supposed to be a quiet evening watching live music at the bar, didn’t turn out to be so quiet. We had a few drinks, requested a few songs and soon enough they were closing the bar. So the staff and a dutch girl that we met, joined us at our table for some drinks. Then a guy called Bing decided we needed tequila shots, but the bar we were at had no tequila, so we all loaded into his car and headed to another bar. There we had tequila shots, made some new friends and danced the night away (well the dancing part was mostly just me). I think I crashed out in bed around 3am.
Although I didn’t plan a big night, it was a fitting way to end our stay in Lovina and to get a chance to party with our new friends.
We checked out of our hotel at 9:30am, much to the disappointment of the lovely hotel staff. Our driver for the day (I didn’t actually catch his name) took us down to the Bukit Peninsula where we started off by exploring Ulu Watu temple. Ulu Watu is at the top of a 75metre cliff and was yet another stunning example of Balinese temple architecture. At the bottom of the cliffs was beautiful blue water with waves rolling in, crashing against the cliff walls.
From Ulu Watu we headed into Jimabaran to have a look at some traditional markets, but unfortunately by the time we got there, they were finished for the day.
We continued on our merry little way. Following the coastline in a north east direction, up to Semarapura to check out the remnants of the Royal Palace, Taman Kertha Gosa. Semarapura used to be the capital of Bali, which is why the royal palace was built there, but most of the palace was destroyed by the Dutch in 1908, I assume this was when they were trying to colonise Indonesia. The palace still had some parts remaining, the high court which was a small, elevated room in a corner of the compound and a temple type place in the centre of the from of the compound. The temple type place was also elevated, and in addition it was surrounded by a moat full of water lillies and fish – so pretty!
Back in the car we headed towards the mountains, stopping briefly for some lunch from a street stall, photo opportunities of gorgeous rice terraces and also to pick up tomatoes. At one stage we driving along a very narrow back road, and nearing a corner our driver tooted the horn to warn oncoming traffic that we were there. A truck loaded up with fruit and veggies promptly flew around the corner and swerved to avoid us, which made them lose a large basket full of tomatoes all over the road. So we helped them pick them up off the road.
Our last stop on the way to Ubud was at a coffee plantation (similar to the one I went to on the day of the bike ride), we tried some tasty coffee’s, as well as the famous Kopi Luwak! The view from the coffee plantation was looking across a valley to one of the prettiest rice terraces I have seen (unfortunately it was quite glary, so the photos won’t do it justice).
After a day of sightseeing and full of coffee, we got to our destination of the day, Ubud, by late afternoon where we checked into a fabulous hotel in the rainforest! We enjoyed the last part of the day with a swim in the pool and some down time on the deck of our villa. So relaxing!
The morning started with a trip into town where I checked out Ubud Palace, quite small but very pretty, had a look at Ubud Market, wandered down Monkey Forest Road and checked out the shops, and made our way down to Monkey Forest Sanctuary.
Monkey Forest Sanctuary was teeming with macaques, as expected. The little, and big, guys were awfully keen to nab food from anyone who had some, sometimes climbing onto people’s shoulders to get at it! I wasn’t keen for the feral monkey experience, so didn’t bring in any fruit. The temples within the Monkey Forest Sanctuary were also quite pretty and gave us another opportunity to appreciate traditional Balinese architecture, it was also nice to see the monkeys make it their home. They would sit on statues grooming each other, lay on tables getting their bellies scratched by their mates. In the centre point of the sanctuary was a fountain and the monkeys had a fabulous time diving off the statues into the pool of water and swimming around. It was very entertaining to see the monkeys at play, often launching themselves off a statue to dive bomb on top of another monkey swimming around!!
After our monkey visit, we spent some more time exploring the streets of Ubud, before heading back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool. After a short break, we headed back into town to grab some dinner before heading to a traditional dance performance: Fire Kecak and Trance.
The performance started with men sitting in concentric circles around a big candelabra, chanting, singing and swaying. The men continued to chant as some elaborately dressed ladies came into the centre of the circle and danced – they had ornate gold headdresses, and wore brightly coloured silk sarongs, with gold embellishments. They danced very deliberate moves, with their fingers and toes curled upwards, and their head jolting from side to side, eyes wide looking left and right. Balinese dance uses every part of the body to convey the story, and it was really interesting to watch. The last scene of the day involved a large pile of coconut shells being lit on fire in the middle of the hall, a man on a ‘horse’ danced around it before kicking the pile of burning shells to scatter them all over the floor (I was worried that it would hit me!). While it is quite hard to describe the dance, it was a very interesting experience.
The alarm was set for early morning – we headed off to the fresh produce market in the heart of Ubud, here we saw beautiful colours and many interesting foods: snake beans, chillies, vanilla beans, dragon fruit, fresh fish and shrimp, pig trotters, freshly plucked chickens, live chickens and much more. This market expedition was in preparation for our cooking class, so that we. Could see where all the fresh produce was sourced.
After our market excursion, we had some time to spend before the cooking class. So we headed out to Goa Gajah – Elephant Cave. It was built in the 9th century to serve as a sanctuary. The Elephant Cave itself is part of a large-ish complex that borders on the jungle. The facade of the cave is carved to show menacing creatures and demons. The main figure was once thought to be an elephant, hence the nickname Elephant Cave. Around the rest of the complex is a bathing area, some other temples and further into the jungle, the is a bridge across the river, passing by a waterfall, and a track that goes out to a jungle temple. It was quite a beautiful site, and with all the tracks heading off into the jungle, I’m sure one could spend hours exploring!
On the way back to the hotel we made a brief stop at Barc. Which is a volunteer organisation involved in the rescue, rehabilitation and re-homing of Bali dogs. The Balinese don’t seem to care a great deal about their pets, and there are many stray dogs, dogs being beaten, dogs getting run over and left to die. So while we didn’t do a great deal to help out, we did make a donation and learn a bit about what the organisation does and how they work. It’s very sad to see so many dogs that have been treated so poorly. Hopefully the people’s view of pets will change, and until it does Barc will be helping out all the poor puppies and kitties.
At midday we headed down to the hotel restaurant where we learned to cook an appetiser, Rujak Segar (fresh fruit salad with a sour/chilli sauce); a main meal comprising of Satay Lilit Ayam (chicken mince, coconut and curry satay sticks) and Lawar Bali (curry vegetable, chicken and coconut); and a dessert Kolak Pisang (poached banana pieces in a palm sugar syrup). It was all delicious!!! It wasn’t a very hands on cooking class, the only things we did were chop veggies and put meat on skewers, but it was still very interesting. At the end of the lesson we sat down with a beer and got to eat what we made – then we waddled around for the next few hours!!!
Having had a busy morning, we spent the afternoon exploring Ubud a bit more. I went out to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which turned out to be a stupid idea…they are the worst botanical gardens I have ever seen! Poorly tended, over grown paths, paths that are VERY slippery..I landed hard on my bottom once, and barely managed to stay upright multiple other times!
After the gardens I did some window shopping before stopping for a fresh juice and to write some postcards. I didn’t get very far with my postcard writing as some drunk ladies at the next table asked me to join them. They were pretty entertaining, but at the same time offensive in that way bogan drunks can be. So after joining them for a cocktail, I politely excused myself.
Yvonne and I found a great little ‘warung’ (food stall) to have some tasty dinner, before having a drink or two at the pub.
Ubud has been a success, time to explore further north!!!
With the new four term school year in Tassie, term one break is already upon us. What better way to relax than head overseas?
My friend Yvonne who has never been out of Australia was keen to join me on this short adventure, so we booked some tickets and headed to Bali for roughly two weeks.
The flight over was pretty uninteresting but we arrived safely in Denpasar at 11pm local time and were collected by our driver Sabdah, who took us to our hotel in Legian. After a whole day in transit, we checked in, politely drank our welcome drink (it was a clear drink but has a strong flavour of cinnamon…weird!), and soon after crashed for the night.
We woke up groggy and tired, but unable to continue sleeping, so we dragged our sleepy selves out of bed, had some breakfast and hit the streets for some exploring. We wandered down the main strip of Legian and then continued through to Kuta Beach. We did some haggling for bintang tank tops (they make great gifts for people at home!) stopped for some chilled mocktails, checked out a few shops and then booked an afternoon tour.
Our tour driver collected us from the hotel at 2:30 and we headed out to The Royal Temple of Mengwi. Its Balinese name Pura Taman Ayun means ‘Garden Temple in the Water’. It is one of the most important temples in Bali. Built in 1634 by a King of the Mengwi dynasty, the complex is on an island in a river and its inner temple is surrounded by a moat. While it wasn’t as big as I expected (based on pictures I had seen) it was really quite beautiful. The only thing that was a little disturbing were the chickens in tiny cages in the first courtyard of the complex. The Balinese have always enjoyed cockfights, and they still continue to be popular, we were worried that the chooks we saw had a predetermined future, which was a little sad to see.
Our next stop was Alas Kedaton, often referred to as Monkey Forest. There is a temple, Alas Kedaton Temple, which borders on a 12,000 hectare forest, where monkeys and bats live. Here you are able to wander around with a guide who explains how the monkeys live freely and choose to visit (clearly they are being fed, or they wouldn’t choose to visit). She also explained that the monkeys were macaque’s and the male have sex up to 10 times a day…that’s why we could see so many adorable babies. Some as young as a few days old….soooooooo cute!!! The monkeys weren’t anywhere near as aggressive and grabby as the ones we came across in Malaysia, here I even got to hold the hand of a little guy!! Such soft hands. It was beautiful to see all the monkeys…and not fear for my life!
The last stop of the tour was sunset at Tanah Lot and it’s neighbour Pura Batu Balong. Tanah Lot is a small island with a temple on top. Pura Batu Balong is two small bays further along the coastline and is a small temple perched on a cliff top, which is accessed via a natural bridge. The two temples were beautiful, and the coastline was stunning, lush green gardens on the cliffs above black sandy beaches – a perfect location for a sunset! Unfortunately for us, the sky wasn’t participating with the romantic notion of a cliff top temple silhouetted against a striking sunset, because it was cloudy and the sunset wasn’t colourful. I was a little disappointed with the lack of sunset, but as I said, the location itself was pretty impressive and it was a really pleasant end to the day.
After an early night, solid sleep and a tiny sleep in, we were feeling much more ready to take on the world. After some brekky we hit the streets once more. We headed in the direction of Seminyak, we checked out a few markets and wandered last the beach before catching a taxi to Seminyak, where we checked out Pura Petitinget temple. To make ourselves respectful of the Hindu faith we hired sarongs before wandering into the temple. The temple was quite pretty and it was good to wander around by ourselves – we were the only people there – but on the whole it wasn’t amazing to look at. Possibly not worth the effort of getting there.
After looking at the temple we headed back towards more central Seminyak, where we found a great cafe to stop for a coffee and a small bite to eat. We also took the time to check out a few markets stalls, jewellery and clothes mostly, and clearly designed for a more upmarket target audience than what we had experienced in the Legian/Kuta region – it was a nice change.
After some more wandering we decided it was time for a break, so we caught a taxi back to the hotel where we had a dip in the pool and spent some time lounging around the pool. The late afternoon was spent wandering some previously unexplored streets. I found some cute items for a certain cute niece of mine. I also found an interesting assortment of fresh fruit, so it was experimentation time! I got some Rambutan…a favourite of mine, some other small fruits that I think were called Longon and some freaky looking fruit called Salak. The Salak was brown and was scaly like a snake, only they were hard scales. The fruit itself had an ok flavour, but the texture was a bit bizarre and made your mouth feel like it was being dried out, in contrast the Longon are juicy and sweet…yum!!
I was collected from the hotel at 7:30am along with a family from Perth and a couple from Perth, we all headed to the hills. Along the way we stopped at a coffee roastery where we got to try 8 different coffees and teas, and for those willing to pay extra, Kopi Luwak. Kopi Luwak is said to be the worlds most expensive coffee, the coffee beans are eaten by the civet cat. Once the cat poops the beans back out, the beans are cleaned up and ground into coffee. Surprisingly it was actually quite nice coffee, even if the idea is pretty gross!
After our coffee break we continued on up into the mountains, up to Kintamani, where we stopped for breakfast. The view while we ate was stunning! A view of Mount Batur (an active volcano…no eruptions while we were there though) and the beautiful blue Lake Batur.
As we were finally at the top of the mountains, it was time to head back down…on mountain bikes!
We rode through villages, past rice terraces, through farmlands…it was all stunning! The local children loved it, and when they saw us coming they would run to the road and smile and wave, calling out “Hello”.
Along the way we made a few stops. the first one was at a village temple, there were people everywhere. Cockfighting is a big part of Balinese culture and they all love to gamble on these fights, so we stopped to watch. It starts with all the people determining which roosters will fight. Then each of the roosters has a razor sharp blade strapped to one of their legs, the blade is probably about two inches long. Then the first round starts, the two owners squat in the middle of e ring, plucking the roosters feathers, poking the beak at the other rooster, getting them all fired up. The crowd stands and calls out words, also trying to aggravate the birds. Then the two owners step back and throw the roosters into the ring, where there is a great deal of flapping, some blood and very quickly it is all over. If the losing bird is weak but not close to death, the two birds are put in a small cage together until there is a death. Of the three rounds we saw, the worst one was when the roosters was pure white, it just highlighted, literally, the brutality of the sport. I was pretty glad when the group decided to continue riding!
Our next two stops were both about rice. The first was when we saw rice being harvested, they were using a harvesting machine. I think the people were cutting the stalks and feeding it into the machine, then machine then stripped the leafy stuff away from the rice, so they could collect the rice. The second stop was the same thing, rice harvesting, but using the traditional method. People would cut small bunches of stalks, then walk over to a big bin type thing which had an angled wooden board in it, there you would bash the stalks against the wood, to make the rice fall off the stalks. Then you would pass the bundle of stalks to a lady who would strip the last bits from the stalk and throw out the rest. A few of us had a go at bashing the stalks…it was kind of fun, but we got covered in leafy and dusty stuff, and I don’t think any of us were that successful at stripping the stalks of rice.
The remainder of the ride was very pleasant, we had a few drops of rain, but thankfully the sky didn’t really open up. The ride ended in a quiet little village, where we were invited into someone’s home to enjoy a traditional Balinese buffet lunch. It was oh so tasty!!!!!
Then it was time for us to pile back into our minivan and drive back to town.
We spent the evening enjoying some fantastic food, cheap drinks and live music. A great way to spend our last evening in Legian.
We were picked up from our hostel at 9am to do the Jumbo tour (jumbo in this case refers to elephants). As the tour was running ahead of schedule, the driver chucked in a visit to the Batu Caves as we left the city. Most of Kuala Lumpur is quite flat, and then occasionally you get a random mountain with sheer sides sticking out of the ground. The Batu Caves are in one of these mountains, you climb 272 steps to get into the cave, which houses a Hindu temple, as well as some pigeons and monkeys. There was some big Hindu festival on, so there were heaps of people dressed in yellow carrying offerings up the steps; some people climbed the stairs on their knees as a penance.
We then began our tour and headed off to a park somewhere to see a waterfall. We wandered up and down the riverside looking for the waterfall until we came to the conclusion that the bumpy water we could see, was the waterfall. It had massive falls of about 20-30cm!! The locals seemed to love it though and were all swimming, BBQing and camping in the area. We were supposed to spend an hour at the waterfall, but after 20 minutes we’d seen it, so the guide took us to the next stop: Deerland.
Deerland was essentially a mini zoo. The main focus was a paddock full of deer and we got to feed them. As you followed the path, there were a number of small cages containing various different types of birds, there were some enclosures with hamsters and guinea-pigs, there was even one enclosure with what looked like a domestic cat (it was actually a Bengal Cat which is a wild, aggressive breed of cat). We also saw two snakes, we got a chance to hold the albino Burmese python, which was quite cool.
After Deerland we went to a roadside ‘cafe’ for some lunch, before the main attraction: Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary.
Mark and I were both a little nervous about whether we would be seeing happy or sad elephants. The Deerland deer were sad because they had small enclosures and didn’t appear to be well looked after; the OrangUtan in Sepilok were happy because they were really well treated and weren’t in any way confined. It turned out that the elephants were sad, mostly. When we got there the elephants were on concrete enclosures, some of them were rocking from side to side like crazy people. We fed them some bananas to try to cheer them up. After a little while there was an elephant show…this was actually quite good and the elephants seemed a bit happier. The staff rode the elephants into the river where they got a bath. Each elephant rolled over lazily in the water while their trainer gave them a good scrub…they really seemed to enjoy it. After bath time, they did wander up onto a podium where we were told a bit about each of them, and were then given the opportunity to feed them some papaya, they really enjoyed that! So while they seemed to be physically treated ok, I do wonder how they are treated in general, and of they are allowed to wander free anywhere. I hope so, because elephants are so lovely!
That concluded our tour and we were driven back to KL, where we wandered around Central Market for a bit, Mark got a Dr. Fish foot massage and I bought some presents for myself.
In the evening Mark headed out to catch up with his friend Sherman, while I continued to browse central market an Chinatown market, as well as stuffing my face full of yummy food, and watching a street performance of Malaysian dancing.
Day 22 – Kuala Lumpur
We had another early start, to get tickets for the Petronas Towers we needed to be at the ticket office around 8:30am. Tours up the towers leave about every 15 minutes, starting at 9am. By the time we got our tickets the next available tour was at 12:15!! So we bought our tickets before exploring the mall and aquarium.
The aquarium was reasonably small, but nonetheless cool. The underwater tunnel was great, I always love watching fishes and turtles swim!!
The mall was pretty amazing. Absolutely enormous and there were six floors. Each floor had 4 wings. Among the fancy stores were Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Chanel etc. The stores which caught my attention were places like Zara and Mango – and of course I took the chance to shop it up!!
At 12 we headed to the towers were the elevator zipped us up to the 41st floor to have a look at the SkyBridge. The SkyBridge is about halfway up the towers and connects the two. The interesting aspect was that it is suspended between the two buildings, but is not actually fixed, allowing it to sway in very high winds without causing any damage. You can actually feel outside air flowing in at the joins!
Soon enough it was time to continue upwards to the 86th floor… 370 metres above ground level (the towers themselves are 452.9metres high). The view was pretty good!! It was pretty interesting to see the overview of KL, residential areas were all very ‘flat’, small buildings, where the non-residential areas were full of huge tall buildings!
After our tower visit, we returned to the mall for lunch in one of the food courts, and more shopping. Before we knew it, it was 5pm!! A little tired and carrying a stack of bags, we headed back to the hostel with the plan of following the lonely planet suggested walking tour of Chinatown. As we got off the monorail, we decided just to chill at the hostel for a bit as it was bucketing with rain!
So after some emails and Facebook, when the sky had stopped leaking we popped out for a bit. We had dinner, enjoyed some foot massages and watched a martial arts demonstration (it was kids from a local school, but was still quite fun to watch)
Day 23: Kuala Lumpur
While we intended to have a bit of a sleep in on our last day, we both woke up around 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep, so we got up, had some brekky, packed our bags, then stored them in the luggage room for the day before heading out for some more sightseeing.
We started off by following the lonely planets suggested walking tour of Chinatown, it was a bit challenging when half the streets don’t have street signs, but either way we had a nice wander.
With the day really starting to heat up, we jumped on a monorail and headed in the direction of the current ‘trendy’mall: Pavilion. We checked out some of my favourites: H&M, Zara, Mango, Guess, Pull & Bear as well as a few other stores…including Jimmy Choo!!! I’m pretty sure I couldn’t even come close to affording those shoes, even when they were 50% off!!
The malls here really are phenomenal, and I’m glad that there are maps available, because you really do need them!!
We found a food hall to eat some yummy noodles and satays as all this shopping makes you hungry.
We checked out another neighbouring mall, as well as a purely IT mall. I was a bit disappointed as I couldn’t find any random gadgets. Had I wanted a mobile phone, tablet or laptop though, I would have been in heaven! 6 floors to choose from!!
Another thing worth commenting on, is that since it is so close to Chinese New Year, all the streets as well as shops and restaurants are decorated with flowers and lanterns and everything Chinese it’s quite cool, but perhaps a little full on. The entrance to Pavilion Mall was no exception and the entrance was lined with the animals from the Chinese years. As far as I understand, I am year of the dog.
Late afternoon we were both pretty knackered, so we headed to the hostel to spend the last few hours before our flight home, catching up on emails and facebook. We have an overnight flight and will be back home on Tuesday afternoon.
It’s been a fantastic holiday, we have seen and done so much, and even crammed in some girly shopping. As fun as it’s been, I am looking forward to heading home and catching up with my family and my puppy dog. I am also looking forward to breathing smog free air!!
After a bit of a sleep in, we wandered into the city to follow the walking tour suggested in the Lonely Planet. Mostly it was just to wander through all the main streets of the city, some of the sights mentioned in the book no longer existed and other were interesting to see. Kuching means ‘Cat’ in Malay, so part of our morning entertainment was taking photos of all the random cat statues around the city.
Kuching is a fairly small city, and while it was nice to wander, there isn’t a great deal to see. We did make a few food stops on our wanderings, we enjoyed some pork buns, roti canai, mangosteen, and some random fruit juice.
At 4pm we were collected from our hostel for a wildlife cruise down the Santubong River. We were hoping to see Irrawaddy Dolphins, Crocodiles, Proboscis Monkeys and Fireflies. I wasn’t too fussed that we didn’t see any crocodiles, but was a bit disappointed that we didn’t spot any Irrawaddy Dolphins.
On a more positive note we did see some wild proboscis monkeys swinging through the trees. Also because of the lack of wildlife the tour people took us to a water village (stilt houses) to look around and meet the people. They were all such lovely, welcoming people and the kids were just adorable, following us through the village. I find it quite surprising to see the conditions in which some people still live. This village’s only fresh water is what they collect from the rain into their tanks and they wash themselves outdoors with little buckets of water; their power is from local generators; yet they have WiFi. It is good to see some aspects of their traditional lifestyle maintained, but disappointing how many aspects have been changed by western society. I did appreciate being allowed into their village and as I mentioned the people were all so welcoming.
By the time we had wandered from one end of the village to the other, it was time to hop back on the boat. As we headed back we looked for Crocodiles, but saw none. The tour ended with us seeing lots of fireflies in the mangroves, flicking their lights on and off. Fireflies are cool!!
When we got back to Kuching we headed out for a late dinner, all day I had tried unsuccessfully to find a place to cook me up some Wan Tan Mee (it’s a noodle dish with dumplings and fried pork – super tasty), we headed to the food stall across the street and asked the lady of she made Wan Tan Mee…when she said “Yes” I whooped with joy! And she laughed! Even though we didn’t see dolphins, the wildlife cruise was lovely, and my day ended perfectly with a big bowl of Wan Tan Mee….happy Duckie!
More random info: I mentioned last time that Malaysia is broken up into states. Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. I learned today that Peninsular Malaysia is not one chunk, but 11 states. I know nothing about these states though.
Day 20 – Kuching
We had hoped to participate in a cooking class, but we could only find two classes. One was not running because the entire company was going to Thailand for a holiday; the other needed a minimum of 4 people in order to run a class. So rather than learning to cook Malaysia food, we slept in.
Just after showering and getting ready to start the day, the rain started. I don’t just mean a bit of rain, I mean the kind of rain that floods the streets in minutes and it so heavy and loud that you struggle to have a conversation. So we spent the time sitting around the hostel reading our books and checking our emails.
Around midday the rain eased off and we ventured out for a brief wander to get some coffee, buy some bits and bobs and have lunch before walking very quickly through the drizzle back to the hostel to catch our taxi to the airport.
Due to roadworks, traffic was ridiculously slow and we started to wonder if we would make it on time…a 30min trip tool over an hour! Thankfully we arrived with time to spare, that calmed my nerves a little.
The flight was pretty standard, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur and were in the city in no time.
Our evening was pretty simple, check in, go get dinner and wander the markets of Chinatown checking out all the Prada handbags and Rolex watches!
Day 15 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After a bit of a sleep in we wandered into Kota Kinabalu town centre to check out the Sunday market…it was overcrowded, there was nothing original and it was pretty awful seeing all the puppies and kittens crammed into cages (also scary how many people were taking photos of all the cute animals). So after walking through the market we wandered off to the mall, where Mark got a funky new pair of shorts. By then I was rather peckish so we stopped in at a cafe for some lunch and drinks.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the hostel to catch a taxi to the airport.
Waiting in the departure lounge we were surprised at the lack of people on the area. Boarding the plane we soon discovered we were the only two passengers! The air hostesses were pretty cool: “Are you familiar with aircraft safety procedures?” We said yes, “so is it ok if I don’t go through them with you?” And again a yes from us! They also have us a few extra packets of peanuts. Yum.
Descending into the Gunung Mulu National Park was pretty beautiful, dense, lush green vegetation with mountains sticking up at random.
We got off the plane, went through ‘immigration’ and caught a shuttle bus to the national park headquarters to register in the park and check in to our accommodation – pretty awesome to have to walk across a suspension bridge to access the place!
We have a lovely little bungalow that is surrounded by jungle and accessed via timber walkways – at night the animal sounds are almost deafening, but nonetheless cool.
Upon check-in we had to organise all the tours and activities straight away, and we designed a pretty fun few days.
As the sun began to sink in the sky, we managed to cram in two non-guided activities.
Firstly we headed up the Tree Top Tower to see of there was any wildlife to watch – we could see movement in the trees from a flock of birds, but not a great deal else.
Secondly we continued further down the track to see the ‘Bat Exodus’. Along the trail we saw some awesome miniature squirrels. They were probably about 15cm long from head to tail. They are such funny little creatures, dashing from spot to spot with their tails in the air as if they are being chased, then stopping suddenly and chilling out for a bit. We also saw a number of little lizards, butterflies, and Mark’s favourite, a stick insect. We had seen this particular stick insect at the butterfly farm in Penang – they look like a 20-25cm long twig, apart from the two little arms, it’s nearly impossible to say that it isn’t a twig!
At the end of the trail was the by observation area. Between 4 – 6pm the bats exit the caves in search of food. We were quite some distance from the exit point, but you could see swarms of bats buzzing around the cave exit, then suddenly a stream of hundreds would leave the cave in one go and form a river-like stream across the sky. A few seconds later another stream of hundreds more bats would cross the sky. Sometimes the swarms would fly in circles and it looked like there was a black donut in the sky. Pretty amazing/interesting to see.
Around 6pm the bats appeared to all have made their exit, so we walked back to the national park headquarters for some dinner, and then a chilled out evening in our bungalow, reading books.
Day 16 – Gunung Mulu National Park
We started the day with a guided canopy walk. Our guide Francesca taught us a little bit about the area, as well as showing us more of the wildlife.
Along the walk we saw a vibrant green viper, a bright orange kingsfisher, various different insects and birds and my favourite, more Pygmy Squirrels (so the squirrels we had seen earlier weren’t baby squirrels, they were duly grown Pygmy squirrels…so cute!) I tried valiantly to get a photo of a squirrel but I am yet to find out if I was successful, those little guys dart about so quickly!
The canopy walk was suspension bridges about 20-30metres above the jungle floor. It was lovely an peaceful up amongst the trees, unfortunately though we didn’t really see any new or different animals.
One thing I learned during the walk that I found interesting was that the area is named Mulu by mistake. When people came to discover the area they recorded the name of the area as M. Ulu. Ulu means “up river” and mountains was marked on the map as M. so it was “mountains up river”. By the time the notes and maps made it back to the map makers in England, the text was not as legible as when it was written and the area was named on the map as “Mulu”.
After our morning tour we had some time to fluff around, so we checked out emails, read our books and had some lunch.
At 2pm we set off on our afternoon tour to Lang Cave and Deer Cave with our guide Esther and 4 other tourists (including a loud, annoying American). We walked the 45minutes to the cave entrance and had a 20minute breather before heading in.
We started with Langs Cave, which is actually a portion of Deer Cave. We walked a loop of Langs Cave before going out and entering Deer Cave. Deer Cave was so called because many deer used to come and drink the water that passed through the cave as it was nice and salty from all the bat guano and bird droppings. Deer cave is the largest cave passage in the world.It was quite wide an had very high ceilings, large portions of the ceiling in specific areas are solid black with millions upon millions of bats. Both Langs and Deer caves had the usual suspects: stalactites and stalagmites, but I didn’t think any of the formations I saw were particularly amazing.
Apart from the astounding size of the caverns, the highlights of Deer Cave were the entry point where the wide mouth of the cave opened out to the lush green rainforest (which of course was experiencing a downpour) and towards the back of the cave there was an area called “Garden of Eden”, as well as an Adam shower and an Eve shower. The Adam and Eve showers were like enormous stalactites that were hollow, allowing all the rain from outside to flow through as a shower – they looked pretty awesome, but I don’t think the photos show the water pouring through them. The Garden of Eden was a beautiful lush green, untouched section of the rainforest that could be seen through an opening in the cave.
It was pretty awesome to see the two caves and it will be interesting to see how the other caves in the area differ.
Leaving the cave was pretty unexciting as it meant a walk back to the bungalow in torrential rain. We walked as fast as our little legs could carry us, but still returned soaked through all layers..we wrung out our shoes, socks, shorts etc and headed indoors to get dry.
Day 17 – Gunung Mulu National Park
After nearly 11hours of sleep we got up and organised ourselves for our tour-free morning. We checked all our gear from the previous day…it was all still wet. With the humidity here it takes days for things to dry, which is a little frustrating when you need things like shoes.
So we decided to do the walk out to Paku Waterfall, we registered departure time and expected return time with the main office and got ourselves sorted. We decided to wear sandals so that our shoes would have a bit more time to dry before the afternoon caving a tour, and I put on my wet shorts…thankfully they weren’t soaking, just a bit damp. Within half an hour of walking they were already dry. (Quote of the day: “what is rainforest? Damp underpants”)
After walking for around 1.5km on the boardwalk, we split off into the waterfall track which was 1.3km. The track was narrow and at times quite muddy, the worst part is the walk was that every few seconds you would walk through yet another spiderweb. Our faces, arms and legs were covered with fine cobwebs and it felt awful!!!
After walking for about 30mins we got to the waterfall and it was…. unimpressive. We took a few photos and then headed back to base camp for some lunch before the afternoon tour.
On the afternoon tour we had a group of 8 people including the guide: two guys from Sweden, a Brit, a Yank and a chik from Bulgaria. We caught a longboat upriver to the cave entrance where we put on our helmets and switched on our lights. Like Deer and Langs caves, Racer Cave was a series of enormous caverns. It had some narrow parts where we had to squeeze through, but it wasn’t a teeny, squashy rabbit warren like I have experienced in other caves. There were a few rope climbs to be done, a few rock climbs too, but it was mostly walking inside the cave. The cave hosted bats, birds, spiders, crickets and millions of other bugs. I’m not sure how far into the cave we ventured, perhaps a kilometre…it probably took us around 2hrs going into the cave and roughly an hour to return. It was heaps of fun!!
We finished our day with a tour called “The Night Shift”, which as you can imagine was a night tour. We hoped to see lots of cool nocturnal creatures, but unfortunately they can all hear us coming from a mile away and opt not to stick around for a visit. So what we did see was a huge variety of spiders, stick insects and snails. We also saw a number if different types of geckos – those little guys are so cute!!
By the end of the tour we were pretty knackered from such a full day…so it was time to head back to the bungalow and catch a few zzz’s.
Day 18 – Gunung Mulu National Park / Kuching
Our start to the day involved packing our bags and storing them on the luggage room before doing our last cave tour.
Our tour was a bit bigger this time and two longboats took us upriver, first to visit a local village to check out their way of life and possibly buy some handicrafts. As most of the handicrafts are made from plant materials and wouldn’t be allowed to be brought back into Australia, we didn’t look too closely at what they had to offer.
The next stop was a bit further upriver, Cave of the Winds. It had more stalagmites and stalactites than the previous caves and many of the walls were textured with a white substance they call “moon milk”. At the end of the cave was a a chamber called “Kings Chamber” and using your imagination you could various things in the formations, such as a king, the titanic, a dragon and a hand dangling from the ceiling. After a good look around we headed yet further up the river to Clearwater Cave. We had to climb 200 steps to get to the entrance of the cave, and once we did, we realised it was actually two caves. The entrance on the right was Ladies Cave, which we visited first, on the left was Clearwater Cave.
Ladies Cave was so called because the shadow of one of the stalagmites looks like the Virgin Mary. The cave was really lovely, many beautiful shapes. In the centre was a section where the ceiling had collapsed and you could look outside to the lush green rainforest above (and hopefully not get drips of water in your eyes as you look up!)
Clearwater Cave was fairly similar to both Wind Cave and Ladies Cave, just a greater variety of different shapes and formations, as well as a crystal clear river running through it.
After visiting the caves, we descended the 200 steps and changed into our togs for a swim in the river. It looks like a nice swimming hole, rather than a river, but at one end there is actually quite a strong flow of water as it exits the cave river to meet with the normal river. You weren’t able to determine that this flow existed until you were actually swimming, as it was under water, and felt the strong current. As you can imagine, the water from a cave river was rather fresh! While I found it quite refreshing, I didn’t stay in for very long.
After our swim we headed back to National Park headquarters for some lunch, before our flight to Kuching (southern Borneo).
The flight to Kuching had HEAPS more people on it than the flight to Mulu. There were a grand total of 14 passengers! The flight was 1.5hours and went pretty quickly.
When we got to Kuching we checked into our hostel and found places around the room to hang out all our wet gear from the rainy rainforest. Then we put our shoes back on (you have to take your shoes off indoors everywhere you go) and headed out to explore.
Kuching is fairly small it seems…we wandered down one of the main streets, along the waterfront to the end point and back again. Stopping for some dinner on the way – I had a very tasty Sarawak Laksa.
Random info: Malaysia appears to broken into states, the top part of Borneo is Sabah, the lower part, where we are now, is Sarawak and the other chunk is peninsular Malaysia (not sure if it has another name). Interestingly you need to go through immigration when travelling between the states.