Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Trip Goes On

Every time I arrived at the airport I felt like it was about time for me to head back to Korea, but no, the vacation just kept going. After one last delicious meal at the airport in Kuala Lumpur it was time for me to board my last Air Asia flight, bid Malaysia adieu and head for Bali.  The major downside of this flight was that i'd be arriving in Bali at 11:30pm, not optimal but you get what you pay for.  I guess I was getting too lucky with my trip because shortly after arriving in Bali I encountered my first "oh shit" moment of the trip.  To begin with I didn't realize i'd be standing in a 10-mile long line to get a visa, but that was just annoying, the real problem came when I tried to use my phone to contract my couch surfing host.  No service, no wifi, and no public telephones - oh shit. So I get to the taxi stand and am immediately bombarded by the relentless taxi drivers asking where I'm going and if I'd like a ride. Seeing as I had no where to go I really just wanted them to get lost...I put my timidness aside and approached a couple whom I overheard were headed for Kuta (popular beach town where I was planning to stay) and asked if I could tag along, praying there would be a room open for me. Long story short, the couple was awesome, there was a room, I spent 10x what I planned on, but I got breakfast, a free drink and a pool! 

Seeing as I paid for a nice pool I figured I should fit in a swim and some sun time before heading north to Ubud. Check-out time was 12 but I pushed my luck and meandered down to reception at about 1pm, before having to catch my 1:30 bus. Kuta was crazy busy with hawkers trying to lure any passerby into their shops, I made the mistake of stopping in one shoe store and had a hard time leaving "okay miss, you name a price, how much, good price!" That and it seems every person in that city could magically turn into a taxi driver or transport service at the drop of a hat. "Miss you need ride? Where are you going? Taxi miss?"  So per the advice of a few friends I booked a bus ticket with Perama and was soon on my way to Ubud. 

Upon arriving I was again under attack..."Miss, you need room?" "Taxi????"  "Miss, where are you going, I have room" "Transport, miss?" if you know me at all you might understand how annoying I found these people.  I mean, I don't even like when sales people ask if I need help finding something - leave me alone! So as I walked the streets of Ubud looking for a homestay I pretty much decided I wouldn't be staying anywhere with pushy, relentless owners.  I stopped in a few places, one too high for my budget, one just to humor the poor man that was begging me, a few decent, but ultimately kept walking until I found myself at Raka Guest house. My two requirements were WiFi and a swimming pool, seeing as they had both, the owner was nice and I was exhausted, I was sold.  After a much needed shower I made my way out to explore the town and find something to eat. As I was walking back to my hostel I did a double take thinking I recognized someone, but who would I know in Ubud Bali?  As chances would have it I ran into a couple from the airport whom happened to be on my same flight and briefly talked to in the Visa line after arriving in Bali.  We shared a few beers and loads of travel stories at their hostel before I decided to call it a night. The next day was spent exploring all that Bali had to offer - including a 7am yoga class. 

Ubud market 
Lotus Pond

After a morning of wandering I decided to make my way to the south side of town and check out the Monkey forest.  I heard/read mixed reviews  of this place and knew that it'd be more of a tourist stop than nature walk but I figured when in Rome.  It was only a few dollars to get in and it's not like I had anywhere else to be. Definitely different than the natural parks I had visited and spotted monkeys at earlier in my trip but still beautiful and entertaining.  They aren't kidding when they say the monkeys aren't shy and will approach you, especially if you have food.  I saw a few different people with monkeys jumping on/at them and heard the squeals of one child that didn't enjoy his monkey encounter.  

I wanted to take full advantage of the yoga studio in Ubud so I singed up for a week unlimted pass - although I would only be staying there for three days it was cheaper than the "3 class" pass so I figured as long as I made it to four classes it'd be worth it.  I started my day with the 7am vinyasa class which was perfect and returned later that day for an afternoon hatha class. Honestly these "world famous teachers" the studio boasted about didn't impresse me, or maybe I was just partial to Sue and Alvin, the teachers I met in Kuching. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Visit to the Capital

After facing the crowds of Thaipusam I had two days to leisurely explore the capital city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.  After talking to friends and reading various blogs/travel reviews I didn't find many must see attractions in the city. I figured i'd stop by the Patronas towers, market, chinatown...and erhh what else? In reality I only wanted to spend a day there but because of huge price differences in airline tickets I had more time. Sunday night after a much needed shower Riz and Angelina wanted to treat me to dinner near the Petronas towers which was not necessary but incredibly nice of them. As we left it again started to rain but thankfully mother nature was for once on my side and the skies cleared up just long enough to get a few good shots of the towers. 

Petronas towers 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Facing the Crowds

Twice now in my travels I've been lucky enough to coordinate plans with major festivals, hopefully a trend that will continue in the future. Last time it was Koninginnedag while visiting one of my best friends in the Netherlands, this time it was Thaipusam in Malaysia. I did a little bit of research before leaving Korea and found that the festival is celebrated at the Batu Caves just north of Kuala Lumpur, hence the reason I left KL until the tail end of my trip. Thaipusam is a Hindu festival in which devotees travel on a pilgrimage to the caves and practice various acts of devotion (shaved heads, various piercings, and carrying offerings to the temple). The festival has been celebrated at the caves since 1892 so I was thrilled to be lucky enough to attend.  I was staying friends of my friend Charles (whom met in Korea) who lived conveniently close to the train line which would take me to the caves. Aside from having to face the heat and battle through the crowds it was promising to be an easy day. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vacation, from my Vacation

After having been gone for just over two weeks and visiting 3 different cities I realized my vacation was still missing something. I'm not sure if you've noticed but aside from the few stops at Bake National park, i'd yet to have some quality beach time. In order to change this I decided a visit to the island of Langkawi was in order, so Wednesday morning I packed up my bag and hoped on the ferry - 3 hours later I found myself arriving in paradise. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Back to Malaysia

One long, cold, uncomfortable bus ride later I found myself on the island portion of Penang, Malaysia.   One of the few down sides to taking overnight buses is that you find yourself in the next city at the wee hours of the morning.  I had made arrangements with my next couchsurfing host but my phone decided to make my day and chose not to work thus leaving me stranded and confused at the bus terminal.  I decided to get a taxi into town where I could find some wifi and send John and email.  I think the taxi drivers in Penang might have been some of my favorite people along this trip - super friendly, talkative and kind, A+!  After killing some time at Gloria Jeans I managed to contact John and was soon in his car getting a high speed introduction to Penang - first stop, Cendol, John wasn't messing around. 
Famous Cendol stand 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Welcome to the City

I finally decided it was time to leave Kuching and continue with my travel plans. Despite hearing the city would eat my money in a hurry I thought I'd better make a stop in Singapore while I was so close. The flight was smooth and I was soon on the MRT en route to the next place I would call home for two days. Singapore was definitely a place I wanted to take advantage of CS considering the cost of everything in that city is double if not triple that in Malaysia.  Thankfully I found a host close to the MRT and not far from downtown (then again the entire country is only so big). 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bako National Park

Finally by Monday, a week after my arrival in Malaysia, I decided it was time to venture out on my own. Richard dropped me off at the visitor center where I booked a room and got the bus information to head out for an overnight trip to Bako National Park.  I enjoyed being show around town and treated to many things I otherwise may not have experience but I was ready for some alone time and a little bit more nature.  The journey to the park involved an hour bus ride followed by a half hour boat ride. I arrived at the jetty around 12pm but to my dismay was told that i'd have to wait until 1:30 for the tide to rise, with nothing but a small coffee/snack shop to entertain me the time passed a bit slow, but I was in no rush, after all this was vacation. The boat fare was 47RM regardless of the amount of people so I was excited when 3 other travelers turned up to split the cost with me. 

The ride was enjoyable, if not a bit scary, I've come to realize i'm not the biggest fan of water related activity - I found myself with a death grip more than once during the trip. Two of the others in my boat were only staying for the day so they quickly took off to explore the park, leaving me with the guy from the UK whose name seems to have slipped my mind, we'll call him Rob. Anyway, we checked into our rooms, got some lunch (which Rob generously shared with the monkeys) and made our way out on the Pandan Besar/Kecil trail.  The estimated time was about 3 hours round trip which gave us plenty of time, including a stop at the beach.

"No Smoking" really?
Pandan Besar 

The night didn't hold much in terms of excitement, but I was expecting much from a National park. Rob and I hung out in the canteen sharing travel stories before heading to bed around 10:30, party animals for sure. I have to say one of the best parts of this park was that the accommodation (dorm room) was only 15RM (about $3) and there was no one else booked in my room so I basically had a log cabin to myself. The next morning we were up early, one of the first to the cafeteria for breakfast and soon after out on the trails. This time we chose the Lintang trail which made a nice loop of the grounds. About 6km, estimated to take around three and a half hours it sounded like a good task for the day.

Wild Boars
Proboscis Monkey

Perks of a hiking partner - action shots
Carnivorous pitcher plants
Feeling ambitious we also decided to add the Paku trail to the end of our hike, basically because it promised another beach at the end. This trail was even more up and down than the last and my knees were starting to scream at me, but still the scenery was enjoyable. Plus being the closest trail to the headquarters there were hikers of all ages, shapes and sizes along the way - I couldn't really give up or complain when there were old women along side me.  We soon reached the beach and couldn't get in the water fast enough! The tide was low so there wasn't much swimming to be done but the water was perfect and the view was gorgeous. Realizing that the headquarters was just around a rock ledge and the tide being so low we decided to trek back through the water, a much faster and easier route than the jungle we took in. 

Telok Assam beach 
quick swim around those rocks 
My two days at the park were just what I wanted, plus the added bonus of my hiking buddy rob who provided good entertainment for the trip. I got my dose of nature, exercise and animals before returning back to wrap up my visit to Kuching.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Think I'll Stay

Only a few days in and I knew that I had made the right choice by starting my vacation in Kuching. The people, food, sights, yoga....everything was awesome, the only thing I could've asked for was a bit more sun - but that's what you get when you plan a vacation during the rainy season.  Thursday morning came and we were off on another adventure, this time headed for Gunung Gading National Park. The main attraction at this park is the Rafflesia flower which can grow up to one meter in diameter (and i'm told) is pretty impressive. Unfortunately the flower blooms pretty much whenever the hell it wants to, with no particular season, and only lasts for 4 to 5 days. We figured the drive would be worth it even if the flower wasn't blooming considering the park is huge and has multiple hikes, some including waterfalls.

Why are you Here?

My first stop was Kuching, Sarawak Malaysia which is on the island of Borneo.  Generally when people plan trips to Malaysia this area is overlooked, and it's definitely not the first stop along their trek.  Hence the reason that many of the people I met in my first week were dumbfounded as to how I wound up in this small, rural city.  Upon arriving I was met by Richard, my first CS host, at the airport where we proceeded to the mall so I could get a Malaysian SIM card for my phone. He also treated me to a sushi dinner before dropping me off at the yoga studio, my home for the next weak. I definitely got lucky with this CS host - Richard is one of the most generous, adventurous and kind people I have met during my travels. Not only did he allow me to live in his yoga studio and take part in the classes for free, he also took it upon himself to play tour guide, driving me to various destinations and ensuring I always got enough to eat. Staying with Richard, his friends and family definitely made my visit to Kuching a unique and unforgettable experience. 

For my first day in Kuching Richard picked me up, along with another yoga teacher Sue, before meeting his wife Betty for breakfast.  Of course, being in Malaysia I had to eat as the locals do so my day started with a steaming bowl of Sarawak Laksa  a local favorite, and understandable so. Everyone at the table was concerned I wouldn't be able to stomach it, "It's spicy, are you sure you're okay?" but then Richard told them I've been living in South Korea and their fears quickly disappeared  "Oh, you eat Kimchi? You'll have no problem then" and they were right, there wasn't a dish in Malaysia that torched my taste buds...hats off for trying though. After breakfast Richard dropped me off at the waterfront so I could explore the city by foot.  I headed to the visitors info. center, grabbed a map and a guidebook and headed on my way. 

Breakfast: Dragonfruit smoothie and Sarawak Laksa 
Incense burning at the Tua Pek Kong Temple: 1843
That evening I wanted to make it back to the studio in time for Sue's yoga class at 6:30, Richard warned me that taking a cab around that time would only result in me paying to sit in traffic. My option were to either go back super early, wait until after the class, or walk...i'm sure you all know what I picked.  Thanks to google maps, and Richards Ipad (oh yeah, did I mention he let me borrow his Ipad while I was there!) I had no problem finding my way.  About an hour later, a bit sweaty and after hearing countless "Hello! Hi! Beautiful!" remarks from the locals, I arrived back at the studio, a quick change and it was time for yoga. Glad I made it because after class Sue invited me to join her, her husband and friend that was visiting from Indonesia for dinner. I'm telling you, these people are awesome! 

The next day Richard advised me that he'd be picking me up around 10 o'clock so that we could head north to the Santobong area. The plan was to do some hiking and maybe kayaking at Damai beach but the weather wasn't as cooperative, the waves were way to huge to go out and the threat of rain diminished our hopes of a good hike.  Instead Richards recommend I visit the Sarawak culture village to get a taste of what Malaysia is really like, despite the steep price (60RM ~ $20) it was well worth it including a cultural dance performance and tours through traditional Malaysian houses. The village covers 17.5 acres and includes 7 authentic houses of various native tribes: Bidayuh, Iban, Penan, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Malay and Chinese.

Old school hunting weapons 
Orang-Ulu longhouse
Richard and I outside the cultural village
After touring the village we still had a full afternoon to kill, Sue and her friend didn't want to pay to go through the village (and who could blame them, it's not like this is something new to them) so we went to find them by the beach.  Relaxing near the shore we sat for a while and did a bit of impromptu yoga.  Despite the cloudy skies and threat of rain we decided that the waves looked good for a bit of playing.  We quickly changed, stored our dry clothes in the car and headed for the beach. There really wasn't much of a beach more like a few rocks and a patch of sand, but we made due - and had a great time playing in the rain and waves while the rest of the crowd ran for shelter.  It was great to be stared at while with a few locals, proves that it's not always just the stupid foreigners who do crazy things attracting attention of others.

Looks perfect for swimming, no?
That night I got the chance to meet Richards daughter and the second yoga teacher, Alvin who treated us all to a challenging class.  Maybe it was the fact that it was about 80+ degrees in the studio but I was actually sweating in this class.  I know my mom can appreciate this, but for those of you that don't know - I don't sweat. I've actually hiked with numerous people in Taiwan, Korean and now Malaysia who've commented on the little amount of sweat I produce while they're usually dripping from head to toe - but this night Alivin made me sweat.  It may sound silly but I was actually excited as a bead of sweat rolled down my forehead and dropped to the floor as I balanced in half moon pose. It was turning out to be a great start to my vacation. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How it all began

Okay, here goes...time to try and recount what happened during my month long, winter vacation solo getaway. Hopefully a few people actually read these posts and maybe even enjoy them.Considering I'd be gone for a whole month, traveling to three different countries, and given my penny pinching background I figured I'd need a plan to save some money. First, I used Air Asia for as many flights as possible, their low cost fares are usually unbeatable and second I used couchsurfing (CS) whenever it was available. Thankfully the CS culture in Malaysia is huge and the people were some of the nicest I've ever met - hello new friends and goodbye completely solo trip.

Aside from booking flights and sending out a few CS requests I hadn't really planned all that much for my trip, shocking I know. Generally I like to have a plan and itinerary, thanks mom, but after changing most of my plans while traveling in Taiwan I realized that's not always the best method. There were a few things I knew that I wanted to do, like Thaipusam at the Batu Caves, but most of my trip was left to the cards. 

Anyway here's a map that highlights the cities I visited and a few other random things along the way - check it out if you want a frame of reference while you read along.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My vacation...if I were a true Korean

I'm assuming most of you are aware of my whereabouts for the last month, but for those of you living under a rock...i'm back from my SE tour of Malaysia, Singapore and Bali.  It was a whirlwind trip filled with lots of fun stories, which i'll happily share with you, in due time.  First I just wanted to give you a taste of my trip - while I work on the details of the rest...give me some time it might take a while for me to defrost and thaw out my fingers so I can get it all down. Just kidding, well kind of, Korea really is cold and snowy and i'm not used to it....

Let's go!