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Indonesia with a side of culture

sunny 27 °C

Well I have just got back from a cracking weekend in Jogja (more formally known as Yogyakarta but preferably pronounced in a very bogan accent as “jooogggjjjja”). Actually, I lied. I have not just got back. On account of getting up at 3.30am, 7am and 5.30am three mornings in a row, I was rather tired last night so did not have the energy to write this. But it was totally worth every ounce of lost sleep. As a wise person once said; “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”.

So after trying to do an all-nighter on Friday night (and failing – I caved in for two hours sleep), we arrived in Jogja bright and early at 7am on Saturday morning. And once again, it was literally a breath of fresh air. It felt like we had flown to another country for the weekend – we actually saw sun and blue sky and the grass was so green! – but it fairness, I think Jogja might give a truer representation of what Indonesia is really like, it’s just that living in Jakarta, we are led to believe that that is it. But if Jogja is a representation of the real Indonesia, then it truly is a beautiful country. And for all the ignorant bogans who don’t know anything about Indonesia, Jogja is closer to Bali!

We hit the ground running when we got to Jogja. Water Castle, tick, Sultan’s Palace, tick, silver markets, tick, ride in a becak (three-wheeled bicycle tuk-tuk type thing), tick. We saw batik and puppet making. Totally touristy I know, but it was nice to actually experience some culture that had at least attempted to be preserved. Although I didn’t think the Sultan’s Palace was particularly impressive – he should have just stuck with the Water Castle…

That first day we also made a vain attempt to see one of the renowned temples of the area at sunset, but as luck would have it, we got there before the sunset, but it was already closed. Never mind, we made up for it by unnecessarily blowing some money at the markets that they make you walk through as you exit the temple to try and trap you…well there was no need to trap us!

It turned out for the better though, as Sunday was just such a perfect day. Although the whole thing your meant to do with Borobodur is see it at sunrise (Borobodur by the way is a 9th century Buddhist temple, so it’s a pretty big deal now that Java is predominantly Islam) we decided that there were only so many pre-sunrise get ups one could handle in a weekend, so we slept in until 7am! (And for me personally I’ve seen a few temple sunrises in my time so all was good.) Anyway, it was amazing! Packed with tourists and all that jazz that you’d expect with the most visited tourist attraction in Indonesia, but it was so well maintained, and the beautiful sunny weather just topped things off – we were all excited to actually get sunburnt, being away from the protective UV layer of smog that descends on Jakarta. I must say though, the people coming up and asking for photos and interviews of you was getting a little tiresome, so much so where we had to start saying no just so we could get to see the thing! School kids would come up wanting to interview you about what you thought of Borobodur, and all I could reply was “I don’t know, I haven’t got a chance to see it yet!”

Next stop was Genung Merapi, one of the many volcanoes that looms over the Indonesian landscape. It’s not the kind of one that you can walk up to the crater on a day trip – it’s more like a three hour trek that usually starts at 1am because of the heat – but you can drive up through all the villages on the mountain side, and then walk a bit further to take in the amazing view. It’s last big eruption was in 2010 and it killed something like 153 people, so it was a pretty significant one. It was interesting to see the remains of houses and graveyards and what not that had been left behind, and what people had already rebuilt. For instance, a stall that shows phone credit. Because God knows, you wouldn’t want to run out on your hike to the crater!

Our last stop was Prambanan, where we had met closed gates the day before. It’s a Hindu temple, which is once again significant being on the island of Java, which is dominated by Islam. It’s meant to be ‘the’ spot to go at sunset, which I wasn’t really too fussed about having seen a fair few sunsets in my time as well, but we were lucky that we weren’t let in the day before because the sunset was stunning! (And I’ve got about 300 photos just of that to prove it…)



So yes, that was Jogja. Then the next morning it was up at 5.30am and straight back to reality. But I even got an article written – as Nick Faldo emailed me back! – so at least it was productive.

Hmmm, what else did last week contain… Well obviously I wrote a few stories here and there. One was about the fact that Liverpool have also opened up a football academy here, so I interviewed one of their coaches who also used to be a player for the Liverpool reserves, and I went out to see one of their trainings.

Another story was about a sports marketing seminar, which was run by Inter Milan as they are also thinking of opening up a football academy here. That was interesting enough seeing I love sports marketing, but then at the end I got to interview the CEO and CCO of Inter – crazy! It seemed so normal at the time, but when I got home and thought about it, it was so surreal. That actually is one of the good things about being a Caucasian journalist here – you may have to sit through a five-hour seminar in Bahasa (although luckily this Italian mob decided to speak in English!), but then at the end everyone is keen to talk to you, whether they’re a foreigner or whether they’re a local. Personally I just think they want to ask what the hell you’re doing in Jakarta, seeing there are virtually no bules (white people) here!

On Friday morning I did decide to treat myself and make the most of having mornings off, by going on a shopping expedition to Grand Indonesia. It might sound like a rather uncultured experience but honestly, Jakarta is practically a city of malls, so instead I will say I ‘saw the sights’. Yes I did buy a few things – not too much thankfully – but I figure I can chalk it down to some ‘cultural immersion’. Plus I only went to what I would consider as the ‘big 3’ – Forever 21, Topshop and Zara. Yes I know we have Topshop and Zara at home now, but everyone says they’re no good, so I’m just going to take their word for it!

Anyway, only three more days of the program left now, and because we have formal ceremony stuff and a shindig at the Ambassador’s house on Friday, that means only two days of work left. But they say time flies when you’re having fun…

Posted by ljmac2 07:42 Archived in Indonesia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises football jakarta indonesia yogyakarta market shopping sport islam prambanan borobodur jogja merapi nick_faldo sports_industry Comments (0)


one more stop closer to home...

overcast 26 °C

So back in Singapore…weird after being here less than six months ago. It’s also a very weird place to stay at a backpackers I’ve decided. Because Singapore is so ‘nice’ compared to the rest of South-East Asia, I feel that people mainly come here on the way home from their trip so they choose to stay somewhere ‘nice’ to make the most of the end of their trip. Don’t get me wrong, this Five Stones Hostel in Clarke Quay where I’m staying is very nice as far as backpackers go (and expensive too) but the vibe here is so weird. It seems that most people who stay here are here for a purpose, rather than just travelling through. For instance, I’ve never been to a backpackers where people go to bed at 3am and not because they’ve been out – because they’ve been on the computer!

However, it has been nice to have a couple of days layover in comparable luxury before I get stuck into having to actually use my brain in Jakarta! Originally I came here so I could get the visa I need for Indonesia, but seeing I got that all sorted in Ho Chi Minh, I literally just have a couple of days to do as I please.

So the night I first got here, I decided to do as many people do in Singapore, and splurge. I went to this bar called the New Asia Bar on the 71st floor of the Swisshotel, which has views all over Singapore, very similar to those available on the Singapore Flyer, except for the fact that it is higher than the Singapore Flyer! Being a sucker for a good high view, as well as bars, it was an excellent idea, except for the fact that I wanted to go up there for sunset, and being in a different time zone to previously, I misjudged how late sunset was actually going to be! Needless to say, it turned out to be a rather expensive affair, and once it was well and truly dark I found myself incredibly eager for the comparatively cheap McDonald’s dinner available downstairs under the hotel!

Yesterday I decided to be a true tourist and go to the zoo! (Similar to a good high view, I also love a good zoo!) Getting there turned out to be quite an adventure in itself however. I wanted to try and find this bus that went express to the zoo and only went from certain bus stops. I thought I’d found the stop but I had quite a wait so I sat down to read my book. Then this old Singaporean man came up to me and asked me if I had $2, and I don’t usually do that kind of thing, but I was going to be sitting there for a while so I thought I better be nice so I gave him $1, the only coin I had. It turned out to be $1 well spent. He ended up reading my palm and telling me how to get rid of my wrinkles and my tuck-shop lady arms…lol! Then this other old man came up to the bus stop and was making all this signs behinds the first old man’s back, saying he was crazy and don’t talk to him, etcetera etcetera, but he was ok. Then once the first old man left the second one decide he wanted to talk to me and that was enough entertaining the locals for one day for me – I decided to catch a train and then a taxi to the zoo instead! Luckily I have been here before so I vaguely understand how the MTR works.

Anyway, I did eventually get to the zoo, and it was great. Luckily for me it was ‘raining’ earlier in the day (and by that I mean spitting) so that kept the crowds at bay. The Singapore Zoo is well famed for being an open landscaped zoo, meaning that rather being kept in cages, the animals are kept in ‘habitats’. So obviously they can’t come up to you and attack you – they are separated from you by a strategically placed ditch or pond or log…depending on the type of animal, the bigger that ditch may be. But it was really well done. They are very proud of the fact that Steve Irwin apparently considered Singapore Zoo Australia Zoo’s sister, and a lot of the animals in the zoo, especially the crocs, came from Australia Zoo. Also there’s this whole Australian Outback section in the zoo that apparently Steve Irwin designed and opened and what not, so as I said, they are very proud…

Given the ordeal that it took me to get out there (even though it’s really not that far – in how many places can you take the metropolitan train system to the other side of the country?!) I decided to stay and zoo myself out at the Night Safari, next door. It’s a similar concept to the Singapore Zoo with it’s open planned-ness and what not, except a) it’s only open at night (duh) and b) it’s kind of bigger, in a Werribee Open Plains Zoo sense. There are different ‘habitats’, such as the Himalayas, African savannah and South-East Asian rainforest, with the corresponding animals set out throughout the park, and you get this tram, which drives through it all in about 40 minutes. It is really good, except for the crowds – no bad weather seems to want to keep them away. Luckily however, you can walk most of the park, which surprising very few people choose to do. I must admit, it is quite daunting, especially since I did it on my own and it’s a) night, b) barely lit, seeing you’re meant to be looking at the nocturnal animals, c) there are things flying everywhere (you can go into caves and see them up close if you want – no thank you), and d) it’s an open plan zoo! Those tigers in particular are especially stealth! But it’s ok as at the Night Safari, the bigger, more dangerous animals, like the lions and tigers and hyenas are a bit more securely enclosed.

Anyway, despite the crowds, I did end up doing the tram as well, as they make it so that there’s a part of the park that you can’t see by foot. It’s well worth doing though, although given that predominantly the tourists here are Asian (and we know how snap-happy they are!) I think they get a bit disgruntled that you can’t take photos with a flash due to the fact that the animals are nocturnal and it’s night time, which means that basically, you can’t take photos at all! With both zoo’s they are definitely major tourist attractions, but they definitely hound you with the message of conservation, which is good, and I guess is especially important in Asia where they may not receive as much education on this.

So it was a big day at the zoos yesterday – I didn’t get home until 12! Tonight I fly to Jakarta, so I’m not going to do anything too strenuous today. Although I did by chance discover that the shoes I bought to wear in Jakarta (you have to wear a certain type of shoes – it will be the first time I haven’t worn thongs in about 2 and a half months!) have mysteriously gone missing, despite the fact that I haven’t even worn them yet! Luckily, I actually bought them when I was here in July on Bugis Street, so it looks like I’ll be heading back there this afternoon!

I probably won’t get a chance to blog now until 2012 (next year!) so I hope you all have a fabulous weekend seeing the New Year in, and that it is a great one for you ☺ xoxo

Posted by ljmac2 17:40 Archived in Singapore Tagged jakarta singapore bus shopping zoo raining weather tourists backpackers bus_stop australia_zoo conservation singapore_zoo night_safari steve_irwin singapore_flyer bugis_street swisshotel new_asia_bar five_stones_hostel Comments (0)

Nha Trang

...the unknown Russian state

overcast 26 °C

So I think I may have over-budgeted on the tan…

Seriously, Nha Trang was nice and all, but the weather was less than desirable…although from the ever informative CNN, I get the feeling it has been like that around a lot of South-East Asia.

So as for similarities between Ho Chi Min and Nha Trang, they include hating Americans and both being Vietnamese cities. (However, I will say that one thing the Vietnamese definitely get from the Yanks, even if they don’t like to admit it, is the whole flag patriotism thing. Seriously you can’t swing a cat without it being there! The same goes for the communism flag with the hammer and sickle on it – it’s everywhere!) The differences however are far more interesting. For starters, Nha Trang is on the coast, whilst Ho Chi Minh is not, and also Nha Trang is basically a state of Russia – there are Russian tourists everywhere! Seriously everything is written in Vietnamese, English…and Russian! And from my experience of walking into many places and being spoken to in a language I don’t understand (as apparently I look Russian, or at least European by the way…), I would say Russian is the preferred second language here…it’s so weird, probably the only place I haven’t travelled to where English isn’t the preferred second language. There are even flights direct from Russia to Nha Trang. Either it’s the whole communism thing, or some rich Russian bought a big bit of land down the Vietnam coast…

Anyway, besides from the lackluster weather, we had a fabulous time in Nha Trang. We stayed at a beautiful hotel, which made things just that little bit nicer, and in all honesty, the weather (or lack thereof) made us get out and see Nha Trang in ways that we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

One day we went to the local market, which compared to those in Ho Chi Minh, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh was really quite paltry, but we still managed to buy five pairs of shoes between us among other things! I swear, one day I will go on a trip where I don’t have to send anything home…so far I am onto box three!

Then another day we went to the hot springs and mudbaths, which was actually really cool, and I’m glad we went as it gave me the opportunity to swim somewhere that wasn’t absolutely freezing (seeing they don’t heat their pools over here as apparently it’s warm all the time!) However, we didn’t realize it was a whole day kind of thing, we thought it was you just go and have a dip and be on your way. But there were mud baths and mineral springs and mineral Jacuzzi and mineral pools and mineral waterfalls and all manner of things that took up the majority of the day. It would have been good to know that before we went. Not only is the mud meant to be amazing for your skin, but being in the pool where the water is 37.5-39 degrees Celsius is meant to be so good for you that you don’t even have to pretend to exercise by doing laps – awesome!

On probably the gloomiest day we had there, Christmas Eve, we went to Vinpearl, which is basically an amusement park on a neighbouring island. It was so cold that I had to wear leggings and a cardigan, clothes that I had only brought with me to wear to work in Jakarta, where I have to dress respectfully and what not. Anyway, to get over to Vinpearl you get a cable car, which is all included in the price of the ticket, which is very reasonable really seeing it is $18 including the cable car, the water park (pity it was so freezing, the waterslides looked awesome!), the underwater world (fancy word for aquarium), the food and shopping centre, and the indoor and outdoor theme parks. Given the poor weather (as otherwise I totally would have spent all my time on the waterslides!) we got to have a good look at everything. I even convinced Mum to go on the rollercoaster…apparently she likes the Scenic Rollercoaster at Luna Park, however after this particular outing she informed me that her rollercoaster days were over! At the indoor theme park there was one of those 4D virtual rides that we went on, where they show a movie in 3D and you sit on this platform that kind of moves with it so you feel like you’re in the movie. Anyway, Mum and I were the only anglos to be seen for a mile and man you should have heard everyone else’s reactions to all the twists and turns they took (virtually) on the movie screen…they were screaming and squealing, I swear they thought it was real – hilarious, the best part of it!

Anyway, I suppose this has been a rather short blog, but there is only so much you can write about sleeping in and having leisurely breakfasts and reading whilst you listen to the waves crash on the beach… But I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas wherever you happened to be in the world, and that you all managed to share it with good people who were good fun. Christmas is a bit of a non-event in our family now, but we are thinking of you always ☺ xoxo

Posted by ljmac2 05:07 Archived in Vietnam Tagged beach market shopping vietnam weather language english ho_chi_minh_city americans nha_trang vinpearl mud_baths russians Comments (0)

Good Morning Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

overcast 24 °C

In an effort to make up for my slackness on my blog during the latter stages of my time in Siem Reap, here is a very timely update on my time spent in Ho Chi Minh City, my first taste of Vietnam.

Let’s just say that despite being less than an hour’s flight from Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh is a world away. I don’t know what I expected when coming here, yet it is very different from my expectations. It is much ‘richer’ than I imagined it to be, and whilst I’m sure in the outer districts and villages poverty is rife, Hoh Chi Minh pretty much reminds me of a slightly smaller Bangkok, with less smell and more motos (if that’s even possible!) Brands are prevalent here. In Cambodia the only legitimate international brands I saw while I was there was KFC (which possibly stood for Khmer Fried Chicken) and believe it or not, Adidas. Here they’ve got everything, from Chloe and Gucci, right down to Gloria Jean’s!

I feel a little bit sorry for Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh on me coming here straight from Siem Reap, as I feel like Cambodia’s my second home by now and so my judgment is rife! However, so far I do feel that what I have heard about there being a certain warmness to Cambodia that there is not in Vietnam, is true. It’s not that the people are necessarily unfriendly, but they don’t go out of their way to talk to you or introduce you to their culture. Hence, I still know no words in Vietnamese after being here four days already, so everywhere I go I just want to say “au kawn” (Khmer for thank you). Also I suspect there is a much stronger Christian presence here, as it is like a typical Asian city that is obsessed with Christmas. There are decorations and carols everywhere, and you can’t walk into a shop without someone wearing a Santa hat. For those who think I am the Grinch when it comes to Christmas, never fear, Vietnam will get that out of me! Plus whenever people say “hello” to you here, there is not the obligatory bow holding your hands together in the praying position, as there is in Cambodia and Thailand. Maybe it’s the communism, I don’t know…

Also, given how big this city is and that it is a bit of an international business hub, it is surprising at how poor a lot of the English is here. Many shop attendants right in the centre of the district where all the tourist hotels are, speak very limited, if any, English, which is a shock given that this is a tourist town as much as Siem Reap is, and a much richer one at that. It’s got to come down to how much they hate the American’s here. I guess I expected them to still hate them, but just not so openly. If you’re an American tourist coming here, you better have thick skin! You can’t even change Vietnam Dong, the local currency, back into US Dollars, even though they accept both currencies here, which made it very difficult for me when I was trying to get my Indonesian visa, which like all countries pretty much, only accept payment for the visas in US cash!

I may sound like I am being negative but don’t get be wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here. Unlike most places I go on holidays with Mum, I haven’t been here before, so this time we have been quite touristy and learned, visiting a lot of things, particularly to do with the war. First there was the War Relics Museum, which was interesting, mainly due to the fact of how one-sided it is. To be fair, the Vietnam War is one I know little about, but I feel coming here has not increased my education much as it is so one-sided! Inside it is full of exhibits showing letters from other governments and photos of rallies held around the world that were against the Vietnam War. Literally, there is a map of the world listing countries that are ‘friends’ with Vietnam, and every country is listed! However, outside was pretty cool, as there were all these restored US tanks and plane and choppers, which was pretty amazing that they actually went to the effort to restore them seeing they belonged to the US! It’s annoying in one way how one-sided it all is, but at the same time, what do you expect in a communist state? They have never been taught anything different so they don’t know any different. And to a much lesser degree, do we really know Germany or Japan’s perspectives behind World War II? Not that I think I would agree with them or anything…

Yesterday, we went to the Independence Palace, which I don’t really understand the significance of seeing it’s not where the President lives anymore, but it was bombed during the war and then when the South won their freedom from the US or whatever, they crashed through the gates and that was a huge deal apparently. However, ‘palace’ is a bit of an odd term to use for it, especially after seeing various ‘working’ palaces throughout South-East Asia. Seeing that it had to be restored after being bombed in the 70s, it is 70s architecture at it’s prime, which I’m sure was very hip back then, but now it looks somewhat tired. Wouldn’t dare tell the Vietnamese that though!

We also went to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, which are about 70ks out of Ho Chi Minh (which translates to two hours because of the traffic!) They are incredibly proud of these and apparently they were instrumental to their ‘victory’ in the South during the war, but I find this odd seeing Mum hadn’t even heard of them until she left home! However, to their credit, at least they achieved their goal of being secretive… Basically the tunnels are a network of 200ks of underground passages that the Cu Chi ‘guerillas’ and community lived in for 15 years, from 1960 until the end of the war in 1975. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I would have just let the American’s bomb me and die a martyr and come back as something good rather thank live like that for 15 years. Seriously they must have really wanted to live. Although now apparently all the residents of Cu Chi live the life, as they get houses and rice fields and a never-ending pension from the government because of what they did for their country during the war. Thankfully they are looked after seeing that out of the 16,000 people that lived in these tunnels only 4,000 survived.

There is one section of the tunnels that they have opened to tourists and widened so tourists can go in them, and no joke, everyone had to crawl. I wouldn’t call myself claustrophobic, but there’s no air down there, and when people stop and it’s dark and you can’t move, it’s not fun at all…and that was only three meters down travelling for 20 meters! There were three levels of the tunnels and the deepest was 10 meters! Apparently the location of the rest of the tunnels remains a secret because quote, unquote “one day we might have to go to war with Cambodia or China”. Oh dear! However, out at the tunnels was pretty interesting, they showed you all sorts of things about how they lived out there, namely all of the different kinds of traps they made to kill the Americans and all the bomb craters where the Americans tried to kill them but they didn’t succeed because the tunnels were so deep…seriously there was a lot about how many Americans they killed and how dumb the Americans were…although to be fair at one stage the tunnel people built one under the US Army base and would sneak up there and kill approximately five soldiers a night, and it took the Americans a year to work out where these people were coming from… We also watched a lovely propaganda video, where again, quote unquote, they Americans were described as “crazy, evil demons”…

Anyway, besides exhibits on how much the Vietnamese hate the Americans, there is other stuff to do in Ho Chi Minh. Mainly shopping to be fair, although again, nothing is anywhere near as cheap as Cambodia due to the prevalence of all the air-conditioned, high-end shopping centres here. However, there was a good market right next to our hotel that was open day and night, which was rather convenient ☺ Also, the French influence is still very prevalent here, with some beautiful buildings such as the Notre Dame Church and the City Hall. I guess seeing this whole Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos region used to be known as French Indochina that’s pretty understandable, it’s just that you don’t notice the architecture as much in Cambodia and Laos, as they do not have the money to restore their buildings to their former glory.

Anyway, it has been quite a relaxing time here, and I must admit it has been lovely to sleep in a room with curtains that block out the light, and in a bed when I can sleep with a doona and I don’t get hot because there’s air con! Right now we’re at the oh-so-flash Ho Chi Minh domestic airport heading to Nha Trang by the beach so now I hope to get a real tan, not just a riding-your-bike-to-school tan!

Posted by ljmac2 06:03 Archived in Vietnam Tagged shopping cambodia siem_reap vietnam laos vietnam_war ho_chi_minh_city nha_trang cu_chi_caves independence_palace war_remnants_museum french_architecture french_indochina Comments (0)

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