Tom's Travel Blog

Independent travel around Eastern Europe, East Asia and beyond

Indonesia

by tom on 12/08/2018

The idea with the Indonesia trip was to get some time off work, and go and see one of the only countries in Asia I haven’t been to! This time I took 2 weeks off work, as 10 days didn’t seem like it would be long enough, and I was right. I didn’t get to complete my plan entirely, which was to go to the Togean islands in the north of Sulawesi, but it was still interesting and leaves something to do for next time!

Indonesia is a huge country and this becomes obvious when you start travelling. Every journey consists of several forms of transport, all to get to/from where you’re going to. There’s a strong Muslim influence on the island of Java, and more of a Christian influence in Sulawesi. Despite this, it’s still virtually impossible to find a beer in convenience stores, and you have to look quite hard to find one!

This time the photos are a mix of photos taken on my phone, and photos taken on my camera.

Saturday

  • Get flight to Jakarta. The instructions I had from the hostel on how to get there weren’t very clear, and it wasn’t very clear from the airport how you get to the ‘airport train station’. It also wasn’t very obvious when I was there that it’s a dedicated train station (this is obvious once you’ve been), but I spent quite a lot of time asking how you get to the train station, and getting from there to the train station for the train to central Jakarta
  • Get train to Kota, the main train station in the old area
  • Find Cafe Batavia, which was on my list from going there the first time, but not eat in it
  • Eat in a touristy restaurant that wasn’t very expensive (relatively) but still quite good
  • Sit in the ‘women only’ part of the train by mistake on the way home (usually the first or last carriage), much to the amusement of the women sitting there
  • Miss my stop on the way back, and have to get a taxi back to the hostel.

Sunday

  • Eat in a good buffet-style restaurant
  • Go to an area around the Central Business District that the girl recommended in the hostel, as they had a ‘car free’ day on Sunday morning, but I think I missed it by an hour or so, as it wasn’t cordened-off when I got there
  • Stand in the ‘women only’ section of the bus by mistake, going to the National Monument!
  • Go to the National Monument. I queued up to get inside here, but they wanted 20,000 IDR to get in, and you had to load it on a bank card, which you could only use at 1 or 2 other places, plus the upper floor was shut, so I decided against it
  • Go to the National Museum. This was actually quite interesting and I learnt quite a lot about human evolution and how people ended up in Indonesia
  • Eat in another buffet-style restaurant, close to the hostel
  • Go back to the old part of the city to walk around.

Monday

  • Eat in the same buffet-style restaurant as before (it was good)
  • Get a SIM card from a street vendor on the way to the train station
  • Go to the train station and buy a ticket for Yogyakarta. As I was waiting, I got talking to an Indonesian man, who’s son is in Norway, and whom he was going to go and visit for a month
  • Go to Bogor Botanical Garden
  • Go to eat in a BBQ restaurant and get charged too much (I thought the guy said 10,000 IDR for a fish, it was actually 100,000 IDR)
  • Get ready for the train journey the next day.

Tuesday

  • Get the train to Yogyakarta at 6.45 am
  • Find a guest house in Yogyakarta by walking around. I accepted the offers of some people on the street to show me their places, and found somewhere which is my ideal idea of somewhere to stay in south east Asia
  • Find a bar in Yogyakarta, for a well-earned drink
  • Buy a t-shirt with Jogja written on it, which actually looks pretty cool
  • Eat in a dirty restaurant, and start to feel ill.

Wednesday

  • Hire a motorbike and go to Prambanan. This is one of the 2 major monuments in Jogja, and I would say is probably my 2nd favourite temple in south east Asia, after Angkor Wat
  • Went to Candi Abang, an old hill-top fort. This wasn’t very interesting, but driving around the countryside was good and I stopped for Nasi Groeng in a small road-side restaurant
  • Try to go to Ratu Boko, another temple complex, but they wanted 360,000 IDR for it, and locals were charged 40,000 IDR. As I didn’t even have this amount of cash on me, I had to walk away
  • Walk around Prambanan with the sun going down.

Thursday

  • Still feeling unwell from 2 days earlier, I got barely any sleep, and got woken up by the call to prayer at 4.30 am
  • Ride a motorbike to Borobudur. This isn’t as impressive as Prambanan (I don’t think), but still one of the main attractions in Jogja
  • Eat in a better restaurant and choose the local chicken over the generic one (more tasty)
  • Do a quick circuit of the Kraton on Jogja before returning the bike
  • Have to pay twice for the laundry service (probably), as the women in the shop didn’t stamp my ticket the first time. Even with no English, I was able to make it pretty clear that I wasn’t happy about this
  • Eat in another restaurant, and get ill again. This time I got properly ill, and I think it sorted the first one out! This time I think it was because of the drink that I ordered, and possibly a dirty glass
  • Have a stressful time paying for a flight with Lion Air, as they didn’t accept credit cards less than 48 hours before a flight, so I had 2 hours to find a convenience store that they accepted payments from, explain what I wanted, and pay for it.

Friday

  • Get woken up by the call to prayer at 4.30 am. This time I had earplugs in, and it still woke me up
  • Get the train to Surabaya
  • Get a taxi to the hostel, and decide to change hostels, as the first one was in a business centre, quite dirty and makeshift-looking
  • Walk to another hostel and check in
  • Go to the House of Sampoerna, an old tobacco factory started in the Dutch colonial time for the locally-made Sampoerna cigarettes. The cigarettes are still made there by hand, and if you get there on time, you can view the factory floor where they make them. Each person hand-rolls cigarettes (they have automated plants elsewhere in Asia and Indonesia) and can roll up to 1 every 30 seconds
  • Get a taxi back to the hostel, as I was still feeling weak from being ill
  • Eat lunch and dinner in a mall, as this was the best suggestion from the people working in the hostel.

Saturday

  • Get a shuttle taxi to the airport. This was basically a car that the hostel had that they used to give customers a lift to the airport in
  • Fly to Manado
  • Find a hotel in Manado. I was instantly struck by the contrast with Surabaya; the streets were a lot quieter, traffic moved a lot slower and the pace of life was completely different
  • Walk around Manado, and find somewhere that looks good for dinner
  • After going back to the hotel to rest, I left for dinner but couldn’t find the restaurant that I found earlier. After walking around for a bit, I found somewhere else which was a cake shop and lamb restaurant. The owner could speak a bit of English, and explained what some of the things on the menu were, from which I chose a few things I thought sounded OK
  • Go to the only alcohol shop in the whole of Manado, and purchase 1 bottle of beer. I then sat in the only place that was really convenient to the hotel (the hotel reception) and drank it.

Sunday

  • Get a bus to Bitung, change for a mikrolet to Girian (a minibus that goes around town, looking for customer to pick up), and change for a pickup truck to Batuputih. This was literally a pickup truck with some wooden slats across the back, with whole families of Indonesians on, that only left when full, and is probably one of the most basic (and coolest) forms of transport I’ve ever been on
  • Walk around in Batuputih and find a guest house
  • Walk to the beach (suggested by the guest house owner), and walk down the beach, taking people’s photos. I didn’t intend to take many people’s photos, but so many people came and asked me, that I ended up spending 20 minutes at one point, just taking photos of people and their family members
  • Watch a speedboat race, that was taking place at the end of the beach, where the boats started out at sea, and then raced each other back to the beach. I think this is an annual event that takes place for 1 or 2 weeks every year, and the whole village gets involved.

Monday

  • Get a tour of the national park (the reason for going to Batuputih), and see:
    Black Macaque
    Tarsier
    Sulawesi Hawk Eagle
    Cuscus
    Kingfisher
    Woodpecker
    Lizards
  • The Black Macaques were travelling in a large group, and as I was getting closer to take photos of some of them, the group, consisting of large and small monkeys, were all passing me on both sides, both walking on the forest floor and climbing through the trees. I decided to back off a bit when I could see some bigger ones coming from the back!
  • After the tour, as I had a pass for the whole day, I walked back up the beach (in the opposite direction to before) and found a white sand beach that was in part of the national park
  • Go back to the part of the beach that had boat racing the days before, but there was no boat racing at that time.

Tuesday

  • Do the reverse journey from Batuputih back to Manado
  • Leave my stuff in the same hotel as before and buy phone data, change money, and eat traditional Minahasan food in the restaurant that I was trying to find before! This was probably my favourite meal in the whole of Indonesia
  • Get a Grab to the ferry terminal
  • Get a ferry to Bunaken
  • Walk around, trying to find a guest house. In the end I settled for the owner’s son’s room of one of the homestays, which was the only reasonably-priced place I could find.

Wednesday

  • Find somewhere to go diving the next day
  • Borrow snorkelling stuff from the dive centre and go snorkelling on the house reef. This is some of the best snorkelling I’ve ever done, and you could see turtles from the surface
  • Go to a bar in the evening.

Thursday

  • Get to the diving centre at 8am, with the plan of leaving to go diving at 9am (actually much later than this)
  • Do 2 dives in the morning, and 1 in the afternoon
  • Move my stuff from the old homestay to the new one (a tropical chalet)
  • Go to the same bar in the evening with the other people from the homestay. The homestays in Bunaken are all very sociable, with shared eating and common areas. In the bar, one of the guys who runs another resort came to buy some crisps, and while he was there, started playing the contrabass, a kind of huge, immovable bass guitar with 1 string. After that he called his friends who are in the same band, who turned up on a scooter, and they started playing music for 1-2 hours, with local songs included. We also had to sing along at one point.

Friday

  • Get a motorbike from the resort back to the ferry port. Somehow, the guy who drives the boat, is the same one who goes around collecting everyone for the boat, and was able to come to my resort and give me a lift back
  • Get the ferry back to Manado
  • Struggle to find a taxi to the airport, so go back to the same hotel from before. I got the guy who works on reception to order a Grab taxi, but as soon as the taxi turned up, I saw him go out and take some cash from the driver. This was instantly suspicious, as normally I would pay the driver directly, and then they asked me for 100,000 IDR, even though it was 60,000 IDR to come in the opposite direction. At this point, there was a taxi from a reputable firm parked directly behind him, so when I went to talk to the driver of this taxi, they changed their price to more what I would expect. So I didn’t waste people’s time, I took the original Grab taxi, but didn’t appreciate the opportunism of my previously hospitable host
  • Get a flight from Manado to Jakarta, via Surabaya. The flight was delayed for 90 minutes in Manado, so we eventually arrived in Jakarta, after having received various free meals and drinks as compensation
  • Get a bus from the airport to the area of Jakarta I was staying in
  • Get an o-jek from the bus station to the hotel. O-jek, the precursor to Go-Jek (competitor to Grab), is just a motorbike taxi, but instead of hailing them on the street, you need to use an app. As I was having problems with the app finding my hotel, I had to accept the services of an un-scrupulous-looking o-jek driver, who drove incredibly fast, without giving me a helmet, and then over-charged me when we got there. Even though we agreed the price before leaving, this was still significantly higher than using Grab or Go-Jek, so I could understand why these apps had become so popular
  • Get 1 or 2 more motorbike taxis, to get to and from the place I was seeing my friend.

Saturday

  • Get a motorbike to the bus station, and a bus to the airport
  • Fly back to Taipei
  • Get the MRT back home. Phew!

Cambodia Part 3

by tom on 14/02/2018

The idea with this trip was to get 9-10 days outside of Taiwan for Chinese New Year (CNY). I chose Cambodia, as there was still some stuff I wanted to do there and I though that as I was going to fairly remote areas (the south coast), that it’d be fairly quiet. What I didn’t know, is that the Khmer also celebrate CNY, and the places I was going to would also be fairly busy, but with Khmer (people)!

As this was more of an impromptu holiday, this post will be in bullet-point form, and the next one (hopefully Indonesia) should be a fuller write-up.

Saturday

  • Leave the house at 4 am and get a taxi to the bus station, and then a bus to the airport. As there is now an MRT line from the airport to Taipei, getting the bus from Taipei to to the airport is how you used to do it, but at 4-5 am, unless you want to get a taxi to the airport, this is the only option
  • Get a motorbike taxi from the airport to the same area in Phnom Penh I stayed in before. After walking around for about 40 minutes to see what had changed, and asking if hotels/guest houses had room, I ended up staying in the same hotel as before!
  • Walk to Wat Phnom, which I had never been to before, sit by the river, eat in a restaurant close to the night market and then walk around the night market.

Sunday

  • Walk around Phsar Thmey central market with colonial architecture
  • Walk around the Royal Palace/Silver Pagoda, which I had also not been to before
  • Walk along the river, back to the hotel, and talk to a local Khmer guy who worked in a hotel but had also worked in hotels in Hong Kong and Singapore
  • Go to a colonial-era bar, which I had been meaning to go to for ages (the Foreign Correspondents Club), which was OK and not quite as special as I was hoping.

Monday

  • Get a tuk-tuk to the bus station and end up going to about 4 bus stations, before going to the one I wanted to go to, and arrive 40 minutes later, even though it should have taken about 5-10 minutes
  • Once at the bus station, I figured out that the bus times in the local guide book I was using were wrong, and the only options were expensive buses or buses a long time in the future, so I decided to walk to another bus company’s office, to find the same thing, and then walk back and get the next bus with the original bus company, which wasn’t too far in the distant future
  • Get a very long, hot bus journey to Kampot and stay in the same guest house as before (the woman who runs the guest house recognised me).

Tuesday

  • Hire a motorbike and got to Bokor National Park. I tried to do this the 2nd time I was in Cambodia, but got part of the way up the mountain before it started raining, and then had to head back.
  • This time, I completely underestimated a) how far it was to the top of the mountain b) how far it was between the sights in the park. I put enough petrol in the tank for what I thought was just 1 mountain, but actually it’s a series of mountains, with sights distributed over a large area. When I went to the waterfall in Bokor I had to ask where to get petrol, and ended up getting it from a farm in the end
  • See the Popokvil waterfall, with 2 levels
  • Go to the church and various abandoned buildings/villas
  • Look for the famous, abandoned casino, which I was unable to find. This is one of the main reasons for going to Bokor, and I got to the end of the track and decided to stop for something to eat, as I had been going for some time at this point. As I was sitting in the cafe, opposite a big, new hotel, some other tourists came and sat at the same table. We started talking, and it turns out that the big, new hotel, was the casino! They had finished renovating it, and had only been open for 5-6 days. Luckily, they let you into the garden at the back, to see the spectacular, virgin rainforest drop from the top of the mountain (where the hotel was) down to the ocean. This casino was built during the French colonial time, and the ruling elite who got to go there when it was a working casino would have been incredibly lucky to see it.

Wednesday

  • Get a minivan to Koh Kong. This is effectively a van/minibus, which is usually completely overloaded and picks people up/drops people off as it goes along the route. In my case, I think there were about 15 people in it, plus a motorbike and some chickens
  • Walk around in Koh Kong looking for a guest house, with some indication of how busy it was going to get at CNY, as places were only really available for 1 or 2 nights. Eventually I ended up staying in a guest house with about 30 rooms, where I seemed to be the only person staying there
  • As I was walking around Koh Kong in the evening, I walked though an impoverished area close to the river, with loads of groups of screaming kids who were happy to see me.

Thursday

  • Hire a motorbike and go to Thma Bang. I was only able to find 1 semi-automatic motorbike in Koh Kong, so took it and paid the extra money to take it out of the city. On the way to Thma Bang, I went to the bus station to get the bus times for the trip to Pursat or Kampot (and then Phnom Penh)
  • Go to the Tatai waterfall, along the route from Koh Kong to Thma Bang
  • Ride the 40 km dirt track (which is new and in good condition) to Thma Bang, and look for the ranger station that the guide book said was able to help you set up accommodation and tours. I wasn’t able to find the ranger station, so asked in the police station instead, and they were able to point me in the direction of guest houses, but no ranger station. In the village centre, there was a sign pointing down another dirt track for eco-tourism and some phone numbers, so as it was only ~20 km, I decided to go and have a look, and if there was nothing there, could come back and stay in one of the guest houses in Thma Bang before heading back to Koh Kong. I rode though some amazing jungle and past a lot of houses with people celebrating CNY outside them, and eventually got to the end of the dirt track. When I turned round, Meas and two police officers (I’m guessing one national police and one military police) met me on the road. Meas was asking if I wanted to go trekking, and the police officers wanted my ID and a photo of me and the motorbike, to record who was in the area. As Thma Bang had so little in it, I decided to stay in the village, and Meas took me to his friends house, where they gave me something to eat, plus some special CNY stuff, like turtle, banana wine (they said it was about 95%) and quite a lot of beer. After that I stayed in a homestay, which they were still building, and slept on the floor.

Friday

  • Wake up and go for coffee and breakfast in various peoples’ houses. As the village is so close to the mountains, it was quite cold at this point, as the humidity from the rainforest had come into the village and lowered the temperature at night. As it was CNY, nowhere was open to get food, so Meas went and bought some vegetables and made breakfast
  • After eating we went trekking in the Cardamom Mountains, which is what I was there for. We went to a waterfall, which had water coming through an overhang it had eroded a hole though, and went past another overhang, which Meas said had been used by locals to hide from the Khmer Rouge when they were attacking
  • See various wild animals and plants, including a glimpse of a Great Hornbill. Meas was able to point out several things that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen or known about, which made having a guide worth it, including sites and the paths used by illegal loggers in the Cardamoms
  • After eating the sticky rice lunch we brought, we came down the mountain into a banana plantation and walked through this to find the road back to the village. Walking back along the road, we stopped at several peoples’ houses, as it was CNY and they were all drinking and doing karaoke and wanted us to go over
  • When I got back to the village I packed my stuff and rode the 90 km back to Koh Kong
  • When I got back to Koh Kong, I was surprised to find that the population seemed to have tripled whilst I was away and there was nowhere to stay, including the guest house I had stayed in before. After walking around and going to various hotels and guest houses (all were full), I went back to the original one and took the owner up on her offer of sleeping on the bed behind the reception desk. After I went to dinner, I came back to find bed sheets, covers and a fan, and I stayed in reception watching Khmer boxing before it was time to go to sleep.

Saturday

  • Get a mini van back to Kampot. In Kampot I had the same problem as Koh Kong, were everywhere was full, and when I was walking back from the bus station after arriving, I saw some foreigners coming out of one guest house I’d never tried before. After walking around and going to about 7 different places, I took the 1 room the owner had available, which may have been the last reasonable room available in Kampot at that time/price
  • Go to the same restaurant as before, which this time was mega-busy, and end up waiting about 2.5 hours for all my food to arrive, and in this time drink about 4 beers.

Sunday

  • Go to the central market in Kampot, before leaving, to see what had changed
  • Get a bus back to Phnom Penh, where I got off the bus too early, as I thought everyone was getting off, and the stop looked almost identical to the stop before it, and the last stop where the bus company’s office is
  • Get a massage, as my back hurt so much from sleeping on hard surfaces for 2 nights, that I could barely walk
  • Go back to a restaurant that I went to before, which also took a long time.

Monday

  • Get a flight back to Taipei, but have to go to about 4 money changers on the way there, as I didn’t have enough cash in US Dollars or Riel to pay for the motorbike taxi without getting any more money out. In the end I got US Dollars out of an ATM in the airport, went to a money changer in the airport (to give me change), and then paid the motorbike taxi driver the fare, including extra for the extra time/distance, plus a tip
  • Get the MRT back home in Taipei.

Myanmar

by tom on 13/03/2017

You know you’re going somewhere special when the time zone is 1.5 hours different to the country that you’re coming from. This was confirmed the next morning, when I looked out of the window to see women walking down the street with the traditional Burmese sun-cream on their faces, made from the wood of locally grown trees. Myanmar is not as different to its neighbouring south east Asian countries as I was expecting, but it is different enough to make it an experience travelling there.

This blog post will be slightly different to before: more photos, some videos, and less text. I will list what I did in bullet points, and try and provide some explanation for the photos and videos that I’m uploading.

This was another 10-day holiday from work, which is pretty much the maximum amount of time I can get off, with both paid and un-paid leave combined. As with the other 10-day trips to the Philippines, I tried to pack in as much as possible, whilst still making it a fun and enjoyable trip.

Sunday

  • Get flight to Yangon, changing in Hong Kong
  • Get a taxi to the hostel

Monday

  • Walk around Yangon
  • Cannot change money, because it’s a public holiday (May Day), so I get money from an ATM (of which there are many)
  • Eat at an outside, local, sit-down restaurant, close to Maha Bandoola Garden
  • Sit in Maha Bandoola Garden. At least 3 different people come over to talk to me, including a Buddhist monk from Sri-Lanka, who was there on holiday
  • Look at Sule Pagoda (from the outside only, as it was $3 to get in and wasn’t very big)
  • Walk through India town
  • Get a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Dinner and beer in Chinatown, on “beer street”, which is exactly like the kind of thing I’d eat in Taiwan, only with Myanmar beer

Tuesday

  • Get train ticket to Began
  • Tea and lunch in a local tea shop. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea eating the warm noodles that I’d been served, with such a long train journey coming up, but then I remembered what had made me ill on previous trips, and thought it was probably fine
  • Go to Bogyoke Aung San market
  • Overnight sleeper train to Began. Here I met Pedro, who I shared a cabin with for the trip. The train hadn’t been updated since the British left Burma (by the look of it), and we shared the 19 hour trip from Yangon to Began, which was a lot of fun

Wednesday

  • Arrive in Began
  • Hire e-bikes and ride around old Began
  • Watch the sunset from the top of one pagoda, with only me and 1 or 2 other people, including Pedro. In September, Began will become a UNESCO world heritage site, and it will not be possible to climb up the pagodas
  • Eat in BBQ restaurant

Thursday

  • Ride around old Began
  • Ride around with the sun going down, hurriedly trying to find somewhere to watch the sunset from. This is actually one of my favourite memories of Began, as Pedro and I were following some Burmese girls who had offered to show us and another foreigner somewhere to watch the sunset from, but we were driving quite fast through the dusty, uneven dirt roads of Began, with the dust from the road in the air and a big red sun in the distance, with all of the pagodas going past, with no time to stop and take photos
  • Beer on ‘restaurant street’, which was very touristy, so we just stayed for 1 beer and then went for food in another restaurant

Friday

  • Buy bus ticket to Mandalay. This was a bit of an experience, as there was a bit of a situation in the guest house with paying for the hotel room. In Myanmar, they only accept US Dollar notes that they can easily change later or cash into the bank. I didn’t have small enough change to pay for the hotel room with, so Pedro paid first with his US Dollar notes, some of which the guest house staff didn’t accept. I was feeling a bit annoyed by this, and chose not to accept some of their US Dollars in change when I paid for the room, which Pedro had just paid with. After this, I had to go to the ATM to get the correct change, and when I got back, the guest house staff were coming up with reasons that they couldn’t help us buy a bus ticket, even though I’d asked them about this before paying and it was fine. They also gave varying answers to the questions of how far the bus station was and where it was, saying it was 10 km away at one point (the whole of Nyaung-U wasn’t even 3 km long). The bus station even had to call the guest house for them to give them my name, so they knew where I was buying the bus ticket. I chose to laugh about this with Pedro and we spent most of the 30 minute walk to the bus station and back, making fun of them.
  • Get bus to Mandalay
  • Hire a motorbike from the hostel and go up Mandalay Hill as it was getting dark, and get a free tour from a local student who wanted to practise his English
  • Eat in a traditional Burmese restaurant (they were waiting for me to finish in the end, so that they could close)
  • Be ill from a suspicious looking egg that I ate at lunchtime at a roadside restaurant (probably). It tasted strange at the time and had clearly been sitting there for a while

Saturday

  • Buy a flight ticket from Inle lake to Yangon several days later, to maximise my time in Inle lake. I got this from a travel agent, as the airline website was unreliable, and I would of wasted a lot of time trying to use it. On the way to get money for the flight ticket, I got some dirt stuck in my eye and spent about 1.5 hours trying to get it out again. This has not happened before, and eventually some young people in an electrical shop asked me if I wanted to sit down, and not long after that it felt better again
  • Lunch at a street side restaurant. The people at the restaurant made everything by the side of the street, and this was probably my favourite meal in Myanmar!
  • Go to Mya Nan San Kyaw Golden Palace. Most of this is a military site and was only opened to foreigners recently. Also, the royal family at this time only lasted for 1 or 2 generations, so the palace is very new and was barely used (courtesy of the Burmese student up Mandalay Hill)
  • Go to Maha Muni Buddha Image temple. This was great, as clearly they get very few foreigners there, and a lot of people asked me to have their photo taken with them
  • Eat in BBQ restaurant (also great). There seem to be a lot of these in Mandalay and the food is cheap and good. I had half a crispy duck, vegetables and a vegetable soup that I couldn’t finish, for not a lot of money

Sunday

  • Get a bus to Nyaung Shwe (for Inle lake)
  • Find a guest house by walking around. There was a town parade that we almost got stuck in, with the bus driver trying to find somewhere for me to stay. Eventually he showed me where we were on a map and I found somewhere myself that was clean, quiet and not very expensive, with a good breakfast included
  • Eat at the night market

Monday

  • Hire a bicycle with the aim of cycling around the lake, which the girl in the guest house had said was possible. After figuring out that this probably wasn’t possible, I went to the tourist information centre and figured out my own plan, which was to go to Maing Thauk and Thale-U, two villages on the east side of the lake, and try and make it to Nan Pan market, to try and get a boat back again. This was way too far, so I got a boat tour around Maing Thauk from a woman who lives there (she pointed out her house as we were going around), and then later I got a speed boat tour of the lake. During this we skipped out some of the tourist sites and went to Ywama, a village in the lake where they have a floating market, and Nga Hpe Chaung (otherwise known as Jumping Cat monastery). We got here about 3 minutes before it closed and got the speed boat back, as the sun was going down.

Tuesday

  • Get a flight back to Yangon
  • Go to the Kan Daw Gyi lake, which I’d wanted to do the first time. Watched the sunset here, too, with Shwedagon Pagoda in the background!
  • Eat an average curry at a restaurant recommended by someone in the hostel
  • Go in search of more curry and find a street-side ice-cream bar, which was good
  • See grown men, close the the mosque, drinking pint glasses of milk at a milk bar on the street
  • Get a flight back to Taipei

Philippines Part 2

by tom on 20/04/2016

I went to the Philippines around 5 months before this trip, and decided to go again but with Penny this time. We both wanted to go to Palawan, and as I had been recommended it the last time and didn’t get the chance to go, this was the perfect opportunity to go again. We had to find a time that was suitable for both of us, but about 3 weeks after needing a holiday I finally got to go!

Friday / Saturday

On Friday lunch time we both finished work at about 12:30 pm and made our way to the airport. Penny was working in Taoyuan, on the opposite side of the airport to me, so got the High Speed Rail to the station closest the airport and then a bus to the airport. I got a bus home, picked up my stuff, got the MRT to Taipei Main Station and then a bus to the airport. We both arrived within about 10 minutes of each other, picked up the Filipino Pesos we had pre-ordered from the bank and then went to check-in to the flight. We arrived in Manila without any problems and then got a taxi to the hostel.

We had decided to take the ‘no sleep’ approach to getting to Puerto Princesa, as the flights were cheaper from Manila and we could get to Puerto Princesa and sleep there. This meant staying in the hostel in Manila for about 6 hours, which was enough time to get a shower, something to eat, and about 4 hours restless sleep before getting up and getting another taxi to the airport. As the roads were clear at this time (about 3:30 am) but still surprisingly busy, we made it to the airport in less time than it took us to get to the hostel in the opposite direction, but this was partly because the hostel was difficult to find and it cost us some money in taxi fares just trying to find it. Penny hadn’t factored-in the time to check-in to the flight in Manila, which as it was an internal flight, she thought it would be relatively straightforward. Even though it was 4:00 am in to morning, the airport was surprisingly busy and check-in was pretty crazy. There were people everywhere, and the airline woman checked-in 2 people at once. We changed gates once, as we had been warned may happen by the airline staff, and finally found the final gate before boarding almost immediately. We got to Puerto Princesa without any problems.

Once in Puerto Princesa, we got a motorbike tricycle to the guest house, we was 5 minutes walk from the airport, but the tricycle driver still charged us double the normal price for. Once there, we had breakfast and had to entertain ourselves until 10:00 am, when the first guests checked-out. We did this by walking into the centre, sitting in Jollibee (their version of a well known burger restaurant) and getting a tricycle back again, for the correct price this time. Once we’d checked-in, we slept for some time and then went to get something to eat.

For dinner we ate in a really good local art/BBQ restaurant, which was surprisingly cheap and good value for money. The food was great and the service was good, and we went to a good bar that was opposite the guest house and had some beers and listened to a live band before going back to the guest house and sleeping properly.

Sunday

On Sunday we rented a motorbike and attempted to ride around the countryside outside Puerto Princesa. We went to the bus station first, which was in the New Market some way out of town, and bought a bus ticket to El Nido for the next day. Once we’d done this, we rode out into the countryside, and ended up following a route which we thought would take us back to Puerto Princesa, but around a long loop. This however didn’t happen, as the roads were still being built and most were dust roads, and the route back along the route we intended to take was so long, that we ended up going back the way we had come. We had to stop in a small village to buy petrol from a local convenience shop in a 1 liter beer bottle, get sandwiches that only had mayonnaise as their single ingredient (other than bread) and eat crisps and drink un-refrigerated soft drinks. Once we’d had this snack, we continued the journey as far as Labtay, which we thought would take us to the ocean, but we decided to turn back, as our intended destination was Napsan, and as this looked like it should be next to the sea and wasn’t, it seemed like we were getting further and further away from Puerto Princesa and would have to go back anyway. The journey was fun and we got to see some of the countryside outside of Puerto Princesa.

On the way back we bought a BBQed checked from a street-side shop and ate this in the guest house. We rode the motorbike to a massage shop that Penny wanted to go to, and as I was waiting for the massage, I went and sat at a nearby cafe and had some kind of green tea latte. It was great, as it’s difficult to find real dairy products in Taiwan, and I walked around the park next to the massage shop and got to observe some Filipinos going about their daily business. When the massage was finished, we got the motorbike back to the guest house and I went to sleep early, as I was tired from the day of motorbike riding.

Monday

On Monday morning we had to get the bus to El Nido, so got up early and took the motorbike back. There was some discussion on the best way to do this, as the guy had offered to give us a lift to the bus station, but as one of us would have to get a tricycle to the bus station anyway, we decided to both get the tricycle. As we were riding down he road, the guy that rented us the motorbike caught up with us, as I’d left my ID with him, which I’d completely forgotten about!

The bus to El Nido was possibly one of he most uncomfortable bus journeys I’ve been on. The AC wasn’t working, and as we were sat in the front seat, Penny and I could see the bus driver turning it off and back on again once every 5 minutes, which didn’t help. He did this whilst driving very fast, so it was pretty scary at some moments, and I’m sure he almost lost control at one point. We got off the bus tired, in shock and dripping with sweat, and sat at the bus stop for a few minutes, just to recover!

We got a tricycle to the centre of El Nido and walked round to find somewhere to stay. After finding somewhere to stay, we ate, walked around El Nido, and drank beer on the beach.

Tuesday

The first thing we did on Tuesday morning was to have breakfast and rent a motorbike. We picked up a map from the tourist office and went and found some beaches. The first beach we went to was Nacpan, which had 2 beaches: a small one and a big one. I thought the small one was perfect; quiet, no-one there, calm, peaceful and with clear water. Penny wanted to try the other one however, which was longer, bigger, windy and with more people. I didn’t like this one as much, but we sept about 1.5 hours here, getting drinks, eating cake we’d brought from El Nido and swimming. After this, we decided to try and get to Duli beach, which had been recommended by the people in the tourist office. We found it, but there was a 50 Pesos ($1 USD!) charge for taking your motorbike down and I was told later that there was also a fee to park it. We though this was a bit steep, so we kept going, up about 5 massive hills, to Verde Safari beach, which was amazing. The beach was huge, about half the size of Nacpan (which was really big) but there was only us and 2 other people on it. It was shallow, warm and with an amazing beach front of palm trees. We got coconut juice before leaving (from a coconut) and rode back the exhilarating (/challenging) journey to El Nido.

In the evening we ate fresh, BBQed fish at a touristy restaurant, and I saw (and ate) some of the biggest muscles I’ve ever seen.

Wednesday

The day before, before setting off for Nacpan, we bought a ferry ticket to Coron. This was a bit of an investigation, as no-where would sell us the non-touristy ticket. This included the harbour master, who pointed us in the direction of a tourist office across the road, and we also tried in the port, but could only find a woman in the waiting room who wanted to sell us a ticket at the tourist price, but for a day later. We eventually went to the tourist office the harbour master had ‘recommended’, but we decided later that we should have gone to the un-marked office with a glass front in the port building, which Filipinos seemed to be buying tickets from the next day.

The tourist boat was the most packed tourist boat I’ve ever been on. There was about 80 tourists on a relatively small boat, with garden chairs for seats, and they expected you to wear your life jacket at the beginning. Everyone took these off as soon as we left (I didn’t put mine on), and there was more space as everyone dispersed around the boat, but it was pretty crazy at the beginning. The lunch that was included was rice and some vegetables, but as Penny and I had bought some of our own food before leaving, we ate like kings. I tried hard not to look like I was gloating, but the difference in how substantial the two meals were was huge.

Once we got to Coron, we walked around to find a hotel. We started walking from the port, but didn’t realise how far it was, so ended up getting a tricycle for the 2nd half of the journey.

We found a hotel and after resting, went to get something to eat. This we ate in a special tourist-priced BBQ, which we later found out had been over-charging for almost everything.

Thursday

The next day we got up and went to find the tourist office. This was a seemingly abandoned building, which had people asleep on the floor in it, but we eventually found an office with some people in and asked where the tourist office was. We were pointed in the direction that we had come in, and as we were walking towards the exit, the tourist office woman walked though the door and asked if we needed anything. She unlocked the tourist office, gave us a map and gave us some ideas on where to go.

After visiting the tourist office, we went to find a motorbike to hire. We’d been recommended somewhere by the tourist office woman, but found somewhere closer and took the motorbike, as it was about the average for daily motorbike hire. We took the motorbike and our stuff and set off in the direction of Conception Falls.

Conception Falls was unimpressive, and a small local kid helped us find it, even though we would have probably found it anyway, and I gave him 20 Pesos, as he was quite nice about it. We walked around to check that there was nothing else there, and went and sat by the sea and ate some lunch. On the way back we stopped in a cool road-side cafe, which we had seen on the way there, and got some proper food. Whilst we were there is started raining, so we waited for it to stop, and then I decided to attempt the local way of riding a motorbike, which is to do it with flip-flops on. It was still raining a little bit, but the lightweight clothing and the sun made sure that we didn’t stay wet for long.

On the way back, unlike the motorbike ride in Puerto Princesa, we were almost out of petrol, and Penny didn’t have a problem with this, as she’d seen places to get petrol on the way there. This was taken to the extreme though, with me worrying we were going to run out of petrol before we found somewhere.

Once we were back in Coron Town, we went and found Bali beach, which was in the opposite direction to Conception Falls. This you had to pay for, and was only really good for taking photos, but not much else.

In the evening we ate in a restaurant with a noisy Chinese mainlander in it, who acted like he was in mainland China and possibly got a bit over-excited about being in the company of a white girl, and organised a tour for the next day. This was the only way to get to Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda on Coron Island, which we both wanted to go to.

Friday

On Friday we go up a little bit later than expected and went to eat breakfast in a restaurant across the road from out hotel. I had said to them that we didn’t have much time, but because I ordered ‘Filipino Spaghetti’, they had to make it from scratch and it was going to take longer than usual. Penny got her breakfast and the tricycle turned up to collect us from the hotel, but they were happy waiting for a few minutes whilst we finished breakfast. I ate some bananas and we took the Filipino Spaghetti with us.

We got on the boat and went to various destinations for snorkelling, sitting on the beach and visiting lakes. These were:

  • Las Islas de Coral
  • CYC Beach
  • Atwayan Beach
  • Quin Reef
  • Green Lagoon
  • Kayangan Lake

I think I’d got ill the night before from drinking beer from a dirty glass, and I was feeling slowly more ill as we went along. I went to the toilet about 3 times during the tour, and continued to go to the toilet for the rest of the day. In the evening I decided to see how I felt the next day and take something then if I had to.

The tour was good, with a surprisingly good lunch and some good locations. We only got to got to 1 of the lakes, but it was still good and it was interesting seeing what it was like swimming in both salt and fresh water. You got tired a lot more quickly in fresh water, and I think I got a bit sunburnt from the sun cream coming off more quickly (also, presumably, because of the fresh water). We got back to Coron Town and went in search of a ferry ticket for Sunday, back to Manila.

As I didn’t feel very well in the evening, I looked at a few scuba diving shops for dives the next day, but none of them jumped-out as places I wanted to dive with, so I decided to give scuba diving a miss. This was a bit disappointing, as there are some good wreck dives on Busuanga Island, but it felt like the right thing to do.

We did some admin, like getting money out and making a reservation for another hotel the next day, and went to Joey’s Eating Station, which looked pretty popular from the road. The food was average, and I only had chopsuey and rice, as I was feeling ill.

Saturday

The evening before, once we were back in Coron Town, Penny and I tried 2 or 3 different places, in search of a ferry ticket. We hadn’t realised, but there was only 1 ferry operator’s office (in the port), and if this was closed, then no-one could book tickets. We tried the first tourist office, which gave us one price, and because we knew how much it should be, decided to go to the operator’s office in the port. By the time we got the tricycle there, it was closed, so we got the tricycle back and went to another tourist office. This wasn’t able to book anything, as the operator’s office was closed, so we had to wait until the next day.

On Saturday morning, we decided to get a tricycle to the ferry operator’s office, but there was a blackout in Coron Town and nowhere had any power, so they couldn’t book anything. We left our details and then went to go and move hotels. Eventually we booked the ferry tickets online, and used the hotels printer to print the vast array of documents required.

As I was feeling ill the day before, I didn’t book any scuba diving for Saturday, so we moved hotels into a much nicer, cleaner, newer hotel in the ‘fancy hotel area’ of Coron Town. This was where all the fancy hotels were, and we decided to stay one night there, as we’d been working pretty hard on travelling before this. We stayed in the hotel for most of the day, as it was nice and they had air-conditioning (running off a generator). In the evening, we ate in an inconspicuous restaurant that was easily the best in Coron Town, and went to a bar for a drink.

Sunday

As the boat left at 4:30 pm, we had the morning and most of the afternoon to do something before getting on the boat. The instructions said get to the ferry terminal 4 hours before departure, but Penny and I thought this was ridiculous, so we got there 2 hours early instead. In the morning we slept in, went to the market and bought some mussels, and asked the people in the cafe next to our hotel if they could cook them, which they did. We bought some drinks and gave them a tip, because they cooked them with garlic and chilli and everything.

After checking out and eating some mussels, we got a tricycle to the port and waited to board the boat. The process was quick, as we could see the boat docking, and we were in one queue to get on, whilst the previous passengers were getting off. We went for ‘super value’ accommodation, which effectively means you’re sleeping on deck, in one big room, but with no sides, so that the sea air can blow through. One look at the air conditioned version, which was the same as what we had but with no windows, the same number of people and (seemingly) only one exit, decided for me that we had chosen the best option. We sat on deck at the back of the boat, watching the staff load it and waiting for it to depart. The sunset was great as we left Busuanga Island and this was the first time that I felt I was on holiday.

Monday

On Monday moning we arrived in Manila, and this is where the work part of the holiday started. Due to the visa that I had gone to Taiwan on, I had to leave Taiwan if I wanted to either renew or change the visa, and then come back on a tourist visa. The job for Monday was to go to the Taiwan embassy in the Philippines, get a tourist visa, and then fly home. Unfortunately, due to the wording in the documentation on the Taiwan embassy in the Philippines website, this made it seem like it was possible to do this in one day, even though it was not. It takes a minimum of 36 hours to process a tourist visa, even with expedited processing, and so I had to spend an extra, un-planned night in Manila and book new flights for the next day.

The hostel wasn’t a problem, as I had stayed there twice before and they recognised me from the first trip 5 months earlier. It was quite fun, as even one of the cleaning staff was telling me that he’d been promoted to head of housekeeping, so they were quite pleased to see me. The security guard was also asking if I’d be coming back to the Philippines and if I’d enjoyed my holiday. I knew where to go to eat, and one of my Filipino friends was working in a bar close to the hostel later the same night, but I decided I was too tired and went to the hostel and slept. Penny took the original flight home on Monday night and I booked more flights for the next day.

Tuesday

I’d booked my flights for around 10 pm on Tuesday, so had most of the day in Manila. I went to collect the visa, walked around a graveyard (as I thought I was taking a shortcut) and went and ate in a really cool, middle-class group of restaurants that I’d found in a shopping mall. Manila has a fair amount of shopping malls, but I never expected to find this, so spent the last of my Pesos in Mr. Delicious, getting Polish pierogies and sauerkraut, and a local type of lemonade. It was very expensive, but worth it.

I mis-judged when my flight was and asked the hostel staff if they could book me a taxi, all of which were unavailable. I ended up taking my bag and walking down to the main road, where all of the taxi drivers wanted to charge me an extra 150 Pesos as it was busy and they didn’t think there would be anyone at the airport to bring back. I eventually found one who gave me a reasonable price, and he took a lot of shortcuts and side-streets to get me there on time. I got there in enough time, boarded the flight and must have fallen asleep, as we seemed to be descending very soon after taking off.

Once back in Taipei I got the bus and a taxi home, as the MRT had stopped running. The weather was different and noticeably less humid, and it seemed like another world in comparison to the mayhem of Manila. Instead of trying to negotiate a price for a taxi to take you through the grid-locked streets of Manila, you paid a single, fixed price fare for a bus that took you non-stop to the place that you wanted to go to. The difference seemed huge, and made Manila seem like another world.