Bangladesh – summing it up 

October 16 – 9.01am. Gate 1X at Dhaka international airport.  My flight is in 2 hours. 

My adventure in Bangladesh ends here,  where it started 2 weeks ago.  Just 15 days have passed but I feel I’ve been here much longer.  In these 2 weeks so many things have happened,  so many wonderful people have crossed my path.  I still cannot believe at what I’ve faced during my stay in Dhaka and surrounding.  Dhaka,  a city that I didn’t even know it existed, has stolen my heart.  And not for the city itself.  As I said time and time again,  Dhaka is not a beautiful city.  It’s not even a friendly city. 

 

Everything is a mess,  it’s dirty,  is tourist unfriendly,  it’s chaotic,  it’s hot but Bengalis  are the most amazing people I met in my life.  To them the guest is the king,  the guest deserves all their attention,  the guest has to be attended in every possible way.  The guest doesn’t have to miss of nothing.  

During my stay in Bangladesh I’ve felt like a movie star.  Never in my life I had so many pictures taken.  Strangers in the street,  at the restaurant,  in the park stopped me to take a selfie with me.  I have been stared at and scrutinized to the point of being uncomfortable.  But I felt like home everywhere I went. The Bengalis heart is bigger than anyone’s heart.  I’ve been helped by total strangers,  I’ve been given food and drink for free,  just for being a guest.  I’ve been asked time and again where I’m from and what do I do in Bangladesh (just visiting???  As if they could not believe that someone wanted just visit their country). 

Bangladesh,  where men go hand in hand on the street,  where the ads are still hand painted on the walls,  where having drinks means drinking tea at the closer “tong”, where there is no official bus stop and traffic lights are non existent, where Barcelona is know for Camp Nou (Sagrada Familia… What’s that?), where people eat with their hands,  has a special place my heart. 

But many of the people that have accompanied me these days have a dream to leave the country.  Usually to Canada or Germany.  I discovered that there is a big community of Bengalis in Italy.  Youth don’t like their country,  they wanna flee,  they believe that everything is corrupted and that there is no future for them here.  Government doesn’t make things easy for anybody.  This is a jungle (especially in the traffic)  and everybody tries to survive as best as they can.  

Once again I didn’t travel to the “best” parts of the country.  I haven’t been to Cox’s bazar,  the longest beach in the world,  I haven’t been to the islands or haven’t seen any waterfall.  But this place will always be special to me.  

Thank you Joy,  Shoshee,  Rossi,  Rasel,  Pryom,  Adnan,  Shammi,  Mukul,  Shariful, Dola,  Ishti and everybody else for making this trip memorable.  You will always have a friend in my.  I will never forget you. 

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The road to Mandalay 

The arrival in Myanmar was a piece of cake.  I literally spent 5 minutes at the customs.  Nobody asked me for a flight out of the country, thankgod because I didn’t have one. 

After getting my luggage I got on a taxi to my hostel and once I got there I got a surprise!  Horrible surprise. My hostel the “Everest Hotel ” has a so called dorm on the fifth floor.  No elevator.  It was sizzling hot and by the time I was up in my room I was already exhausted.  The room was big enough just to accommodate only three beds.  And I mean only three beds. NOTHING else.  No AC,  only a fan and a window on the corridor.  Practically an oven.  On top of that the other two beds were occupied by two guys eating fried chicken in bed…  I don’t need to explain any further. I knew I couldn’t stay there even if I already paid so I checked for another hostel and I moved out. 

I needed to change money – dollars into kyat and so I went to the bank.  That was another adventure.  People screaming as if they were at the market,  no discretion,  no order… apparently.  So I got directed to the exchange “window” (no window of course,  just a counter like in a bar)  and have been explained from the teller that every note has a different exchange rate… OK… 

Got my money after a good half hour waiting and paid the new hostel.  This one is near Sule pagoda very near the center.  It’s called Dengba hostel and there is no sign outside.  I still managed to find it and it was just right what I needed.  Clean,  spacious,  with windows and AC. For lunch I went to this Indian place called Vedge but I was disappointed.  The portions are small and it is a bit pricey.  Not even the service was good.  

In the afternoon I went to take a walk and met this couple of siblings Vietnamese American and with there I went for dinner in 19th st where Aung a local guy met us.  It was fun, the food was good and the beer cheap.   The place is called  Kaung Myat restaurant and it’s famous for the BBQ and for the beer of course. 

The following day I went to visit the city.  As usual I walked around even if the heat was unbearable. I went to Shwedagon pagoda the biggest pagoda in Yangon.  The place is simply amazing!  All cover in real gold and pearls.  Locals enter for free,  tourists of course have to pay 8000 kyat (around 5€) but it was worth it. 

After that I visited Ngar Htat Gyi Pagoda and the reclining Buddha. It’s funny because in Myanmar there are millions of Buddha but they are all different.  The reclining one is gigantic,  majestic and a bit funny. I then went for lunch to this restaurant called Taj Indian Nepali where the food is excellent and copious and the service very friendly.  I also got a refill of sauce for free!!!  I arrived at the hostel in a bath of sweat so I showered and rest for a little while.  For dinner I went out with Woon Si another local and we went back to 19th st but to KoSan bar this time. Again food delicious and cheap beer. 

The day after I was ready to leave and move north to Mandalay.  My bus was at 9.30am so I left the hostel at 7.30. Traffic can be pretty bad and the bus station is on the north, one / one and half hour away from the city.  The ride was horrible. The bus was full to explode and everybody was pushing me and my backpack around.  Beside the driver wasn’t very gentle on the brakes.  I arrived at the bus station in an hour and I was finally able to get on an AC bus with every comfort including USB plug to charge your mobile or tablet.  I was about to take the famous road to Mandalay.  

Angkor Wat 

So.  My little bucolic adventure was… interesting. It RAINED  like crazy for the whole week I was there so I was not able to do as much as I could.  Roy is a very nice man from Britain who’s lived in Asia for many years and married this young Thai lady that spends here whole day cooking.  I mean literally – the WHOLE day.  And so their freezer are stuffed with food waiting to be served to customers that don’t show. 

The place has a lot of potential but it really need plenty of TLC.  The amount of spiderwebs present in there could cover the entire planet earth.  If you stand still for more than five minutes you end up completely covered in spiderweb. 

Due to the nearness of the river and the amount of rain that falls everything is covered in mould.  My backpack that rested on a bamboo shelf for the week was all spotted in white and had to was it straight away lest I would have to throw it away.  Your laundry never gets dry and all is wet.  But the atmosphere there is nice,  very quiet and relaxed and I could enjoy the countryside for a while and have fun with the animals around. 

After I left Ream yacht club I spent a couple of days in Kampot on my way to Siem Reap.  Kampot is a nice little town three hours south of Phnom Penh.  Nothing much to do here but relax and chill.  I had the time to go to a couple of places for food.  Once again I was craving for pizza so I tried my luck at “Ecstatic pizza ” (after reading the reviews in TripAdvisor) and the truth is that the pizza was not bad (for an Asian pizza that is).  Then the following day I tried “Simple things ” a vegetarian place high ranked in Happy Cow and although a little bit more expensive that the usual place or was worth it.  I had a veggie burger with fries and I had a hard time to finish it.  Delicious and the service was really friendly.  

The following day I had lunch at this Indian place run by an American guy.  It is called “Adwa I-tal kitchen “. The food is 90% vegan and it is delicious. 

It was time to hit the road again to finally get to Siem Reap and finally visit the famous temples. The trip from Kampot was supposed to last 10 hours.  But in a good Asian traditional way that was just a dream.  I arrived in SR almost thirteen hours after my departure all sweaty and exhausted.  At a certain point the driver decided that we didn’t need the AC anymore and he just cut it. The bus was full and the day was finally (!!!!) sunny and hot. 

We arrived in SR around 10pm and instead of dropping us by the night market as he was supposed to do,  the driver dropped us in the middle of nowhere where by chance there was a number of guys waiting for us to take us to town by tuk tuk.  (another tradition here…) 

I was furious and really tired so I refused to get left there and told the driver to take me to the night market. Thankgod I had my phone with me so I could check the way. Obviously he didn’t take me to the market but close enough to the place where I was supposed to meet my host. 

Chantha was working until 11pm and afterwards we went to his place and took a shower.  I was tired but needed some relax time so we went out and met some friends of his and had a beer.  For the following day I had contracted a tuk tuk to drive me around the temples.  The weather was really hot and sunny and I drank more than 2 litres of water. I actually sweat my heart out.  By the end of the day I was exhausted. 

But the temples are magnificent.  For the most part they have crumbled down and all the stones are laying around.  Men are working to rebuild them but it’s a long and meticulous job and it won’t be quick.  There was obviously a lot of people around but I still enjoyed the visit.  It was just amazing how theses temples were built thousand of centuries ago and they’re still there.  For the most part at least. Nature has made her way through the ruins and now gigantic trees are growing into the midst of the stones. I was speechless in front of such beauty. 

The visit ended at 3 and the rest of the day I was pretty much useless.  The driver came back at 5 to take me to see the sunset at the top of one hill where yet another temple is. After that I had some time to kill before dinner so I invited him to a beer. And he invited his friend.  And we went to a local place where his girlfriend works.  I they ordered a tower of beer (3 litres).  And I paid…of course.  And they asked me if I wanted a girl also…. The Cambodia way. 

The following day I moved to a hostel (the Pension lodge) as my host had another guest coming.  Two dollars a night can give you a pretty clean and decent place to sleep for the night.  During the day o organized my transfer to Bangkok to catch my flight to Yangon and then I booked the flight.  Now I’m waiting for the bus to Bangkok.  It should (should)  get me there in nine hours.  Fingers crossed. 

Island hopping part three: Perenthian island 

So.  I took a bus from Penang to go to Perenthian island on the east coast.  It’s a long and boring trip but it’s worth the effort. The bus arrived in Kuala Besut and from there is the ferry.  

The bus arrived at KB at around  5am.  The first ferry is at 7. To kill time I started to talk to people that arrived with me and we had a very bad tea at the local restaurant.  We paid our ferry fee to this guy that “attacked” us (standard here) and waited.  Time comes to go to the ferry and we discover that to get to the island we have to pay an extra 30RM (around 6€) for the environment.  Happy to pay if the island is spotless (guess what … It was not) 

I get a little mad at this rule especially because once again for the local is 5 times cheaper and truth to be said its the locals who throw all the garbage around… But anyways… 

1/2 an hour ride and we finally arrive to the island (Kecil).  I didn’t book any hostel but in Travelfish website (https://www.travelfish.org/accommodation/malaysia/peninsular_malaysia/terengganu/perhentian_islands/all) I read about this place called “Butterfly chalet” a self check-in place directly on the sea.  The ferry arrived at Long Beach where the parties are but thankgod Butterfly is on Coral Beach on the other side of the island,  just 10 minutes walk across the jungle. 

Arrived at the chalets luckily I can check in immediately as 3 people had just checked out.  I choose the chalet number 2 as it is the closer to the beach.  The view is beautiful,  directly on the sea and behind me, the jungle. 

The rooms are very basic but I gladly paid 14€ a night (room only)  to sleep peacefully in this corner of paradise. 

The following day I was exhausted and slept the whole day.  I don’t know what happened but I just couldn’t do anything else.  I just slept.  I guess that 2 months moving around like a pinball had taken their toll on me.  In the evening I managed to wake up and went for dinner at this super posh (for the beach standards)  place called “Shari La Island Resort” (http://sharilaresort.com/) where they serve buffet all you can eat for the equivalent of 3€. Thus I was able to stuff my face with a lot of yummy food without having to worry if it was vegetarian or not. 

The following day I just beach combed as I wanted to finish a book that I was dragging around since the beginning of my trip and so I just did nothing and enjoyed every word of my book. 

Once again I didn’t do any scooba diving,  or snorkelling (except in front of my chalet and during my morning swim)  or visited any beach close by.  But I really enjoyed my time there.  The food is good. In general expensive but on Long Beach there is this local place called “Kak Yah Local Food” where you can eat cheap and the portions are important.

I needed a break from my wanderings and I got it.  I managed to recharge my batteries before starting my volunteering time in KL. 

Pink clouds in my plate 

In Yogyakarta I checked in at “House of Nasi Bungkus” (Ngestiharjo, Kasihan, Bantul Regency, Special Region of Yogyakarta 55184). It’s a bit far from the center but the view on the rice fields is gorgeous. Besides they give bikes for free so after checking in I got on a bicycle and pedalled my way to town (20 minutes) where I met with Roberto, a Spanish guy met at Malang hostel.

We met at the “food street” where everyone gathered at nightfall after fasting for Ramadan. The street is packed with people, cars, motorbikes and all sorts of amusement and “business”. Food prices are higher than usual but we managed to get our noodles (vegetarian for me of course!!!) for around 1€.
After food we wanted to go for a beer but we discovered that it is not so easy to get one as in Bali for instance. The further west you move in Indonesia, the stronger is Islam influence, therefore getting alcohol in this area can be quite a challenge.
Not able to get our craved for beer we called it a night and headed to our respective hostels.
I was SO looking forward for a good night sleep but to my big disappointment at 4am the choirs started to play outside the windows and it was impossible to sleep. When the prayers were finished (at around 5), I managed to fall asleep only to be woken up not even two hours later by the songs coming from a school (my guess) not very far. There goes my quite night in the rice fields!!!

After breakfast I checked out of the hostel and borrowed a bike to go downtown and meet with Dea, a very fine young lady that contacted me via Couchsurfing. We took a long walk around town (very unusual here in Asia where walking is just for the poor!!!) and talked of everything. She is very curious about the world outside Asia and asked me plenty of questions about Europe and our lifestyle.

I left Dea and headed back to the hostel to get my backpack and move to a couchsurfer who has a home stay but sometimes gives one of the rooms to couchsurfers. 

At dinner time (6pm) I met once again with Roberto. We wanted to go to Merapi volcano but we realized that it would take a lot of stress and money (leave at 11pm. Get at volcano 2 hours later. Hicking steep for 4 hours and back for about 30€) so we decided to skip it and just enjoy the evening in the center.
We were both looking for food that was not Asian for a change and ended up in this place in a small alley just off the main food street where we had burger and French fries and also managed to finally have a beer!!!
Very happy with our food we parted and said our goodbyes as the following day I was going to Semerang for one day and Roberto would leave town also. I didn’t visit the temples that are close to the city as the entrance is pretty expensive (25$ each) and travelling on a budget I have to make choices. I found the price too high especially because people that went there told me that they’re not spectacular and I felt that it was not worth it. Wanting to spend almost a year travelling I really need to be careful with my budget and sometimes I have to give things up.

I arrived in Semerang where I met with Sigit, a young local CSer. His house is big and very nice and has also a wonderful little garden! 

He took me to the “Brown Canyon ” and at night we went in town and walked around with Sigit giving me some information about the town and telling me his projects for the future. He taught himself 6 languages and counting and he dreams of leaving Indonesia.

Following day I’m back on the train on my way to Bundung where I booked a bed in “Buton Backpacker Lodge” (Jl. Buton No.14, Kb. Pisang, Sumur Bandung, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat 40112) a super nice and extremely clean hostel. For dinner I went to “KUNST house” (Jawa Barat, Jl. Buton No.1, Kb. Pisang, Sumur Bandung, Kota Bandung, Jawa Barat 40112) where I dined with a delicious – although a little greasy – Rosti. After that I met in Braga st. with Tora (a couchsurfer) and his guests from Poland to have a beer.

After spending a very resting night at the hostel, and after a very generous breakfast I moved to Tora as Polish guys were hitchhiking their way to Bali. These are the final days of Ramadan and all public transportation is fully booked. Everyone is moving back to their hometown as on the last day of Ramadan is tradition to have a big celebration with all your family and so it’s hard to find a spot on trains or buses.

Tora is a very funny guy, full of joy with a very contagious laughter. He took me to the governor house (apparently a Bantung landmark) and to the monument dedicated to the war heroes. The afternoon we chilled at his place and at night we had dinner at a food stall near his house where I have nasi goreng (fried rice) that was served with pink clouds!

The morning after I moved to Jakarta but just because I wanted to go to Sumatra and Jakarta was the only option.  The trains and buses fully booked it’s hard to move around! 

I arrived in Jakarta without any expectations as everybody told me it was a very crowded and dirty city but with my surprise I found the city not so bad and the people very friendly. The only problem I had was finding the hostel as my phone finally decided to abandon me and so I was lost without Google Maps. I asked everyone around the area where the hostel was supposed to be but no one knew anything. I got on the wrong train, it took me more than 1 1/2 hour (opposed to 50min) to get to the right station as the train I was on arrived at one stop before I was supposed to change and backed up… and once again lost in translation… When I managed to get to the right station my phone died and have been walking around for an hour (not kidding) to find the hostel that was just 5 minutes away from the station. I arrived I was pissed off and sweaty. I checked in and was given an upper bed on the bunk. The only problem is that the upper bed is at more than 2 meters from the floor… and obviously getting off of it the first time I fell… Nothing serious just hurt a bit my back.  

The hostel is called Teduh Hostel (Jl. Pintu Besar Selatan No.82M, RT.1/RW.5, Pinangsia, Tamansari, Kota Jakarta Barat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota) and a part from the “sky high” beds, it’s OK. Clean, quiet and with a nice kitchen. Tomorrow at 10am I leave on a bus to Sumatra the one before the last stop in Indonesia.