A camel (or two) on the highway 

I really don’t know how I managed to “escape” from Nepal  but I did.  I actually almost missed my flight because the taxi I ordered for the airport “surprisingly” arrived late… And for this reason I didn’t manage to change my Nepali money into India money (the importance of this will be clear later) 

When my India visa was granted I was almost disappointed.  I applied just for the sake of it but at that time I had lost all my will to travel.  I just wanted to go home but since I was just around the corner I thought… “eh,  what the heck! ”

So when I finally landed in Delhi I was tired and had no interest in visiting anymore but the idea of finally seeing the Taj Mahal was too enticing. I had managed to get myself a host that promised me to come and pick me up at the airport.  Yeah,  the airport.  A pretty big area… And of course no Wi-Fi… I thought Deepak would wait for me at the arrival but I exited the airport and he wasn’t there. OK then I’ll change my money,  I will by a SIM and I’ll text him….  Naive me.  Nepali money has barely no value outside Nepal.  Only 1000 rupees banknotes are accepted and of course I didn’t have any.  OK then I’ll use the ATM…. as if… Same issue I had in Nepal.  I had money but I couldn’t get it.  I almost cried…. I was stuck once again and blamed Nepal once again.  And I thought of all I read about India where everything is a scam and everyone is a bad person.  And then I saw this guy and asked him if he could call my host… And he did and Deepak came out of the airport and together we took the metro.  I was so relieved that I almost cried some tears of joy.  But I was still very on the lookout if my host was really there to get my money (that was worth nothing!!!) 

So I explained the situation to him and he offered not only to pay my metro ticket,  he also invited me for dinner and beers. 

On the way to his place – that is pretty far our from main Delhi – I thought he would kick me off the motorbike that we took from the last metro station,  and steal my money and my passport.  Again all the voices in my head,  telling me to be alert,  in India they’re all criminals and thieves. But we finally arrived safe and sound to his place and he introduced me to his family and his dog Stella which I fell in love with.  We then went out and met one of his best friend.  The following day Deepak took me to a money change place and even if I lost money in the change I still managed to get rid of stupid Nepali rupees.  

Unfortunately those days Delhi was covered in a very thick “fog” and the air was pretty bad.  I visited from outside the red fort.  I was not ready to spend easily the cash that was so hard for me to get,  especially when,  once again,  the entry fee for the tourists was 5 fold the price for locals.  The rest of the day I just walked around the city waiting for Deepak to leave the office and when we met it was dinner time and we went home where upon request I cooked dinner for the both of us.

The two nights I booked with Deepak were over and even though he said I could stay longer I preferred to book a hostel closer to the center to make it easier for me to do stuff.  HOG hostel was not what I had really expected but it was cheap, OK clean and easy to move around from.  But that day I didn’t leave the premises.  I was so tired and overwhelmed by the “fog” and the constant honking that I preferred to stay inside and take a rest.  The day after was my last day in Delhi and I said to myself why not visit a bit before leaving.  I was in touch with a couple of couchsurfers and we were supposed to meet to visit some sort of old village in the city but I got there before them,  the place was impossible to find,  no one knew where that was and I had a nervous breakdown and had to go back to the hostel.  I slept it off and later in the afternoon I met with the same two CSers from the morning and visited the stairs well an ancient well that now is empty but the structure is absolutely fantastic and then we visited a Sikh temple, watched them prey and we had a communal free dinner with them. It’s been quite an experience.  




Morning comes and I board a bus to go to Jaipur to start my trip towards the south.  I took a local bus that it’s an adventure for itself but I would have never expected to see at some point boarding the bus some policemen taking into custody a “criminal” kept on a chain (on his wrist)  like a dog.  It was almost surreal but the prisoner looked pretty at ease and even joked with a couple of passengers.  Only in India!!!

In Jaipur I booked a room at Lazy Mozo hostel for just 1€ for two night I wasn’t really sure what to expect but for 50c a night I couldn’t ask for much. The place is new,  just opened one month ago.  And you can tell.  They need to find their marks,  how to behave and how to do things but it was fairly clean and the house is very nice.  In Jaipur I visited some building in the Pink City but the only one I was ready to pay for was the Hawa Mahal especially because for once, locals and tourists pay the same price to enter.  The place is pretty amazing but it’s missing some soul.  After that I met with a CSer for lunch and had dinner and beers with another.

The two days planned in Jaipur were over and I was ready to go to Agra to finally fulfill one lifelong dream: visit the Taj Mahal

I arrived in Agra in the evening and had dinner with some guys from the hostel I  checked in.  Moustache hostel is a pretty cool place, clean and with a nice atmosphere.  It’s also very close to the Taj Mahal so in the morning I got up at 5.30 to avoid the mass of visitors and went to get my ticket.  1000 rupees is kind of a lot of money (around 13€/15$) but I came to India basically just to visit the Taj so I couldn’t not go.  After I got my ticket I stood in line to wait for the doors to open (from sunrise to sunset)  and when I finally enter the site at 7 my heart was beating fast.  Visiting the Taj Mahal has been a dream since I can remember and I don’t even know why.  When I finally faced it tears almost filled my eyes.  The place in the fog of the early morning has a charm that no words can express.  And as the day went by and the sun came up,  it totally changed to become a spectacular garden for the beloved princess to find her resting peace.  To make my visit more interesting I downloaded a free app called Captiva Tour with which you can listen to the story of the origins of the Taj Mahal without having to hire a guide.  It’s been just perfect. 

I spent the rest of the day at the hostel and took a little walk around the city.  But Agra is an ugly town and people are just there to harass tourists trying to sell you everything they can.  Thankgod I took the bus to Varanasi at 7.30pm and left. 

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Smile, you’re in Mandalay! 

I really liked Yangon but it was time for me to move on.  I booked a bus to Mandalay and I arrived at the Four rivers hostel where I had booked a bed.  The place is nice and clean,  rooms are spacious, breakfast is good.  The bathrooms could do with some make up but it was a very good choice.  On the afternoon of the first day there I just walked around a bit to have the feeling of the city. Mandalay is not Yangon. 

 Motorbikes are allowed there and the conversations among horns made me think of Hanoi.  So after the relative peace and quiet of Yangon I felt a little attacked but the feeling soon melted away.  People are very nice in Mandalay.  The smile.  All the time.  They don’t see the white face as a walking wallet. Most of the time they just smile at you and then carry on with their own devices.  The second day after a good and abundant breakfast on the roof terrace of the hostel I rented a bicycle to visit the city.  Before the heat started (and it was already too late)  I decided to visit Mandalay hill and the temple on top of it.  I got at the foot of the hill easily as the city is plain (a part from the hill) and once I got there I wanted to get to the top by the stairway for pedestrians to reach the top.  But there was a little “lost in translation ” situation and by the time I realized I was going up hill with the bike it was already too late to go back.  So I made the best of the situation and just “hiked” dragging the bicycle.  Once at the top I was ready for a heart attack…. But I just bought a bottle of ice cold water and I sat for 10 minutes just to get back my breath.  I walked up some steps and I was in the temple. Su Taung Pyi Pagoda is an immense space all covered in gold and mirrors as Myanmar tradition wants.  There are Buddha statues of different colors and forms,  so many of them so that at some point I got dizzy. 

I thought than in Italy we have far too many churches,  Christs and Virgin Marys but here there are faaaar more pagodas and Buddhas!!! 

They way back down was easy as I just let the brakes lose and in 5 minutes I was down.  I went to the “biggest book in the world” the Kuthodaw Pagoda, and it was just breathtaking.  Thinking of the fact that it was all handmade it’s just mind-blowing! 

After that I toured around the walls and went for lunch at Nepali, a restaurant not far from the wall.  The food was amazing and cheap and the service five star.

The following day I booked a tour to visit Inwa, Amapura and Sagaing. Three small towns a stone throw from Mandalay.  Of course we saw Buddhas and pagodas galore. After Sagaing we stopped for lunch at this vegetarian place near the river.  There was just us from the tour and the place is very cosy and quiet. It’s called Himalaya and the food was amazing! 

After lunch we crossed the river to visit Amarapura and we got caught in the middle of a rainstorm and we travelled in a chariot dragged by a poor horse and got completely soaked!!!  It was fun. 

The day after I just packed my bag and waited in the hostel for my night bus back to Yangon to begin my week of volunteering at Tha Bar Wa meditation center.   

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. 

Dinner with Sandokan 

So after leaving Indonesia one day before my visa expires I land in Kuala Lumpur. The idea of being in Malaysia brings back memories of my childhood.  Sandokan the pirate says hello from the depths of my memories and it feels funny to be here. 

For those who don’t know who Sandokan is,  you can check this link. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandokan

The first thing that attracts my attention is the multi cultural environment in KL. People are Asian,  Indian,  Chinese, Malay and everything in between. It’s fascinating to see these people from so different paths of life coming together as one same nation. 

I meet my host in KL sentral (it’s not a typo.  It’s sentral with S) and by train we reach his house.  We go for dinner in an Indian place open 24/7 like the majority of Indian restaurants and after he takes me for a night ride around town. Obviously the main attraction are the Petrona towers (or twin towers as the called them here) and like many other tourists we stop to take a picture – well more than one. 

The following day I’m on my own around the city as Joko – my host  – has to work.  I really like KL that although is a big city is still very “doable”. They have a free bus that takes you around town like an hop on – hop off thing and once in the center I get off and walk around.  It’s really hot but there is a good amount of shadow so it’s OK.  I visit the main attractions and have lunch in Little India. In the afternoon I meet my host and after dinner we’re off to bed. 

The following day I switch host.  Jr is a very nice man.  With a funny Indian face (although his family is 100% Malay) he greets me in his very cozy apartment on the outskirts of KL,  very close to Batu caves. We chill in his place for the afternoon and we go to yet another Indian place for dinner. The following day we meet with his friend Raizan and his couchsurfer and head to the caves. 

Batu caves are two caves a little hour outside KL.  They are at the top of his hill and you have to climb I don’t know how many steps to get to the top.  It was hard but slowly but surely I made it.  The main cave is pretty big.  I was told that there were bats inside but thankgod I didn’t see any.  My host and his friend stayed down as they had been up there plenty of times and they didn’t feel like climbing in that heat.  So it was just me and the other guest, a young man from Algeria that took at least 40 (thousand) selfies,  ten for each position… I couldn’t believe it!!! 

There is also the Dark Cave that apparently is populated by snakes and rare animals but we didn’t have time to visit as we wanted to go also a waterfall a little further down.

So after the caves and the “cover girl” photo shooting  we headed to the waterfall. Can’t really tell where that is but when we got there it was pretty busy as it was a holiday. We had to walk quite a walk to get to the less populated area of the waterfall but once we got there it was nice to jump into the fresh water and wash away all the sweat and dust of the climb. 

 

The following morning I was to take the bus to Malacca so my host suggested that I spent the night at Raizan’s as he lives closer to the bus (bas) station. 

Raizan’s is the most messy place I’ve ever seen in my life but I felt at home from the moment I put my feet inside.  

In the meantime a friend of Raizan’s arrived and the four of us (Raizan, his friend, Mustapha and I) went for dinner and then to the hot spring nearby.  The hot spring is a shallow pool of hot water that springs naturally near Raizan’s house.  The water is pretty hot and it was very nice to spend some time there.  

The following day I took a bus to Malacca. 

Lost in translation

So, after the islands we landed in Lombok and from there I made my way to Java. I know I did very little in Bali but I felt my time was up. I spent an extra night at the same Mirah hostel and the following morning I was supposed to go to Canggu. It was raining so I just got on a bus direct to Java. 

I arrived at the bus station and got​ once again attacked by people who wanted to sell me tickets. I literally had to show them that I already had one in order for them to back off.

The bus left at 5.00pm and was supposed to arrive some 12 hours later in Malang. It was pretty comfortable but they were playing this Indonesian music that really sounded a constant whining to my untrained ears. I bet for locals our pop music has the same effect. The music was really getting on my nerves so I just got out my iPod and put on my headphones.

There were blankets on the seats because the AC was pretty strong (I actually got a cold). They also provided us some snacks and a bottle of water. But all the announcements were in Indonesian (which is understandable as I was – once again – the only white face on board) and so I lost everything that was said during the trip.

To get to the harbor it took us almost 5 hours and once there we got on the ferry with bus and everything. By that time it was almost 10pm.

Once on the ferry everyone got out of the bus and upstairs to get some food. Apparently here, every stop is a good excuse to get food. I was on the deck recharging my tablet when everyone was getting down the stairs to the bus level. I didn’t understand as we didn’t even left shore yet. 

But worried to be left behind I followed the locals (of course I was the only white on board of the ferry also) and got on my bus wondering if there was something wrong with the ferry and we had to get off. 

But when the bus left the ferry I realized the we were not on the same shore that before. The islands – Bali and Java – are so close that I didn’t even see the ferry leaving the shore!!!

On the Java side we stopped at a “service station” where the driver gave us the voucher to get free food. It was buffet style so I could choose and got rice (what else!) vegetables and tempeh. And for drink a delicious tea.

With my belly full I got back on the bus and fell asleep expecting to be able to have a solid 6 hours sleep. But of course I was wrong. Again.

After a little more than 3 hours we were woken up because we arrived in Malang. It was confusing to me as the trajectory of the bus was Denpasar – Malang but not everyone got out. So here I am, stranded in Malang in the middle of the night (actually early morning) half asleep. 

I decide to send a message to my CS host knowing that probably he won’t see it before morning. After waiting for 15 minutes for an answer I decided​ to call a cab – GO JEK to be precise – and go to the hostel that I booked just in case.

The place is called “Mador Malang Dorm Hostel” and it’s one of the cleanest hostel I’ve ever been. The rooms are small and without window but the “beehive style” bed are super comfortable and clean. I was supposed to stay here just one night but my CSer host although very good person proved to be very unreliable so I decided it was easier to just stay here. In the morning there is breakfast (with ginger tea!!!) and the owner is the sweetest girl I’ve met!!

On the morning after my arrival, I met with another CSurfer and together we went to the hot springs. The place is about an hour by motorbike from Malang, on the outskirts of Batu (also called little Switzerland!!!) and the view along the way is amazing. Rice terraces and fields of carrots, onions, cabbage and apple trees,  the main product here. 

The springs are on the outside, not much of an installation is done but that’s the good thing about it. The pool is not much but you’re floating in warm water surrounded by the jungle. Awesome!!!

After that we drove back to the city and stopped at the only open food stall in town (it’s Ramadan and everything is closed during daytime) and had Gado Gado.

Later that afternoon I met with my “host” that took me to this very fancy restaurant called “Javanine”(Jalan Pahlawan Trip A5, Klojen, Oro-oro Dowo, Klojen, Kota Malang, Jawa Timur 65119) where we met with a couple of friends of his. I had noodles and a broccoli salad. Delicious and not expensive especially because the Australian friend took care of the bill!!!

So today I walked around the city a bit (and I banged my head as here you always have to check where you put your steps and also check if there is anything hanging from the walls of the sidewalk… which I didn’t do…)



I had lunch at this place recommended by the Australian friend called “The library Cafe” (Jl. Baluran No.2, Oro-oro Dowo, Klojen, Kota Malang, Jawa Timur 65119)   and dared to order pasta. It was a bit overcooked but delicious and since it was cheap I also got an orange salad. There I met the Australian friend having lunch, so I took my chance and invited him this time!

Tomorrow I have a train at 8.20am to Yogyakarta, that us, in the opinion of many, fabulous!

Riassumendo… Taipei

Il mio tempo a Taipei sta per scadere. Ho ancora lo stesso sentimento che avevo appena arrivato. Adoro Taipei. Non sono mai stato  a in Cina o Giappone ma sento che Taipei è un posto tra i due. 

Tutto è pulito e in ordine. La gente fa educatamente la coda quando è necessario, stanno alla destra nelle scale mobili, hanno WiFi, fontane d’acqua potabile e bagni in ogni stazione di metro che sono così puliti che potresti mangiare per terra. Sembra quasi irreale.

La gente sussurra al telefono, e fa sempre attenzione a non disturbare quelli attorno. I bambini sono così educati che non ti accorgi che sono lì.

Ovviamente non tutto è perfetto. Nel bus se non hai il cambio giusto per il biglietto non puoi salire (ma generalmente la gente ha la tessera trasporti per cui non è un gran problema) e poi…. qualcos’altro che non ricordo!!😂

Ho dormito nell’ostello più pulito che abbia mai visto. Fun Taipei è al lato del Shilin night market.

È facilissimo andare da qui a qualsiasi parte della città.

L’altro giorni volevo andare alle  e terme di Beitou ma per qualche oscura ragione gli uomini possono entrare solo se hanno i trunks. Nessun altro tipo di costume è permesso per  a cui sono andato alla spiaggia.

Per arrivarci sono sceso alla stazione del metro Tamsui  e da lì c’è un bus  e che tu porta alla spiaggia in circa un’ora. Dovevo rientrare per le 4 del pomeriggio  quindi non avevo molto tempo per stare in spiaggia. Ho comunque potuto fare un paio di bagni ma se avessi saputo che mi ci voleva un’ora e mezza per arrivare probabilmente non ci sarei andato. Inoltre il vento era molto forte e la sabbia era dappertutto!!!

Arrivato di nuovo in città mi sono incontrato con Andy, un ragazzo locale molto gentile che si è  offerto di portarmi a “scalare” la Elephant mountain. Questa collina è così chiamata perché apparentemente vista da distante ha la forma di in elefante. Ci sono non so quanti scalini per arrivare in cima ma dall’alto la vista è mozzafiato. Siamo arrivati lì al tramonto e il tempo di arrivare in cima era già buio.

Dopo la lunga scalata eravamo affamati per cui ci siamo fermati ad un posticino dove fanno i pancakes di cipolla che sono apparentemente una specialità di qui. Sono così buoni che me  e ne sono mangiati due!!!

Il giorno seguente volevo visitare la Golden Waterfall ma sono sceso alla fermata di bus sbagliata così ho finito per visitare Juifen old street invece.

Onestamente non c’è granché di speciale qui ma è stato comunque interessante vedere i vecchi vicoli con i negozi da entrambi i lati vendendo cibo e souvenirs. La sola cosa negativa è  che era talmente affollato che quasi non ci si muoveva.

Finalmente ieri ho fatto un delizioso brunch in un ristorante vegetariano vicino a Shilin metro station (exit 1) e sono andato a delle terme chiamate qualcosa come “Juan tz” (la piscina del re. Chiedo scusa per il mio “cinese”). Queste sono vicino alla città e ci si arriva con il bus. Sono divise tra uomini e donne quindi ci si sta completamente nudi.

Alla sera mi sono incontrato con Ethan un couchsurfer  con il quale sono andato a cenare a Ximen (una specie di Soho taiwanese) e poi a bere una birra al “Revolver” un posto vicino al mausoleo che è famoso tra gli espatriati. 

Ho adorato Taipei così tanto che penso onestamente che tornerò. È una terra magica tra Europa e Asia dove mi sono sentito molto comodo.

Summing it up – Taipei

So my time in Taipei has come to an end. I still have the same feeling for this place that I had recently arrived. I really love Taipei. I’ve never been to China or Japan but I have the feeling that Taipei is what’s in between. 

Everything here is proper and clean. People cue politely every where is necessary, they stand in the right side of the escalator, toilets in every metro station so clean that you could eat out of the floor, water fountains and WiFi in every metro station. It almost feels unreal. 

People whispering on their phones, always paying attention at not to bother the people around. Kids super polite that you don’t notice they are there. 

Of course not evething is perfect. In the bus, if you don’t have the right change you cannot get in (but people usually have the transportation card so it’s kinda ok) and then…. something else, but I can’t remember!! 😂

I spent my nights at the cleaner hostel I’ve ever had been to. Fun Taipei is right by Shilin night market.

It’s extremely easy to go from here to anywhere in the city.

The other days I wanted to go to the Beitou hotsprings buy for whatever reason they just let you use trunks (that’s for men of course). So I couldn’t get in and instead I went to the beach. 

To get there I got off at Tamsui metro station and then from there you need to take a bus that it takes almost one out to arrive at the beach. I had to get back by 4pm so I didn’t have much time to stay at the beach. I still managed to take a couple of baths but had I known it would take me 1.5 hours to get there I probably wouldn’t have gone. Besides the wind was really strong and the sand was all over the place.

I got back to the city and later I met with Andy. He’s a very nice Taiwanese guy that offered to take me “climbing” up Elephant mountain. This hill is called like that because apparently seen from afar it looks like an elephant. There are I don’t know how many stairs to climb but the view from the top is very good. We arrived there is was sunset and by the time we got up it was already dark.

After the long way up we were very hungry so we got scallion pancakes that are apparently a specialty from here. They are so good that I got two!!

The following days I wanted to go and visit the Golden Waterfall but I end up getting off the wrong bus stop so instead I visited Juifen old street

To be honest there is nothing really special about it but it was still interesting to see this old alley with all the shops on both sides. Only negative thing is it gets very crowded and moving on it’s almost impossible.

Finally yesterday after a super yummy brunch at this vegetarian restaurant near Shilin metro station (exit 1) I went to other hot springs called something like “Juan tz” (the king’s pool, apologies for my “Chinese”). These are close to the city and you can get there by bus. They are devides in male and female so it’s all in the nude.

And in the evening I met Ethan, a couchsurfer and with him we went to Ximen for dinner (a sort of Taiwanese Soho) and then headed to the “Revolver” for a drink, a hotspot for foreigners nearby the Mausoleum.

I so enjoyed Taipei that I’m honestly thinking of coming back one day. It’s a magic land between Europe and Asia where I felt like home.