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.  

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One night in Bangkok… or maybe four 

So.  My next move was to go to Myanmar.  I checked the flights from either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.  The prices were ridiculous.  So I thought that probably it would be much cheaper to fly from Bangkok.  I wasn’t planning to go to Thailand again but I thought… what the heck!  So as I figured flights from Bangkok were 3 times cheaper.  

I took a bus from Siem Reap.  Travelling time 6 hours.  Wishful thinking.  Another 13 hours on the bus and I was in my host’s place by 8.30pm

The trip was not bad,  just VERY long even considerin the fact that we spent 2 hours at customs. My first host was Art, a theater director / actor and artist of many kinds.  Unfortunately his English is pretty basic so the conversation wasn’t fluid bit he’s been super nice and took good care to make me feel at home. 

My second host was Hall,  a Thai guy who lives for four years in Sweden.  Leo very kind and very careful to details,  dedicated to make the guest feel very welcome.  They both bought me food and took me out to dinner.  I also had one random girl buying me juice at the food stall.  This is why I loved Thailand so much last year.  Thai people are very generous and helpful.  That’s why even though I could have just spent one night in Bangkok I decided to stay four.  That’s why every time I come to Bangkok I like it more. 

Summing it up : Malaysia 

Now that I’ve left Malaysia I see how much more westernized it is comparing to the other SE Asia countries.  

I’ve spent around 40 days in the land where number 4 is forbidden (4 and death have the same sound in Chinese),  where English is phonetic (teksi,  polis,  julai… Etc) and the currency has the name of a cartoon character (Ringgit). 

I was not meant to spend all that time there but I decided to extend my stay and take a massage course.  Kuala Lumpur is very cheap comparing to every other big cities I’ve been.  Food is extremely cheap and being multicultural by nature you can find every type of food.  I got stuck with Indian,  and with roti canai in particular (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roti_canai).

The population is composed by Malay,  Chinese and Indian for the majority.  Only a small percentage is made of foreigners (and there are many).  In Malaysia is difficult to meet people (as explained in my previous post)  but I still managed to meet a few very cool characters.  In particular my CS hosts.  The islands are beautiful places and in general pretty well preserved.  Tourism has not corrupted all yet.  

Every nationality is well integrated in Malaysian lifestyle but each of them keep their own specifics.  Chinese feel Chinese,   Indian feel Indian (as opposed to Malay)  but neither of them would like to live in their original country. It’s funny how they insist on the fact that they are this or that although their passport is Malay. 

I volunteered for 2 weeks in Oriental Heritage House and even if nothing went wrong I didn’t enjoy the experience (but the house is amazing!!! https://m.facebook.com/orientalheritagehouse/). I didn’t really learn anything and the communication with the management is very poor.  Also it is in a very quiet area but this means that you’re far from the city center and the public transport is very bad – as in Kuala Lumpur in general.  So,  since I was busy only in the mornings I decided to fulfill a dream that I had for long time and take massage classes in the afternoon. 

After a research in internet I decided to go to Wellness art training centre (https://m.facebook.com/well.ness.3158) in the very center of the city,  a few steps away from the famous towers.  It all started on a bit bumpy way.  I had discovered that my CC had been cloned so my bank blocked it.  Therefore I could not pay the entire price in one go and the management insisted that I had to pay before starting the class.  I told them I could not and if it was a problem I would just cancel the course.  They told me it was OK but the didn’t stop to send me WA messages asking me how I was and when I could pay.  So at one moment I told them that their attitude was very annoying because I felt they didn’t trust me.  And I understood that they don’t know me so why should they trust me but also told them that in Europe you can pay in two or three times and it was not an issue.  And the management replied that in Malaysia things are different.  And so I realized that even in the small things we have to be careful.  We all think in different ways and we should understand that something that is absolutely common for us it might not be for some other culture. 

If I had to choose one Asian country to live in Malaysia would be one of the candidates but honestly I felt a bit lonely there.  People told me that Malaysia is cool,  fold is amazing and places are beautiful.  And it is true.  But still.  There’s something missing that I cannot quite spot.  I still enjoyed my stay in KL and I loved my massage classes.  

I’m still in touch with some of the people I met along the way and hopefully I will see them again some day. 

The bubble 

So… Where to start… 

I’ve been in KL for more than one month now and I think it’s time for me to move on. The time spent here it’s been good,  a needed a little nest to make home for a little while.  Travelling is cool but it’s also tiring and every now and then is good to go back to the comfort zone. 

But yeah my time here is up.  I realized it yesterday. It took me time to buy the ticket to Cambodia.  And not only because of the problems I had with my credit card (yes.  It’s been cloned… but this is another story…).  It’s been difficult to make up my mind and buy the ticket because I was good here in KL,  I had a home again and it was nice to settle down in the everyday routine.  But luckily for me KL is not the place I wanna settle down again.  It’s a big city but still very human in a way.  The prices are honest (apart from the rent,  like in Barcelona basically) and the food is good.  But the dark side of it all is that people here are very busy, for real or not. 

It’s really hard to meet anybody,  let alone get to know them.  Via couchsurfing and other apps I got in touch with hundreds of people (not kidding) but I managed to meet only a few.  They’re all super interested in meeting with you but you can never get a date from them.  And when you finally get a date they cancel at the last moment.  Or you meet,  all goes well,  “let’s meet again ” but again never comes.  You have to organize with at least a couple of weeks in advance.  It’s true that distance here can be discouraging and that public transportation is awful but still… There is always something else in the middle. Commitment is a word that is not really taken into consideration in KL.  The enthusiasm is killed easily.  I feel like they are collecting chats or friends in CS or FB.  The virtual word is waaaaaay more important that the real one.  Even when people go out together they are checking their phones all the time.  There is always someone or something else capturing their attention.  They’re there but not really. I’ve wasted so much time and energy try to connect with locals and in the end I was so frustrated that I decided not to open any app anymore. 

I have only a few days left in KL.  Time to finish my classes (to be discussed in next chapter)  and then I’m off to Phnom Penh.  I’m really looking forward to visit Cambodia.  A change of scenery will do me good. 

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. 

Summing it up – Indonesia 

And Indonesia also is done.  Strange country, three big islands (main ones) and three different realities. 

Bali is the “easiest” one.  Being the one more known and exploited buy tourism is the one more westernized.  Locals are very used to foreigners,  English is spoken almost everywhere and it’s easy to go around. But being so it’s not necessarily a good thing.  Prices are higher and once again the white person is a “walking wallet”. Every step you’re asked if you wanna a taxi (taksi sorry!) or a sarong or a selfie stick or if you want a drink or some food.  Well basically like any other Asia country where tourism it too well developed.
 

 

Comes Java and things tone down a little bit.  You’re still a walking wallet but it’s more discreet.  You are not attacked.  Just invited.  Over and over but it’s not too annoying. People in general are nice and help you.  Smile on their face but you can notice the difference from Bali. 

Last (in order of appearance)  is Sumatra by far my favorite. Unfortunately I only had a fee days to spend in this beautifully green land.  Here tourism and infrastructures for it are at a very basic level.  Tourists are but a few and locals are as nice as it can be. My hosts and his family have been fantastic.  People are very curious of the foreigner and are not annoying.  Don’t try to sell you anything and you are still you.  Just a foreign person in a beautiful foreign country. 

In my deep ignorance I always thought that Muslim countries are close and unfriendly but I haven’t seen anything of the kind during my wanderings  in Indonesia.  People are warm and friendly, curious about you’re country,  you’re habits, you’re life and the cold climate. 

Food is good and cheap and you are in trouble only if you desperately look for a beer.  Other than that life is humble but beautiful. 

I haven’t necessarily done all the typical things that visitors are supposed to do when they visit Indonesia.  Actually I’ve done very little but I don’t regret my trip at all.  I was looking for a true experience,  to meet locals,  mingle with them and live their lives and in a way I’ve succeeded.  I’ve learnt that this are far from what the TV and news papers tell you. I’ve learnt that we are more similar than we think and at the same time worlds apart.  And life is not really better in our uber developed society.  Here people have nothing or close to nothing but they’re more than happy to share it with you.  We should learn to do the same. 

This is paradise!…or is it?

After a pit stop of 20 hours in Singapore where I had the chance of quickly see the city and spend some time with Jay and Lloyd, I finally arrived in Bali.

The flight was ok, a little more than 2 hours and when arrived at the airport the atmosphere got thick. Here the war against drug is pretty harsh, you can get sentenced to death for using drugs and even if I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, a lurking fear was on the lookout.

I got through customs very easily, I paid the 35$ for my Visa on arrival so that I can extend my trip up to 2 months and I even declared I had a switch blade knife in my bag, getting ready to be checked, just to be on the safe side. The cue to get out of the airport was really long and there were policemen everywhere. One of them was running up and down screaming to a dog to sniff something illegal. It was not a pleasant moment but thank god it didn’t last very long. When I arrived at the check point, I handed out my arrival form duly filled in and to my big surprise I was let go without any further check.

Out if the airport I was attacked – like every other tourist – by a myriad of taxi drivers trying to get me into their car or motorcycle. Luckily my CSurfer host was there waiting for me and in 15 minutes ride we were at his place.

Along the way I managed to take a quick look around and to see all the beautiful statues and temples that populate the city (Denpasar).

Rizky and I had a quick dinner at a place not far from his house and went to bed early as we both were a little tired.

The morning after I took the bus to Ubud because everyone was telling me that the place is fantastic and there are a lot of things to do and see. Checking the pictures in Google, I figured Ubud as a nice little village out in the countryside, surrounded by rice fields…but the reality is very different. 

Ubud is a medium size town, taylor made for tourists. All the shops are a trap for wealthy foreigners eager to by something to remember this place with. And like in any other city in Asia, there are plenty of food places even though street food here is not a thing. All is restaurants and bars and the prices are pretty high compared to the prices in Denpasar.  Very unexpectedly there are PLENTY of pizza and Italian gelato places but also a big choice of vegetarian and vegan restaurants. I can finally eat properly. I also managed to find a vegan gelato place. Yummy!!!

Out of the bus, I was walking towards my hostel in a one way street forgetting that here scooters are the masters and can go anywhere they like. The sidewalk is narrow so as I saw many people coming in the opposite direction I decided to step down and walk 5 steps on the street. Big mistake as I didn’t check if any motorbike was coming behind me against traffic of course. To avoid me a woman clashed against a car and fell off her motorbike. Many people gathered around. I was kind of lost, hot and tired. They called the woman’s husband and after a while we settled that I had to pay for the broken front light of the bike and the doctor’s visit. It all let me lighter of 30€. But I decided to pay and not making any fuss because this is not the place to mess around. But when I realized that they were trying to take advantage of me, I asked if I should call my lawyer. And it’s then that they agreed on the 30€. I was so annoyed but in the end it was nothing serious.
I checked in at New Ubud hostel. The place is ok, typical Ubud hostel. The staff is nice and the rooms are clean (even though I haven’t seen any cleaning staff so far) but there is no pool as advertised in Hostelworld website. 

My following days in Ubud were not anything special. I walked around the city, checked a few vegetarian places (I also found a place where they make vegan gelato. Yummy!!!) and for my last day I booked a tour to the main sightseeings just to make something of my time. 

I choose a random booking “agency” Gusti Ariastra (Jln. Rata Ubud) and I think it was a rip off. I paid 25€ just to be driven around. No free water or guide was offered and on top of what I already paid l, I had to pay a fee entrance to every place I’ve been taken. The rice terraces, the holy  temple (Torta empul), the elephant cave (Gunung Kavi), the coffee plantation (where I was “offered” a delicious lemongrass tea and a sample of different teas and coffees) and the waterfall where you have to pay for the entrance and then again if you want to go on the upper level.

 By this time I was already feeling sick (and annoyed) so I asked my driver to take me back to the hostel where I spent the following hours in bed suffering for food poisoning. It was nothing serious but I spent a very difficult night covered in 2 duvets and wearing my sweatshirt hoody although outside it was 30° C.

The morning after I was feeling better although a bit weak but I was really looking forward to leave the place. In less than 3 days I spent around 100€ (not counting the 30€ given for the accident) and this with just one meal the last day. 

I don’t understand all the fuss about Ubud. It is just a tourist town, man-made for tourists so that they leave as much as possible from their bank account. I’m sure that if I had my own scooter I could have saved a little money but it is a very expensive city and in my opinion not really worth the detour. I’m ready to bet that there are far nicer and cheaper places around Indonesia. Stay tuned for more..