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. 

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. 

Idul fitri 1438

For those of you who know nothing about Islam like I did (and still do for that matter) Idul Fitri is the end of Ramadan,  the month of the year when Muslim people fast during the day. I happened to arrive in Indonesia exactly at the beginning of Ramadan  and I’m about to leave it as the fasting period is over. 

I crossed from Java to Sumatra by ferry in about an hour and then in 2 hours I arrived at my following destination: Bandar Lampun where my host agreed to pick me up from the station and drive me to his place. 

While waiting for Ageng and eating an entire tube of Pringles many people approached me just to say hi or to enquire where I was going.  One of these people is a very shy man called Christo (in a Muslim country!!! 😀). We exchanged a few phrases and in the meantime I said hello to some 10 people looking at me with a smile on their face. 

Ageng arrived and drove me to his home where I met all is close family : mother,  father,  little sister and his uncle that is only 4 years older than he is. Aziz’s English is pretty good and we managed to have a decent conversation.  Ageng’s mom cooked dinner for me and then I went to bed as I  was pretty tired.  Ageng left his bed to me and slept on a mattress on the floor.

The following morning we woke up at sunrise and at 7.30 we were already on the road to go to Angeng’s grandmother. But before we made a pit stop at his aunt’s house to get more family in the van.  It took us almost 2 hours to get there.  But the road passed through towns and parts of forest so it was nice. 

Once arrived to destination we found more family waiting for us and everyone was super interested in me.  I was at the center of attention, the first to get the right to eat,  the one to have the right to the best food,  and was served tea,  water and everything that was available to eat.  In Sumatra (but I imagine it’s the same more or less all around Indonesia)  every house is always ready to receive guests. They have always a table set up with cookies and biscuits,  some water and tea (very sweet of course). So there I was, stuffing my face with all the food that had been prepared to celebrate the end of Ramadan and in the meantime receiving the complete attention of the all family that was getting larger and larger every moment.  At one point I asked if I could have a picture with all the family.  They agreed and it took a while to organize but in the end I managed to get my picture with part of the family, and it was already a big part.  But then the whole family wanted a picture with me.  One by one.  I felt like like a monkey at the zoo but it was funny.  After the photo call we were on the road again direction Way Kambas that I thought was a sanctuary for elephants.  The entrance is 7500RP for the locals and 250000RP for the tourists… The worst money ever spent. 

To get to the actual sanctuary it takes 40min from the check point by car on a VERY bad road . Once there it’s easy to realize that the place couldn’t be further from a sanctuary. It’s more like a circus where the poor animals have to do the clowns so people can laugh.  As I  didn’t want to disappoint my host I didn’t say anything and tried to watch the show but it got to a point when I started crying so I decided to go to the toilet not to see the rest of the horror show and not to show my host my disappointment. Luckily they were in a rush to be back with the rest of the family and since it was raining they decided that it was time to leave and that way I could put an end to my agony. 

Back at grandma’s home there was still the family and still waiting for me and take some more pictures.  One of the relatives (don’t know what kind of relationship, here were at least 40 people in the house!) asked me if I liked coconut and when I said yes he offered to get one for me.  A few of us left to get the coconut from the jungle behind the house and the relative climed on a palm tree and got some coconuts for us that we drank and ate there and then.  (and in the meantime we gave a good reason to mosquitoes to stick around!) Back home we were really exhausted and went straight to bed. Idul fitri is something like Christmas for Christians so there is always good a gathering to attend to.  And just like Christmas it can be pretty exhausting. 

The following morning Ageng and part of his family took me to the airport but before we made a pit stop to introduce me to another branch of the family and do some other photo call. Ageng and all his relatives have been amazing.  They have treated me like a prince and also adapted the cooking to my diet restrictions.  They made me feel the most important person in the world and walked the extra mile to make me feel at home.  They also gave me presents and made my stay in Lampun unforgettable. 

My plane to Padang was more a bus than a plane.  It took three hours to get to destination and due to the fact that we stopped  in Jambi to let passengers out and pick need ones… Weird… 

We got to Padang with an hour delay and at the airport I found Alfano, a couchsurfer, to pick me up.  I didn’t find any host so I booked at Brigitte’s home (Jl. Kp. Sebelah X, Kp. Pd., Padang Bar., Kota Padang, Sumatera Barat) and Alfano although could not host me was so nice to take me there on his motorbike. Brigitte’s house is a very small hostel where I got a room for myself.  The place is more than decent but the fact that there is only one bathroom for the entire place can be sometimes really uncomfortable. 

Padang is a very nice city by the sea surrounded by beautiful mountains and jungles.  With Alfano we had dinner in a sushi place and then I called it a night. 

The following day Alfano came and pick me up and together we went to the beach some 20min far from the city.  Honestly it was nothing special as a recent storm had torn down many tree on the beach and the water is not crystal clear due to the movement of the sands.  Besides to get to a depth decent enough to swim you have to walk around 100m from the shore.  But it was still nice.  The area is still very wild,  with animals walking around free and I tried to get an interaction with some of the goats walking around but they always ran from me… 

After a nap in the afternoon Alfano invited me to spend the night at the hostel where he works (as he was doing the night shift and could easily sneaking me in) and so I was able to spend the night in a four star hotel and in the morning I had a gigantic breakfast and all this for free!!!

The night before we had dinner at this street food place called Waroeng Koki-koki where I had kwetiau goreng,  some kind of really thick rice noodles with vegetables and afterwards we had an ice-cream at Es Durian – Ganti Nan Lamo. At the restaurant there were these two kids singing and they were pretty amazing. Little Indonesia got talent 

The night rained cats and dogs but this morning the sun is shining. 

I really loved Sumatra even though I just spent a few days here.  Despite the fact that is the more Muslim compared to Bali and Java  I found the people very friendly and very open.  White persons are still something to look at with great interest, but they always say hello and smile to you. I’m not sure that if they knew that I’m gay they would be still so nice,  but I can’t really complain.  

Now I’m at the airport again ready to leave Indonesia as my visa expires tomorrow. New destination Malaysia.

Island hopping (this time is for real)

So after my days in Ubud I went back to Kuta for a couple of days just to make clear what I was going to to next. 

I checked in at Mirah hostel not far from Legian. The place is nice and clean. Far from the crowds if you’re looking for some rest is the perfect spot. There is also a nice pool and staff are extremely helpful and nice. The only little black spot is the breakfast, that although is included in the price, is VERY short in jam…

During this time I went to the beach and to be quite honest it was not much. It’s ok for being a beach in the city but you can’t really swim there as the currents are too strong and the waves too​ high, so perfect for surfers but not for swimmers.

My food was gently provided by this little restaurant not far from the hostel called VLAB Kitchen. Good food, good prices.

After this short relaxing break I took yet another flight to Flores. Everybody was telling wonders of this island so I decided to go there and move my way back towards Bali by boat.

The plane was more a bus with wings than an airplane but the flight was short so no big deal. Arrived at the airport I had to wait for my pickup. I booked one night at “Ciao hostel” as it was the best according to the reviews, for a decent price. My pickup was not there as promised from the hostel and I had to call to make them coming.

Ciao hostel is a charming place a bit off the center, out of the main street, on top of a hill with a breathtaking view over the harbor. But other than that, not much. For 11€ a night you don’t even get free breakfast and the beds have no curtains (unlike ANY other place I have been previously). The common area would be nice to socialize but everyone is in deep conversations with their phones, so no chance to make friends there.

For dinner I went with some other guys met on the spot to this burger place not far from the hostel called “Burger Time” that surprisingly has veggie burger. French fries are real potatoes made at the moment but the bill summed up to 10€ in the end, that is what I would pay in Barcelona. So this place is a no go…

Morning comes and I’m on my way to look for another, cheaper hostel. I found my luck at “Bajo nature” a small place right in the center of the city. The place is still a work in progress, not really sure if it is a renovation or it has never been finished, but the one big room is very nice and cozy, with keypad security lockers and breakfast included (bread, spreads, omelette, coffee and tea). And this for only 7€ a night. 

After booking for my night I went for breakfast at this place called “Bajo bakery” where I had tea, chocolate muffin and this delicious “Italian sandwich”, with pesto sauce, tomato and mozzarella. 

In the afternoon I went looking for a good deal for island hopping, to make my way back to Bali. I found my happiness at “Kencana adventure” where for 1550000 RP (100€more or less) I have a 4 days 3 nights trip around the island, finishing in Lombok. 

For lunch I met with 2 girls from the hostel and went to Mediterraneo. Very nice and cozy place, good food although a bit expensive, but the focaccia was great!

So now, here I am, waiting for the bus that will take me to the boat where I will spend the next 4 days, finally island hopping in South East Asia.

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.. 

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.