12 April 2010
The last full day in Bangkok was spent exploring Ayutthaya. The city which was founded in the 13th century was the second capital of Siam (ancient name for Thailand). The ideal location (close proximity to India, China and the Malayan archipelago) made it a financial powerhouse in Asia during its glory days in the 17th century. Records have it that the 1700s, the population of the city has swelled to a million; this made Ayutthaya the largest city in the world in terms of people. All of this glory and grandeur came to a halt when the Burmese invaded the city in 1767 and subsequently burned it down.
Today, this city is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok. Remnants of temples, palaces and Buddha statues still exist for tourist to get a glimpse of the glorious past of the city. UNESCO formally recognizes the great cultural value of the ancient city’s ruins when it named Ayutthaya as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
A lot of travel agencies offer day tours going to Ayutthaya; they usually charge something like at least 1,000 BHT. We did it much cheaper by doing a DIY trip. At around 5:30 that morning, we headed out of our hostel and headed to Hualamphong Train Station where we will be taking a 3rd class train going to Ayutthaya. The ticket costing just 20 BHT was the best way to see the countryside near the outskirt of the city. Apart from being dirt cheap, it was a great way to get a glimpse of the life of ordinary Thais. The ride had multiple stops along the way and about an hour later, we arrived in our stop.
From the train station, we walked around two hundred meters to reach the riverbanks. A boat was there to ferry people to and from the main island of Ayutthaya (where the ruins are found) – this is not free but you only pay around 5 BHT for the two minute crossing.
Across the river, there were several guesthouses that offered bikes for rental. In Ayutthaya, a good way of exploring the place is to rent a bike and just roam around with your map – not on that day though, we gave up on the biking option as then temperature was probably in the mid 30’s (Celsius). A friendly songthaew driver approached us and offered his service at 400 BHT/hour, I was able to haggle it down to 1,000 BHT for a four hour excursion.
We then started our brief Ayutthaya excursion; I could not exactly remember the names of the temples we visited except for Wat Phra Mahathat in which the famous tree that grew around a Buddha head can be found. It was not too spectacular but I was glad to have finally seen in person the artifact which I always associate Ayutthaya with.
The temples have individual entrance fees (although some are free as well) for foreigners, this ranges from 20-50 BHT per person. If you can pass for a local, you might be able to get in for free. Coming from someone who has been to Siem Reap twice, the ruins in Ayutthaya was not so spectacular anymore. It is more or less, “same same but different”
The temperature did not cooperate; in fact it became even hotter after we visited Wat Phra Mahathat. It was then that we decided to head back to Bangkok. Luckily there was a bus that goes straight to the Mochit Terminal in Bangkok; the fare was less than 100 BHT. We paid for it and grabbed the last two remaining seats. I could not remember how long the ride took as I was already asleep as soon as I sat on the air-conditioned bus and only woke up when we arrived in our destination.
Ayutthaya is a stunning place to visit if you want see what was left of the ancient Siam capital. However, the place may not have a huge awe-impact to you if you have previously visited Angkor Wat in Cambodia previously. My suggestion is that if you have a limited time and you have previously visited (or is planning to visit) Siem Reap, skip Ayutthaya and look for other options to do while in Bangkok. Otherwise, go ahead and visit Ayutthaya and do not miss Wat Phra Mahathat. If you plan to do it on the cheap, it would be best to have at least four people in the group so as to share expenses should you ever want to hire a songthaew or tuktuk.
6 November 2009
Located somewhere in the middle of the orderly chaos that is Jonker Walk is Number Twenty, a mid-range guesthouse that puts much emphasis on the words comfort and style.
This place is a renovated 17th century Dutch mansion that was modified in such a way in order to accommodate as much as 20 guests in either of their double or twin room. All of which comes fully air-conditioned and decorated in a neat minimalist style.
Number Twenty is situated within a short walking distance from the old historic Chinese quarters. The historical sights painted in red is just a mere stone throw away, all you have to do is to just cross the bridge. Food is not a problem as there are numerous bars and restaurants within a few minutes away from the hostel doorstep.
Despite being located in a very busy location, this guesthouse still managed to make itself a relaxing place by means of the spacious lounge that is located in the 2nd floor of the building. A large floor to ceiling balcony windows opens out to Jonker Walk. I particularly like the very inviting sofa in which you are free to lie down and choose from the following choices: (a) watch TV in their plasma screen, (b) read a book from their travel library, or (c) surf the net by utilizing the in-house WiFi.
I have stayed here previously for a night in 2008; it was still brand new then and very clean. A few weeks ago, I was able to visit this place again and I was very surprise that the place is as beautiful and as clean as it was a year ago. Unfortunately though we were not able to get a room then, as they were fully booked during the Deepavali holiday weekend.
The only thing lacking here is a private toilet for the rooms. Yep, all guests will have to share a common toilet. They make up for it though by cleaning it every now and then just to ensure that it is very clean.
The rate per night for this hostel is pegged at 95 MYR per night (105 MYR for Fridays and Saturdays); I would say that it is not too bad at all considering all the facilities you enjoy. Apart from this, they thrown in a complimentary continental breakfast for two.
After having said everything, I do strongly recommend Number Twenty Hostel. Stay here if you want to have a comfortable home away from home in Malacca. Do not forget to book in advance as room supply is quite limited which makes a successful walk-in on a weekend technically impossible.
Number Twenty Guesthouse
20 Jalan Hang Jebat (Jonker Walk)
Malacca, Malaysia 75200
Tele: +60 62 819761
Fax: +60 62 819761
Mobile : Mr.Zul +60 172137972
25 October 2009
It was pretty much a very smooth bus ride to Malacca. It was so smooth that I was able to sleep for the whole duration of the two-hour trip. When I woke up at quarter past two in the afternoon, the bus was already parking in its assigned platform in Melaka Sentral.
First agenda upon disembarking was to get return tickets back to Singapore for the following day. Initially we were looking for a bus that will take us directly back to Singapore, however most of the tickets were either sold out or the only available seats are the morning trips. Definitely, we don’t want to take an early morning trip back to Singapore as we’ve done it last year and we almost missed the ride. In the end, we settled for a bus back to Johor Bahru that leaves Malacca at 4PM the following day.
It was a very hot afternoon when we arrived; we decided to take an air conditioned taxi to the central part of town instead of the cheaper bus ride. The fare to our destination costs 12 MYR; not your good taxi with very cold aircon but it is better than sweating it out in the heat.
Traffic was horrible that afternoon; the driver explained that it was because of the Deepavali holiday. I would surmise though that given that Malacca is a very popular end of week destination from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore plus the narrow one-way streets, it would really be jam-packed with cars during the weekends.
Malacca is a vibrant old city that is very much wealthy in terms of history. The rich historical background of this lovely place earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation together with Penang in July 2008. Some would say that this designation really helped increase the tourist influx.
The taxi driver dropped us off around 15 minutes later in Jonker Walk, the short stretch in the heart of the city that is home to many stores selling all kinds of stuffs mostly to tourists. It was chaotic when we arrived there; the sidewalk of the narrow street was filled with people while the street itself was filled with cars.
As this was an impulse trip to Malacca, we wasted no time in finding our accommodation for that night. We inquired first in Twenty Hostel as it was just along Jonker Walk; as we have stayed here last year, we know that this is a very good place to spend the night. Unfortunately, there were no vacancies (as I initially expected). Hopping on from one accommodation to another to inquire, the place was just either full or was just not to our liking.
Half an hour later, we decided to check the other side of town to check on some more hostels. Along the way, we passed by the Heritage Area. It is very distinct because of the bright brick red color; I just learned that several years back, the government decided to paint the area with such color as the constant spitting by passers-by was proving a nuisance to aesthetic value of the historical attractions.
We managed to get a decent accommodation a few hundred meters away from the Heritage Area. A small affordable room with aircon and private toilet pretty much was enough for us; quite affordable as well at 70 MYR but definitely there are much better accommodation elsewhere. As it was still very hot outside, I took a nap for an hour.
The temperature outside was already bearable when we went out. We took a quick stroll and found ourselves in the foot of Bukit China. Poh San Teng Temple was built at the foot of the hill in 1795 as a graveyard temple. The well of Hang Li Po stood beside the temple; it was built in the 14th century and has served throughout the early years as a main source of water in the area.
We made our way up Bukit China; a hill that was used as a graveyard by the early Chinese settlers in Malacca. It was said that it was the biggest Chinese cemetery outside China and has several graves dating back to the Ming dynasty. Today though, it serves as a jogging track for the locals. The hill also offers an excellent view of the city.
As it was already sunset when we reached the top of Bukit China, we slowly made out way down not long afterwards. Definitely no one would want to get caught in the dark in a cemetery.
To be continued…
23 August 2009
On our 3rd day in Jogjakarta, we didn’t have to rush so early in the morning. I got up from bed at past eight already. I took a shower and we availed of the free breakfast of Merbabu Hotel in their mini restaurant located at the top floor, the third storey to be exact. From the restaurant, the roof of the surrounding buildings can be seen.
Food was nothing to rave about as it was just continental breakfast. I was thinking the other day that nothing really beats the breakfasts they serve back home in the Philippines; I miss all the LOGS that I can practically imagine (tapsilog, tocilog, longsilog, bangsilog, etc…)
We were out of the hotel at past 9:30 AM and headed out towards Malioboro Street. It was a long stretch of road in which all kinds of souvenir are being sold. The were persistent touts who would go near us and just start talking; they will still continue talking for a while even if you ignore them and walk away. Funny thing is that, I do not understand a single word they say. We bought some items; all of them were heavily discounted from the original price they quote. In this place, heavy bargaining is an essential in almost all aspects.
There was a Dunkin Donut store along Malioboro Street; we eagerly went inside as it had been a while since I had their doughnuts. First thing I noticed is that the outlet here in Jogja was very different from the ones back in the Philippines as they are definitely more upscale. This probably explained why there were no customers inside except us. We stayed there for more than 30 minutes to cool ourselves and to enjoy their iced coffee.
Continuing our stroll, we encountered many more stall along the way. Most of them are selling the same kind of goods (e.g. batik goods, t-shirts, handicrafts, etc). The touts are still there and it was beginning to become a challenge to shake them off.
Towards the end of the road, we took a detour in Benteng Vredeburg. This Dutch-era fort located opposite the main post office was built in the mid-1700. The restored fort is now a museum with dioramas showcasing the history of the independence movement in Jogja. The architecture is worth a look and it is relatively clean compared to the rest of the area in the city. Although we can’t relate to the dioramas (as it was Jogjakarta history and most scene descriptions were written in Bahasa Indonesia), we very much enjoyed the cool air-conditioned room.
It was already almost noontime when we went out of Benteng Vredeburg; since we were not that interested in seeing surrounding attractions, we hired a becak for 10,000 IDR to take us back to Jalan Sosrowijayan.
The ride took more than 10 minutes; the poor old man driving the becak was sweating when we arrived in the backpackers’ area. We quickly headed back to Bedhot Resto for lunch.
During the whole duration of this trip, I was very boring when it came to my food choices. I didn’t need a menu when I ordered my steak. No offence intended but I never was a fan of traditional Indonesian food and the last thing I would be doing on this particular trip would be to try the more exotic variety.
Our driver picked us up at exactly one in the afternoon. It turned out that it was only us who signed up for this trip and it means we will be having a private tour at a fraction of the price.
As we passed by this upscale mall in the city, I asked the driver to turn around and park for a while as I wanted to check if there is a Starbucks outlet. It turned out that there was one and they also sell the city mugs. I got the big mug for my mom; the only available mini mugs they have is the 5-piece collector set which I already got before during a family trip last February in Jakarta. The price for the big mug was very cheap at 85,000 IDR and it came with a free frappuccino – not bad at all!
We went back to the van with the loot in our hand as well as the ice-cold coffee frappuccino. It took us less than half an hour to reach the Prambanan Temple. The driver arranged for our tickets while I arranged to hire a tour guide which cost us 60,000 IDR.
Prambanan is the largest Hindu temple in Central Java, Indonesia and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a tall and pointed structure which is common amongst Hindu temples. Our tour guide, Ibrahim, mentioned that amongst the temple ruins scattered around the temple complex, only a few can be restored as reconstruction can only be done if 75% of the original stones are available. Most of the original stonework had been stolen during the early 19th century.
The three major temples in the complex are still currently off limits to the public as these were badly damaged during the 2006 earthquake that rocked central Java. Ibrahim led us to the shrine in front of the Shiva temple; inside was the statue of Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva. He explained to us that the shrines in front of the three main temples are each dedicated to the vehicles of the 3 main Hindu gods.
Finally, Ibrahim led us to the back of the ruins where he said that it was a good spot to take photos. He offered to take a snap of us with the temple ruins as the background before saying “my guided tour ends here, please feel free to roam around…”
The information given by the tour guide was appreciated but it was simply not worth the cost as the tour was simply too short, probably less than half an hour. Oh well, at least he captured an excellent snap – I forgave him for this.
It took us more than another hour before we headed out of the temple. There was a small museum just beside the temple complex which housed various artifacts dug from the surrounding area. The make-shift train ride going to the outlying temple Candi Sewu was worth trying as well, ticket is sold at 5,000 IDR per person.
We continued to our next destination, Parangtritis Beach, about an hour away from Prambanan Temple. This famous area is located about 35 km to the south of Jogjakarta. The primary attraction of this beach is its natural view. Standing from the seashore, the wide ocean with violent high waves and wide stretch of green mountains on the eastern side is indeed a splendid sight. But what is breath-taking was the gentle and silent setting of the sun amidst the sound of the waves, laughter and screams of people both young and old and the harsh bustle of the wind.
We stayed in the beach for a good thirty minutes, enjoying the sun setting while munching on a grilled sweet corn we bought from a local vendor. It was a perfect afternoon, the sky was clear and the breeze was chilly. I managed to get worthwhile snaps of this great view. Afterwards it was another long ride going back to the city.
The van dropped us at Gang II. As we were very hungry, we headed towards our food refuge — Bedhot Resto. This time, there were lots of tourists around; most of them were familiar faces in the area. We managed to get a table at the center of the restaurant; once again I ordered my usual steak. While waiting, I wrote down in my small notebook the highlights for the day.
Though tomorrow will be another normal workday for me, it’s worth remembering that this short 3-day getaway has led me to two of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I will bid goodbye to this part of Indonesia tomorrow, I will be back in two weeks to explore another part of this country.
22 August 2009
The phone rang at exactly 4:30 in the morning; it was room service calling as I requested for a wake-up call for the Borobudur sunrise activity. First thing I did was to go out of our hotel room and check whether the sky was clear or not, after all I would not want to waste 150,000 IDR (per person) for the activity. As the sky was clear, we decided to give it a go.
We were in the lobby before five to collect our flashlights and tickets and meet the guide, who will lead the group on the way to the temple. There were other guests, as well, who will be joining us to watch sunrise from the top of Borobudur. Shortly after, we were on our way to the temple. As it was still dark, we made use of the flashlights to stay within the paved path. And in less than 10 minutes, we were once again on top of the massive Buddhist temple.
It was somehow cold while we were waiting for the sun to rise. Unlike our adventure last week in Siem Reap, there wasn’t any coffee available to help keep us warn. I had to settle with rubbing my hands against each other. We found a good place on the eastern side, and from there we waited patiently for the sun.
At first we thought that the sunrise would disappoint us, (just like our sunrise tour in Cameron Highlands several months back) – fortunately for us, we got lucky this time. The sun rising from Mt Merapi was a beautiful sight to behold. Taking advantage of the very good light, we took snaps randomly as the sky was beginning to change color. Since we didn’t hire a tour guide this time, we just made use of my tripod. The morning mist hanging over the surrounding hills was a sight to behold.
As the sun was inching higher in the sky, more and more tourists were beginning to appear inside the temple. We took it as a sign to go back to the hotel and enjoy the buffet breakfast waiting for their guests. Sadly though the breakfast was nothing special and I was disappointed with what I ate.
I managed to catch up on my sleep and woke up at around 11, with just enough time to pack things up. We checked out at exactly noontime. It was still very hot outside so we decided to stay a bit in the lobby. There, it was very relaxing as breeze just simply flows from everywhere; the sounds coming from the bamboo chimes were like a lullaby that was tempting us to sleep in our comfortable chairs.
We left the Manohara compound at around two in the afternoon. It may have an imperfect breakfast but everything else there was fantastic. It was truly a good place to relax away from the hustle and bustle of living in the city.
We found our way to the main road and started looking for our transportation back to Jogja. The idea of taking a bus ride was scratched out and we decided to take a private car going back to the city. Best bet to get some ride was the entrance of the Borobudur temple; upon entering the gate we were immediately surrounding by persistent touts who sell various kinds of stuffs. They were very persistent such that after saying “no” and “thank you”, they would continue doing the sales talk in Bahasa (as if we understand a word they say).
Finally a vendor who can speak English approached us; he asked us if we are looking for a ride back to the city as he has a friend who can take us there. I asked him the price and he quoted 300,000 IDR. I blatantly told him I am not falling for that outrageous price. I quoted I will only pay 125,000 and we walked away. To make the long story short, we agreed on a price of 150,000 IDR after ten minutes of negotiation.
A few minutes later, we were on a dilapidated van going back to the city. Apart from the brief stop-over at the Mendut temple (located a few kilometers away from Borobudur), it was a straight trip to Jogja.
We were dropped off in Jalan Sosrowijayan and headed towards Gang II to inquire about the place we wanted but unfortunately it was still fully booked. I asked for a recommendation on where we could stay and they pointed us towards this place in Gang I called Hotel Merbabu. Upon checking the available rooms, we found it to be good enough for the next two nights and so we took it. Rate was fairly cheap at 160,000 IDR per night, which comes with free breakfast.
Wasting no time, we got ourselves a hotel room and quickly inquired about the Ramayana Ballet. The tour operator told us that the last show for the week would be tonight, so we immediately bought tickets (50,000 IDR) and as well availed of the transportation service going to the program venue (another 50,000 IDR), which was near Prambanan Temple.
Since we still have enough time, we decided to have an early dinner at Bedhot Resto in Gang II. It was a simple restaurant but it was clean and has an excellent ambiance (think rustic beach restaurants in Boracay with a Reggae theme). The food was okay as well, with a whole range of choices. Unfortunately, I was not in the mood to experiment anymore on local dishes so I opted for a steak – such a steal at a cost of less than 5 SGD if converted.
Bedhot also offer tour packages to various sights in and around Jogja. Since I noticed that prices of the tours being offered are more or less the same, I decided to get our transportation for the following day to Prambanan Temple from this restaurant. This included a sunset side trip to Parangtritis Beach. The price for this was 260,000 IDR – somehow expensive but I tried to justify it because the entrance ticket to Prambanan was already included (this normally costs 12 USD).
Just immediately after dinner, we were picked up by the van which took us to the Ramayana Ballet venue. The ride took more than an hour as we picked-up several other tourists as well. We reach the place just before 7:30; just in time for us not to wait for a very long time before the program started.
The Ramayana Ballet is currently one of the most popular performances in town. On the night we watched it, it was held at an outdoor theater 16 km east of Yogyakarta, with the magnificent Prambanan Temple as the background. The program is based on a popular Hindu legend with gods, mortals, giants, monkeys and beautiful women as characters. Basically, it is an epic about good triumphing over evil. The hypnotic music from Javanese traditional musical instruments and the dramatic stage lighting makes this performance a must for any traveler in Jogja.
The program ended two hours after; we managed to get some quick photos together with some of the Ramayana casts before we went back to the city.
While on our way back, all I can think off was to get into my bed and call it a night. It was a quite a tiring day as we started it very early and I was terribly exhausted with all the time spent on the road. Tomorrow would be more relaxed as the tour will not start until after lunch. If we can manage to wake up early, it might probably a good opportunity to explore the area near Jalan Sosrowijayan & Malioboro Street.