Yogyakarta, Java

It took us 2 hours by flight to get from Malaysia to the heart of Java Yogyakarta, known to the locals as Jogja. Our hotel ‘Phoenix’ was beautiful, we had discovered that we had a bit more money left than expected and decided to splash out on a more luxurious hotel with a much needed swimming pool. Yogyakarta is most famous as it is the gateway to two of the oldest and most important hindu/buddhist temples on earth Prambanan and Borobudur. Although the temples were the main purpose of our visit we were intrigued to learn more about this city that appeared different and not as well known as the other places we have visited so we set out to explore.

Jogja is a unique city that’s hard to describe, but here goes. The people here are extremely friendly and as their are not very many tourist we were made to feel like celebrities! Walking down through the main town it wasn’t uncommon to be asked for an interview and witness photo from local students practising their English, even the adults were keen to get to know us. The city is bustling with creativity and is renowned for their ‘Batik’ artwork, a Process of creating artworks and fabrics using dyes and wax. By night, especially on the weekend the city comes alive with artist, musicians, people dancing in the street, art exhibitions, people just sat around eating and talking and society’s of all kinds; photography, cycling, there was even a Group for people dressed as zombies! The streets are decorated with cool street art and jammed with shops selling Batik arts and crafts, model mopeds and bikes. We only spent 3 days in this vibrant and very social city but were lucky enough to be there to witness a carnival bringing together all the people who live here, filmed by a local tv channel, the carnival included performances by local bands, a fairground and stalls selling various foods.

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The Sacred Bike

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The streets in Jogja were once ruled by bikes but have recently been overtaken by mopeds. The pedal bike is something of an icon in the city and you will still see many people riding on vintage bikes and fixes. Whilst in Yogyakarta we manage to meet a few local riding groups including a group of teenagers who had constructed their own ‘tall bikes’ consisting of a two frames welded on top of each other!

Street Art

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Borobudur
Borobudur is a 9th-century Mahayana Buddhist temple. Although the temple is buddhist its design depicts the Indian architectural style Gupta, it also takes influence from both the Hindu and Buddhist religion. The monument is a shrine to the Lord Buddha who’s ancestors were Hindu, the temple is a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. We were lucky enough to arrive at this pristine temple in time for sunrise so were able to witness the spectacular views before the crowds. As leaving the temple bus loads of schools were arriving for their annual school trip, many of them wanted photos and interviews to prove they were Practising their English language skills with a tourist.

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Prambanan
Just outside the cities walls is the ancient 9th-century Hindu temple compound Prambanan. The temple is dedicated to the Trimurti, the expression of God as the Creator (Brahma), the Preserver (Vishnu) and the Destroyer (Shiva). We arrived at the temple just after sunrise and were early enough to avoid the large groups of school children we seen when leaving Borobudur. The temple was one of the most exotic we have seen and comparable in style to the Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

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Kuala Lumpur

A 5 hour took us to into Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, otherwise known as KL. KL is a bustling Asian City packed with markets, restaurants, skyscrapers and hawker food stalls. The population is made up of mainly Chinese and Indian people and the areas in the city focus around the different cultures within it. Most of our time was spent within the popular areas of ChinaTown, Little India and The Golden Triangle.

China Town
China Town was the closest area to our hostel The Reggae Mansion, probably the most up market hostel we have ever stayed in and a stark contrast to our 1st nights accommodation at The Tropical Guesthouse. The Reggae Mansion has a rooftop bar, restaurant, cinema room, free wifi, air con everything you would want in a good hotel- backpacking has definitely advanced since our 1st time in 2004. China towns main focus is the market selling knock-off goods and a wide choice of street food.

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Nighttime view of the Manara & Patronas Towers from the roof top of The Reggae Mansion.

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China Town/Bukit Bintang hawker food stalls.

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You haven’t been to Asia if you haven’t shopped at an Asian market – everything from knock off Ray Ban sunglasses to Chinese medicine.

Little India
Little India is smaller and not so touristy… This area is filled with shops selling jewellery, silks and saris and home to one of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at Saravanaa Bhavan, an Indian restaurant that specialises in vegetarian food. Our dish was the banana leaf curry made up of rice, 2 veg currys, kootu, pachavi, sambar, rasam, kuzhambu, butter milk, appalam, butter chilli and pickle.

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Banana Leaf Curry Set, Saravanaa Bhaven, Kuala Lumpur.

The Menara Tower, Kuala Lumpur
To get views of the city we decided to go to the roof pod of of KL’s tallest tower Menara KL (421m), this gave us some great views of the city and Petronas towers (the twin towers).

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View from the Menara KL Tower.

Penang – The Pearl Of The Orient

Our journey to Penang was a relatively easy one, just 3 hours by ferry. Penang also known as ‘The pearl of the orient’ is famed for it’s delicious and culturally diverse Asian cuisine – a key reason for us choosing to visit. Our 1st stop on the island was the beach side town Batu Ferringhi where we were fortunate to do a home stay a very friendly Malaysia-Indian family at Annie’s Home Stay. As soon as we arrived at Annie’s beautiful house we were made to feel welcome by her, her husband Raj and lovely children. It was a home away from home where we could truly relax and wind down. We only spent two days in this area of Penang but once pointed in the direction of the Long Beach Hawker Food Centre where we were happy enough to spend our time experimenting with the local food…

After two enjoyable days stuffing our faces with asian cuisine we said goodbye to Annie and made our way to George Town a much more happening area of the island. Following a recommendation made by a German couple who had cycled all the way to Malaysia from Germany! We made the decision to stay in the coolest hostel yet ‘Pedal Inn’. This brand new and stylish guesthouse located just a short walk from the main areas of town is mainly aimed at cyclist on tour but even without George’s main love his bike we were made to feel very welcome. The staff here couldn’t do enough for us – they gave George a bike magazine and me a street food guide as well as filling us in on the local street art – we were both in our element. We headed out straight away with the aim to try as many different dishes as possible… We were very adventurous in eating with the locals and often without menus just the word of the cook and not once did we have an off stomach. Below are just some of the many dishes we sampled.

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Left to Right: Cendol, Chilli Prawns, Nasi Kandar, Porridge, Golden Dumpling, Koey Teow, Ice Kacang, Chilli Crab, Whan Than Mee.

Food We Sampled & Descriptions
Chilli crab, Chilli prawn, Laksa (noodles in fish broth), Chicken jalfrezi, Bendi masala (a green vegetable also known as ladyfingers in masala sauce), Spring roll, Red snapper red fish curry, Fried koey teow (flat noodle with egg and prawn), Chicken and beef satay, Cendol (green chewy noodles, palm sugar, syrup, shaved ice, red beans and coconut milk), Golden dumpling (sticky rice, soy sauce and pork steamed in a banana leaf), Wan than Mee (Sui kow) – dumplings noodles gravy, Poh peah (pancakes with veg chilli), Porridge with meat veg salty egg, Roti Canai (buttery, fluffy roti served with lentil curry), Nasi Kandar (Indian Muslim – rice served with a host of curries and various meats/veg), Ice kacang desert (Finely shaved ice topped with sweet red beans, creamed sweet corn, dried nutmeg, jelly’s and ice cream).

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The Pedal Inn, George Town (photo of us and owner Steven), Annie’s Homestay Batu Ferringhi (Photo of us and Annie).

Between many meals we also found the time to visit many of the sites in the world heritage centre of George Town. We went up Penang hill 800m on the worlds steepest train, we visited the Kek Lok Si Temple and spent much of our time exploring little India and China Town two very fashionable areas of town consisting of Chinese tea shops, market stalls, food vendors selling Chinese and Indian food, cool shops, a museum, a couple of small art galleries and walls displaying street art by a Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic and Baba Chuah a local Caricature artist. To summarise Penang is a culturally diverse, creative and cosmopolitan city, the people are lovely and the food is the best, we are sad to be leaving but will hopefully be a few pounds lighter for doing so.

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Going up Penang Hill (800m) on the train, View from the top of Penang Hill a misty but very hot day, Kek Lok Si Temple, Wish Tags.

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Street Art in George Town by Ernest Zacharevic

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A very cool artist studio – Junk in George Town

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Some random photos of street life in Penang

Langkawi Malaysia

As we crossed the border from Thailand into Langkawi we were welcomed with big smiles. Unlike the now tourist dominated Thailand this was a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere where we instantly felt at ease.

Langkawi is more westernised than most of Asia but doesn’t feel near as touristy, the population is small and poverty doesn’t seem to be an issue here. It’s very green and is surrounded by beautiful beaches, the island is volcanic in places and has one of the worlds only salt water hot springs. The people in Malaysia are some of the friendliest and most genuine we have met, from the moment we stepped foot in our cab to our guest-house ‘Tropical Resort’ they couldn’t do enough for us.

There are many different cultures and religions in Malaysia that live and work together, the most common is Muslim, however, there is still many Hindus, Buddhist, Sikhs, Christians and various other religious groups. The diverse population in Malaysia makes the food here a real treat. A mish-mash of southern Indian tandoori dishes, Thai food, Chinese and Japanese food all with a spicy kick sent us to food heaven!

We spent a lot of time exploring the island on mopeds regularly stopping for fresh juice drinks and culinary delights, although there wasn’t much to do here there was a very nice vibe about the place that we liked. On Our last night we went out with an English couple we had met on the boat over ‘Frank and Laura’, who helped us take advantage of the islands duty free alcohol. Whilst sharing a bottle of rum outside their hostel we shared some travel stories, fussed the local cats and even managed to watch a ladyboy show organised as a surprise birthday present for a neighbour.

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Beautiful Malaysian sunset

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Me and George on the beach, George very pleased with his new hat.

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Views from the road in peaceful Langkawi

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Red snapper red fish curry – amazing seafood for very cheap prices!

Railay Beach

What more can we say except for another beautiful beach located a short bus and ferry journey from Krabi town, the south-west coast of Thailand. The hotel we were staying at was pre-booked before we left the UK so we knew we would have a little bit of luxury when we arrived, and didn’t have to hunt round for somewhere half descent to stay. Railay beach was just as you would imagine – picture perfect, lush limestone cliffs and small islands extruding from the sea surrounded by white sandy beach’s (it was especially nice in the early mornings before the crowds of tourists and backpackers were awake!). After a hard day off enjoying the sun and absorbing the lush surroundings of Railay West we took a boat out to visit some of the local islands and snorkelling spots. At the sun set our boat anchored up a mile off-shore where we waited for dark. When the sky was black we jumped into the dark moonless ocean looking at planctum glow in the water as we swam by.

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Railay Beach early morning paradise

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Limestone rock formations

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Sunset south west Thailand

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Beautiful sunset

Koh Chang

We waved goodbye to Nepal at Kathmandu International Airport. With a farewell scarf and bag of various fruits from Min and his family we took flight to a familiar destination Thailand (via Delhi) where we hoped to recuperate for a few days before the rest of our trip.

We took a taxi to the Khao San Road the backpackers area where we managed to find a cheap bed for the night before heading to Koh Chang, one of the islands east of Bangkok. The familiar taste of street pad Thai and Chang beer was nice on the stomach after a long days travelling but unfortunately Khao San Road a location in which we had visited in the past and found to be a little touristy felt more like an 18-30 resort in Greece! We were eager to leave so quickly got our heads down and tried to block out the sound of Thai Karaoke.

The next day we headed to Ko Chang Island first by bus to Trat, then a ferry ride to the island. The trip was supposed to take 4-5 hours max but after a suspected break down, a one hour wait for another bus to join us and a long wait at the ferry port the Thai travel time was more like 9 hours!

Koh Chang definitely made up for the long journey! The ‘Nature Resort’ on Lonely Beach where we had managed to find a nice fan bungalow for just 600thb was surrounded lush green jungle, hammocks and white sand beaches, this was definitely one of the most beautiful islands we had ever visited. We quickly relaxed in the sun with a shrimp panang curry and a bottle of singha.

For the next two days we relaxed on the beach and hired mopeds to explore the island – this was really enjoyable as it gave us the freedom to discover more remote beaches and locations on the island. One of the places we stopped was Ban Thai a fishing village where we had the probably the best seafood we have ever tasted and even better it was marinated in delicious Thai spices. We also managed to visit an elephant sanctuary where we took turns to feed the elephant s fruits.

We only stayed in Koh Chang for 3 days but found the island to be very lush, with stunning beaches and delicious, authentic Thai food. We are now feeling relaxed as we prepare to head to or next destination Krabi where we will cross the border into Malaysia.

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Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand.

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Nature Resort Lonely Beach & George on the moped!

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You haven’t been to Thailand if you ate in the hotel – find the most rustic, Thai style beach shack and you will get the best Thai food. Amazing seafood at the fishing village and our beach hut.

Kathmandu

Following a few days of recovery from trekking and some time to heal George’s dodgy stomach we were feeling ready to take on Nepal’s capital city Kathmandu. A 6 hour bus journey took us to Thamel the backpacker area of Kathmandu where we were once again greeted by our good friend Min who chaperoned us to our hotel ‘happy home’.

Kathmandu is a very typical Asian city – busy, over crowed, smog but on a clear day you can see views of the alpine mountains over this dusky city. Thamel has a feel of Ko San Road in Bangkok as the streets are crowded with travellers from all walks of life, it has tons of restaurants and bars many on the rooftops of the windy streets and shops selling all kinds of travellers tat – everything from yoga bags, bangles, Tibetan antiques, Buddhas and tee’s. The city smells of burning popcorn and incense sticks and in the evening shops are candlelit due to the daily power cuts.

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View of Kathmandu Valley from the monkey temple

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Space Invader Thamel Kathmandu

We spent our time in Kathmandu visiting some of the many Buddhist/Hindu temples around the city. We managed to visit two famous stupas ‘Boudhanath’ and ‘Swayambhu’ also known as the monkey temple due to the holy monkeys living there – A stupa is a structure containing buddhist relics, these stupas have Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, there is something painted which looks like the nose – but is the Nepali symbol of ‘unity’. Both Boudhanath and Swayambhu are considered to be the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Tibetan Buddhist Newars. We also visited Durbar square the plaza in front of the old royal palace of the Kathmandu Kingdom and Pashupatinath, one of the most significant Hindu temples of Lord Shiva in the world, located on the banks of the Bagmati River.

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Boudhanath Stupa

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Swayambhu Stupa

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When turning the buddhist prayer wheel you should say the following ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ this means good luck and long life.

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Hindu Erotic Art

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George with more holy men!

In the evenings we ate into some nice restaurants Third Eye, Or2k and Alchamy but had the most delicious meal with our new Nepalese family the Thapa’s. This has to be the best meal yet – Dhal Bhat with chicken curry and sausage, veg momo’s (Tibetan dumplings), home made chips and Everest Beer. We also had the opportunity to meet Min’s wife Gyanu and 3 lovely children Suju, Sujan and Sujin who were over the moon with their England T-shirts. This really was a home away from home, we can honestly say in all the years we have travelled we have never been made to feel more looked after and welcome! We will definitely be keeping in touch with Min (Mongolian Trekking) and his family.

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Sujin Thapa looking very happy with her team GB tee! Rachel and the Thapa Family

On the final day George finally got chance to cure the bike addiction – booking himself a days riding with local guide & shredder Bikash from Himalayan singletrack (it would be rude not too!) whilst I did a spot of last minute tat shopping with Suju.

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George loving the Kathmandu trails!

It was time to say goodbye to Nepal – We will miss these stunning views and the lovely new friends we have met. Next stop Thailand, we’re both very much looking forward to some beach time.

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