A Travellerspoint blog

Bali, Indonesia

Island of Gods and Demons

Bali, the island of Gods and Demons is a truly holiday paradise from the sun and sea to ancient ruins and temple and of course last but not least a shopping heaven as well. We can get almost anything under the sun especially the handicrafts that of great quality.

As comparison to some of the wood carvings and painting in Bangkok or even Malaysia, I think the quality is better and the most important is that the price really affordable for any man on the street.

Other than recharging during the holiday, we will be learning the art of bargaining with the locals. At certain places, the price can be slashed up to 70% of the offered price. In fact, it’s kind of their culture for such kind of bargaining. I was told that colour of the plastic bags that were used to pack the stuffs purchased was some form of communication among the traders / sellers. Those hardcore customers who are very good in bargaining will be given black colour bag and those not so difficult to handle customer will be given another colour. Hehe… Interesting right? Anyway, it maybe just some rumours spread.

Accomodation
On the first night of my first visit to Bali, I was staying at Sheraton Laguna Bali. It was such a great resort and we had a great time there enjoying the hospitality of their staffs and the great surrounding around the resort. In fact, the swimming pool was so huge and it’s enveloping the whole resort. This reminded me of Sheraton Phuket. The similar kind of set up that was so familiar to me. We had a dinner buffet at the resort and enjoying the traditional dance. Even though the selection of food was quite limited, it still made the meal fulfilling to me. We enjoy the food as much as the traditional dance performance. Managed to get up to the stage and dance with them. Haha. It is such an interesting experience for me. In fact, when I visited Bangkok in year 2002 during the Loy Krathong Festival, I joined their dance as well. It’s fun and great as we just blend with them and enjoy the great moments of celebration. After the dance performance, unexpectedly there was a musical band moving around from table to table performing songs for the diners. I should said that most of the us enjoying the great time.

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Sheraton Laguna Bali - the bedroom

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The next day, we checked out from the resort and move to another resort – Bali Tropic. It’s an authentic kind of Balinese resorts with all the carvings of the demons and gods of bali. It was such a great hotel whereby, I felt localised. As compared to Sheraton, it’s too international kind of feel as I stepped in to the resort. Bali Tropic gave me different kind of impression of Bali. Full of mysteries and at a time it gave us fearful kind of feelings. In fact, the hotel operator was telling us about all those ghost stories when we checked that evening after visiting some of the interesting places in Bali. It really scared my other travel mates. It was very “pantang” to them to hear that entire weird and scary story about the place whereby we will be staying for at least two nights.

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The final place where we moved to before leaving Bali was Mecure Kuta. This resort is located next to Hard Rock Hotel, where all those party goers will rock every evening. It was so happening to stay in Kuta area. We can enjoy the sea view right from the hotel restaurant and the pool as well. The beach was another happening place at Kuta whereby people will be hanging over there from the early hours of the day till late in the evening. Most of the time the sea would be full of surfers and watching them surfing was another interesting experience for me. The way they glide on the water, the way the waves moved, the laughter’s of the surfers and of course the people just made me love Bali so much.

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Kuta Beach from the top of Mecure Kuta Resort

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Places of Interests

There are a lot of interesting places worth for our visitation during the holiday at Bali. For instance, Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Mount Batur, Bedugul, Sukawati, Sangeh, Kintamani, Kuta, Nusa Dua, Jimbaran, Mengwi Village and etc.

The first temple visited during the trip is Uluwatu. It is located at Southwest of Bali. This temple is a precariously located at point of a sheer cliff on the island southern peninsula. Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the most holy and important temple in Bali and it commands a superb position on the tip of the sheer rocky promontory jutting out over the Indian Ocean. It is such a great experience to be there as I managed to enjoy the magnificent views over the serrated coastline that really stunning and this is another hot spot to view the sun set. The interior of the temple is not accessible to the public just like most of the temples in Bali. However, the temple structure is relatively small and any visitor will be able to view most part of the temple from the exterior walls.

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As dinner time was approaching, we were arranged to have a BBQ seafood dinner at Jimbaran. As we reached the beach, I noticed a lot of restaurant operators occupying the beach with all the tables being set up for customers to enjoy the sun set and of course the famous seafood BBQ dinner. In fact, I didn’t enjoy the meal as the food is just too spicy and the portion served also very little. Anyway, we just ate all of it as we were really hungry after travelling all the day visiting the interesting places of Bali.

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Performance during our dinner at Jimbaran beach
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Another interesting place is Pura Tanah Lot – Tanah means earth and lot means south or sea according to the locals, thus in a way Pura Tanah Lot is famously known as Temple of the Earth in the Sea. It is situated at southwest of Bali is built on a large rock cut off from the mainland at high tide and is a must visit place. We can view the beautiful sunset while enjoying the dinner. The high tide and low tide affects the visit as well. The best time to visit is late in the afternoon during low tide as we can reach the temple and get some blessing from the monk over there who will be praying for us with a small donation. The monk will sprinkle the sacred water and put some rice on the forehead and of course a flower petal on out ear. The temple itself is quite modest, consisting of two shrines with tiered roofs and two pavilions. It was too bad for us as we can’t access to the top of the temple as the access was restricted. We just manage to appreciate it from the entrance and refresh our tiresome with the sacred water.

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Bedugul is on the Bali’s highland retreats, situated 1400 metres above sea level. The three lakes of the area provide the water for the fields, rivers and springs on the plains below the highland. It was a tiring journey for us and for those with limited time in Bali can skip this place as nothing really special or spectacular about the place. If I were to know about it, I might as well change the plan to cover some other part of the Island. The world was so small that I met my ex-colleague of SC dining at the same place with me. It was great to meet her.

The recommended mountainous place should be Kintamani. The mountainous region around Kintamani, centring on the spectacular volcanic caldera of Mount Batur with its deep Crater Lake and bubbling hot springs, is rugged with a high and wild beauty. It is another must visit place for any visitor to Bali. Along the journey to Kintamani, the land rises steadily toward an almost featureless horizon with only the mountains – Gunung Agung and Gunung Abang in view to the east and northeast respectively. Then, the famous lake came to our sight. It was an amazing experience for us. Lake Batur is the largest lake in Bali and it is sacred to the Balinese. Homage is paid here to the life giving grace of the Lake at Pura Ulun Danu Batur. For those who want a different kind of vacation can take a trip up Mount Agung and it will be a great experience as well. For me, I just want a relaxing kind of vacation so I chose not to conquer the mountain.

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Other interesting places that my be visited, include the Pura Besakih - often said to be the greatest of all Balinese Sanctuaries – the most powerful, holiest and sacred of the all the islands found in Bali. It is also known as the Mother Temple of Bali. It is situated at Besakih village about 1000 metre above the sea level on the southwest of Mount Agung. Pura Besakih is not a single temple but a spawling complex consisting of many separate shrines and compounds, unified through ritual and history into a single sanctuary. There are 22 temples, spread along the parallel ridges over a distance of more than a kilometre. Few other places are Tirta Gangga, Bat Caves, Goa Gajah and etc.

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Food

In term of food, one of the unforgettable experience was looking for Babi Guling (roast suckling pig). It was very delicious and yummy. It was a great meal and a real Balinese food. Gianyar town is often said to be the best town in Bali to taste Babi Guling. We found Ibu Oka as one of the popular venue for tourists as well as locals in Ubud...
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Other than that, maybe it's the Dirty Duck at Ubud too. It's very nice but the portion is just too small. So we had other side order, e.g. special rice, bbq pork rib and it;s specialty dessert. it's such an unforgettable experiences for us.
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Other food that I had in Bali....
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Other Activities

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sun tanning

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white water rafting at Ayung River

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Hard Rock Hotel, Kuta, Bali

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Bali Bombing Memorial

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paddy field

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Neka Art Museum

Posted by terrence79 06:41 Comments (0)

Phuket, Thailand

sunny 31 °C

Phuket lies off the west coast of Southern Thailand in the Andaman Sea, approximately 890km from Bangkok. It is Thailand’s largest island at 550sq km, roughly the same size as Singapore, and is surrounded by many smaller islands that add a further 70 sq km to its total land area.

Phuket is separated from the mainland by the Chong Pak Phra channel at its northernmost point, where a causeway connects the island to the mainland. Phuket is quite hilly. There are a few peaks above 500m, the highest being Mai Tao Sipsong at 529m.

Many of these are covered in lush jungle. The lowlands consist of rice paddies, plantations of rubber, pineapple and coconut as well as the only significant area of rainforest remaining on the island, which is now protected as Khao Phra Thaeo Park. The most beautiful beaches are found on the West coast, separated by rocky coves and headlands.

The east coast comprises limestone shoals with only a few sandy beaches while spectacular limestone islands adorn the horizon. Coral gardens full of exotic marine life dot the emerald waters surrounding the island, although sadly much of Phuket's coral has been disappearing due to environmental pressures and human activities.” – Various Sources.

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My dive buddy and I checked in at Sheraton Phuket for a night stay. It was about half and hour from the airport. Upon reaching there we were served well by the friendly staffs and the environment was very nice and very well maintained. We were led to the reception whereby we were served with fruit juice and the gulps of the drink really made me felt comfortable, as the weather was quite hot. After completing the check in process we were taken to our room. It was located at level 3 of the buildings. The room was well maintained and it was so nice and comfortable.
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After settling down for a while we went out and linger around the hotel. The area is made up from few resorts or hotel sharing some basic facilities, i.e. beach, man made lake, and the boat ride that bring all the guests round the areas and stop at few places for sight seeing. We took the opportunities to check on other resorts located around the areas and all of these resorts are very luxurious and well maintained. I took the opportunity to drive the boat as well and of course that was under the close supervision of the staff who was responsible to bring the guests to tour around the area. Though it was not as challenging as motorboat ride and it worth a try.
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We had our dinner at one of the restaurant there. As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by the friendly staffs, “sawadee ka” (ladies) and “sawadee krup” (men). We were directed to a table for two and the ambience was so nice and really great. Our table was overseeing the lake and it was so peaceful and beautiful. With such a great environment, I enjoy the meal greatly.

The next day, we check out from the hotel and move to Patong beach to enjoy the real scene of Phuket. Patong is the most famous - some would say infamous - beach resort on Phuket. With its wide variety of activities and nightlife, Patong is an ideal place to party, play and have fun. By day, Patong's curved sandy bay is a hive of activity with parasail and jet-ski operators, boat drivers, beach vendors and masseuses all vying for the attention of the many visitors relaxing on the beach chairs. The “chaotic” atmosphere may be overwhelming to first time visitor like me. I didn’t really explore the area in depth as I was spending most of the afternoon searching for tours and diving trips. In fact we booked for island tour to Koh Phi Phi, James Bond Island, Koh Pang Nga and other islands.

However, by the end of the day we changed our mind and we would like to take up the PADI Advance Diving License course offered by Scuba Cat and it would give me a new adventure into deep diving, wreck diving, night diving and etc. It was a two days course and I need to forgo all the activities at Phuket and stayed a night on the boat far away from Phuket.

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Besides, we also booked the Phuket famous stage show – Fantasea. It was a great show with great casts and props. It was a new experience as it gave me some insights about the history and culture of Phuket. I believe that it was a must for any first time visitor to watch the spectacular show, as the trip would be incomplete without such show. It reminded me about my trip to Pattaya in 2002. I missed the signature show there and sort of regret and want to be there again in the future to make the trip complete. Tiffanny is a very famous and great show in Pattaya and worth watching.

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After watching the show, we were sent back to our hotel and before we retired for the day, I went for a two-hours massage session and it was really relaxing and after that thinking of dropping by any of the pubs around that areas with all the beautiful girls and boys dancing on the table or the entrance but due to the next day trip for diving I just changed my mind and went back to the room and rest. Early of the morning, we were transferred to the jetty.

A two hours journey on the motorboat took us to the live-board boat. After settling down and get to our cabin bunks, we were given a brief introduction of what we were going to do for the day. There were three of us who were taking up the Advance Diving License certification and the other guy was an Australian. He was a year younger than me and once in a while he will forward some mails to me. Quite an interesting guy.

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Preparing for the exam....

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Writing test inside the water

We had our dives mostly around the Racha Yai island other nearby areas, which I cannot, really recalled by now. This exquisite island (sometimes known as Raja Yai Island) offers gentle easy diving for beginners with some challenging and fun drift diving for the more experienced diver. Beneath the water we managed to find a sloping rock face dotted with hard coral forests, and especially colourful blue Staghorn corals. Water depths range from 3 to 30 metres and visibility is generally around 20 metres, thus making Racha Yai a good dive site for both divers and snorkellers.

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I had 7 dives for the 2 Day 1 Night trip and among those dives, I personally felt that the night dive was the most interesting and yet scary kind of experience for me. The dive started about 7.45pm. The night was so dark and we were equipped with all the torches to assist us. It was a real pitch dark for me as I entered into the water. It was very cold as well and all the sudden I got a kind of fear within me as I felt helpless down under the water. I hardly see and my mind started with all sort of imaginations that sent the chills to my spine. I was praying hard that nothing bad would happens to me. Most of the time I was holding the hand of my dive buddy so that I would have some sense of security that I was with someone I know. However, my mind just running wildly and I even thought that I was holding the hand of something or someone else instead of my dive buddy.

In fact, I dun really enjoy the dive due to all the fearful feelings that run within me. The interesting part was that I need to use my instinct to survive down under the water and tried to stay calm all the time and to fight for all the fears that were haunting me. That night, the sea was unusually calm and hardly for me to spot any special sea creatures.

Maybe I was too worried about being in such a situation, which I hardly manage to control and I did not have the chance to observe spectacular views of the sea at night. After the dive I took a quick shower before preparing to end the day with a sound sleep, as I need to wake up very early the next day for a morning dive at about 7am.

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Overall, the advanced diving course exposed me to lot of new and useful knowledge, i.e. navigation under the water, water buoyancy test, deep diving and wreck diving skills as well. The wreck diving was another interesting experience for me. A lot of precautions need to be taken to ensure a safe and fun dive. As we descended to the sea using the rope as a guide, I was really excited and thrill by what was awaiting me down under. In fact, the wreck has been commercialized and lost its originality

Posted by terrence79 05:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Northen Thailand - Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Burma Border....

sunny 30 °C

Thailand had been one of my favourite countries for my annual vacations for the past few years. I visited Bangkok for numerous times as well as other places like Phuket, Koh Hai, Hat Yai, Pattaya and Ayuthaya. This year, I made a change to my vacations. Instead of visiting Bangkok I chose Chiang Mai as my destination.

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and located in the northen region of the country. This is another famous destination for tourists who love the nature of the country. The city is situated on the banks of Mae Ping River and surrounded by hills. The city is blessed with a rich history, culture and wonderful people ranging from the city people to the hill tribes that add vibrant to the city.

I spent 6D5N at Chiang Mai (inclusive of a night at Chiang Rai). I managed to book two cheap packages for the whole trip that cost me less than RM1000 inclusive of the air tickets. I left KL on June 13, 2007 on a morning flight to Chiang Mai. I was greeted by the tour guide upon arrival at the airport. The guide was very friendly and spoke fluently in Mandarin. This was a big surprise for me. In fact, his family was originated from China (Yunnan), thus he managed to maintain some of the identity of his ancestors while blending into lifestyle and culture of the country.
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It was a private tour and we had flexibility in arranging our tour. We visited Wat Prathat Doi Suthep upon leaving the airport. It is also known as the Double Dragon Temple. It is situated up on the hill at about 1000m above the sea level. The temple is one of northern Chiang Mai top attraction with 16th century stupa that overlooks Chiang Mai from the summit of Doi Suthep. The steps on both side of the dragon to the temple represent a route to the heaven for the Buddhists. The temple is also considered as one of the most sacred temple in Thailand as a sacred Buddha relic is kept in the temple.
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Visiting the Elephant Camp was our next destination. We reached there timely to witness the elephant taking shower in the steam. The elephants were moving in groups into the river guided by the respective care takers. At the end of the stream, I noticed a bunch of ladies carrying a bamboo basket standing in the water waiting anxiously for “something” to happen. I just can figure out why these ladies were standing at the end of the stream with baskets in their hand while the elephant taking their showers. Finally, I realised that these ladies were responsible to get all the elephant dung that flow with the stream. It was something interesting too. Then, we were led to a mini stadium to watch the elephant shows. The elephants were so bright and they managed to play soccer, throw darts and painting as well. The paintings were displayed thereafter and any interested tourist can offer to buy the painting for own collection. There was a gallery that show all the paintings made by the elephants and some cost more than 10,000 bath…Huh!!! That’s very pricey.
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Monkey School was the third destination followed by the Orchid Farm. The monkey show ranging from bicycle riding, pool dive, dancing and coconut picking that amazed most of us. After that, we proceeded to the Hotel to check in before taking our dinner at Khum Khantoke for an authentic Lanna dining and show.

At Khum Khantoke, we were served on authentic Northern Thai food accompanied with a great atmosphere. The dimly lighted dining hall coupled with soothing music created a great ambience for an excellent dining experience. We were entertained with cultural show celebrating the dance styles from every part of the Country, i.e. Candle Dance, Faun Tree, Sword Dance, Hill Tribe Dance, Drum Dance, Seung Kapo, and traditional Ramwong and Khon, a type of elegant and stylised Thai drama. At Khum Khantoke, any guests would be able to discover the spirit and charm of Chiang Mai. Besides, the restaurant is beautifully set up with assortments of unique traditions and exotic products of Lanna arts and crafts. The “Khantoke” or “Toke” was a round rattan tray where various kind of authentic Northern Thai food. In fact, I can’t differentiate the authentic Northern Thai food and other part of the country food. This information was obtained from the tour guide. The restaurant opens daily from 6.30 to 9.30 PM and located near to Carrefour. A must visit place.

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The next morning, we started the day by visiting the famous home industries, which covers umbrella making, silk weaving, silvering making factories, and etc. The legend of the umbrella making originated from Borsang, a village in Sankamphaeng. It was cited that the umbrellas, which were traditionally and spiritually inherited from the villagers of Thai-Lue, descendants from China, were offered to the monks.

In today’s world, these umbrellas become a source of income to the villagers and these umbrellas are not made for weather protection, but also for home decoration as well as for ritual ceremonies. I also witnessed the “Sa” paper making from the “Sa” tree. This tree is normally known as Mulberry tree.
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Besides, a visit to the silk weaving factory also gave me an impressive experience. The time and effort taken to make the silk involved a lot of hard works.
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I also bought a bottle of honey from one of the honey making outlet. I was told that the honey is cultivated from a local specialty flower, the Poppy flowers in the northern mountains. It is a healing, anti bacterial product used for ulcers and inflammations. I think I made a foolish decision to purchase the honey that cost me more than 600 Bath. Anyway, I think it’s a nutritious product after all. Just that, I think it did not worth that much.

After taken our lunch, we proceeded with our journey to the Karen Long Neck Village, about an hour from Chiang Rai, a small town located about 200KM from Chiang Mai. The journey was tiring as we have to travel along the bumpy roads up to the hill. Visiting the hill tribe was one of my main interests. It was always said that the famous Karen Long Neck Village tribe was exploited as human zoo for tourists. Yeah, I totally agree to that. However, I just can’t miss such a great opportunity to see such a special group of people who is less than 5,000 in total and scattered around the northern of Thailand, where the majority of the tribes stay at the west of Chiang Mai. The village visited by us was a small village with less than 50 people. These womenfolk are adorned with heavy brass necklaces at a very young age to lengthen their neck. Women with long neck are considered to be the village great beauty.
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Besides the Karen, there is another tribe who stay next to the village, who is famous for their ear piercing. Cylinders like silver accessories are slotted to the ears to enlarge it. I suppose this is to enhance the beauty of the womenfolk just like the Karen. In fact, it was quite sad to look at them. The ladies are not allowed to leave the village and they are destined to live and die there. It’s kind of a tradition to be followed by them from generation to generation. While the men are allowed to move to other village or town to earn a living, these ladies are responsible to take care of the home. Inter tribe marriage is no allowed as well. Thus, there are limitations of choices among the tribes and most of the time these people may marry people that may relates to them. Thus, some of the offspring of the couples may be born with some defects due to the DNA related problems. This is alarming and yet unavoidable as this is part of the tradition to be followed by them.
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Another attraction was to visit Mae Sai, the gateway into Myanmar. It was nothing special at this small town other than giving us an opportunity to venture into Myanmar. Mae Sai is also famously known as “Northernmost Point” in Thailand and the sign is displayed at the Bridge of the Mae Sai River connecting Thailand and Myanmar. We took a side trip to Taichilek, a town in Myanmar and we paid 1200 Bath for the 2 hours trip. The tour guide arranged everything for us including the entry requirements and transportation around the town. Initially, I thought that I can have a stamp in my passport for a visit to Myanmar. It seemed that there was an arrangement between both of the governments to waive such requirement for visitors entering the country for a short day trip.

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We visited a few temples in Taichilek, i.e. Wat Prathat Sai Muang, Wat San Sai and Wat Pra Chao Ra Keng. Wat Pra Chao Ra Keng is one of the most famous and wealthiest temple in Taichilek that offers a modern and spacious viharn centred around a Mandalay style Buddha and five rare images of the Buddha. The design of the temple was differentiated with those in Thailand by examining the entrance of the temple that guarded by lion statute instead of dragon as commonly sighted. Besides, the Thai monks wear orange colour robe while the Myanmar monks wear red colour robe. Another interesting fact about the monks in Myanmar is they are not vegetarians. They eat meats as well. This is part of a way for them to survive in such a poor country. They only have one meal in a day and no meal will be offered to them after 12 PM. This is a tradition practised by the Burmese.

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Thereafter, we visited Sop Ruak, the famous Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers. After snapping some photos we went to the Opium museum and the tour guide explained the history of Opium trading in Golden Triangle. The tools for harvesting the poppy flowers, the weighting scale for opium trading, the tools for opium smoking and etc are displayed at the Museum. We didn’t take any river cruise to Laos as this is not included in the trip and in fact, the tour guide never offer us any of such side trip.

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Wat Rong Khun is the last temple visited before continued our journey back to Chiang Mai. This is a fairly new temple with less than 10 years of history and some part of the temples are still under construction. It is also known as the White Temple and different from those temples in Thailand. It is white in colour and decorated with glasses that make it shine under the hot sun. It was spectacular to view it at any time of the day.

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At night, we watched the transvestite show – Simon Cabaret. We were spiced up with amazing shows with variety of programmes, glamorous performers, dazzling costumes and astonishing sets. We experienced the ultimate extravaganzas that transported us to the world of magnificence, amusement and excitement. However, I was told that the Tiffany Cabaret in Pattaya is still best transvestite show in South East Asia. I missed the chance to watch the show when I visited Pattaya few years ago. I think I will not miss it again, if I were to visit there again.

The following 3 days was free from any tours. We just spent the days at the Hotel and visited the Chiang Mai town. Walking along the streets, observing the people and of course indulge myself in the famous Thai massage. I visited the massage parlour almost on daily basis. It was really cheap and affordable. The cheapest service I paid for was 130 Bath for an hour. That was fantastic. Though, I can’t expect much from such a low price massage and it was acceptable. I just love it and want to have these kind of great experiences again. Shopping in Chiang Mai also very nice as things are cheap and variety choice of souvenirs are available. The Night Bazaar is a place not to be missed. Similarly, for those who managed to spend the weekend in Chiang Mai, the Sunday Market, which started from about 3 PM to midnight is a must visit place where we will have the opportunity to see a lot of stuffs and taste variety of foods along the streets. It took us about 2-3 hours to complete the visit of the Sunday Market.

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The hotel accommodation was great. The best was at Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. A few minutes walk to the Night Bazaar. I was told the late Deng Li Juin stayed at the Hotel till her death… Mmm…interesting.

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Also, visited another boutique hotel in Chiangmai old town area...
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After such a relaxing and enjoyable trip, we bid farewell to Chiang Mai with all the fond memories. Mmm…just miss it so much. It’s time for me to get ready for my work life again.
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Posted by terrence79 05:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Sri Lanka - Colombo

sunny 33 °C

Sri Lanka. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, located to the South of India Subcontinent. Sprawling over the area of about 60,000 square kilometres, Sri Lanka with its tear dropped shape is dominated by the astonishingly varied features of topography. The pear-shaped island is consists mostly of flat to rolling coastal plains, with mountain rising in the south central part of the island.

I was there with two of my colleagues for a business trip in Aug 2004. We stayed at Ceylon Continental Hotel, Colombo for about three weeks and only managed to visit some of the interesting places during the weekends. I enjoyed my stay at the hotel, which was well maintained with its friendly and warm-hearted staffs. The hotel was strategically located near the heart of the city facing the Indian Ocean and it was really convenience for us to move around the town with the taxis or the local transportation like “tuk tuk” in Thailand.

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Let’s me talk about Colombo. It is the capital or Sri Lanka. Being the largest city in the country, it is quite congested, noisy, frenetic, and a little bit of frenzied. In fact, I dun really like the hustle and bustle of the city as it made me felt complicated. However, the diverse cultures and the major attractions there just made me keep going and to love the place. The city holds a lot of interest as we can see a lot of interesting places, culture, art and people around the there that will easily captured the heart of tourist like myself. Colombo is the country’s business centre, which has department stores, shops, business centres, banks and a lot more. In addition, other significant buildings like the parliaments, Central Bank and the World Trade Centre twin towers proudly stand there. There are also ample sights such as the clock tower. A former light house, the president’s residence and a cluster of colonial building, which lend the district an aura of bygone Empire.

I remember that there was a hotel by the name of Galle Face, which is more than a century old. This hotel is established in 1864 and soon became and continues to become one of the unique, exclusive and exquisite hotels in Colombo. We managed to try the elevator that was operated manually by the hotel staffs, which we will not able to find it elsewhere. It was an interesting visit for us. However, due to the strong colonial feel, the hotel did send some chill to my spine.

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We went to Kandy during one of the weekends. We wanted to take a break from all the stress of the work there. Kandy is one of Sri Lanka hill capital that is located about 500 metres above the sea level and the city is acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka. The focal point of the town is the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. However, we did not enter to the 15th century temple where the sacred tooth was enshrined as it was too commercialized. We were required to pay a certain fees to enter the temple. After deep thoughts, we just ignored the plan to visit the temple and walked around the town. Also, we managed to try out the traditional costumes at one of the shop there.

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We also went to the botanical garden and elephant sanctuary, which were very interesting to us. The Botanical Garden was situated near to Kandy, about 5-6 kilometers. Based on the brochure and travel information, this garden dates from 14th century reign of King Vikrama Bahu III. It provides spectacular and extraordinary beauty for nature lovers as well as casual visitors like us. Also, it is well know for it's large variety of plants ornaments, useful machine and other creepers that produce the special spices at Sri Lanka including those use for Ayurveda treatments. While exploring the place, we could see the great lawns that highlights the huge tropical trees and trees with amazing roots that help the trees to expand its size.

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As mentioned earlier, we also managed to make a side trip to the Elephant Sanctuary. It's more known as Elephant Orphanage and located about 70 Kilometres away from Colombo. Upon entering the place, we could see elephants as well as jumbos wondering around the place. We also had the experience to witness the bottle feeding for baby elephant. It was too bad that I did not capture those pictures. At least during the bathing sessions (two sessions a day - 10 am and 2pm), I managed to snap a few pictures for memories. It's definitely a place that will give us all the fond memories about elephants.

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Among other interesting places visited by us was the Sigiriya Rock. This ancient architecture was acclaimed to be the Eight Wonder of the Ancient World. I suppose this it is one of the world heritage sites, which need to preserve for the future generations appreciation.

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The Complex consists of the central rock, rising 200 meters above the surrounding plain, and the two rectangular precincts on the east (90 hectares) and the west (40 hectares), surrounded by two moats and three ramparts. The plan of the city is based on a precise square module. The layout extends outwards from co-ordinates at the centre of the palace complex at the summit, with the eastern and western axis directly aligned to it. The water garden, moats and ramparts are based on an “echo plan” duplicating the layout and design on either side. This city still displays its skeletal layout and its significant features. 3 km from east to west and 1 km from north to south it displays the grandeur and complexity of urban-planning in 5th century Sri Lanka.
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Sigiriya dates back from over 7,000 years ago, through Pre-Historic to Proto-Historic to Early Historic times, then as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 3rd century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the sangha. The garden city and the palace was built by Kasyapa 477 - 495 AD. Then after Kasyapa's death it was a monastery complex up to about the 14th century.
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The Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kasyapa as a parricide, who murdered his father King Dhatusena by walling him up alive and then usurping the throne, which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana. To escape from the armies of Mogallana, Kasyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya, but Mogallana finally managed to get to Kasyapa and he committed suicide.
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However, there is also another version of the Kasyapa story, related by one of the most eminent historians of Sri Lanka, Prof. Senerat Paranavitana. He claims to have deciphered the story of Sigiry, written by a monk named Ananda in the 15th cent. AD. This work had been inscribed on stone slabs, over which later inscriptions had been written. Till to date no other epigraphist has made a serious attempt to read the interlinear inscriptions.

Since Sigiriya was abandoned after Kasyapa’s death, visitors had been attracted to it from around the 6th century till about the 13th century. They had come to see the paintings and the palace on the summit and the garden below, even as they do today. Inspired by the wonder they saw, they transferred their thoughts into poetry, which they wrote on the Mirror Wall (The term Mirror Wall is an attempt at translating the word used by the ancient writers)
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Most of these graffiti were addressed to the ladies in the paintings. Paranavitana, has studied these writings in detail in his masterpiece "Sigiri Graffiti", describing the people who had written them, their ideas, their way of life and the grammer and style of a period ranging over a span of over eight centuries.

The most significant feature of the Rock would have been the Lion staircase leading to the palace garden on the summit. Based on the ideas described in some of the graffiti, this Lion staircase could be visualised as a gigantic figure towering majestically against the granite cliff, facing north, bright coloured, and awe-inspiring.

Through the open mouth of the Lion had led the covered staircase built of bricks and timber and a tiled roof. All that remains now are the two colossal paws and a mass of brick masonry that surround the ancient limestone steps and the cuts and groves on the rock face give an idea of the size and shape of the lion figure
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Though traces of plaster and pigments occur all over this area, only two pockets of paintings survive. These are in a depression of the rock face, about a 100 meters above the ground level. These paintings represent the earliest surviving examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism, already fully evolved by the 5th century, when these paintings had been made. Earlier the Sigiri style had been considered as belonging to the Central Indian school of Ajanta, but later considered as specifically different from the Ajanta paintings. The ladies depicted in the paintings have been variously identified as Apsaras (heavenly maidens), as ladies of Kasyapas court and as Lightening Princess and Cloud Damsels.

There are also remains of paintings in some of the caves at the foot of the rock. Of special significance is the painting on the roof of the Cobra Hood Cave. The cave with its unique shape dates from the pre-christian era. The painting combines geometrical shapes and motifs with a free and complex rendering of characteristic volute or whorl motifs. It is nothing less than a masterpiece of expressionist painting.
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In fact whenever, I came across anything about Sri Lanka, this magnificent piece of art from the past will just run wild in my mind. Visiting the Lion Rock, the citadel of Sigiriya is a must for all visitors so that they will have the opportunity to let their imagination runs wild in this picturesque and unique place and try to feel the flamboyant lifestyle of the King at that time.

Time to leave. It's a great place to shop as well. It was evidenced by the baggage that we were bringing back home then.
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Posted by terrence79 23:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged ecotourism Comments (7)

Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

First Trip Conquering Mount Kinabalu

sunny 4 °C

Mount Kinabalu is Southeast Asia’s highest mountain at about 4,093 metres above the sea level. This place is the crown of the Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia’s World Heritage site located about 2 hours from the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu (KK). This majestic and awesome mountain is one of the premier destinations for thousands for visitors around the world.

My first visit to Mount KK was in year 2005 right before the Chinese New Year during one of my business trip there. I managed to book the trip with a few of my ex-colleagues then - Eric, Kit Lee, Gan, Dennis and Roland. Six of us took up the challenges to conquer the highest peak in the region and it was a worthwhile and unforgettable moments for all of us. Roland is a local native of Sabah who made the arrangement for the trip. He managed to get us very good price then. It was just less than RM200 for the whole 2D1N expedition.

As the distance of the standard start up point for Mount Kinabalu is via the Kinabalu Summit Trail at Kinabalu National Park, (approx 1600m above the sea level), We had to wake up very early on that very morning. We travelled about 2 hours from KK town to Kinabalu Park and had a stopover along the way for breakfast and gulped the fresh air. As we were enjoying the aromatic coffee, we took some time to appreciate the beautiful mountain terrains. I was amazed by the magnificent view of the mountain.
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Upon reaching Kinabalu Park, we went to the registration counter to get all the necessary documentation, i.e. climbing permit, mountain guide, and etc. A lots of people queuing up to get the documentation / registration done. We proceeded to Timpohon Gate, which was about 30 minutes away after all registration was completed.

We started our journey from Timpohon Gate and there was a chart, which was located near the entrance with the records of people who reached the peak within the shortest period of time. The shortest time to reach the peak from the gate is about an hour. That was pretty amazing. An average person will takes about 5-6 hours to reach Laban Rata at approximately 3,272 metres above the sea level where the accommodations for Mount Kinabalu are located. In their annual mountain climbing competition, the participants managed to conquer the peak and return to the Gate in about 2 hours only!!!

From the Timpohon Gate, we followed the crest of a narrow ridge that dips down onto the main slips of Mount Kinabalu itself. Not long after that, we reached a scenic but small waterfall known as Carson’s Fall that was named after the first warden of the Park.
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We did not carry too much of water with us as along the way, we could get fresh natural mountain water to refresh the body and to refill out body's "water tank". A sip of the mountain water really refreshing and it was “sweet” in taste. In fact, I drank a lot of the mountain water that energised me throughout the way to the mountain. Of course, the chocolate bars also continuously provide me with the necessary calories to continue my journey. We have few stops along the way to re-energise our body... It helped a lot.
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Around 12pm we reached Laban Rata after such a strenuous journey. In fact, we were so relieved that we could rest very very soon. After resting a while we proceed to the Rest House (approx 3,272.7 metres above sea level) for lunch. It’s another hundreds of metres away, I supposed. As the body was too tired we just could not move speedily though we were extremely hungry...craving for the food.....
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All of us took fried rice or noodles for lunch and then checked-in to the room at Gunting Lagadan Hut, which located further up from the rest house. There was a small trail and some steps built by the operator to ease the trekking from the rest house to the Hut. The Hut was situated at 3,323.5metres above the sea level. It was a big dorm with 60 beds, whereby 2 double-deckers is placed in each of the room. Basic cooking utilities and common bathrooms with hot shower were provided to the occupants. It was a new experience for me to take the shower in such a chilly weather.

The scenic view from Gunting Lagadan was amazing and wonderful. The clouds that scattered down under the Rest House give me a peaceful kind of feelings. Looking at the sea of clouds down under my feet I just felt great and wonderful. I sat at the lounge area enjoying the scenic view and wonderous mother's nature. This breezy atmosphere made me felt satisfied and all the efforts taken to reach here were worthwhile. As the night was approaching and the temperature getting colder, I moved back to my room and prepared to rest and got ready for my final expedition for the next day.
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We woke up around 1.30am and it was damn cold and I had wore a few layers of clothes to warm up the body. We took some noodles and prepared for the trekking that was scheduled to start around 2am. We started the journey around 2.15am and I reach the peak at about 4.30am. The summit, which was called Low’s Peak, named after the British colonial officer Sir Hugh Low, supposedly the first person to conquer Mount Kinabalu. The final journey to the summit which was shorter but was more challenging than the initial track as the air was thinner near the peak and may resulted in difficulty in breathing.
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As we moved nearer to the peak, no more steps for us and on the stone or granite I supposed portion of the ascent, thick nylon ropes were laid down to mark the route so that the climbers would not got lost in the fog as certain time the blurry vision along the way was quite dangerous. I used the rope to assist me all the way to the peak. Out trip was a lucky one as the weather was very good and the full moon had brightened the trail for us made the journey easier. I felt so close to the moon as I reached the peak.
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It was one of my greatest achievements to be the first one to reach the peak. We stayed there for more than an hour to see the sunrise. I was captivated by the ray of lights that slowly reach us from the far east of the horizon. As the day was getting brighter, it gave us the opportunity to observe the surrounding and appreciate its beauty, e.g. the beautiful rocks around me, the serenity of the area that calms me down. Standing at the Low's peak, give us the feelings like on the top of the world.
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It was a great trip for that year. In fact, on the following year I went there again using another trail - Mersilau Trail. It's worth a second visit...

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Posted by terrence79 22:45 Archived in Malaysia Tagged hitchhiking Comments (0)

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