Singapore

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Singapore

Well its about time I got around to completing my blog on our five-week trip to asia. We left Yogyakarta early for our flight to Singapore with Air Asia, which went with no dramas. On arrival I used the really good Taxi App, which was recommended to me when we were in China called “Grab Taxi” the app lets you choose between taxi or shared taxi (mini bus), we chose the shared option and saved a good few dollars, which really helps when you’re in Singapore as it can be rather expensive.

Our hotel was located in the Joo Chiat area of Singapore, which was a little out of the centre, but has good transport links to the cities main attractions.

On doing our research on our trip we came across  a hotel chain called Zen Rooms, which I would throughly recommend. It appears the Zen Rooms have their rooms in larger hotel chains, our room was in the Aqueen Heritage Hotel which was very nice indeed. On arrival and throughout our stay the staff were very helpful, and I would highly recommend staying here. When we chose our hotel it was all about price, as the hotels in and around the heart of Singapore are much more expensive.

Joo Chiat, is roughly six miles from the Marina bay area of Singapore. Which wasn’t a problem as the Singapore transport system is very good. We had done some reasearch into the area but we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we needn’t  have worried as it was a great location, plenty of places to eat, good coffee shops and bars, which are mostly housed in some very colourful and ornate old shop houses. If staying in the area I would throughly recommend the Har Yassin restaurant in the Changi Road. The food here was amazing and also very cheap. Next it was off to explore the city. As we had arrived early we decided to take the metro to Clarke Quay. Now using the metro in Singapore is a breeze. Quite obviously you need a ticket which can be purchased from the many ticket machines at the metro station, or from the ticket office. You cannot buy a return ticket they are just one way and these vary in costs. For example the ticket price from Payer Lebar, “which was our nearest station to our hotel” to Clarke Quay is at time of writing $1.23 so $2.46 return. You can buy a Singapore Tourist pass, which costs for 1 day $10 2 day $16 and 3 day $20, but as we walked to most attractions once we got to into the centre of town we decided it wasn’t worth our while, it’s just a matter of personnel choice.

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Clarke Quay

after a nice stroll along river it was time for a nice cold beer, but be warned the prices in the bay area are rather expensive so shop around and look for a bar with happy hour deals.

Our next day it was full on exploring, we took a taxi to Marina Bay, to where the Singapore Flyer is located (big wheel) “it seems in every big city in the world its a must have”. We had a walk around a small section of the formula 1 track and the pit area, it seemed strange as it almost looks abandoned, so much different from than on race weekend.

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Marina Bay Sands

Then it was off for a walk around the bay. First stop was to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel which is in every tourist advert of Singapore. A very impressive building from the outside but I was not overly impressed with interior, too much bling for my taste, and too vast and bewildering. Next stop was to see the famous Merlion the iconic water statue of Singapore, on the far side of the bay. We then took a leisurely walk to Boat Quay, “and in my opinion a quieter and nicer version of Clarke Quay”.

The next day it was off to visit the famous Raffles Hotel a truly magnificent building, the interior is everything that you would expect from a grand colonial hotel. unfortunately the famous Long bar where everyone visits to have a famous Singapore sling was being renovated, which was a shame so we went into the Billiard Bar for our cocktail which in itself is a rather grand experience. After our very expensive cocktail it was time to hit the streets again and to visit the Arab quarter and Indian quarter of the city both recommended in our Lonely Planet guide-book. The Arab quarter of town. is where the Sultan Hussein Mohammed Shah designated the land around it as a Muslim settlement. Soon the zone was attracting Malays, Sumatrans and Javanese, as well as traders from what is now eastern Yemen, and the area is now commonly referred to as Arab Street. its a great area to explore and a chance to see

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Arab Street

some of the old Singapore. Little India is just a short walk from Arab street and is equally worthy of a visit. Lots of stalls, street food and restaurants, we found a great restaurant in Road called Andrha Spice, the food wax excellent and cheap.

Gardens by the Bay

If there is one thing you have to do and see when in Singapore is to visit the Gardens by the Bay, a magnificent free entry park and gardens near the Marina Sands Hotel, there is so much to see and do here you need to allocate a good few hours to walk around. I would throughly recommend paying the $28 entrance and visit the cloud dome it is truly amazing. I suggest you visit by day and also visit by night as the whole area is illuminated. My writing about it could never do the gardens justice, my advice is just go.I advise you to click the link and visit the website for more information.

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Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Yogyakarta, Indonesia

After our time in Malaysia it was time to move onto the next leg of our journey, the island of Java, Indonesia, and to the town of Yogyakarta, pronounced (Jogjakarta). On arrival at the tiny airport it was immediately noticeable that this was going to be far different from Malaysia, because as we walked down the steps of the plane, there were no buses to take us to the terminal, no one guiding us as to where to go, it was just a case of ambling any way you wanted to the terminal building. Quite funny really. Also as we were making our way to the terminal planes were taking off  some 50 yards away, bizarre. We made our way to the official taxi rank (ignore the touts in the arrival hall) and found a nice taxi driver named Hermanto, who spoke good English, to take us to our hotel, Duta Garden. Duta Garden hotel is a really nice tranquil place in a very busy city, and I would not hesitate to recommend it. We decided to split our time in Java between the two towns of Jogjakarta and Borobudur, as we wanted to explore the large Buddhist temple there. After settling into our room it was time to explore our surroundings. Our first impression of Indonesia was that we were really going to like this place, the people were nice also another contributing  factor was that the prices here were a lot lot less than that of Malaysia. Our first full day in Yogyakarta  was just getting our bearings.  As it was the weekend it was recommended to visit the very large central market called Beringharjo, what a manic place. Lots of shops and street food vendors and a very large indoor market with an absolute warren of narrow lanes to walk through. It was extremely hot outside “about 32 degrees, so who knows what it was in the market,” it seemed the whole island had decided to visit, it was manic, needless to say we didn’t stay long. After our ordeal we decided to head off to the Kota gede suburb which is a very historic neighbourhood of Yogyakarta and has been the hub of Yogya’s silver industry for many years.

Our next day we visited Prambanan Temple complex. This along with Borobudur is a Unesco world heritage site and is a must see. Prambanan was built in the 9th century, and is a Hindu temple. Originally there were some 240 temples on the site, but most were destroyed by a major earthquake in the 16th century, now there are just eight of the largest temples standing. “There is an ongoing restoration project to rebuild the temples that were destroyed.” Inside each structure is a stone figure of the various Hindu gods. Click here for more info.
Borobudur. Now you can visit Borobudur on a day trip from Yogyakarta, a lot of tour companies will combine Borobudur & Prambanan in a day. In my opinion this is just too much to cram in, (especially if you want to see the sunrise) in just a day as you wouldn’t get much time at each site and would be a bit rushed. So we decided it would be better to stay in Borobudur for a couple of nights as that way it gave us the opportunity to get up early, I mean early, 4am, and witness the sunrise over the temple. To see a spectacular sunrise it is very dependant on the weather. Unfortunately for us it was quite cloudy, and not as good as we hoped, but just being there in complete darkness and seeing the dawn was amazing enough, a very serene and magical moment. The other advantage of staying in Borobudur and going for the sunrise is you beat the coach parties of tourists arriving and the droves of visiting school children, who seem to arrive at around 7:30 so the whole complex gets very busy indeed. Another Top tip is once the sun has risen most of the early organised sunrise trips are taken back to there hotels for breakfast so for the few people that are remaining you have the place to yourself. I would like to mention our accommodation we stayed in, Cempaka Villa  It was very cheap £37 with breakfast for two night, and is only a couple of minutes walk from the temples main entrance. Now Yogyakarta is called “The Special Region of Yogyakarta.” This is because is still has a sultan as its ruler. So one other sight worth seeing is the Sultans Palace. At certain times of day they have performances like music and dance, and a nice museum with lots of interesting artefacts on display “although some of them could do with a good dust.”

Top Tips In the markets, bargain hard, take 80% of off what they ask for, as they do ask for some stupid prices, but be fair these are poor people and are just trying to get by. If your happy with what they want just pay it.

Taxis Make sure before getting into the taxi, they put the meter on,  if not negotiate a price before hand, but don’t take their first price, haggle. But not to hard, as after all they are trying to make a living.

Melaka 

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Melaka 

After our few days in Kuala Lumpur it was time to move on to the very nice town of Melaka. Melaka was a major trading port before Singapore took over, and was the main hub for trade in Maylasia. When you see the quaint narrow streets with its many architectural beautiful houses, along with it’s small narrow canal system it’s hard to imagine the town as a major trading hub. It has now become one of Malaysia’s tourist hotspots. Now you can visit Melaka from Kuala Lumpur, just as a day trip. As the journey from KL is only around one and a half hours to two hours away. I’m sure there are many tour companies in KL that will cater for this, but my suggestion is take the train or a taxi to the TBS bus station and take one of the many luxury buses that run down to Melaka, and for a fraction of the cost of a tour company ” the single journey cost 26 ringetts for two which is just under £3. I would strongly recommend not just to go for the day but to spend at least a couple of nights there, to really enjoy it. There are an abundance of restaurants and street food stalls to choose from, and also many shops. These are mainly along Jonker street and the surrounding area. One thing to mention is that Melaka is a weekend town for tourism, with many people coming in from KL even Singapore of a weekend break. During the week it can be a little quite. But the town comes alive at the weekend. One of its main draws is the weekend night market, which is held on a Fri, Sat and Sunday night.

Top sights

  • Night market, (Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
  • River Boat Trip
  • Illuminated Rickshaws
  • Jonker street
  • Reggae Bar

 

Kuala Lumper

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After our busy few days in China, here we are in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia’s capital for the next stage of our trip. We are staying at Summer Suites which is a 10 minute walk from the Petronas Tower’s and a five minute walk from the monorail. A perfect location for discovering the city. The one tourist attraction that I would recommend when visiting are the Petronas Towers for a great view over the city. We booked our tickets back in the UK which I would recommend doing. As firstly if you are only in the city a few days like we are you are guaranteed to the get the day and the time you want. Also as it is a popular tourist spot it can get pretty booked up, so you may be disappointed if you just turn up. On the visit your first stop is the “Sky Bridge” which is the walkway connecting the two towers. Next stop is the 86 floor and the “Sky Deck” which affords amazing views of the city. There is another tower in KL you can visit, and that’s the Menara tower. My suggestion is go up the Petronos during the day, and visit the Menara at night, this way you get to see the Petronos towers lit up at night in their glory. Other top sights to see in the city are. China Town, Little India and Batu Caves. China town is exactly what it says, lots of Chinese restaurants, shops and street food, a good place to go and explore, and to eat. Next up little India, much the same as China town, but you guessed it ” An Indian slant on things”. Now if it’s shopping you want then you could go to Petaling Market in China town, “it’s where all the guide books say to go” but in my opinion it’s overpriced and you get major hassle. You could try Central Market, but my Top Tip is take the monorail to Chow Kit station, which is in little India, and there is a market there. No hassle and the prices are a fraction of what they want to charge in Petaling street. Next  Batu Caves which is a short drive or train journey out of town. They are a must see. Here you will find a collection of Hindu temples inside. Entrance is free to the main cave, so don’t be enticed into buying a ticket from any of the dubious ticket offices.There is on exception however the cave to the far left of the main cave (just walk along the pathway in front of the car park) does have a small entrance fee, but it is well worth it. Just one thing to mention. The stairs leading up to the main cave are a little steep and in the heat can be a struggle, I did read that there was a cable car but I saw no sign of this. This said there are plenty of places to stop along the way, and I’m sure that the many monkeys which are running around along the way will keep you amused with there antics.

So if Kuala Lumper is a stopover on your way to further afield, don’t just use it as a transit stop give it a look

Taxi Scams One thing I should mention is the many crafty taxi drivers. It was almost impossible to get a taxi driver to put there meter on like all the guide books insist that you do. They all want to charge you a really inflated price to the correct metered fare. Now us on our travels either walk or use public transport. We tried once and he wanted a stupid price, we wasnt  going far, (we only wanted a taxi due to the the fact that we had been walking all day and our feet had, had enough) So I told him ” don’t be so stupid” and walked. So I suggest you download an app on your phone called grab taxi and book a taxi through the app. (You will need a data connection) An example of the price difference is when we arrived at Melaka Central bus station and needed to get to our hotel, we went to the supposedly official taxi office and was immediately descended on by a throng of drivers who all wanted the same price. The fixed price was 20 ringetts, around £4, which we had to pay as I had no data connection to use the app. (Normally I get a local sim) When we got to the hotel and had some wifi I checked the price on Grab Taxi and the official fare was 8 ringetts around £1.50. I have to point out that it wasn’t the cost as £4 would be more than exceptable for the journey we took in the UK but the Malaysian government are trying to clamp down on the taxi syndicates run by local crooks. So beware

 

The Great Wall

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The Great Wall

Our next day in Beijing with another busy day ahead it was tIke to visit the magnificent Great Wall of China. Before we left the uk we did some research on the best place to visit. The main tourist spot is at a place called Badaling, but after looking at a lot of images and also watching the UK’s TV series “An Idiot Abroad”, with Carl Pilkinton, it showed  what looked like a football crowd walking along it, so we decided to give this section a miss . So with some further research we settled on going to a section a little further outside of Beijing at a place called Mùtiányù. This is far less touristy, in fact it was very quite when we went as we were outside the main tourist season.

The Chinese started building the wall some 2000 years ago and the wall covers a distance of 5,500 miles. We sourced “which as it turned out” a very good company on the internet run by a chap called Miles Meng. “In fact he is listed in the Lonely Planet guide book which we discovered later”. The journey takes about 2 hours and cost 700¥ (for the car not per person) this is around £80. If you decide to visit the  Badaling section of the wall you can take the train from Beijing north rail station, but if you decide on Mùtiányù then you need a taxi or private tour. The trip doesn’t include the entrance fees, these will cost 100¥ for the return cable car trip and 45¥ for the entrance totalling around £17

Top Tip instead of taking the cable car back down take the toboggan or luge it’s much more of a fun way to get down.

Visiting the wall in March like we did was perfect, there was no crowds, it was cold “there was still snow on the ground” and there were clear blue sky’s. Seeing the wall in the flesh so to speak was just amazing, in fact it was quite emotional. Another wonder of the world ticked off.