A Travellerspoint blog

India - Mumbai to Udaipur

18th - 23rd March

sunny 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We got a flight from Singapore to the final country that we are visiting this trip: India. We arrived in Mumbai quite late and got a taxi from the airport to our hotel. We chose that hotel as it was the cheapest we could find on the internet and it turned out to be relatively close to the airport (the right side of the city at least) which was good for that night.

The following morning we got a taxi into the city centre to see some of the sights and as we were driving through the streets it was very apparent that we weren't staying in the nicest of areas. We did kind of get that impression when we arrived as there were a number of people sleeping rough outside the hotel. Later in the day we were speaking to a friendly Indian woman at a train station and when we told her where we were staying her response was; 'Who the hell put you out there?'

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We found the centre of Mumbai to be extremely chaotic with people, cows, shops, market stalls and vehicles all over the place. There were some impressive buildings amidst the chaos though such as the High Court and the Royal Mint. After walking through some interesting markets we came across Azad Maidan park where an improbable number of games of cricket were taking place simultaneously.

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From there we walked down to Colaba, the area where most foreigners stay, which is home to the Gateway of India, an imposing basalt arch which looks out to Mumbai Harbour. We then got a taxi back to the Northern part of the city which we explored for an hour or so before going back to our hotel and heading for Mumbai Central for our first taste of the Indian railways.

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As we expected the station was extremely busy. There were people everywhere, especially on the floor in the huge central plaza. Most folk were waiting for trains whilst others were there as it was a good a place as any for them to be. There was even a family living in the women’s toilets.

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We walked up the platform where our train, which was unbelievably long, was waiting to depart. We had a slight moment of panic when we realized that our carriage didn't exist but someone explained to us that more carriages would be added to the already massive train at the next stop. We squeezed on and stood in a cramped corridor with a number of others for twenty minutes or so until we got off and waited for the extra carriages to be attached. Once this happened we found our seats (which turn into beds) and the rest of the journey went smoothly.

We arrived at our destination, Ahmedabad, just before 7am and got a rickshaw to an area where we could find a cheap hotel. We took refuge in our room for a bit then had lunch at a street stall before getting a rickshaw to Ghandi's Ashram which is the only real tourist attraction in Ahmedabad.

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The Ashram was a peaceful place and felt like an antidote to the rest of the city which is very crowded and noisy. We saw where Ghandi lived and had a look at the museum dedicated to him. Amongst other things the museum featured photographs of Ghandi taken throughout his life, a letter he wrote to Hitler in 1939 advocating peace, and the envelopes of letters which Ghandi received some of which were delivered from overseas despite only having a sketch of him in place of an address.

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That evening we went out for a nice meal at a restaurant in a hotel and enjoyed more of the fantastic food available in India. This meal, including drinks, cost less than ₤2 each and is indicative of how cheap things are here. The overnight trains, in Sleeper Class, cost about ₤3 each, lunch at a street stall can be less than 10p and hotel rooms cost about ₤4.

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After the meal we went back to our room, got our bags, and headed back to the train station to get a night train to Udaipur. We arrived at about 8am and got a rickshaw to a hotel where we stayed for three days. The hotel had nice rooms and a roof terrace that looks across the river to the main part of the city. It was good to get to somewhere that we could properly relax and wouldn’t be leaving straight away after all the traveling we’d been doing recently.

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Despite being quite touristy in parts Udaipur is an enchanting place which is graced with a number of palaces and temples. During our time in Udaipur we visited the Mountain Palace where we watched the sunset, walked around the City Palace and saw the Lake Palace (which is now a luxury hotel) from the shores of the lake.

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Whilst we were there we also walked around the streets a fair bit, adjusting ourselves to life in India.

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Udaipur was used as one of the main locations for filming the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, a fact which the locals seem very proud of. It is shown at bars and restaurants around the town on a daily basis and it is practically obligatory for tourists to watch it at some point during their stay. We watched it at the restaurant at our hotel and felt sorry for the staff who must know every line in the film backwards.

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We also did an Indian cookery course which was fun and very informative. It took place at the house of the teacher, Vijay, so it was also interesting to meet his family and see inside an Indian household. Obviously this isn’t the place to give away any of the secrets we learnt!

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Posted by elliemike 22:10 Archived in India Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Taman Nagara, Malaysia, and Singapore (again)

11th - 18th March

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

Our journey between Koh Lipe in Thailand and Taman Negara national park in Malaysia was a bit of a mission to say the least. It started with a long tail boat from Sunrise Beach to a speedboat that got us to Pak Bara on the mainland. We then got a minibus to Hat Yai where we booked a night bus to Kuala Lumpur for that evening. We had some time to kill so we walked around Hat Yai a little and had one last bowl of Thai noodle soup and some beers before getting on the bus.

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Our bus was meant to arrive at 5am which was far from ideal. However, things got a whole lot worse when we were woken up by a woman who cheerfully told us that the bus was early and we were already in KL. This may have been good news for her but we weren't too pleased at being dumped in the middle of KL at 3am (at the side of a main road - there was no bus terminal in sight). Fortunately we quickly found a 24 hour cafe which happened to be showing live Champions League football. We watched Man U getting cheered on by a bunch of locals as they knocked out Inter Milan then got a taxi to a bus station to continue our journey.

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We got there at about 6am and had a four hour wait until we could get a bus to Jerantut which took about three and a half hours and arrived at lunchtime. Jerantut is a fairly nondescript town which is only visited by tourists as it is the gateway to Taman Negara. We ended up spending a night there and were happy to do so. As long as we had showers and a bed we didn't care where we were!

Feeling a bit more refreshed the next morning we were up early to get a bus the short distance to Tembeling Jetty and then a boat that took us up a river and into the national park itself. The boat ride was slow paced and quite enjoyable as there was lots of lush rainforest scenery to take in.

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When we got to Kuala Tahan, the village at Taman Negara, we found a nice hut at the edge of the jungle and chilled out there for the rest of the day, glad that our mission was finally over.

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Whilst we were at Taman Negara we did a fair bit of walking around various paths that meandered through the jungle and up to the peaks of a few hills.

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We also walked across the 'world's longest canopy walkway'. The walkway is actually split into a number of sections that are separated by platforms high up in the trees which must cast some doubt on the claim to be the longest in the world. It may have a good chance of being the world's wobbliest canopy walkway though. Either way it is a really good activity and an excellent way to see the jungle from a different vantage point.

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After the canopy walkway, and trek up Busik Terressick, we sat down at a picnic bench to eat our lunch which was all quite normal until a monkey jumped on the table and ran away with Ellie's sandwich. Shortly after this, his mates, who came slightly behind him joined in the fun and ran away with anything they could get their hands on, including our loaf of bread.

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On another day we went on a walk through a cave called Gua Telinga which is well known for the number of bats lurking inside. We really enjoyed this although it did get a little scary at points as the bats would fly only centimetres from our heads. Some of the parts of the cave that we had to crawl / scramble through were very narrow and we could only just manage to squeeze ourselves to the other side. This was particularly true in Mike's case.

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In the evenings there isn't much to do so we would eat at the floating restaurants and take it fairly easy after that. On the Saturday after our dinner we got to watch Man U v Liverpool as one of the restaurants were able to show the game after some fiddling around with a satellite dish which is precariously perched on a stool on the riverbank.

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Our journey from Taman Negara to Singapore wasn't as eventful as the one from Koh Lipe but it did have its moments. We got a bus to Jerantut in the evening then had to wait until for our train at 2am, passing the time with another couple, James and Orla, in the foyer of a hotel and the hawkers market where there are some outdoor restaurants. We turned up at the train station at 1.30am to find it to be very busy which was quite strange as we expected to only see a handful of people at that time.

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All of us then managed to get onto the wrong train (which arrived, without any sort of announcement, at the only platform of the station at the time of our train) and caused a bit of a scene by telling people that they were in our seats! The train started moving and after a few minutes we realised that it was destined for the opposite end of the country. Luckily at this point the train was only turning around so it came back to Jerantut. We were then able to get off, cross the tracks (literally), haul ourselves and our bags back up to the platform and wait until our train turned up.

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We got to Singapore the following morning and spent two days and a night there mostly sorting out various things in preparation for India. We also walked round the city, which we are now quite familar with, and saw more of the sites and even had a British chippy as a treat. We went to Clark Quay which we hadn't been to previously and were given a free sample of a Singapore Sling. Not quite the same as having the real deal in Raffles Hotel but that was never on our agenda anyway!

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Posted by elliemike 03:18 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Langkawi and Koh Lipe

1st - 11th March

sunny 33 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

We left Bali on cheap AirAsia flights to get to the island of Langkawi in the north west of Malaysia. Our first flight, which only cost £6.50, took us to Kuala Lumpur and from there we had a few hours wait at the airport then another one hour flight to Langkawi. We got a taxi to our hostel but it was quite late when we arrived so we didn't do anything that night.

We ended up staying on Langkawi for four nights and had a very relaxing time on the island. There was a beach about five minutes away from our hostel which we went to everyday to soak up the sun and swim in the sea. As with most places in Langkawi a lot of space on the beach had been commandeered by expensive hotels and people on package holidays but there was always enough space for us to put down our sarongs and use the beach for free.

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Apart from going to the beach we would go for walks and see more of the island but Langkawi is of sufficient size that a car or moped are needed to see anywhere near all of it. We tried to hire bikes on one of the days but gave up after hearing a variety of explanations as to why this wouldn’t be possible.

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We found a good restaurant called Cactus which we ate at a few times that had a lot of, mostly European, football memorabilia on the walls. Ellie donated a mini Cheltenham scarf that she has had with her on the trip.

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From Langkawi we went to Koh Lipe, a small and beautiful island in Thailand. We decided not to get the more expensive speedboat (which takes one hour) and instead caught the ferry to Satun, three different mini buses to Pak Bara and finally a ferry to Koh Lipe followed by a long tail boat to our beach. This took much longer but saved a bit of cash.

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We found ourselves a nice hut on Sunrise Beach which is a quiet and extremely pleasant strip of white sand which faces an expanse of crystal clear turquoise water. We stayed on Koh Lipe for six nights, with the pattern of our days not varying too much from that of Langkawi. We spent a fair amount of time on the beach, in the sea and relaxing in hammocks. We would also go out every evening to enjoy the Thai food at various restaurants and street stalls.

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Koh Lipe is small enough to walk around in a couple of hours so we were able to stroll across to the other beaches and explore the interior of the island where the locals live in a village and there is a forest of sorts.

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Despite staying on Sunrise Beach we never got up in time to see it but we did venture across to Sunset Beach later in the day a couple of times to take in the views there.

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Mike visited Koh Lipe in 2006 so it was interesting for him to see how it has changed in that time. It is much more developed than it used to be with lots more shops, restaurants and accommodation options popping up to cater for the increased number of visitors. Another noticeable difference is that the roads that run through the centre of the island are now paved rather than being dusty tracks.

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On the Saturday night one of the bars, Cozy Cove, put on a party at their place which is a small beach that they have to themselves and is set apart from the rest of the island. They were playing a variety of tunes from breaks to psy-trance on a fairly good sound system. They added to the atmosphere with fireworks, fire poi and a ring of fire that some people jumped through. It was a good night and it was funny for us to go back to drinking the potent cocktail of Thai whiskey, coke and Thai redbull.

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Posted by elliemike 15:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

Bali and Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

20th February - 1st March

sunny 32 °C
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We arrived in Bali quite late and had an airport pick up that drove us for an hour or so to Candi Dasa where we spent 4 nights. It was after midnight when we got to our room so we just went straight to bed and woke up to find ourselves only meters from the sea.

It is low season for tourism in Indonesia at the moment and this was particularly noticeable in Candi Dasa. The restaurants and bars on the road which our hostel was on often had more staff than customers. If, indeed, there were any customers at all. This suited us though as it gave us an opportunity to chill out and stay off the booze.

Whilst we were there we spent quite a lot of time on the sun loungers in the hostels' 'relaxation area' which overlooks the sea. It was possible to swim in the sea there, which we did, although there wasn't much in the way of decent coral or interesting fish. The relaxation area was probably at its best when the sun was setting as it was a very peaceful place.

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On our final day in Candi Dasa we went on a snorkeling trip which was really enjoyable, particularly as it was just us and a couple of local guys on the small boat. They took us to a few spots where both the reef and the fish were really colorful. They also took us to the aptly if unimaginatively named 'white sand beach' where we sun bathed for a few hours before going back to the hostel.

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The next day we made our way to Gili Trawangan which was an all day mission. It involved getting a bus followed by a boat then another two buses and finally another boat. There was also a lot of waiting around thrown in for good measure. We later found out about an express boat which only takes an hour, although this is much more expensive.

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It was definitely worth the effort to get there though as Gili Trawangan turned out to be one of our favourite islands of the trip. It is an extremely laid back place with one main road that circles the island. There are no cars or mopeds; just horse and carts.

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There is quite a good system on the island for nights out. It is one night on, one night off, with a different bar taking on the mantle every second night to throw a party. The standard of parties is variable though. The best one we went to was an all night electro party with good DJs whilst another at an Irish pub had a DJ who was so disjointed in his tune selection that he had the effect of an ipod on shuffle. Whatever the situation with the music we always managed to have good nights.

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We also had a decent group of people to hang out with. Dan, James, Lucie and Bernie from England, Stefan from Holland and Barbara from Austria. When we weren't on nights out we would chill out on the beach, watch movies (we saw Slumdog Millionaire at a bar with a cinema style screen), sit around and drink milkshakes and go out for meals.

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The two of us also went on a snorkeling trip where the highlight was swimming with turtles. There were also numerous other types of fish but the coral wasn't that great. As part of the trip we went to Gili Air (another of the 3 Gili islands) and spent a few hours there.

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In the evenings Mike played Sepak Takraw with some of the local guys. Sepak Takraw is an Asian game which is similar to volleyball expect you you use your feet (and can't use your hands) and is played with a small bamboo ball. Some of the locals are amazing at it and smash the ball by doing martial art style spinning kicks. Mike also played his diablo quite a lot and showed a few of the local kids how to do it.

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One afternoon Ellie, Barbara, Lucie and Bern got horse and carts to take them round the island, which despite being a slow ride was a good way to see parts of the island we hadn't explored. Mike didn't come as he was surfing at the time.

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Unfortunately our stay on Trawangan had to come to an end and we left on Saturday so that we would be back on Bali for our flight to Malaysia on Sunday. We spent a night in Kuta which is the main holiday resort town on the island. Is quite interesting to see as it is mostly geared towards Australian holiday makers. The bars show Aussie rules and rugby league, there are signs advertising 'bottle shops' and the locals promise to 'give you a bloody good price mate'.

Posted by elliemike 20:17 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Java, Indonesia (via Singapore)

9th - 19th February

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Ellie and Mike's Round the World Trip on elliemike's travel map.

After our three week jaunt in Australia we had a flight to Singapore to begin our journey in South East Asia. Singapore was a good place to ease into life in Asia as English is the official language and it is an immensely well organised and immaculately clean city. We caught the MRT from the airport to our hostel then had a relaxed evening. We were quite tired from the flight so had a fairly early night; we only left the hostel to grab some food at a nearby restaurant.

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The following day we went into the centre of the city and met up with two Dutch girls from our hostel, Miek and Rosa, and a friend of a friend of theirs called Hann. Hann is from Singapore and had agreed to show Miek and Rosa around and they asked us if we wanted to tag along.

The first thing we did was go to a food hall in Chinatown for lunch where there is a huge variety of cuisine available. We then walked through the bustling streets which are lined with market stalls until we reached the famous Sri Mariamman Hindu temple which we had a look around. There is a mosque further down the same street which some of us briefly popped into before we made our way to Little India.

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Little India is an interesting and colourful part of the city with lots of shops, restaurants and cafes. We went into a Turkish coffee shop for some drinks then caught a bus out to the beach but unfortunately it started raining shortly after we arrived. The beach isn't anything special anyway!

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In the evening we all met up with Mike's friend Jon who is from Singapore and went for dinner at an outdoor foodcourt that overlooked the harbour in the heart of the CBD (it had stopped raining by this point!). We had more interesting food including stingray and murtabak. We said goodbye to the Dutch girls and Hann, who had been a good guide, and went for a walk past one of the Merlions and then for some beers with Jon.

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The next morning we went into the city to take a look at Orchard Road and the Raffles Hotel then we got the MRT and a number of buses to Johor Bahru airport in Malaysia and flew to Jakarta.

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We arrived in Jakarta late at night and fortunately had arranged an airport pick up with the bed and breakfast we were staying at so were taken straight there. We ended up getting a really nice, ornate room which was quite expensive (by our standards) but was a pleasant change from our usual lodgings. We were in an area of the city called Bangka and during our time in Jakarta we spent quite a lot of time there, walking around and eating food from the street stalls.

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Jakarta isn't a particularly great place though. It is massive, over populated, quite dirty and very polluted. The normal traffic flow is akin to rush hour in most cities and if you are unlucky enough to get caught in rush hour in Jakarta it seems improbable that the traffic will ever move! We would have left the day after we arrived but we needed to sort out visas for India through the Indian Embassy which has turned out to be one of the biggest (and costliest) hassles of our trip so far.

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The first day we went to the embassy they wouldn't accept our applications as we didn't have Indonesian and Indian 'references' nor passport photos. We returned the next day, Friday, after much rushing around and photocopying, and this time our applications were accepted. However, we were told that we couldn't pick them up until the following Thursday. The whole thing is quite ridiculous though as most countries we've been to don't require visas and others, such as Indonesia, issues visas on arrival which take 30 seconds!

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The one touristy thing that we did in Jakarta was visit the national monument which is a 450ft tower in the centre of the city. We joined the queue and waited our turn to take the lift up to a lookout platform at the top where there are panoramic views of the sprawling urban jungle below.

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Obviously we didn't want to stay in Jakarta until we collected our passports so we decided to go to Yogyakarta which is at the opposite end of Java (there weren't any attractive options closer). The 10 hour train journey to get there was a bit of a nightmare! It left at 6.20am from a station at the opposite end of the city so we were up at 4.45am to start the mission. The train itself had no air con and was ridiculously humid. When it picked up speed there was a welcome breeze coming in through the windows but most of the time it was either going slowly or was inexplicably stopped in the middle of nowhere. To cap things off there was a seemingly endless stream of hawkers, buskers and beggars harassing all passengers in sight. The journey did take us through some spectacular scenery so it wasn't all bad.

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The hostel we stayed at in Yogyakarta for 4 nights was probably the best value we've had on the trip. It cost £2.20 each a night for a private room with bathroom, included breakfast and there was a large swimming pool. We spent quite a lot of our time in Yogyakarta relaxing at the hostel and taking advantage of the swimming pool which we had to ourselves most of the time.

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The main activity that we did in Yogyakarta, and indeed one of our main reasons for visiting, was going to Borobudur and Prambanan. Both of these highly spiritual places are very impressive and well worth making the effort to see. Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and has been restored to its former glory.

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Prambanan is a large Hindu temple which was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 2006 and there is currently a lot of restoration work being carried out at the sight.

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On another day a local tuk-tuk driver took us on a mini tour of the city that included visiting the Sultan's palace. The Sultan is very popular in Yogyakarta (many people want him to be president) as he does a lot of work to help poor people. He even lets 25,000 people live within the grounds of his palace. It is unlikely the British royal family will follow suit.

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He also took us to see some Batik art which was really cool. The artists start off with a bit of cotton or silk and sketch the drawing in pencil before coating the pencil markings in wax. They then dip it into various coloured dyes and 'de-wax' it to complete the process. Our driver then took us to a workshop where they make puppets in a traditional style.

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We got a night train back to Jakarta on Wednesday which wasn't anywhere near as bad as the train down but was marred significantly by extremely loud Indonesian pop music that was playing throughout the train. We arrived in Jakarta at 4.15am and had to hang around at the train staion until it was a more reasonable hour when we could drop our bags off at the bed and breakfast we stayed at previously. We then had a number of hours to kill until we could pick up our visas from the Indian Embassy and suprisingly found refuge in KFC, McDonalds and Burger King! These establishments were not like the outlets which we know from home as we were able to while away the time reading on leather sofas, watching FA cup football on plasma screens and using free internet. After a period of waiting in the rain outside the embassy we got our passports back then headed straight for the airport and got a flight to Bali!

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A rather unusual aspect of our time in Java has been that a number of locals have come up to one or both of us and asked if they could have their photo taken with us. It must have something to do with a lack of white faces on the island but was quite amusing for us as we felt like we were famous. Sort of.

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Posted by elliemike 01:01 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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