Menyambut Tahun Baru Dengan Tradisi Hatsumoude

Di Jepang terdapat tradisi yang unik dalam rangka menyambut tahun baru. Tradisi itu disebut Hatsumoude. Hatsumoude adalah kunjungan pertama ke kuil Buddha atau Shinto pada awal tahun baru dalam rangka berdoa untuk memohon kedamaian di tahun yang baru. Hatsumoude mulai dilakukan selepas detik-detik pergantian tahun. Menjelang pergantian tahun, orang-orang biasanya sudah mengantri di kuil-kuil untuk membunyikan lonceng kuil dan menghaturkan doa mengawali tahun yang baru.

Tahun 2013 yang lalu, saya dan adik saya berkesempatan untuk berpartisipasi pada tradisi tersebut. Pada tanggal 31 Desember 2012 kebetulan kami sedang berada di Osaka. Kami menginap di sebuah hostel murah di dekat Tsuitenkaku. Menjelang tengah malam, tamu-tamu hostel yang rata-rata orang asing sudah berkumpul di lobi hostel untuk pergi ke bar-bar sekitar untuk merayakan malam pergantian tahun. Namun tidak demikian bagi saya dan adik saya. Karena Desember di Jepang bertepatan dengan musim dingin, kami menunggu di hostel sampai sekitar pukul 10 malam sebelum meninggalkan hostel dan pergi menuju kuil Shinto. Meskipun kuilnya tidak terlalu jauh, kami harus naik kereta bawah tanah dari hostel kami untuk menuju ke kuil tersebut. Saya lupa nama kuilnya, tapi kuil tersebut di rekomendasikan oleh sebuah majalah lokal jika ingin melakukan hatsumoude.

 

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Pintu gerbang Kuil

Kami tiba di kuil sekitar pukul 11 malam, dan ternyata antrian untuk masuk ke kuil sudah mengular sangat panjang hingga ke jalan. Suasana di kuil sudah mirip seperti festival. Banyak stand-stand yang menjual makanan dan berbagai macam barang. Meskipun suhu udara saat itu hampir mencapai nol derajat celcius, tidak menyurutkan niat orang-orang Jepang yang ingin melakukan Hatsumoude. Mungkin kami satu-satunya orang asing yang ikut-ikutan ngantri di depan kuil pada waktu itu.

 

dsc00272dsc00288Dibutuhkan waktu sekitar 4 jam untuk kami sampai ke depan altar tempat berdoa. Selama menunggu 4 jam tersebut, kami bergantian mengantri. Jika saya masuk ke ruangan kantin yang hangat, adik saya yang mengantri. Demikian pula sebaliknya, ketika dia yang istirahat di kantin, saya yang mengantri. Di kantin, mereka menjual mie kuah hangat. Jualan mie kuah ini ternyata juga ada filosofinya jika dikaitkan dengan tahun baru. Katanya, orang Jepang makan mie di tahun baru supaya umur panjang, seperti mie yang dimakan. Ada-ada saja ya.

 

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Hampir sampai

Selain tradisi makan mie, orang Jepang juga suka dengan ramalan. Di saat momen Hatsumode ini, selain berdoa, mereka juga mengambil ramalan (secara acak) yang tersedia di kuil-kuil. Kalau ramalannya baik, kertasnya bisa di bawa pulang. Tapi kalau isi ramalannya buruk, kertasnya diikat di pohon atau di tali yang disediakan supaya nasip buruk tidak ikut bersama kita. Saya dan adik saya dengan semangat ikut mengambil ramalan yang tersedia di kuil tersebut. Belakangan baru saya ketahui dari teman saya orang Jepang, kalau mengambil ramalan itu cukup sekali saja dalam 1 tahun. Padahal saya selalu mengambil ramalan setiap kali berkunjung ke kuil. Hahaha. Yah namanya juga turis.

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Ramalan yang buruk diikat di tali-tali yang telah disediakan dan supaya nasib buruk tidak mengikuti kita

 

Setelah membunyikan lonceng dan ikut berdoa di kuil, kami kembali ke hostel kami. Saat itu hampir jam 3 pagi, dan untungnya subway khusus hari itu beroperasi sampai pagi (biasanya hanya sampai jam 10-11 malam).

 

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Hatsumoude di Fushimi Inari
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Jimat keberuntungan

Hatsumoude biasanya dilakukan sampai dengan 3 hari setelah tahun baru. Keesokan harinya kami pergi ke Kyoto dan mengunjungi beberapa kuil terkenal seperti Fushimi Inari dan Kiyomizu, masih terlihat antrian orang dimana-mana yang ingin berdoa di kuil.

 

 

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Batu Cinta/Love Stone di Kuil Kiyomizu, Kyoto
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Hatsumoude di Kuil Kiyomizu, Kyoto

Saya pikir tradisi ini baik sekali. Mengawali tahun yang baru dengan berdoa di kuil dalam ketenangan. Jauh dari hingar bingar panggung gembira, terompet dan kembang api pergantian tahun. Mungkin bisa coba dipraktekan di Indonesia di tempat ibadah masing-masing. Bagaimana dengan pembaca? Selamat tahun baru 2017 ya! Semoga di tahun yang baru ini, kita semua selalu dalam kesehatan, keselamatan dan keberkahan. Cheers! (npa).

 

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Love traveling? Try volunteering!

Having a lot of spare time always gives me the idea of thinking what I actually should do when I have plenty of time to kill. It mostly happened when I am on break with literally nothing to do. One day, after I finished my master study, again I thought what I should have done to kill the time I had. Then I got enlightened: “Why don’t I just volunteer?” while my classmates were looking for a (new and better) job, interning, or even getting back to their old job.

Then I remembered that I have met some people during my previous travels – including a former neighbor in the foyer in Geneva who spent their time WWOOF*-ing. All of them went to a different country. So, I took it also as an opportunity to travel at an affordable price in exchange with lots of experience!

Then, why wwoof-ing?

There are of course plenty of volunteer options! What attracts me to wwoof-ing is the part where I can learn about organic farming. Despite my recurring problems in keeping my plants alive, at least I would like to learn appreciating the work of farmers.  It has also been quite popular for people to consume healthier options of foods or even grow them in our very own garden! Also, it does not necessarily relate to plants, some hosts are livestock farmers, guest-house owners or sanctuary managers!

Where to wwoof?

WWOOF basically connects farmers, gardeners and alike to volunteer  — called “wwoofer”, who would like to learn about organic farm. Many countries have wwoof network in it. At first, I wanted to go to Bali as they have their own method in growing rice. However, I changed my mind and went to Thailand instead. I mean….Thailand is only a short distance from Jakarta. I could then travel to Indochina after the volunteer was done.

My part of vegetable garden to water
My part of vegetable garden to water

The next thing I knew was I paid a good EUR 45 to be able to access the database and booked my ticket to Bangkok. A few hours after looking around, I found Pom & U, a sweet couple who have organic rice field and organic garden in Suphanburi.

What did you get in return?

 

Le squad
Le squad

In exchange with the voluntary work, the host provides us with three meals a day, accommodation and lots of knowledge! In my case, I had the opportunity to stay in a traditional Thai house by the river in Suphanburi. Pom cooked lunch and dinner for us. Sometimes we had special breakfast too. Fruits are always there, and I have always loved them as they are refreshing.

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Never thought steamed fish with herbs from the garden could be so yumm!
Never thought steamed fish with herbs from the garden could be so yumm!
This is it! Sautee water lilies a la Pom!
This is it! Sautee water lilies a la Pom!

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Our lovely chef, farmer, host lady!
Our lovely chef, farmer, host lady!

Pom & U also provided a room which I shared with Anniek, an amazing wwoofer from the Netherlands! Often, we exchanged recipes (well…. I got recipes but I forgot giving any, unfortunately).

How was the experience?

It was a m a z i n g!

Herbs.
Herbs.
Rosella -- hybiscus
Rosella — hybiscus
Just found out it can be eaten!
Just found out it can be eaten!
I am pretty sure it's kale. But maybe it's cabbage? o_0
I am pretty sure it’s kale. But maybe it’s cabbage? o_0
Long bean
Long bean

Pom & U have paddy fields, vegetable garden, a pond, and a couple of chickens, four cats (whose name I kept on pronouncing wrongly), and a dog named Mam. As the house is facing the river, they also have a small boat to paddle to the (not so-close) market.

The rice was just harvested by the previous wwoofers. Hence, the main work required during my arrival was to “water” and help maintain vegetable garden twice a day – depending on the humidity of the soil. Then I thought to myself, “How hard could it be?”

I took back what I said immediately when I started watering. While it is a garden for their consumption alone, it is pretty big to be watered manually. It would have been easy had the water hoses had not kept on disconnecting. Due to the size of the garden, we need to connect several hoses altogether. At the time, I understood why Pom told me to bring a friend to volunteer when I made inquiry!

Anniek and I divided the watering work. Her jurisdiction was the back yard garden – including a pond, while mine was the one facing the river. Anniek worked really really well and hard! She’s also like one of the kindest persons that I ever met! She would help me ensure my water hose connection did not break whenever she finished her work before me.

Is that all?

Of course NOT! On our spare time, we (or I?) would be helping Pom (or Anniek) baking cakes in the kitchen. As I was the least talented in cooking, I voluntarily washed the dishes or made the table. xD

MY bread pudding! xD
MY bread pudding! xD
Anniek's carrot cake and cream cheese with a hint of lemon. Lekker!
Anniek’s carrot cake and cream cheese with a hint of lemon. Lekker!
Caramel Pear Tart!
Pom’s Caramel Pear Tart!
Anniek's specialty: Dutch pancake for breakfast.
Anniek’s specialty: Dutch pancake for breakfast.
Pom's pumpkin and custard. The pumpkin was fresh from the garden and it tasted great!
Pom’s pumpkin and custard. The pumpkin was fresh from the garden and it tasted great!

We also prepared medium to plant seedlings. We had to make sure that the dirt was fertile and moist enough. When the medium was ready, we planted corn and lettuce seeds. I felt so satisfied when I saw the sprout after few days!

Planting the seeds.
Planting the seeds.
Look! They sprout!
Look! They sprout!

Another time, Pom taught us to make fertilizer balls. We had to mix several components including dirt, fermented organic water, banana tree trunks and chicken manure. Knowing the ingredients, you would understand how nice it smelled! Pom told us that the smell would stay on our hands for several days. Never had I become so obsessed with washing hands before then!

Mix it! Mix it hard!
Mix it! Mix it hard!
Fertilizer balls: making you hands smell since no time!
Fertilizer balls: making you hands smell since no time! In Picture, Mam the dog who had to make sure he participated and was counted to be a part of our daily life. 😀

Other than that, I also learned how Pom & U had minimum waste at their home! They used organic waste to be fermented as fertilizer.

My favorite cat -- he loved sitting on my lap. Such a privilege!
My favorite cat — he loved sitting on my lap. Such a privilege!
Sunset by the river
Sunset by the river
Another sunset when watering...
Another sunset when watering…

What I really enjoyed the most would be harvesting the vegetables (as it took me walking without watering xD), staring at the sunset when I (almost) finished watering and playing (well, it was mostly chilling) with the cats! Sometimes, we also accompanied Pom to the traditional market. It is an interesting one for what were sold were something that I never see in the traditional market close to my home in Jakarta. It is even more fun when Pom bought us mango sticky rice and lots of fruits! *drooling*

Local delicacy: (raw) shrimp for apetizer!
Local delicacy: (raw) shrimp for apetizer!
Mango sticky rice to die for
Mango sticky rice to die for!

 

Really? No more?

Anniek and I also managed to paddle Pom & U’s boat along the river (where Anniek did most of the paddling – sorry!). Our destination was the market as Pom told us. Sadly, we never made it to the market as the river was full of plants hindering us to paddle through. Getting stuck and tired, we decided to go against the river’s flow to get back home. If I were to paddle alone, I would have been still moving the boat in circle.

Paddling master!
Paddling master!
Fresh water fisherman
Fresh water fisherman

The next day, we went to the temple close by. While it was closer if we paddle, we thought it would not be a good idea to paddle considering our paddling experience the day before!

A part of the temple
A part of the temple
Anniek's specialty again. I forgot the name, though. Mousaka? Zaksouka??
Anniek’s specialty again. I forgot the name, though. Mousaka? Zaksouka??
Steam boat for dinner. :))
Steam boat for dinner. :))

When Pom & U were not home, we took over the kitchen and cooked or baked something fancy (at least that was what I thought) as a treat after watering! Also, we treated ourselves with lots and lots and lots of iced coffee to bear the heat!

 

*WWOOF : World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

 

Safari Experience: Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti and the Great Migration

December 2015, I had my first trip to the African Continent. I went to Tanzania. The highlight of my trip is to go on a safari in one of Tanzania’s famous national park, Serengeti. I have to admit that I was a bit worried traveling to Africa alone. Fortunately, I have a friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania), so I have a reason to visit her there. Although the national park that I want to visit is located in Arusha, far away from Dar Es Salaam.

 

Preparation

                There are two things that need to be prepared before going to Tanzania. First is Visa and second is vaccine. Tanzania offers Visa On Arrival to most countries (there are some countries or passports that is exempted from visa and there are others that is forbid from using Visa On Arrival). You only need to pay 50 USD and to bring your passport with some blank pages and make sure that it’s still valid for at least 6 months. Moreover, Tanzania is also endemic of yellow fever disease. So, make sure you had the vaccine for yellow fever at least 3 weeks before entering the country. All tourists entering Tanzania will be asked for the yellow fever certificate before you can apply for the Visa on Arrival. Thus, do not forget to have the vaccine. I had a discussion with my doctor about the vaccine and she didn’t recommend me to take it as the disease is only endemic in some part of the country and that I should be fine without having a shot of the vaccine. However, my friend who was working in Dar Es Salaam insisted that I took the vaccine. I’m glad I did because as soon as I arrive at the terminal building, the airport authority asked for my vaccine certificate before I can proceed to the immigration.

I flew from Amsterdam to Dar Es Salaam by Qatar Airways. I bought the ticket long before I made some research on how to conduct the safari in Serengeti and it was a mistake. To join the safari to Serengeti, Arusha is the nearest town to start the trip, but I will enter the country from Dar Es Salaam and as I checked on the map, Dar Es Salaam and Arusha is quite far. I have limited days in the country plus I’m gonna spend some days at my friend’s house in Dar Es Salaam and also will visit Zanzibar, neighbouring tropical island to the capital. Therefore, as I cursed myself for not doing my homework, I booked another flight back and forth to Arusha from Dar Es Salaam. If only I knew that the safari starts from Arusha, I would’ve bought my flight from Amsterdam to Arusha and skip all the hassle. Anyway, Arusha has two airports, Arusha and Kilimanjaro, so check before-hand to which airport you want to arrive. If you arrive from Kilimanjaro airport, you might get a chance to view the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as you descend.

The next preparation that I did is of course to find way to conduct the safari to Serengeti. Usually I travel with the Randomtravelers (my travel buddies, contributors of this blog), but since I was undertaking my master degree in the UK, I did this travel by myself. So, I have to find a group of people who are going to conduct the safari at around the same time as me and it is not an easy task. It is impossible to conduct the safari alone unless you are filthy rich because the fee to enter the national park alone is already over 100 USD. I have to find a tour operator and a group of people to share the cost.

I tried TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet to find fellow travellers that might want to share the cost for safari. I found a few, but as I contact them I didn’t get any reply. From what I read in the forums of the two website, the cost for safari can go as high as 1000-1500 USD. Geez, that’s a lot of dollars for me. The price can go lower if I travel in a bigger group, for example in 6 to 7 people. I asked my friend in Dar Es Salaam if there are better options to do the safari. She suggested to do safari at national parks that located near Dar Es Salaam, it’s smaller and there are some that can be done in just one day. That might be feasible, but I really wanted to visit Serengeti of all national parks in Tanzania. I almost give up on the idea of safari, but then again my purpose of went all the way to Tanzania is to do safari. Lol. Eventually, I found out that there’s a huge online market for safari in Africa. There’s a website dedicated for safari operators across Africa with ready itinerary complete with the price, called Safaribookings. In the website, there are also reviews from past customers on how the operator provide their services, so it’s really helpful for me to decide which operator that I will choose.

I immediately contacted an operator whose itinerary and price fits my interests. I was lucky as there is a tour that’s going to be conducted that fits my schedule. I ended up with 4 days and 3 nights of safari in a group of 6 people (2 girls and 4 guys, including me). To ensure that it is not a fraud, I asked if I can pay on the spot at the day we start the tour and they said it’s fine. So on the promised date, they pick me up at the airport and transfer me to my accommodation (airport transfer is usually included in the tour which is very convenient as taxi is not very apparent as I arrived in Arusha airport). The next day they pick me up at my accommodation and took me to the meeting point where I meet with the guy in charge (with whom I’ve exchange email about the tour) and paid the agreed fee in cash. However, I paid an extra charge for sleeping bag as It was not provided in the tour plan. So, if you don’t want to pay this extra, you should bring one.

 

How it goes

So, I ended up booking a 4 days and 3 nights safari covering Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti national park. Included in the package is tent, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a driver who also act as guide and a caretaker who took care of the catering and setting up camps. I went with 5 other tourists, 2 guys from Korea who just finished their climb to Mount Kilimanjaro, a Dutch girl who’s volunteering in Dar Es Salaam, and 2 Spanish guys who’s volunteering in Zanzibar. Yes, there are many foreigners doing volunteering work in Tanzania. They enter the country using tourist visa that are valid for 3 months and do volunteer work throughout the country. The Spanish guy taught Spanish language to the kids in Zanzibar, while the Dutch girl helped in local hospital (as she is currently studying medicine).

Birds-birds-zebra-baboons-elephant-giraffe-hippo… oh look another zebra! Lake Manyara is home to lots of wild animals. I literally lose counts after 15 minutes driving through the park in a jeep. Day one of the safari was great. There were only 4 of us for half day of the safari so the Jeep was pretty spacious for the 4 passengers.

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Inside the Jeep

 

It was dry season so the lake looked pretty small. Our driver took us to the supposed to be part of the lake but there was nothing there but dry sandy plain. He said, in the rainy season the volume of the water can get triple the size of the current lake or even more. He also took us to the hippo pool where we can watch many hippo taking a bath. From the Hippo Poll we can see The Great Rift Valley, a range of hills lining up as far as from Jordan to Mozambique! Awesome!

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Before going back to our camp just outside the park, we are reunited with 2 other guys who’s gonna join us for the rest of the safari. Now the jeep has become a little bit cramp with additional two persons. But hey, I’m going on a safari, who cares!

 

Our campsite is called Jumbo. It has bungalows and an area to set up camps. If you have more money, staying in bungalows could be a better option as it has its own bathroom plus you won’t get wet when it rains. In the evening, it was raining heavily. Electricity is only available after dark (but there was no light in the bathroom so it’s better to take a bath before dark), so you have to make sure that you charge all your cameras/phones for the next day. Bringing an extension cable might come in handy as all the socket will be full.

There was a cultural dance at night in the cafeteria of the camp site. It was interesting. They ask for some tip at the end of the performance, and they even sell music CD.

p_20151212_104610_pnIn the morning of the second day, we departed to Ngorongoro crater. Early noon we hit the camping ground in Ngorongoro that’s located on a higher ground. Ngorongoro crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It’s 610 meters deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. It’s magnificent.

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I’m at lost in describing how pretty this place is. It is home to thousands of wildlife animals. Lions, hyenas, leopards, zebras, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, birds, impalas, you name it. I feel like being in the Disney’s Lion King movie. The crater is also home to some Masai tribes. Our driver told us that in the past, the Masai used to hunt for the lion’s head as proof of one’s bravery. As a result, the population of zebras, wildebeest, impalas and such animals grow significantly because the number of predator shrink. So the government forbid the Masai to hunt for lion’s head.

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We had lunch in a beautiful picnic area called Ngoitoktok. Our caretaker warned me for the eagle who flew above the picnic site as they love to steal food from tourists and it’s probably safer to have lunch in the jeep. I ignored him and proceed having lunch by the lake. He was right. As soon as I hold my chicken drumstick, an eagle attacked me. I managed to hold it in my hands, close my lunch box and return back in the jeep before the eagle attack me again. On the other hand, Gabriel, the Korean guy in our group wasn’t as lucky as me. He lost his chicken to the eagle and had to settle for egg and bread for lunch. As I ate my lunch in the jeep, I can see other people being attacked by the eagle in the picnic site. Well, it was starting to rain anyway so I’m content eating my lunch in the Jeep.

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The camp site we stayed in Ngorongoro is more remote than the one we have in Lake Manyara. There’s no bungalows, only tents. But this time we were accompanied by many other groups who also set their camp there. To prevent taking a bath in pitch darkness, I took a bath before dark. But this campsite’s bathroom has light so there’s no need to worry. However, since it’s highland, it’s so much colder than Lake Manyara. I remember waking up to the coldness in my feet early morning despite the fact that I wore my socks and securely tucked inside my sleeping bag. Staying inside the national park is a unique experience to me. Unlike the campsite in Lake Manyara that’s located outside the park, the campsite in Ngorongoro is located inside the park itself. I remember at night I need to use the bathroom and when I want to go back to my tent, a guide warned me that there’s a buffalo around my tent.

JpegA buffalo! A buffalo right in front of me. But I couldn’t see him as there’s no light in the camp area. The guide helped me with his flashlights so I won’t hit the buffalo while I walk back to my tent. I can hear the sound of the buffalo munching grass near my tent while I go back to sleep. To be honest, I was worried he will crush my tent while searching for grass.

On the third day, we departed to Serengeti. I feel so small being in Ngorongoro and then Serengeti. As the jeep drove towards the national park, I can only see long and straight road to the horizon, while on the left and right hand side I can only see the grass plain and the sky and wildebeests.

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Lots and lots of wildebeests! Serengeti means “Endless plain”, no wonder, the scenery speaks for itself. In fact, the time when I visited was the migration time of the wildebeest, zebras, buffalos (practically every animal) or also known as “the Great Migration”. It was the changing season of dry to wet so the rain moves further north. That’s why the wildebeest follows it because the plain in Serengeti will have taller grass for them to eat. I was so glad that I finally able to experience first-hand, seeing the Great Migration that I usually watch on NatGeo. Our Jeep is stopping by at times so that we can take pictures of the surrounding area. We can only take picture from inside the Jeep as getting out of the car will get us fined by the park rangers.

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At the entrance of the park, we took a seat together while our guide and caretaker took care of the permission to enter the park. From that discussion we found out that each one of us paid a different amount of fee to join the safari. The Korean guys paid the cheapest, the Spanish guys paid the most expensive, while me and the Dutch girl are in the middle. Turns out we book the tour from different company. Moreover, the tour that was currently serving us is also from different company. It seems like they hired a third party to serve their client on the safari. The Koreans booked from a tourist information in Kenya and they told them a black list of safari company in the market. They got the cheapest price compare to the rest of us with the same food and facility as us. I feel pity for the Spanish guys as they paid 3 times the price of the Korean guys while the only different of the service is, we got tent in Serengeti while they get to sleep at a hotel inside the park, but still with minimum electricity, just like us who stayed in the campsite. This could be a lesson for all of us to pick the company wisely and to do your research for tour company thoroughly.

The campsite in Serengeti is the worst of the campsites we have stayed in so far in regards of the bathroom and toilet. There’s not enough water for everyone to do their business at the toilet so some of us had to improvise and go “back to nature”. During the two days of our stay in Serengeti, it’s always raining. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said that the volume of water in Lake Manyara can triple its size during the rainy season. I saw it myself when a lot of area in Serengeti are turning into small rivers due to the heavy amount of rain. Our jeep even got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled by another Jeep that pass by. Our friend joked that we might run into a lion or leopard while being stuck in the mud. Thank goodness, we manage to get out of the mud before dark.

When it rains, we might find lions, cheetah or leopard on the trees. Like their fellow, the domestic cats, these big cats also hate getting wet. Therefore, we might get lucky to see one sleeping on a tree. And we did! We spot a leopard sleeping on the branch of a tree. However, we were not the only group that saw them. In the end, there were many jeeps lining up in front of the tree to catch a glimpse of the leopard. The big cat then woke up and move to a higher branch to escape the camera of the tourists.

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Sunset in Serengeti

Serengeti is the last national park in our list. The next day, we were transferred back to the city of Arusha where we will part ways. I can say that I had a wonderful experience joining the safari. Our driver did a great job. He managed to show us the highlights of the safari. I get to see all the Big-5 Game Animals (African Lion, African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Leopard and Rhinoceros). We also stop by at a Masai village on our way back to Arusha (I’ll keep the story for next time). However, there was a little problem before the group was dismissed. The night before, we already collected some money to give as tip for the driver and the caretaker. As tip of course we didn’t give that much as we already paid an expensive price for the tour. We were startled when we know that the amount of tip expected was 25 USD per person per day. Wow geez! That’s a lot of additional cost outside our safari cost. We then rejected the request (especially the Spanish guys who was already robbed so much since the beginning) and asked them to talk about it with the tour company. We then said good bye to each other and went our separate ways.

 

Despite the not so good closing of the safari, I had a great time with the group and an unforgettable experience. I was then picked up by the tour company that I used and transferred back to my accommodation. The next day, they pick me up again and transfer me back to the airport so I can catch my flight to Dar Es Salaam. All is well. (npa)

Lesson learned: A Simple Guide to Chiang Mai’s Lantern Festival

If I did not write this article, I would not be realized how time flies! It is already September though it feels as if 2016’s New Year’s Eve were just yesterday. However, there is this one thing that we can long to see as the closer we get to the end of the year. It is called: Yi Peng Sansai!

Float lanterns, float!
Float lanterns, float!

Yi Peng is actually a religious ceremony for paying homage to Buddha. It occurs at the same time as Loy Krathong. The two events involve lights. For Loy Krathong, people will release lotus-shaped vessels made to bodies of water for good luck.  Meanwhile, for Yi Peng, people release fired paper lanterns to the sky. So, you can already imagine how amazing it is!

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Yi Peng is mostly common in northern part of Thailand. In Chiang Mai, it is breathtakingly festive! The exact date could be tricky as it is announced only a week before. However, normally it is held in November each year, depending on the full moon phase. The mass lantern release can be seen in two events. The free and crowded one is usually held in the yard of Mae Jo University of Chiang Mai. The other event will cost you around USD100. While I am not sure where the paid one is held, I am pretty sure that it will be more convenient as the committee does have a quota of people.

I attended the (free) festival two years ago (and I’d still like to go again! Anyone?). While the reason why I attended the festival was very childish, it was very memorable. Even now, the images are still vividly running in my head. If I ever go back again, these are the points I will take into account:

  1. Make sure of the date

    Guidance of the event
    Guidance of the event

Again, this is the trickiest part. You must be proactive in looking for the date! This year, this site says that Yi Peng is to be held from 13 to 15 November 2016. However, it is held only on one of those dates. For the rest of the dates, you could either float your own lantern at the square of Chiang Mai or do other activities available around the city. It would be best if you could stay for the whole week so that there is not even a chance for you to miss it!

  1. Book your means of transportation to Chiang Mai early, really!
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit
Bus Ticket from Don Mueang to Mo Chit

Yi Peng is a big festival attended by so many people. It means, bus providers are extremely busy by this period of time.

if not…be ready for the consequences!

I remember that my train ticket to Chiang Mai from Bangkok got cancelled because some parts of the tracks were being repaired. However, had I gone with such train, I would not have made it to the festival because I only spared a day before the festival. It was a wrong move because I arrived in Bangkok. I found out the exact date right only few days before I left for Bangkok. Later, I tried to book overnight bus but all online tickets were sold! Consequently, I went directly to the Mo Chit bus terminal right after I landed just to buy the bus tickets.

Being a cheapskate, I did not want to lose the opportunity to use the room at the hotel that I had booked. I managed to have a name and take a shower. However, drama begins at the evening when Bangkok’s traffic jam was so cruel that it did not let my taxi go through. I arrived at the station after the bus left. I was furious and sad. But few minutes later, one of the station’s officer approached me and told to get on one of the buses. In the middle of the journey, the driver told us to get off and changed to another bus. I did not have any clue where the bus was heading to as there was no sign that its destination was Chiang Mai. I could not sleep because of it. During a stop, I asked where the bus heading to. Luckily, one of the Thai passengers explained to me that it headed to Chiang Mai. The written destination was different because it was additional bus operating during high season. 😀

  1. Stay somewhere close

I managed to book a room at a residence close to Maejo University. Hence, the university is within walking-distance. If not, you could also go with a songthaew (it is like a van with specific route, in Indonesia it is known as angkot) or tuk-tuk (tricycle) to reach the university. If you have a big budget for this, you can also hire a car or taxi which waits for you.

Staying close to the venue is also useful as it would be difficult to get a means of (public) transportation. It was and will be very crowded after the event. It was very difficult even to walk.

  1. Come early

    Space to choose. :D
    Space to choose. 😀

People are welcome only until 5 pm. If you come early, you can choose where you want to sit. Do note that there are many tourist agencies arranging tour and taking plenty of space for their guests.

  1. Take plenty of water and snacks

    Sunny side up, anyone?
    Sunny side up, anyone?

Seriously, you could use the waiting time for picnic. It can be really hot during the day and the event itself will finish late so you may want to have something to eat. There will be a small bazaar outside the venue. However, once the gate is closed, you can no longer access the bazaar as it is located exactly outside the gate.

Fresh pressed orange juice!
Fresh pressed orange juice!

If you managed to go to the bazaar, though, you could taste varieties of Thai snacks. My personnal favorite would be their pressed orange juice which is very refreshing!

  1. Don’t bring lanterns bought outside the venue
    The kits
    The kits

    Huge lantern is fired!
    Huge lantern is fired!

Though the event itself is free, the lantern is not. I paid around THB 250 for a lantern from the committee. We cannot bring lanterns from outside though they are cheaper. Maybe this is how they raise their fund. But it is okay, I think. The price is also not so bad as the lantern can be for 4-6 persons.

  1. Wear something polite yet comfortable

I understand that the climate could be very warm, but please remember that this festival is a part of religious ceremonies. Pay some respect by not wearing tank tops or see-through clothes. This way, you are helping yourself from wasting your time and money as there will be officers at the gate reminding how you should dress.

  1. Bring a sarong as substitute of picnic mat

    Our mat and snacks!
    Our mat and snacks!

Whenever I travel, I always bring my Balinese sarong. It is light and useful, especially as I can use it as a mat. People who do not have mats can also use newspapers. Or….you can also sit directly on the grass if you do not mind getting a bit of dirt on your pants.

  1. Don’t go alone

As much as I encourage people to travel solo, I would really recommend you to go with your friends. Even better, with your significant other as it is such a romantic festival. If you are planning to propose your SO, the floating lanterns can make a mesmerizing background building the right moment to say yes!

...and at last I see the lights!
…and at last I see the lights!

Lastly, enjoy the view and experience! Do it at least once in a lifetime!

 

Made in China (Bagian 6) : Beijing dan The Great Wall of China

Rupanya ada banyak sekali objek wisata yang wajib untuk dikunjungi ketika berada di Beijing. Sayangnya pada waktu itu kami hanya punya waktu satu setengah hari sebelum harus berpindah lagi ke kota lain. Pagi hari pertama kami di Beijing, kami menargetkan dua tempat untuk di kunjungi, the Forbidden City dan the Great Wall of China (sisi Badaling). Untuk pergi ke Forbidden City kami menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong dan berhenti di stasiun Tiananmen East (atau Tiananmen West) dan dilanjutkan dengan berjalan kaki menuju Tiananmen Square.

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Mausoleum Mao Zedong

Forbidden City ini letaknya tepat di belakang Tiananmen Square, jadi kami sempat masuk ke mausoleum Mao Zedong terlebih dahulu sebelum ke Forbidden City. Untuk masuk ke mausoleum kami harus melalui security check-in. Di dalam mausoleum kami bisa melihat antrian panjang turis lokal yang ingin melihat jasad Mao Zedong yang disemayamkan di tempat ini. Karena antriannya cukup panjang, kami memutuskan untuk tidak ikut mengantri dan beranjak langsung ke Forbidden City.

Tiket masuk ke Forbidden City adalah 40 yuan dan bisa sewa audio guide juga. Karena pengalaman yang kurang begitu menyenangkan di museum Terra-cotta (baca: Made in China (Bagian 2) – Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses Museum) kami agak kapok menggunakan jasa tour guide. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk menyewa audio guide supaya agak paham di dalam Forbidden City nanti. Ternyata ada audio guide berbahasa Indonesianya juga lho! Keren! Pastinya kami sewa audio guide yang berbahasa Indonesia ini. Audio guide-nya bekerja secara otomatis tergantung di sisi mana Forbidden City kita berada.

Begitu masuk ke dalam, saya takjub dengan betapa luasnya kompleks istana Forbidden City ini. Tadi di lapangan Tiananmen dan mausoleum Mao Zedong juga ukurannya giant! (Museum Terra-Cotta dan Maosoleum Qin Shi Huang juga gigantic sih) membuat saya berpikir mungkin untuk mengakomodasi jumlah penduduk China yang juga besar kali ya.

DSC02369Forbidden City adalah kompleks istana di era 4 kaisar selama dinasti Qing dan dinasti Ming berkuasa. Kompleks istana ini adalah inspirasi untuk set film “Curse of the Golden Flower” lho! Ada banyak fakta menarik tentang kompleks istana ini. Misalnya, kenapa disebut Forbidden City?! Rupanya jaman dahulu, rakyat biasa tidak diperbolehkan masuk ke kompleks istana ini tanpa izin khusus dari Kaisar makanya disebut Purple Forbidden City atau Forbidden City. Ada simbol khusus yang dibuat untuk kaisar dan permaisuri dimana kaisar dilambangkan dengan binatang Naga dan Permaisuri dilambangkan dengan binatang burung Phoenix.

Setelah puas keliling Forbidden City, tak terasa sudah tengah hari maka kami memutuskan untuk makan siang di restoran lokal sebelum melanjutkan perjalanan. Tujuan selanjutnya adalah the Great Wall of China. Untuk pergi ke the Great Wall of China, ada dua jenis transportasi umum yang bisa dipilih, bis dan kereta. Kami memutuskan untuk naik bis, karena menurut hasil riset yang saya lakukan sebelumnya, bis menuju Great Wall akan berhenti di dekat pintu masuk ke Great Wall, sementara kalau naik kereta, masih harus berjalan lagi cukup jauh karena letak stasiun keretanya.

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Peta seadanya yang sangat membantu kami dalam menemukan jalan

Menurut sumber yang saya temukan di internet, dari Beijing ke Great Wall akan memakan waktu satu setengah jam (ternyata 3 jam lebih kami ga nyampe2!). Setelah makan siang, dengan berbekal peta yang kami foto di pintu keluar Forbidden City, kami mencari jalan menuju stasiun bis. Sebagai informasi, di sini berbagai macam social media kekinian diblok oleh pemerintah, yahoo, facebook, bahkan google. Sebagian besar website yang dapat diakses berbahasa mandarin. Karena kami berdua tidak bisa Bahasa mandarin, jadi meskipun di hotel ada wifi, kami tetap sulit mengakses informasi. Satu-satunya search engine berbahasa inggris yang dapat kami akses pada waktu itu adalah Ask.com dan itu butut banget! Sebaiknya segala macam riset yang perlu dilakukan seperti gimana cara ke suatu tempat, makanan apa yang mau dimakan, dll, dilakukan sebelum sampai di sini.

Dari restoran tadi, kami naik subway dan turun di stasiun Jishuitan dari sini seharusnya sudah dekat dengan terminal bis Deshengmen. Bis yang kami mesti naiki adalah bis nomor 877 atau 919 tapi hati-hati. Banyak scam di sini. Ketika kami keluar dari stasiun subway dan berjalan menuju stasiun bis, banyak minibus/mini van dengan tempelan kertas sesuai nomor bis yang kami mesti naiki dan tulisan yang menyatakan jurusan Great Wall. JANGAN naik minibus/minivan ini. Kalian akan dicharge dengan harga yang jauh lebih mahal dari bis umum yang seharusnya.

Bis yang benar ada di dalam terminal Deshengmen. Sayangnya, nomornya gak keliatan dengan jelas karena ditulis dalam Bahasa Mandarin. Kami muter-muter seluruh terminal beberapa kali untuk mencari bis tersebut. Akhirnya kami berhenti pada antrian panjang orang lokal yang kami yakini akan menaiki bis jurusan Great Wall. Saya mencoba bertanya pada salah satu ibu-ibu di situ menggunakan buku panduan berbahasa mandarin yang kami bawa dari Jakarta. No use. Dia tidak mengerti sama sekali apa yang saya bicarakan. Mungkin karena pelafalan saya yang kurang tepat. Akhirnya saya coba menunjukkan print out hasil riset tentang Great Wall yang kebetulan ada huruf kanjinya. Dia mengerti dan menunjukkan papan besar berisi jurusan yang tempat-tempat yang akan dilalui oleh bis. Saya cocokkan huruf kanji di papan dengan print out yang saya pegang, ternyata sama. Akhirnya kami naik bis tersebut dan berdoa mudah-mudahan bis ini benar menuju ke Great Wall. Kalau salah, wassalam deh!

Tidak berapa lama naik bis tersebut, kami terlelap. Sebangunnya dari tidur singkat di bis, saya mengecek jam tangan saya dan waktu sudah berlalu sekitar 2 jam sejak kami naik bis ini. Kenapa belum sampai ya? Padahal menurut informasi yang saya dapat dari internet, hanya memakan waktu kira-kira satu setengah jam. Hampir 3 jam, akhirnya kami sampai di suatu halte dimana semua penumpang bis turun. Otomatis kami pun ikut turun. Saya bingung mendeskripsikan halte tempat kami turun itu seperti apa. Terdapat gedung yang sepertinya sudah tutup dan depannya ada laman parkir dengan beberapa mobil terparkir. Tidak ada apa-apa selain halte bis, gedung kosong dan parkiran. Tadinya saya pikir ini pintu masuk ke Great Wall, tapi gak mungkin! Soalnya ga terlihat Great Wall sama sekali di sekitar tempat tersebut. Great Wall kan tembok terpanjang di dunia, jadi mestinya mudah terlihat kalau kami berada di tempat yang benar. Hadeeuuhh ini dimana lagii… -_- mana udah sore, ga ngerti ada di mana.

Kami mutar-mutar di tempat tersebut beberapa kali mencari petunjuk kami berada dimana. Beberapa pemuda menghampiri kami dan berbicara dalam Bahasa mandarin, bahkan ada yang sempat mengajak bicara dengan Bahasa inggris tapi tidak saya gubris karena saya takut kena scam lagi. Beberapa orang terlihat menaiki sebuah bis yang baru datang. Termasuk salah seorang pemuda yang tadi mengajak kami bicara dalam Bahasa inggris. Akhirnya saya bertanya pada dia karena sepertinya dia harapan terakhir kami untuk tempat bertanya. Rupanya dia mahasiswa s2 dari Uzbekistan Yang sedang kuliah di China. Tadi dia mengajak kami bicara juga karena ingin bertanya arah ke Great Wall. Yaampuunn! Maaf ya masnya saya udah su’udzon… habis dipikir tour guide scam yang kayak di Terrra Cotta.

Si mas ini bisa Bahasa mandarin juga, dan bilang bahwa bus ini menujur ke Great Wall yang letaknya masih sekitar 1,4 km lagi dari lokasi kami saat itu. Apakah bis yang kami tumpangi sebelumnya itu memang menuju Great Wall atau tidak kami tidak pernah tahu. Yang jelas meskipun kami nyasar, rupanya tidak nyasar-nyasar amat. Syukurlah…

Sekitar 7 menit kemudian sampailah kami di halte bis Great Wall. Kami berterima kasih dan mengucapkan selamat tinggal kepada mas tadi. Sekarang kami mesti berpacu dengan waktu karena kami sampai di Great Wall-nya udah sore sekali dan nampaknya sebentar lagi tutup. Kami berjalan ke arah stasiun kereta gantung supaya bisa diantar menuju spot yang direkomendasikan di internet yang terletak agak tinggi posisinya. Dari spot tersebut, kami bisa berjalan kaki untuk ke pintu keluar.

Ketika sampai di stasiun kereta gantung, stasiunnya sudah tutup!! Kami sungguh kecewa mengingat betapa susahnya untuk sampai ke tempat ini. Akhirnya kami berjalan kembali ke arah halte bis tempat kami datang tadi. Menurut petugas di stasiun kereta gantung, Great Wall-nya sendiri masih buka, hanya kereta gantungnya saja yang sudah tutup waktu itu. Jadi kalau ada pengunjung yang mau ke Great Wall, harus lewat pintu depan dengan berjalan kaki.

Tidak mau pulang dengan sia-sia, akhirnya kami berjalan kaki menuju pintu masuk Great Wall yang rupanya cukup jauh jaraknya dari halte bis. (Ga ada yang deket di China ini men!). seperti motto pemadam kebakaran “pantang pulang sebelum padam!” pantang menyerah sampai titik darah penghabisan! Sesampainya di pintu masuk, ternyata masih buka! Meskipun tinggal setengah jam lagi!

Akhirnya kami beli tiket dan menapakkan kaki di tembok legendaris tersebut! Horee!

Saya ingat betapa dingin dan angin berhembus cukup kencang sore itu dari atas Great Wall tempat kami mengambil foto. Kami mengambil sisi tembok yang sepi supaya mendapat angle foto yang lebih baik dan tidak perlu berdesakan dengan pengunjung yang lain. Rupanya ada alasan kenapa tidak banyak pengunjung yang pergi ke sisi tembok yang kami tuju. Sisi tembok yang kami tuju tidak terkena sinar matahari sore, sehingga jauh lebih dingin. Temboknya juga menanjak cukup curam tinggi ke atas, sehingga angin berhembus lebih kencang. Tapi kami cukup puas dengan pemandangan dari atas tembok. Kami juga bisa berfoto tanpa ada pengunjung lain yang ikut photo bomb di foto kami. Catatan kami untuk teman-teman traveler lain yang akan mengunjungi Great Wall, siapkan stamina dengan baik karena mengunjungi Great Wall membutuhkan banyak energi karena kita dituntut untuk banyak berjalan kaki.

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Lihat betapa cerah dan hangat kelihatannya sisi Great Wall sebelah sana
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Lihat betapa curamnya sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih (^_^)a

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Dapat pemandangan bagus dari sisi Great Wall yang kami pilih

Sepulangnya dari Great Wall, kami memutuskan untuk menggunakan kereta api untuk kembali ke kota Beijing. Antrian tiket kereta cukup panjang namun semua orang mengantri dengan tertib sehingga tidak menjadi masalah. Tidak lama kami mengantri, kami sudah bisa duduk nyaman di kereta bagus yang akan membawa kami direct ke downtown Beijing. Rupanya menggunakan kereta jauh lebih mudah dan tidak seribet dan membingungkan seperti naik bis! Meskipun harus jalan sekitar 1,4 km dari stasiun kereta untuk menuju Great Wall, naik kereta lebih praktis untuk traveler yang terkendala Bahasa seperti kami. Perjalanan kembali ke Beijing memakan waktu sekitar 1 jam tanpa drama seperti waktu naik bis sebelumnya. Kami sudah sampai kembali di hotel kami sebelum jam 9 malam dan bisa beristirahat untuk hari selanjutnya.

Hari terakhir kami di Beijing hanya setengah hari karena kami harus naik pesawat menuju kota selanjutnya. Ada banyak tempat wisata di Beijing, tapi kami hanya punya sangat sedikit waktu hari itu. Sebetulnya saya ingin melihat Temple of Heaven, tapi saya juga ingin melihat Summer Palace. Duh ribet ya. Akhirnya kami memutuskan untuk pergi ke Summer Palace yang letaknya lebih jauh dari hotel kami, dengan harapan masih sempat untuk mengunjungi Temple of Heaven sebelum kembali ke hotel lalu cus ke Bandara.

Maka pergilah kami menuju Summer Palace menggunakan subway dari stasiun Pudong. Ternyata Summer Palace itu besaaaar ya saudara-saudara! Hahaha. Terdiri dari kompleks kerajaaan yang super luas lengkap dengan istana, menara, danau, dan taman di sana-sini.

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Pintu Masuk Summer Palace

 

 

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DSC02550Yang saya ingat dari kunjungan kami di kompleks istana ini adalah kami terkesima dengan keindahan tempat ini dan berjalan berputar-putar tak tentu arah sampai kami tiba di pintu masuk/keluar yang berbeda dari tempat kami datang. Karena hari sudah siang, kami tidak sempat mengunjungi Temple of Heaven dan langsung kembali ke hotel untuk check-out dan menuju ke Bandara International Ibukota Beijing (Beijing Capital International Airport). Untuk pergi ke Bandara ini dari kota Beijing, cukup naik kereta khusus dari stasiun Beijing Realway kira-kira satu jam perjalanan.

Demikianlah petualangan kami di kota Beijing dan Great Wall of China. Selanjutnya, kami menuju wilayah utara China, kota Harbin, untuk melihat festival es. Stay tuned! (npa)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Train to Cambodia

Are you planning to go to Siem Reap?

Are you currently in Bangkok?

Are you on a tight budget?

If all of your answers are yes, then this is a piece of writing shared especially for you. 🙂

Overland journey always sounds fascinating to me. In South East Asia, it is possible though it could be a little bit challenging. It’s not only about the transportation quality (sometimes), but also about communication. Misunderstanding could have a fatal result when it comes to transportation (especially for me who has various problems of getting lost).

The Train

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Train to Aranyaprathet

The train journey, however, was one of the cheapest and methods to go to Siem Reap as I had a lot of time. This route is possible if you start from Bangkok, Thailand. Please note that Cambodia does not have train within the country; hence this method will only take you to Aranyaprathet (also known as Aran) – a city close to the border with Cambodia.

 

The train ticket from Hualamphong Station only costs THB 48 (approximately Rp18,000 – $ 1.4). There are two trains leaving for Aranyaprathet daily. I took the one leaving at 5:55 am that took almost 6 hours. I arrived in Aranyaprathet a little bit before 12 noon, though it is actually scheduled to arrive at 11:20 am. If the departure time is too early, there is another train leaving at 01:05 pm and arriving at 06:05 pm. However, taking the morning train is the better option though you have to sacrifice few hours of your sleep so you can have longer time in Siem Reap! Also, arriving when it’s bright will minimize the chance to get scammed as you are less tired and more alert though sometimes you just can’t avoid being scammed as you are clueless and they know more about the country!

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Inside the train

It was an ordinary train. There is no aircon yet the windows can be widely open. It was an okay experience though. I would not say it was uncomfortable as it was quite comfortable, especially for the price I paid. I had a window-eat facing forward. It meant one thing: I got the whole wind slapping my face. It was too harsh, I could barely breathe normally. I couldn’t really sleep too because of that. Meanwhile, on the way back, I had a window-seat facing backward. I couldn’t feel slightest wind blowing. 😀 So, I felt like I was trapped in a warm room without any ventilation. In such case, I wasn’t sure which one I preferred: getting wind-slapped or roasted. Oh well…maybe getting wind-slapped sounds a little bit better. 😀

At the Border

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Welcome to Cambodia!

Once I arrived in Aranyaprathet station, a motor taxi driver offered me a ride to Poipet (where the border is) for THB 60. I thought it was quite cheap as I read that the normal price for tuktuk from the station to Poipet was between THB 80-100. The ride itself took around 10-15 minutes.

The driver tried to trick me to go to the “immigration officers” to get Cambodian visa. He was very hesitant from the very beginning. When I found out what he was trying to do, I told him that I am an Indonesian and I didn’t have to apply for a visa to enter Cambodia. I saw some tourists waiting for their visa there. Not a good way to welcome tourists, Cambodia! So, if you happen to be someone who needs a visa to enter Cambodia, always note that the official Cambodian immigration office was after Thai immigration office. if the tuk-tuk/motorcycle taxi driver bring you to an “office” before you get your passport checked by the Thai immigration officer, be suspicious!

Not long after, the driver dropped me off at the Thai immigration office to get my passport checked. The passport checking process did not take long as there was no long line inside. After I was done with the Thai immigration, I walked to the Cambodian immigration office. The officers asked me whether I was a Filipino or an Indonesian I was quite surprised that he was quite specific as my face is an ULTIMATE SE Asian face which can fit local face anywhere in SE Asia before handing me a form to fill out.

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Cambodian Imigration Office

When all immigration procedures were finished, I walked outside to find transportation to Siem Reap. I waited at the shelter not so far from the immigration office. There is a free shuttle bus to the van terminal.

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Free shuttle bus to the station

I took it with some other tourists. The bus took us to a building that looks like a modern bus terminal – only that it was empty. I was a bit annoyed by the officer in pink shirt who lead us to the free shuttle bus. Though based on my reading they are official, I still got the impression that they tried to trick people. Not only that they were so persistent, they also tried to say all over again that we had to convert our money to Cambodian Riel….for lower price.

To Siem Reap

In the bus station, there was one locket to buy tickets to Siem Reap. The options available were bus, minivan, taxi and shared taxi. Being very cautious not to get scammed; I wanted to buy bus or minivan ticket which had the same price i.e. $9. Nevertheless, there were only seven passengers. According to them, the bus would wait until it was full before leaving. Meanwhile the minivan would require 10 passengers to operate. At the end, the minivan agent (not the driver – beware of agents!) said that we could hop into the van for $12 (similar as the shared taxi) with the deal that the driver would drop us at each of our hotel. One of the passengers, a Cambodian, was very doubtful at the beginning. He said he wanted to take the bus though he had to wait. At the end, he joined us as the minivan would not have left without him.

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The shabby minivan

The minivan was very shabby! The air con did not work very well. We got steamed inside! Whenever we tried to open the windows, the driver would order us to close them. He stopped once at a shop by the road so we could go to the toilet. I was so thirsty yet the price of the drinks was so expensive compared to Thailand. So, I refrained from buying anything.

When we reached Siem Reap, the driver dropped us altogether at the minivan’s last stop – different from what the agent told us. All of a sudden, tuk-tuk drivers approached us forcing their service. I tried to speak to the driver that he should have dropped us at the hotel. He just gave me a frown and say “No!”; I tried to speak to another officer of the minivan he said the driver would go back to Thailand directly. I was so pissed off. One of the tuk-tuk driver offered me free drop off at the hotel if I used his service to Angkor Wat the next day. As I was already annoyed; I couldn’t digest his words very well. I did not take his offer at the end. I should have haggled a bit. But I decided to use another tuk-tuk for $2 dollars (then got ripped off few days later! haha).

Feeling unwelcome at the start was how my trip in Cambodia felt like. It hindered me to fully enjoy the whole trip after that (yet I was still excited to explore Angkor Wat).

 

 

Half-Day Trip to Loch Lomond

Greetings lovely readers! Spring has come to Scotland! Yes, finally I can see the real beauty of Glasgow under the constant sun that we’re having more regularly now! This time I’m going to take you to one of the must-visit-places if you happen to visit Scotland or Glasgow in particular, the Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond or Lake Lomond is a huge lake/national parks (Trossachs) located a little bit to the north of Glasgow. As I did my research before going to Loch Lomond, I realize that there are so many spots of interest to choose from and so many activities to do at the lake. Since it was my first time to Loch Lomond, I decided on a half-day trip to the closest point from Glasgow, the Balloch Village. This time I’m accompanied by my friend, Savannah.

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Balloch Station – Alight here for Loch Lomond

To go to Balloch Village from Glasgow, we took a train from Partick train station (5.50 pound for round trip) and arrived 40 minutes later in Balloch. The Balloch train station is located so close to the lake. Right across the street is the Tourist information centre, so we paid a visit to grab a map of the surrounding area. First, we decided to walk towards Balloch Castle located in Balloch Castle Country Park. As we walk towards the castle, we were greeted by many Scottish people who were just walking with their dogs enjoying the day by the lake. The scenery along the way was incredible. It was sunny the whole time we were there, so we enjoyed the walk very much. Unfortunately, the castle was closed to visitors so we can only enjoy it from the outside. But we didn’t mind as the view just behind the castle was spectacular. Honestly, nothing can ruin your mood in such a sunny and beautiful day.

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Balloch Castle

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Cheers from Loch Lomond!

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It took about one and half hour to walk around the park. I thought of having lunch at some restaurant inside the park but there was no restaurant in the park so we found our way back to the village and had lunch at a local pub (Savannah had lunch, I only had beer). The pub is dog friendly, there was a dog sitting next to our table while we were having lunch. The local people were watching a football match through the pub’s television and the shout occasionally whenever the team player made a goal.

After lunch, we decided to explore the other side of the lake. We walked toward the Sea Life Centre which is not so far from the Tourist Information Centre. (Unfortunately, at this point my cellophone battery is finished, so I couldn’t take any more picture). There is also a shopping mall near the Sea Life Centre and Loch Lomond Shore where you can get a very nice view of Ben Lomond. I did some shopping as usual, postcards and fridge magnet (as I collect them) and enjoy some more of the beautiful scenery of Loch Lomond Shore. We start walking back to the village soon after and concluded the trip before the sun set. To some up, we spent a nice day by leisurely walking around Loch Lomond, meeting some Scottish people and their dogs, and taking pictures.

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Cheers!

(npa).