The Beauty of East Java
Friday, September 30, 2016 @ 3:36 AM

A year ago, we decided to take an adventurous week-long trip from East Java to Bali - independently. Which means, no tour guides, no pre-arranged transportations, no domestic flights. It was a blast. We flew into Surabaya, made our way through Malang, Probolinggo, Cemoro Lawang, Ijen and Banyuwangi on public transports like trains, buses and taxis as much as we could, before taking a bus-on-ferry to Seminyak, Bali.

SURABAYA

Within hours of touchdown in Surabaya, we witnessed a daylight robbery whilst dragging our luggages along the street in bid to get SIM cards for our phones. A lady screamed, and when we turned to look, a man had hopped onto the back of his accomplice's motorbike and sped off waving a sickle in one hand. Her branded handbag was snatched from her in the process. It was unnerving to just witness the crime. We decided to give up exploring Surabaya and head straight to Gubeng Train Station. The cab driver who took us there told us that Surabaya is generally a safe city and the incident was one-off when we recounted the incident to him though.

Trains in East Java are tricky. There is no way to find out the train schedule for the day unless you make your way to the train stations in advance. There, we bought our tickets to Malang. We also managed to purchase our SIM cards from a small shop across the street from the station after asking some locals for directions.

Train Rides

We took multiple train rides in this trip, and to me, it was the most enjoyable mode of transport. The trains were comfy, with ample space for us to sleep comfortably, and the food we bought on board were delicious. The trains we took were mostly empty with a few friendly locals here and there. The kids on board were cute. They will smile back at you when you do, and pose for the camera when they see one pointing towards them. Some were shy, but some were cheeky.

Our 4-hour train ride from Surabaya to Malang was fuss-free. We stuck our legs atop our luggages and fell right asleep. We felt safe and comfortable throughout the ride.

It was already night when we reached Malang. Hordes of taxi-drivers stood outside the station, but we were weary for from research, we knew the drill. It would be "expensive" because we were tourist, and we were adamant not to fall prey to them. We however met some Ojeks who offered to ride us to our hotel at a small fee of SGD2 each.

The Ojeks in Malang are like the trishaws in Singapore, but at one-tenth of the price. It was an amazing experience as we made our way on the ojeks with the night breeze in our hair through the dark road to our hotel. We did feel quite bad though, because we could hear the old man huffing and puffing as he cycled two of us with our luggages, struggling to catch up with his friend in the front with our two other friends. We gave them an additional SGD1 each for their hardwork - it wasn't too much for us, but they thanked us profusely with genuine smiles on their faces anyway. I fell in love with Malang there and then.

Batu Secret Zoo

Our main aim to stopover in Malang was for Batu Secret Zoo and it definitely did not disappoint! We had around 3-hours to explore the zoo because we had a train to catch in the evening, and it was a rush to finish the whole park. There was even a little amusement park in the zoo where the rides are all free! Definitely worth the stopover if you love animals.

The taxi ride to Batu Secret Zoo was about an hour long and it costed us approximately SGD8. The drivers in Malang are very friendly, and we could feel how much they love Malang from the way they would enthusiastically share about the fun things we could do in Malang - so much so that we felt it was a pity that we only had half a day for the place! Malang is my favourite place in East Java, no doubt about it. I would love to go back to the zoo again if I visit Malang again.

Probolinggo - Cemoro Lawang

With heavy hearts, we left Malang for Probolinggo on a train, from where we would make our way to Cemoro Lawang, the base to start our hike to Mount Bromo.

Probolinggo was totally different from Malang. While in Malang the people were generally friendly, we immediately became weary in Probolinggo, where touts were everywhere. We stood out like a sore thumb with our luggages - tourists who will need their help to get to Cemoro Lawang, and they knew it.

They worked smart, as we soon realised. Tonnes of internet research did not stop us from falling for their traps. First, they offer a small amount, like a dollar or two, to cheat you into boarding one of their little vans. Then, they drive you to one of their many shops where they will promote all kinds of tour packages to unsuspecting tourists. They even offered to buy us dinner from street vendors nearby - a mee goreng or two for a fee.

A tip for future travellers: try to arrive in the day. There are public buses up to Cemoro Lawang that costs less than half of what private vans costs, although they only move off when the van is filled.

We refused to take up their tour packages and walked along the road with our luggages, passing by various similar shops. The main bus station wasn't too far ahead, and we had our Google Maps with us. In the end though, we still fell prey to the private buses because it was night time and there were no more local buses heading up to the base of the volcano. I think we each paid close to SGD10 for the private ride up to Cemoro Lawang that night.

Read about our climb up Mount Bromo here!

We made our way down from Cemoro Lawang the next morning on the public bus which costed us SGD3 each. It was not as comfortable as a private van, but it was a satisfying experience nonetheless.

Probolinggo - Banyuwangi

Our initial plan was to take the train to Banyuwangi from Probolinggo train station, but as I said, and I will say it again, the people at Probolinggo will go to the end of the world to persuade you into their tourist traps. Please, do not make the same mistake as us and stick to your plan.

As soon as we disembarked from the public bus, the locals came up to us to question our plans. We asked for directions to the train station, but were immediately persuaded otherwise. "Take the bus," they say. "It is faster." "The train only departs at 1pm, which is a long wait." We had no way to verify the train schedule as we had to be there to check the schedule for the day, and we were tired from our hike up Mount Bromo just that morning, so it was not difficult to persuade us to stray from our initial plan to take a train, which brings us to the next mode of transport - the bus.

We were told that the bus will come at 12noon (it was 11.30am at that time) and we could have our lunch while we waited for the bus. It wasn't expensive, probably around SGD7 each, but it was quite a horrible experience nonetheless. It was after 12nn when we finished our lunch, but the bus would always be "coming in 10mins" each time we asked. It wasn't until 1 or 1.30pm before the bus finally came. And lo and behold, we were the pretty much the only tourists on the packed bus.

It was a horrible experience not just because it was packed, unlike the train which was probably cheaper (our train ride never costed more than SGD7 per person) and more spacious, but the perverse behaviour of the males who escorted us to our bus. Our male friend was in the washroom when the bus arrived, and us three being females, were worried that they might leave him behind. We refused to get on the bus before he came back. Despite us repeatedly saying "no", they persisted on making us take a picture with them, and one even groped my female friend's bottom when we boarded the bus. It was not until halfway on the bus ride before she told us of the incident.

Not only that, halfway through our bus ride, we were made to change to another bus, this time non-air conditioned and packed to the brim that we had no seats to rest. The bus made multiple stops along the way (definitely a public bus that does not cost SGD7 per person) and had people board and alight at each stop. The bus also sped like it was in a F1 race when it was single lane, with the opposite lane driving in the opposite direction. We slept not a single wink on the bus ride because it was such an harrowing experience watching the driver navigate through the traffic and overtaking the cars on the single lane road. There was even once where he made such an emergency break that everyone, including the locals, got a slight scare. Although it was definitely 100percent a local experience, it is not an experience I would love to relive again.

We managed to arrive safely at Banyuwangi. It was evening by the time we arrived. We had the best dinner at a roadside street stall next to our hotel. It was cheap, approximately SGD0.80 per plate of local foodfare, and we even got an extra plate to share because it was so good. The amiable hawker spoke not much english, but it was clear to see that he was delighted that we enjoyed his food so much.

Banyuwangi - Kawah Ijen

We arranged for a jeep to bring us from our hotel to the foot of Kawah Ijen since there were four of us. It was safer than taking four different motorbikes up the mountain, although it was an experience I was looking forward to.

Kawah Ijen was definitely on a different level scale as compared to Mount Bromo! While it took us around 1.5hours to scale Mount Bromo independently of jeeps or donkeys, it took us around 6-7hours to complete the whole mountaineering experience for Kawah Ijen. The hike up was much more tedious as the path was steeper with minimal stairs. Read about our climb up Kawah Ijen here!

Banyuwangi - Bali

The climb at Kawah Ijen marked our last day in East Java. We read that it is cheaper to board a ferry from the ferry terminal in Ketapang to Gilimanuk in Bali before catching a bus from there to Seminyak, Bali. We were however, offered a bus-on-ferry ride which costs SGD7 per person, and it will bring us straight from the terminal to Bali without having to alight and wait for the bus. We gladly took on that offer because we were so worn out from the climb.

It was not a bad decision though, we were one of the first few on the bus, so we got to choose our seats (we took up the whole back row) and as childish as it may sound, we were extremely excited when our bus was loaded into the ferry like cargo and we were transported across the sea just like that! There was no need to even get up from our seat at all. We were literally ferried to Bali before the bus disembarked from the ferry and continued on its 4-5hours journey to Seminyak, Bali.

That concludes the first part of our trip in Indonesia. We spent a few days exploring Bali before some of us broke off from the crew to Tulamben for diving before joining the rest back at Seminyak to chill again. It was one of my best trip to Indonesia.

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Scaling Kawah Ijen
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 @ 12:00 AM

We stayed the night at Hotel Santika Banyuwangi, which was the middle ground to Ijen and the ferry trip we needed to take to Bali the next day. We settled for a quick dinner at a roadside hawker just next to our hotel. It was simple (and cheap!) foodfare, but it tasted delicious. We sat on the carpets they laid on the roadside with five different plates of local delicacies to share. The hawker owner seems happy to see us enjoy his cooking - he kept smiling in plain joy as we enjoyed the meal.

There were four of us, so we arranged for a jeep to bring us to Ijen from our hotel. It was 1am when we set off for our hike up to the mountain to witness the famed blue flames. We read that we could also take motorbikes up, but sadly we didn't. It would probably have been an exciting experience!

At the base of Kawah Ijen, we could choose to pay for a guide or do it independently. We decided to pay for the guide to bring us up and back, which proved to be a wise choice not because it was a difficult climb, but because he was most helpful throughout the hike. It costed us SGD20 for the guide. If one is well-prepared with headlights and the stamina, most probably one would not need to hire a guide as there are many people on the hike with you on the one-way track so it is quite impossible to get lost.

The guide prepared headlights for us, encouraged us when we were worn out from the steep incline, but never once rushed us to reach the top. He was also most patient when we whined and asked how long more of incline before we could stop (it was insanely tiring), although he never did lie. He would always state as a matter of factly how many more KMs we had to go before we would reach the top.

At the top of Kawah Ijen, we have to descend into the crater by stepping down rocks. It was really dark, so we were thankful for his headlights. He also helped us descend and made sure we didn't fall to our death, and was really patient with us although we were pretty slow. During the descend, we had to step out of the way multiple times so local sulphur miners could pass by with the sulphur rocks on their shoulders. They are so amazingly strong, it definitely highlights how weak we are to whine about the hike when they do it every single day for a living.

It was almost 5am by the time we reached the bottom of the crater. The blue flames were amazing to watch, and the sky was peppered with stars. It was beautiful. We found a spot to rest until the sky turned from night to day, before we started exploring the crater some more.

We asked if it was possible to touch the blue water in the crater, and was amazed by its warmth. The wind blew thick sulphuric smoke into us from time to time, and we realised why our little blue surgical mask was barely enough. People suggested using the thicker N95 mask, but it made it hard to breathe on our hike up the mountain so we decided to forgo it, and we realised why. It is incredible how the sulphur miners do this everyday, with zero mask nor protection. It is a difficult job indeed.

It took us another 2 hours to get back to the foot of Kawah Ijen. The ascend from the crater was a lot faster compared to the descend, for it was bright by the time and we needed the guide no more. The pictures above highlights the number of rocks we had to climb to exit the crater. The descend was a different story though. The path down the mountain was so steep, it took us a lot of effort and help from the guide to not slide all the way down. We had to resort to walking sideways like a crab to better balance ourselves on the way down, and although I would say it was not as tiring as the climb up, it was tedious as well!

Our two days worth of mountaineering was quite enough for us by then, and we were looking forward to relaxing in Bali. Still, it was an incredible experience. We managed to push ourselves to conquer two mountains over a weekend, with no prior training nor preparation for it. Although one could say both the mountains are just beginners in the true realm of mountaineering, we were still insanely proud of ourselves for managing to complete them!

The view from the top of Kawah Ijen.

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Mount Bromo Visual Diary
Tuesday, September 29, 2015 @ 12:04 AM

We made our way from Probolinggo up to Cemoro Lawang and stayed a night in Cemara Indah Hotel. We didn't harbour high hopes for the room, but the room was surprisingly cozy. It was freezing in Cemoro Lawang at night so we didn't really mind its tiny size. It was easier to stay warm when the four of us huddled up on the king size bed together, and we didn't have much time for fuzzy comfort anyway.

A kind staff from the hotel rented us a down jacket each to counter the cold, and patiently explained to us the routes to view the sunrise and to the crater from our hotel. The hotel is conveniently located right next to the walking trails, and the route to viewpoint one was pretty straightforward. We arose from our little nap and set off at about 3.30am for the hike to the viewpoint. We were told it takes about 1.5hours to get to the first viewpoint via hiking.

A strong torch and a mask of some sort is highly recommended to take the hike. The former to light up the way and to avoid the abundance of pony waste on the road, and the latter to mask from the occasional dirt storm from the passing transports. There are various ways to get to the stairway which leads up to the viewpoints - most people take the jeep, some by motorbikes and some on ponies. We were determined to make it up the mountain ourselves instead of agonising the poor ponies despite it being majorly affordable.

The hike up was pretty simple. We took short breaks from time to time on the way up at the steeper parts of the climb. The trail is pitch dark without the torch, and when we felt worn out, we simply had to look up and be mesmerised by the sky full of stars behind the silhouettes of tall trees.

We made it to viewpoint one in time for an early energy booster and the sunrise! They sell food on the way up the mountain as well as at viewpoint one, and we bought a Milo and Pop-mies to share. The simple heated fare was incredibly welcome in the cold.

Mount Bromo is a beautiful sight to behold. The viewpoint was crowded with locals and tourists alike, but we all had an amazing obstructed view of the volcano.

We had a train to catch and a strict schedule to follow, so we did not manage to cross the black sand and scale the volcano to its crater. We were the last to make our way down from the mountain because the view was just so mesmerising.

After checking out, we shared a random (but delicious) noodle soup from a nomad street-vendor at the roadside as we awaited for the public minivan to fill up with people heading back to Probolinggo. We were adament this time round to not be cheated by touts. The public minivan only costed us 3SGD each (vs the 10SGD each as quoted by the people in Probolinggo - the place is seriously a well-organised-rip-off town.) and although it was fully packed and non-airconditioned, I felt that we gained an authentic local experience.

We scaled Kawah Ijen the next night, and it was crazy. That's a story for another time.

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Taiwan 2015: Kenting
Thursday, May 7, 2015 @ 2:14 AM


Itinerary credits to the other n4girls!
(1SGD=22.63TWD during time of travel)

On the 24th of April, the n5girls (it used to be NS girls because we got close working at Night Safari together) embarked on our very first long holiday together! It was a long-awaited trip because we booked our flight with Scoot approximately half a year ago at 275SGD.

Upon touching down at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, we took a 50-minute bus ride (120TWD/pax) to Taipei Main Station to catch our pre-booked ride onboard the High Speed Rail (HSR) to Zuoying Station! The HSR can only be booked 28 days before the date of departure, and it costed us 1630TWD each one-way. We were so excited for the train ride! It was an approximately 2-hour ride. The trains run on a fixed schedule - when they are scheduled to depart at 8:00am, they depart on the dot at 8:00am. Make sure to leave enough buffer time for travelling from the airport to the HSR station!

We only barely tapped out of Zuoying HSR Station when a dubious lady came up to us, offering to drive all five of us in her car to our accommodation in Kenting at 2000TWD. We did not even have much time to consider before she ushered us to her car. It took about an hour to get us to Kenting.

WHERE WE STAYED

The driver dropped us at Happy Town Resort (160SGD/night), our accommodation for two nights! The resort was crazy beautiful. One can spend a whole day doing a photoshoot right in its backyard. It was all very step-Santorini. As soon as we stepped into our room on the second floor, we could admire the beautiful seascape printed like an artpiece right onto our window. Not to mention the blue and white theme which blended it perfectly into the backdrop.

They even had BBQ pits, trailer homes, a number of tables and chairs facing the sea view, a baby pool which we lounged in while taking turns to shower, a beautiful swin and a non-accessible ship.

The only downside was, it was not very accessible without a mode of transport. While we initially wanted to rent those cute little electric bikes, we were glad the driver persuaded us otherwise. It would have been costly to rent the electric bikes (which would run out of batteries), and due to the tightening of the laws in recent years, we were not allowed to rent the cheaper alternative - the scooters that ran on petrol, without a bike license.

Prior to the trip, I had googled in vain to find a trustworthy site to rent a car. Most travel sites could only offer suggestions to rent a car from Taichung/Gaoxiong and driving it down to Kenting. Thankfully, the locals know best, and our driver drove us to this shady little paintball shed to rent us a car! Dubious as it is, we rented a pretty new car for two days at 2500TWD. Super worth it! They also provide watersport services.

平安 小客车租賃有限公司
Pyng An Rent Car Co, Ltd
陈浩良 0932-301866 / 0960-301866
kt8861626@gmail.com

With a car, everywhere in Kenting became accessible. We first drove out to get our Sim Card at 台湾大哥大! 500TWD for 7-days unlimited data and 12 minutes of talk-time. We also stopped by a random shop for lunch at Kenting Main Street because we were famished after 12hours of travelling. Kenting Main Street is dullsville in the day, most of the shops were closed. We even thought Hengchun Street, where we bought our Sim Cards, was more happening.

WHERE WE WENT

猫鼻头 Maobitou

One of the must-visits in Kenting. Since it was just a stone throw away from where we stayed, it was the first pit-stop of our road-trip on the first day. It is a beautiful place, but definitely not one of my favourite due to the throng of tourists. It was a little trying to take a decent picture without a stranger photobombing. There ocean view was beautiful though, and me and Doreen dared to venture out to the rocky prohibited area for some photos. It is always nice to have an unobstructed view of the scenery. SY and Doreen bought some snacks on the way back to the car, and the salted crispy crab was mad awesome?

关山 Guanshan

Noted as one of the best location to view the sunset, and since we were running pretty late, we just illegally parked in front of another car on a random slope and brisk-walked all the way up to the viewing point. It was less crowded than Maobitou, which was great, but it was cloudy when we went so we couldn't enjoy the full splendor of the sun setting into the horizon. We did, however, manage to catch the whole ball of fiery before it disappeared behind the thick clouds, so I believe that place is indeed home to magnificent sunsets like it is all hyped up to be.

Kenting Night Market

As the day gives way to night, Kenting Street also undergoes a major transformation. When we drove there after the sunset, Kenting Night Market was bustling with human crowd. Traffic is congested there, and we had to drive really slowly in order not to knock over the people like bowling pins. Turned into a tiny back alley near to 50嵐 and chanced upon a small lot just right for our car. A stone throw away, we found a random shop selling 卤肉饭 braised pork rice (my all-time favourite!). It was delish!

We spent both nights at Kenting Night Market feasting on the local street food. With a cup of 50嵐 bubble tea in our hands, we scoured the night market! The garlic clams and fried mushrooms quickly made it into our top favourite street food in Taiwan. Other than food, they also had game stalls at which we tried and lost, and even stalls selling fireworks!!! We didn't buy any though.

南湾 Nanwan

We headed to Nanwan beach for water sports the next morning. Me and SY's initial plan was to surf, but apparently the waves were not ideal for surfing that day, so we settled for water sports instead. People just come up to you to sell the water activities, so you won't have to worry about not finding things to do. They have 3-in-1, 4-in-1 and even 7-in-1 packages. We were in a group of five, so they gave us a discount on the water sports. We paid 560TWD/pax for 3 water activities (about 10SGD/activity each) and they threw in an umbrella for us too! It was quite a steal compared to many other places I've been. Phuket was a major rip-off with parasailing at 75SGD/pax for a less than 15 minutes ride. Even Bali offered 25SGD/activity and I already thought it was crazily cheap!

We were dragged on floats by a jet-ski, and although we never once fell into the clear blue-green sea, do not be deceived by the innocent-looking floats. It was a hell of a ride - crazy bumpy and fast! Even the 甜甜圈 (donut) was mad exciting, on the contrary to its sweet and demure name. I had a difficult time filming with Goldie and half the time it was just bumping up and down at the side handle as I hung on for dear life!

We spent some time playing in the chilly waves after the tiring rides (our arms ached for the next few days, no kidding!) and basking in the sun. Nanwan is really a beautiful beach, with the sea water clean and clear.

鹅卵鼻 Er Luan Bi

We decided to satisfy our hunger with fresh sashimi in a hidden port as introduced by our driver the day before. "In Er Luan Bi, next to a temple and to the right of a parking lot, there is a one-way street. Drive 15km and you will find this hidden gem." After a futile attempt at finding the place, a kind local directed us to it, so there we were! Good luck in finding it!

A spot totally uncommercialised, void of tourists (and people, at that). We paid 2000TWD for a big fish served in 3 different methods - fresh sashimi (ALWAYS GO FOR THAT), fish soup (it was gross, go for 2 fresh dishes of fresh sashimi, trust me!), and another steamed fish with a delicious sauce, garlic clams and squids! It was delish and greatly satisfying.

It was also a perfect photo spot!!! We went climbing the rocks and setting up the tripod for group photos on the wall. I think we spent a good hour there after lunch. We felt like explorers in National Geographic when we were shooting there. Such a tranquil and beautiful piece of gem!

佳乐水 Jia Le Shui

We were chasing the sunset down the winding ocean road instead of planting ourselves somewhere to watch the sunset this time round. No regrets, because the drive was beautiful. We only reached Jia Le Shui in the evening, so most of the places were closed, including the ticketing booth to cross the iconic bridge. Apparently one could surf in the vicinity. Across the bridge and through the little forestry, you will be rewarded with the East Coast, apparently the only beach with sand? We didn't go there, just explored the bridge before heading to Kenting Night Market to feast again.

龙盘 Longpan Park

This is definitely a spot I would recommend to anyone going to Kenting! We were there a total of 3 times. The first night we drove up to Longpan Park, it was excitingly creepy. The roads were dark and winding and we had to drive with the high-beam on. It was definitely a good thing we rented a car because we would definitely chicken out at having to ride up in the darkness!

Star-hunting was terribly disappointing on the first night - we were unprepared for the unrelentless wind which almost froze us and the pitch darkness of the night kept us from straying too far from the safety of our car. Plus, it was too dark to figure out where we were going, even with the torchlight from our phones, so SY and I gave up after a little exploration. We were just about to leave for home when we saw people lighting fireworks in the near distance!!! We re-parked the car in that direction watched in awe at the fireworks lighting up the night sky. It was so beautiful.

Longpan Park in the day was incredibly beautiful too. It was scary when me and SY walked out in the night, not knowing where the roads led, but in the day, the route we were on just led to an open field with an amazing seascape. The strong wind was as unrelentless as it was in the night though, we literally had to take a few steps back to balance when the huge gust of wind comes at us. Tiny stones flew at us but we still had to admire the beautiful view. I think Longpan Park is my favourite scenic lookout in Kenting. We also saw baby mountain goats leaping (I have it in my Phhhoto!!! @dawntillmidnight) about on the sides of the rocks, without a care for the strong wind at all. Such a touching moment as we stood and stared at the joyful kids.

Refusing to give up, we drove up once again on the second night in bid to see stars. It was all cloudy and dreary at first, but the strong wind managed to clear the skies a little for us to see some stars! It was not the sky full of stars we expected, but it was a lot more than the night before. This time round, we decided it was worthy of setting up the tripod and camera, and we shot some stars!

We held on to the tripod while we waited for the lazy shutter because we were weary of the wind, but when we decided that the tripod was sturdy enough for the wind, a strong gust of wind knocked down my camera and tripod. #battlescars Thus, there is no group picture of us star-gazing. My camera was a little bruised, but it is strong and sturdy!

This sums up our awesome 2 nights in Kenting! We headed back to Zuoying HSR with the same driver who drove us there on day 1 for another 2000TWD, and took the HSR to our next destination, Taichung! We just had to grab the bento sets at the HSR station and eat it on the train ride like the locals even though we were running out of time. #lastwarning

It was an awesome time in Kenting. It is definitely a part of Taiwan I wouldn't mind going back to!

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