Monday, December 22, 2008

Yogyakarta Day 3 - Mt Merapi & Prambanan Temple

I covered quite a few memorable sights today. First off, it's off to Kaliadem which is apparently the closest and best place to view Mt Merapi.

Unfortunately, it was a pretty cloudy day so Mt Merapi chose to hide from me. You just have to imagine the volcano hidden in the clouds in the pic below.

The first scene was of buildings drowned in the dried lava. The level of the lava was more than half the height of the houses. Apparently, in the last eruption, there were no fatalities except for two people who were supposedly volunteers, not villagers.

This was a breathtaking view for me. I was standing on the river bed of a former river which was dried up by the lava flow.

Further down the river was this drop. I can just imagine the beautiful waterfall which was here before 2006. It's pretty amazing to be able to actually see the river bed without any water.

The area around the volcano is extremely fertile and there are rice fields everywhere. I caught this view of farmers threshing the rice.

I continued on to Plaosan temple - A buddhist temple with hindu influences. Although much smaller than Borobudur, I thought it was no less grand.
It was also eyeopening to see a restoration project taking place. There are hundreds of these little temples around the main temple and almost all of them were destroyed by earthquakes. On the right is a temple which they are rebuilding by trying to match the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Next up was Prambanan Temple. While Borobudur is a buddhist temple, Prambanan is a Hindu temple. It was a real pity that all the main temples were damaged by the last major earthquake in 2006. All except one was closed to visitors. This is the view from the back. If I got it right, the one in the middle is the temple dedicated to Shiva. The one on the left is dedicated to Vishnu while the right is dedicated to Brahma. In front of each temple (in the case of the pic below, it should be directly behind each temple) there was another animal temple which housed the 'transport' for the gods. Vishnu's was the garuda, Shiva's was the bull and Brahma's was the swan.

Here are part of the carvings on Vishnu's temple. They show the dance steps of the Ramayana.
The final temple I visited was a last minute inclusion. I heard about the Sambisari temple from the local guide and decided to visit it. As you can see from the pic, it's actually located within a pit. The temple was originally hidden as it was covered by layers of volcanic ash. It was discovered by a farmer in 1966 and then excavated and restored.
All in, it's been a pretty busy day but very enjoyable. Tomorrow, I'll probably just spend a lazy day in the hotel while I wait for my flight back to Singapore.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yogyakarta Day 2 - Borobudur

Got up early at 6am today and left the hotel at 7am to make our way to Borobudur which is about an hour away. The plan was to try and beat the crowds. Well, we failed.

Here's my first sight of the temple as we walked towards it. The trees are in a park which was specially added to make space for the visitors to the temple. Apparently, in the past, cars could drive right up to the foot of of the temple.

The carvings on the temple walls are really amazing. There are hundreds of illustration and here is small sample of the carvings which tell the story of Buddha's life from birth to enlightenment.

Here's a pic of Borobudur's main stupa - the big one in the middle. The smaller ones surrounding it have a statue of buddha in them. Apparently, if you reached in and touched the statues (on the fingers for men and on the feet for women), your wish will come true (provided it's not about material gain!).

Here's a pic of the buddha statue inside the smaller stupas.

Our final view of Borobudur from afar as we made our way back to the coach.

Borobudur is constructed in a straight line with two other temples. Here's the one in the middle, the Pawon temple. Similar architecture but much much smaller.

And the other temple in a straight line is the Mendut Temple. The stupa on the top of this temple was destroyed.

It was an interesting visit but I must admit it was spoilt by the crowds. There were hundreds if not thousands of visitors and many were having picnics around the main stupa of Borobudur. On one hand, I think it's nice that Borobudur is so much a part of the people (from the way they were picnic-ing and having fun around the structure). But on the other hand, I wished it was accorded more respect as an important monument from the past.
Tomorrow, I'll be visiting Mt Merapi, Indonesia's most active volcano as well as a few other famous temples. Hope the weather will be nice.

Yogyakarta Day 1

I’m in Yogyakarata (or as the locals prefer, Jogja) and it’s been a nice start to my visit so far. I checked in for my 2-hour flight on Garuda and at the boarding gate, I was pleasantly told that I was bumped up to Executive Class (ie. Equivalent to Business/First Class) for the flight! This is the 2nd time I have had such a privilege, the first was almost 8yrs ago when I won a Business class ticket to Bangkok.

Executive Class is certainly a nice luxury. You get nice big seats and you get everything served to you in glassware. No plastic cups! Service on Garuda Airlines is nothing to shout about but it was decent. Since I was given a window seat, I took the chance to try taking cloud pics with my Canon DSLR. Here are two pics which I thought were the nicer ones. Don’t ask me what that mountain is. I have no idea. Any Indonesians know which mountain it is?

Jogja airport is a typical simple airport. Nothing flashy. You walk off the plane towards the immigration and then just a few steps after immigration, you get your bags off the ONLY luggage conveyor belt and less then 10 steps away is the customs/exit.

My first impressions: It’s already dark so I couldn’t see much. Jogja reminds me pretty much of countries like Bangkok and Vietnam. However, one difference is that there weren’t any jams even though it’s a Saturday night and the roads were quite packed. I can’t see much so I would probably be able to say more tomorrow when I go for the city tour. One interesting trivia I found out was that Jogja has about 600,000 people, of which 400,000 are students who come here to study! So the entire Jogja is pretty much like a small university town. Most of the businesses here cater to students (like bookshops/sports shops/mobile phone shops, etc).

I’m staying at the 5-star Hyatt Regency Hotel. The hotel is laid out like a resort and the pool is pretty awesome . Will try to post some pics once I get some daylight shots. Here's a pic of a cultural show which was going on in the hotel.

Tomorrow is a relatively early start. Gotta wake up at 6am so that we can reach Borobudur by 9am. I’m looking forward to the visit.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Off to Yogyakarta

At the airport now, waiting for my flight to Yogyakarta (that's in Indonesia for those of you who are not too geographically inclined). Quite exciting actually. I've never been to Yogyakarata and I'm quite excited to see the famous Borobudur. This is partially fueled by the fact that I've got my new Canon 1000D DSLR and I can't wait to try my hand and taking more pics with it.

Come to think of it, this is the first trip that I've taken in the past two years on my own. Sure, I've been travelling due to the tours that I've been leading, but I've not been on my own trip. It's only a short 4 days trip but I think I've been strangely bit by the Asian travel bug. I've never been one to be excited about travelling in South East Asian and I usually end up in either Japan or USA. Now, I'm looking forward to this Indonesia Trip and am acutally planning to go back to Vietnam and maybe visit the coastal areas of Thailand and I'm also hoping to visit Angkor Wat soon.

The busy Nov/Dec travel season is over and I must say it's been an interesting 6 weeks. Plenty of ups and a couple of downs but on the whole, I think it's been not bad.

Look out for my pics of Borobudur in a few days.

Monday, December 08, 2008

In Vietnam - Actually.. on the way out..

I've been in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam the last week on my last group tour for the year. I've always had a soft spot for Vietnam and I've always found it more inviting than Bangkok. Although many people come to Vietnam for the shopping, I find that it's the people and the sights which are most stirring.

This time we did the usual visits to Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta. But we also had some technical visits which were a first time for me too. One was a visit to the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park. It's quite impressive to see how a little country like Singapore can leave such big footprints everywhere. We can complain all we want about our PAP government, but we cannot deny the good they have accomplished in our short history.

The next thing which stood out for me is the visit to the orphanage for children affected by Agent Orange during the American-Vietnam war. It's not my first time at such an orphanage but it doesn't make it any easier to see these children. It's heartwrenching to see that after all these years, the effect of the chemical is still affecting innocent babies and it's even more sad to see these children living in such simple conditions. I can't help but compare this with the victims of the Minamata disease in Japan. Of course, they also faced many difficulties and discrimination, but I am glad their living conditions are so much better and some even consider the victims as 'treasures from heaven' sent to teach the world a lesson. In stark contrast, I see these children affected by Agent Orange tucked away in a corner with very little healthcare and not even a clinic in the premises. As much as it pains me, what is more disturbing I guess, is that I (and probably most of the people on the tour) will soon forget about this and carry on with our daily lives.

After the group departed, I stayed on to do some exploration of the areas around Ho Chi Minh City. I was really surprised to find this gem of a place -Mui Ne. It's a beautiful beach area and close by, there are white and red sand dunes that look just like a desert! I'm definitely gonna consider including this place in future group itineraries. It's only about 4 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City and I think it's well worth a visit.

Well, my flight to Singapore departs in about 90mins.. then I'll be home at last. about a busy travelling season!