Wednesday, 4 May 2011

KUALA LUMPUR - It's a jungle out there, a concrete jungle that is!!!

Our well appointed Radius @ 33 room.

It was time for us to have another stopover in KL. With the great Air Asia fares, it seems that this will be our main entry point to South East Asia (or even Europe if we ever get that far!). Lucky we love KL.
This March we were headed to Sumatra. We had just a few hours at the KL LCCT before our onward flight to Medan. Usual long queues at immigration but the upside of this is that bags are waiting at the carousel once you get through. I opted for a massage. From memory it was Rm 30 for 30 mins. The massage area is set up near the domestic check in. They are blind masseurs. I chose the head and neck massage. I like a good hard massage but this was bordering on torture. I thought about saying that it was too strong but as I had neck & shoulder pain from the flight, I figured (incorrectly!!) "no gain without pain". It took me a couple of days to recover!! So my advice is, if you have time and want a massage make sure you tell them if it is too strong!! Hubby had coffee at the cafe closet to the massage place. Wasn't impressed. Back to our favourite, Obrama's just near the international check in. Divine hot chocolates :-)
We arrived back at KL LCCT 2 weeks later at 8am. What a difference the time of day makes!! Not a sole waiting to go through immigration, literally no one and being first through we thought that we would be waiting an age for our bags but we were in luck! They were amongst the first onto the carousel. Straight to the Sky bus with our pre booked tickets. That's where things slow down. The sky bus leaves on the 1/2hr and we had just missed one by about a minute. Never mind got front seats on the bus. It's always a smooth trip into central.
Once again, we stayed at Radius International. I know it seems to get a bad rap but it's fine for us. This trip they had their Radius at 33 rooms open. I will do a review but suffice to say these rooms are a step up from the Premier rooms we usually stay at. It also entitled us to breakfast in the Premier lounge and late check out. Great value for money in a fantastic location, one street away from Jalan Alor.
With just under 2 days, I hadn't planned to do a lot but as it happened, we didn't do much at all. Went to Sungei Wang to order dvd's. Needed to go to cash machine to get money from my debit card. It rejected my card!!! We were taken down to the basement to another machine - it was all in Chinese so I had to cancel! Went to the next machine. Third time unlucky - "sorry your card has been retained". What the?? After finding the number for the bank and phoning Aus it turns out that the bank had cancelled my card (without telling me) because it hadn't been used for a period of time (it's my holiday bank account).  Moral of this story - check that your card is working BEFORE you leave home!!!
Ok, so I had a credit card with me. I wanted to buy a new lense for my camera, so I could use my credit card for that - wrong!! Their machine rejected this card!! Panic was starting to set in as we were going to use this card to pay for our hotel!! Oh well, we'll get a cash advance on the Amex (the hotel doesn't accept amex). Hmm, no office in KL. But they are affiliated with Maybank, so we will go there the next day. Well, the branch couldn't do it, so off to head office. Ok to the enquiries, then to another counter, then another ending back at enquiries, then another counter and another, only to be told most apologetically that we couldn't get a cash advance on that particular card but we could get cash at the atm. Well I would have done that in the first place if I had a pin!!!
Meanwhile we had contacted the cc company and found that there was no problem with our card, just a problem with the link between the shop's machine and the bank. And here I was thinking all sorts of scary scenarios!!!! Back to the camera place to purchase my lense :-)
Our plans of sunset drinks at Traders went out the window with all our running around and calls etc. I did this last trip and had been looking forward to sharing this with my husband this time. Same for our planned visit to the bird park, just wasn't time. We still managed to do some shopping at Sungei Wang, Plaza Low Yat andChinatown.
Now I mention Chinatown, I have to mention that we went in search of Ben. Wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Lucky I had his ph number. Turns out I was standing almost right next to him. Definitely worth searching him out. Once Ben has a word to the stallholders, no need to bargain. Great prices straight up. A photo of him would have been great - why didn't I think to take one? I think it was Thommo Melb (?) who posted re Ben. Thanks.
Another delicious late night dinner in Jalan Alor.
I made time to have my hair washed at Wenawave at Sungei Wang. It has become a ritual. Although I may only go in there once or twice in a year, they know me there now. It's a great way to end a holiday.
We also bought glasses for our daughter. She had her eyes tested and bought a pair on her stay a few weeks previously. We just went to the same shop, they looked up her card, we chose the frames (sunglasses for driving) and they were ready the next day.
Oh and we revisited Parkson. My gf and I 'discovered' it last year. Of course I had seen it on previous trips but figured it would be expensive. Turns out they stock a lot of the name brand clothing that the young ones like. There are plenty of racks with up to 50 % off. And they take cc, which is great if you are a bit strapped for cash!!
Grabbed some bargains as usual at FOS on the basement level. Always worth having a browse.

To sum up all was not lost :-). The things we missed out on doing will wait till next time and we may be able to stretch out our next stop over to at least another night.
The concrete jungle turned out to be scarier than the jungles of Sumatra ;-)

All about BOB

Bob with Samosir Island in the background
With not a lot of time available to us and wanting a little more comfort than the Sumatran public transport service can provide we were unsure of our choices. We were also on a pretty tight budget, so our options appeared quite limited.
We were given the recommendation of driver and guide, Bob Sumatra.

Bob keeps the car locked and safe!

We got in contact with Bob and he put together a package according to our interests. The price was very reasonable and within our budget. Due to changes in fuel costs and accommodation etc, I won't list the actual price, suffice to say there was no need to haggle.

In the driver's seat

Bob was waiting at the Medan airport for our arrival, even though our flight had been delayed by 1 1/2 hours. We were most impressed with
a) Bob's driving ability, which is the number 1 most important quality to look for in Sumatra!! and
b) Bob's knowledge of the places we visited.

A wealth of knowledge at Ambarita

Bob's vehicle is a Suzuki APV. Extremely spacious in the rear passenger seats with plenty of room behind for luggage. It is a very comfortable car in which to travel

With his eyes on the road ahead

We were with Bob for 13 days travelling Medan/Lake Toba/Berastagi/Bukit Lawang/Tangkahan/Medan. 
Oh what a feeling - Sumatra

Smiling and happy

Tour guide hat on again at the King's palace, Medan

Clean cut Bob

Shiny locks

Taking us across the river

Serious Bob

Bob broadens our cuisine horizons

Bob, still happy

Bob and the elephants


By the end of our time together we had become firm friends.


Airport farewells - 4am!!

Bob has worked hard to set up his business on his own. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him to others. He is honest, reliable and a really nice guy to boot.

Bob and his trusty car

Check out Bob's website:

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Trekking with the Elephants - TANGKAHAN

Our last destination on our brief trip to Sumatra was Tangkahan. Apparently there are 3 options for getting here from Bukit Lawang. One is by motorbike, the other is by 4wd and the other is 2wd back basically to Medan, then out to Tangkahan. Having our own driver, our option was the 2wd which was going to take about 7 hours so we were told. I think it was only 5 max.
Today is the first day that I have travelled wearing only a singlet top rather than a shirt with sleeves. Once you turn away from Medan, you are on the main road heading towards Aceh province. The change is quite noticeable, for example, the women are dressed more modestly. Bob is hungry, so we stop for him to grab some take away fried snacks (very tasty by the way!). He parked right outside a mosque and I was feeling quite immodest in my singlet top! Not that I think anyone would have been at all hostile, just that I felt a little guilty for not putting more thought into my attire :-0. So, if you are heading out this way, you may feel more comfortable/respectful to at least wear a shirt with some kind of sleeve. I know it's not much but I think it makes a difference and shows a respect for another's culture/beliefs which one needs to be mindful of when you are not in a 'tourist' area. Just my thoughts and lucky we didn't have to get out of the car anyway.
Yes, the road to Tangkahan is bad!!! It's ok for the passengers, just bounce along and you'll be fine but hard work for the driver, avoiding potholes etc! Apparently one reason for the bad road conditions is due to the palm oil plantations. The trucks degrade the roads and the plantation owners are reluctant to do anything as the bad condition deters people from coming in and stealing......hmm. We were told that it's not a great place to travel at night either. Once you get off the main roads, there's very little, if any traffic at night and you can be a target for criminals.
Once you arrive at Tangkahan, you have to cross the river to the accommodation. This is done using a ferry contraption. Bit hard to explain. Quite roomy, has a rudder but also attached to a rope that goes from one side to the other. Don't know what would happen if the rope broke, lol. The river is quite fast flowing (well it was when we were there)!!!
Crossing the river at Tangkahan

Looking up river

One of the happy and ever helpful staff of Mega Inn

Rod and Bob on the 'ferry'

Another of the Mega Inn staff looking down river from the 'ferry'

When you reach the other side, you then have to climb up a muddy embankment until you reach the concrete steps. There is a rope to hang on to - unfortunately, Bob slipped which caused my hubby to pull on the rope and combine his weight and the bag he insisted on lugging by himself, the rope broke!!! All I see is him and the bag heading towards me with the mud and the river behind!!! Fortunately he didn't land on me and neither of us ended up in the river!!!! Lucky a bit of mud never hurt anyone!!
We stayed at Mega Inn. Once again our accommodation, was of a very rustic, backpacker standard. It was clean, had a mosquito net and an outdoor bathroom, with shower which worked fine unless someone in the room next door was filling their bucket!! Nice little verandah with chairs and a hammock.

Outdoor bathroom

5* accommodation - rustic but clean

Looks good in black and white

Grounds of Mega Inn

Verandah of our room

Our room from the outside

There are a couple of nicer cottages at Mega Inn but once again, these weren't available. They are individual cottages, a bit more private with balcony looking over the main river.

Not my fave pic but it's taken right next to on of the Mega Inn bungalows overlooking the river

 There is also another place, Jungle Lodge. It is further from the main river but right next to the smaller river where you can swim. Can't comment on the rooms but the restaurant looking directly down to the river looks more upmarket than Mega Inn. Having said that, the staff at Mega Inn are so lovely. They cannot do enough for you. The tables in the restaurant are decorated with gorgeous fresh flowers of an evening and they do their best to keep you happy.

Mega Inn restaurant - flowers all around

Our table decorated with flowers

Light decorated with hibiscus and koalas!!

Be aware that there is only electricity for a certain time in the evening only, so if you are looking for icy cold drinks etc, you won't get them here. Part of the charm. This and the fact that supplies have to be brought in and then transported across the river, the menu is limited and some things have to be ordered hours or even the day before if you want it. Would you believe, they ran out of bananas?! I just loved the way they'd say 'sorry, bananas pinished' when they ran out of this or some other thing! No problem, just have something else, it's no real hardship for a couple of days.

More beautiful floral decorations

Proudly displayed in an empty bintang bottle!!

Our first afternoon we went to the river for a swim and to find the hot springs. Although the river isn't all that wide, it was running very fast. I'm not a swimmer, so chose to just cool off. Bob swam over to the hot springs on the other side - the hot water is just coming out through the rocks on the bank. It's a really nice spot to spend some time.

Tranquil swimming spot
While we were at the swimming spot we met some people who we had actually seen back in Lake Toba, so be warned, you will probably keep bumping into the same travellers!! Back at Mega Inn a girl we had met in Bukit Lawang had also arrived.

Another view of the swimming area at the river

The hot springs across the river

Looks tranquil but the current is actually quite swift
Bob takes the chance for a bath!

Ollie, like me is not a swimmer - Ekky tries to encourage him to the hot springs :-)
Leigh makes use of her lifesaving skills!

Made it over to  the hot springs
Keeping the Aussie spirit alive

Apart from being fun people and great company, Leigh, Ekky and Ollie are  crusaders for those less fortunate. Leigh organised a trek last year to raise money for the orphanage at Bukit Lawang. Ollie joined her for the full 4 week trek. Ekky joined them also and in his role as a journalist, was able to report on the trek and hopefully as well as raising much needed funds, they were also able to raise awareness. I felt privileged to share time with them.
Rod reflecting by the river

Long walk for a bath

The next day, it was time to meet the elephants, so it was back to the other side of the river. They are about 1 km away. Before the trek, they are taken down to the river for their 'ablutions'. When they enter the river for their wash, you can go in and 'help'. No one else seemed to want to do this?? I was the only one - if you get the chance,do it!! The trek was brilliant. You first cross the river, which as I said, was flowing very fast (also very muddy, which they said may have been due to some kind of a landslide up river). The elephants do this with ease. Once on the other side, they follow a mostly narrow, very muddy track where they are often knee deep in mud. It's amazing how sure-footed they are!! Sure beats a roller coaster! You really need to hang on as they are up and down some quite steep and bumpy slopes!! Having said that, there was a family with a couple of children and they were fine. Definitely worth doing :-).

One of the gentle giants


Mum's calf

Three's company

In we go.....

Mother and calf

Littlest one

Watch and learn

Time for a swim

A privilege to help was this beautiful creature

Time for a scrub

Plenty to wash

A mother's natural instinct

The eye of the elephant

Crossing the fast flowing river

Looks comfy......

Love the socks!!

Spent the rest of our time at Tangkahan just chilling out, making new friendships and cooling of at the river. Apparently there is another 'beach' area up further which butterflies are attracted to. If I was staying longer I would have liked to check it out. You can take sugar syrup with you and on a sunny day I'm told the butterflies are abundant.
Am I glad I went to Tangkahan? Absolutely. Could I have stayed longer? Yes, another day or two would have been perfect. So, if you are thinking of going there I would suggest a minimum of 2 nights.

I would definitely recommend adding Tangkahan to you itinerary :-)