Jolly Jogja

After an incredible week in Sumatra, we carried onto the next leg of our journey; Java Island. Many people choose to visit the capital city there (Jakarta), but we’d heard that there wasn’t much to do there, and that it was crowded and polluted, so we opted to stay away. Instead, we zipped over to Yogyakarta (which is mostly referred to as ‘Jogja’ in Indonesia).

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We arrived late at night, and although the airport was crawling with cab drivers trying to take foreigners for a ride (in the figurative sense), we quickly found a company who was giving legit pricing, and we were on our way to our tiny little Bed and Breakfast in downtown Jogja.

There were 2 reasons we wanted to visit this Yogyakarta: Borobudur and Prambanan. These two beautiful temples are very different from one another. One is Buddhist and the other is Hindu. They don’t really share much in terms of architecture, but they are both located about an hour outside of Jogja (in different directions), making this small city a popular destination for tourists going through Java.

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Gudeg is Jogja’s most traditional and famous food. Cooks take chicken, eggs and goat skin and stew them in a special jackfruit stew for hours. It’s served cold. I had a hard time with the idea of eating cold chicken, but it was a really neat blend of spicy and sweet!

Prambanan

We decided to hit Prambanan first, as it was a little closer to Jogja, and we had begun our day a little later than we’d intended. It was a nice hour-long drive to the temple, that gave us a chance to see a bit of this lovely little city.

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Apparently, I forgot to take pictures in Jogja….but I did find this one online. It gives you a feel for what the city looks like.

We were a bit taken aback by the entrance fees to the temple, but we figured it would probably be the only chance we’d ever have to see Prambanan and Borobudur, so we bit the bullet, as they say, and forked over the $80 it cost to get us both into both temples. Of course, once we were inside, I ceased to worry about the pricing, because the money is clearly being put to good use.

Before even entering temple grounds, we saw an incredible photo opportunity.  There was a section of rubble in front of one area of the temple, where tourists were able to take photos.  It took us a few tries, but we finally got a couple of good shots ourselves (we were using a timer…10 seconds is not enough time for me to scramble on top of rocks!)

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Once entering the temple, we were impressed by the level of detail on the walls, and were very quickly reminded of our time at Ankor National Park in Cambodia. There were clear similarities Prambanan’s and Ankor Wat’s architecture, so it didn’t surprise me to learn that Prambanan, like Ankor Wat, is a Hindu temple.

We spent a few hours walking around, admiring the temple.  There were many other tourists there, but they were mostly from Indonesia, as we visited during the off season (something I highly recommend…as long as you aren’t too afraid of a bit of rain).

The park was quite big, and we wandered around to check out some of the smaller and less glamorous buildings.  The park’s general upkeep really impressed us both.

The stone carvings at Prambanan were really something to admire.  If it hadn’t been so hot out, we probably could have spent an hour or two longer walking around, just admiring the architecture.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the heat became too much and we were forced to hop on our rented motorcycle and head back to Jogja.

Borobudur

Borobudur was my main reason for wanting to go to Jogjakarta.  Built at around the same time as Prambanan, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world.  The architecture there is very different from the many Hindu and Chinese Buddhist temples we’ve seen over the last few years.

Borobudur was built in the shape of a  Mandala, which represents Nirvana, or Heaven in both Buddhism and Hinduism.  There are 9 levels in total, which include more than 2500 relief panels (art depicting Buddhist stories) and 72 Buddhas.

Every inch of every wall at Borobodur is covered in carvings that depict a mixture of Buddhist and Indonesian stories and myths.  We walked around a good portion of it, but it would have taken hours to study really examine all of the carvings.

A lot of Borobudur’s history is unknown, but what we do know is that it took about 75 years to build, and at some time around the turn of the 1st millenium, it was abandoned.  There could have been several reasons for this, but the two most likely are that:  A.) people had to leave due to the very active volcanoes nearby or B.) Indonesia began converting to Islam, and Buddhist Temples became less important.  Either way, the temple was all but forgotten, and was slowly taken over by volcanic ash and jungle.

Until it was rediscovered in the 1800s.

While Borobudur’s history fascinates me, it isn’t what pulls thousands of tourists to the site each year.  The Bells and 72 Buddhas on the top levels of the site are what drive the tourism.  Each bell has a Budha within it, and several bells have been left open so the Buddhas are exposed. It’s an incredibly photogenic place and I’m glad we had some blue skies while we were there.

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Borobudur is one of the nicest and most interesting temples I have ever visited, but it pains me to say that its in trouble.  Between the volcanic ash that plagues the building, and tourists who insist on touching everything, officials have considered closing the site to unguided tourists.  While we were there we saw all sorts of bad behaviour.

The worst case of this behaviour was an elderly Chinese woman, who climbed onto a bell and reached inside to try and touch the Buddha.  This didn’t seem to be as much of an issue at Prambanan, where tourists were allowed to walk on certain areas of the walls.  I think because of the acid in the volcanic ash that routinely covers Borobodur, the site is especially at risk.

 

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Mount Merapi erupting in the distance

In short, if you’re stopping by Java Island, definitely take the time to stop by these incredible temples.

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One of my favourite pictures of the trip…for once it was Dave who was asked to cover up! I was fine!!!!

 

Suzhou Foodies

One of the coolest parts of being an expat is all the people you meet. They come from everywhere. I’ve met chefs from Italy, chemists from New Zealand, PhD students from Turkey and of course, musicians from Portugal, The Philippines and beyond… We all come from different backgrounds and are in China for various reasons, but we all have one thing in common… We’ve all chosen Suzhou as home away from home.

Dave and I at the “Red Dress Hash”. Everyone dressed up in red dresses and fundraised for an Orphanage here in Suzhou. We saw a bit of the city, spent the evening outside walking, and had a great time!

At the beginning of this year, I decided to put myself out there more. I joined several WeChat groups in an effort to meet more people and to become part of the expat community. I started with music groups, because it was something I knew a lot about. I’ve also joined writers’ groups, travel groups and most recently, a Foodie group.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love both cooking… And eating!!!

In the Foodie Group, we all post about our favourite restaurants.  Now, whenever Dave and I want to try something new, we check out places that have been recommended by fellow Foodies.

Our most recent recommendation: a Singaporean restaurant in Suzhou Center

A few months ago, I wrote about our friend, Lixia, and her restaurant that specializes in Guizhou food. Before I knew it, I was getting messages from the other Foodies, thanking me for the recommendation. Since then, this tiny Chinese restaurant has become quite popular amongst expats.

Lixia surprised Dave with a cake for his birthday last month

Lixia is easily one of the sweetest and most hard working people I know, so when I learned about a Food & Beverage competition, I got in touch with the organizers and nominated Zou Guizhou for the “Best View” award.

Her award winning view

Tonight, we went to the finals for this award, at The W hotel here in SIP. Lixia won in her category, and we were able to celebrate with her. It was a really fun night filled with good food, great wine and fabulous company.

Kevin joined us for the evening. He is the one who found Zou Guizhou for us 2 years ago

Several of our friends won awards. Larry (on the right) owns the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. He’s also a great guy (and Canadian!)

So happy to have Miya back in Suzhou!!!

Larry and Lixia have become friends too 🙂

Some of the fabulous food we had tonight

The best part of the night was when I realized how many people I knew at the event. A year ago, I made it my mission to become part of the expat community in Suzhou… And that mission has been accomplished.

A Weekend in Taipei

Every year, at the beginning of April, Qing Ming Festival is celebrated. Chinese people honour their ancestors and clean the tombs of the dead.

I get a long weekend here in China. This works out rather well for me, because it’s usually a few days before my birthday, so Dave and I began a tradition of getting on an airplane and exploring Asia. Last year, we hopped over to Seoul for the weekend, but this year, we decided to check out Taipei; Taiwan’s capital.

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About Taipei

Now, Taiwan is a bit of a confusing and difficult subject here in China. If you ask most people in the world, they think Taiwan is it’s own country. I mean, they have their own currency, their own government, their own passports and visa regulations….it’s easy to see why some people might get confused when China claims Taiwan as its own.

As far as China is concerned though, Taiwan is a province and not a country. But, like many areas of China, Taiwan has its own culture, it’s own cuisine and it’s own customs that are quite different from the mainland.

Night Markets & Street Food

We have friends from Taiwan who were very excited about our trip to Taipei. Before we left, Linda gave us one very important piece of advice: “try everything”. So we did!

The night markets in Taipei are exciting, lively and full of interesting and tasty food to try. There’s an abundance of choices, and my biggest regret is having run out of stomach room before I could try them all!

We only ate in one actual restaurant during our time in the night markets, and that was mostly just for fun. “Modern Toilet” is a poop-themed restaurant with food that certainly doesn’t look like it should be eaten! The whole place was silly, but the food was alright, and it was a good laugh, so I’m glad we stopped in!

Of course, night markets aren’t ONLY about food. We also saw street performers, movie theaters and arcades, as well as all the shopping options you could ever possibly need. I appreciated the fact that you could buy popcorn without watching a movie, because salty theater popcorn isn’t a thing in China, but it is in Taiwan!!

Lungshan Temple

Our cultural stop in Taipei wasn’t planned, but it sure was pleasant! On our way to find another night market, we stumbled across Lungshan Temple. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Taiwan also celebrates Tomb Sweeping Festival, and Lungshan was buzzing with people offering sacrifices and praying to their ancestors. Incense was being burned in various places around the temple as well.

This was probably the nicest temple we’ve seen ‘in China’. It was extremely well-maintained and the detail was stunning. I couldn’t take enough pictures!


Taipei Zoo

We weren’t planning on a trip to the zoo, but we ended up in Taipei during a rather drab and rainy weekend, so to the zoo we went!

We were pleasantly surprised by the space the animals were allowed. They seemed to be well cared for. Unfortunately, the Asian elephants looked quite stressed out, which further convinced me that they do not belong in city zoos. Our time in Sumatra also gave me insight into how Orangutans and horn bills are suppose to live….and zoos are not it!


Taipei 101

The large building in the photo below is called ‘Taipei 101’. It was our last stop before flying back to Suzhou, and although I’m not usually all that impressed with architecture, I really liked this building!

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Taipei is a gorgeous city, and the view from the 89th floor of this skyscraper is impressive, to say the least! Taipei 101’s observatory is definitely worth a visit!

There were two things that really impressed me about our trip to 101. First, it was the elevator ride to the observatory. To get from the 5th floor reception to the 89th takes only 39 seconds! The elevator moves so quickly that your ears pop on the way up! I’d been in tall buildings before, but Taipei 101 holds the record for the world’s fastest elevator!

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The second thing to impress me at 101 was the Wind Damper. At first, I thought it was just a big metal ball that was hanging there for show…then Dave explained…

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Taipei 101’s Wind Damper

Wind Dampers are used to help stabilize very tall buildings from wind and seismic activity (earthquakes). It turns out that ‘big metal ball’ is quite a scientific feat! You can hear more about this from people who actually know what they’re talking about by clicking here.
To Summarize

A weekend in Taipei is not NEARLY enough time to see everything the city has to offer, but it is a start! The people were incredibly friendly and helpful, the food was amazing and it was a modern, clean and beautiful city. There’s so much I have left to see and do in Taiwan, that I just KNOW I’ll be back before to long!

Sumatra – Bukit Lawang – Part 2

After 2 nights in the Batu Kapal Guesthouse, it was time to set off on our over-night jungle Trek. Sardi arrived as we finished our breakfast, and before long, we were on our way.
Jungle Trek – Day 1

On this 2 day trek, we were joined by a second guide, named Jimmy. Sardi explained that Jimmy’s English was better than his, and that Jimmy knew more about the surrounding area and could better explain all the flora and fauna we’d be seeing on our hike.

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In fact, I wish Jimmy had arrived a tad earlier, so we could have asked him about this gorgeous little bird we saw while we were eating breakfast at the guesthouse!

It wasn’t long before we started seeing wild life. Before we’d even entered the park, Jimmy spotted a Silver Leaf Monkey, far up in a tree. They’re quite shy, so I was happy to have a proper camera (with zoom) along with me.

As we entered the park, Jimmy stopped to tell us how to stay safe in the Jungle, and to warn us about 2 particularly feisty orangutans who were known to behave badly around humans. Many of the great apes found in this area of the park have been rehabilitated and set free after being in captivity, so it’s natural that not all the orangutans were going to be perfectly comfortable around people. (Personally speaking, I’m BARELY comfortable around people!)

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This was taken by a visitor back when the feeding platform was still open to the public. From what I understand, they are no longer feeding the Orangutans this way, but it’s still a popular hang out for them nonetheless.

Our next animal encounter was with a pair of Hornbills, who were high up in the trees, but very difficult to miss, as they were quite clumsy moving around and squacking at each other. They were super noisy, though I didn’t actually catch that on video.

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Beautiful birds!

I did, however, get a video of one of them eating a berry!!

While we were busy admiring these beautiful birds, Sardi went off on his own to ‘find me a baby orangutan’ (something he’d promised he’d try to do). When he called us over, I don’t think I could have possibly moved more quickly than I did!

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Quite the sight!

There she was. A 3 year old juvenile, eating leaves and playfully hanging from the tree. I stood there and stared for a while, before Dave reminded me that I might want some pictures of her!

Soon, her mother came swinging by on the trees. She was much bigger than I’d thought she’d be, and she didn’t seem the least bit worried about the humans who were watching her child. In fact, she swung across a couple of trees about 6 feet from where I was standing. Sardi had to tell me to back up, because I was too close!

I would have stayed there forever if they’d let me, but after a while we had to move on. Jimmy guided us to an area where we could have some lunch, and we unpacked, pulled up some tree trunks and enjoyed some jungle food.

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Nasi Goreng (Fried Ride) a la Jungle

That’s when we started hearing rustling in the bushes….

There was never a shortage of fresh fruit on our tour, and as Sardi took out the passion fruit…and papaya….and bananas…the rustling got a little closer.

It wasn’t long before we spotted the family of Thomas Leaf Monkeys circling in on us. Now, I’ve mentioned these cute little primates several times, but I’ve waited until this moment to show you what they look like.

Because…they’re flipping adorable!!

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Who? Me????

These little ‘punk-goth’ monkeys spent the next half hour eyeing our fruit. We were on an eco-tour though, and part of being an ecotourist is knowing that you cannot feed the wild life. It’s bad for them and it can be dangerous for you. So, as much as I wanted to pass off some bananas to these funny little dudes, I refrained, for the sake and well-being of the jungle. I did take lots of pictures though!

I didn’t get much footage of them when we were eating (I actually wasn’t feeling very well at that point. More on that later…), but I did get an awesome video of them when we were at the guesthouse!

We continued on our Jungle walk, stopping now and then to admire a lizard or a tree that had been destroyed by termites.

Unfortunately, I was really struggling at this point, because, as tends to happen when I go on holidays, my stomach hadn’t really been agreeing with the local food. My fussy stomach has forced me to miss out on adventures in Cuba, India and worst of all, in Laos…but not this time! I dragged my butt through that jungle (and thankfully, Sardi picked up on the fact that I was sick, and he and Dave kept close watch over me the whole way to the camp)

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Seen here: Marie, barely holding it together. Sardi: Really hoping he wasn’t going to have to chase me down the river…like he had his flip flops…twice…as they slipped off my feet

Reaching that camp was such a relief, I nearly cried. It wasn’t that the trail was particularly hard. It was a good level of difficulty and well worth the hike. But, when your body isn’t digesting food properly, the jungle might not be the best place to go. I wouldn’t change it for anything though…not a single moment.
The Camp

As soon as we reached the camp, I got into my bathing suit and went and sat in the river to cool down. It was a lovely spot, quite sheltered and the river was very clean.

As I began to relax, Jimmy pointed out that I had a rather large friend heading my way, and I turned to see a meter long monitor lizard swimming lazily nearby. I would have bolted, but I was too tired, so I slowly wiggled my way away from the lizard. I don’t really think he cared much either way.

A 3rd guide had been waiting for us when we arrived. His job was to bring our sleeping gear and food and to cook us dinner and breakfast. Even with my upset stomach, the food was great!

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Mawan also prepared clean water for us for the hike the following day

That night is one of my favourite memories of the whole trip to Indonesia. We sat out with our 3 guides and chatted about life in Indonesia, life in China and life in Canada. We told us about the frustrations we face living in the big city of Suzhou, and they told us about their 105 year old grandfather who demands that they fetch him mangoes whenever they see him (Sardi and Jimmy are cousins and their grandfather is toothless and more than happy to send his grandsons on quests for soft fruit!)

I don’t have any pictures of that night. It was dark, and I was tired, but if I I could have held onto that peaceful moment forever, I would have. The sound of the river was hypnotic and I found myself falling asleep long before I meant to.
Jungle Trek: Day 2

Mawan prepared us a delicious breakfast of fruit and sandwiches the following morning. My stomach still wasn’t feeling too hot, but I had more energy and I wasn’t nearly as weak as I had been when I’d arrived at the camp the previous day.

We were getting ready to leave, when out of nowhere, a family of 15-20 macaques came parading through the river in front of the camp! They’d smelled the fruit and showed up, hoping for some left overs.

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I’m not particularly fond of macaques. There are hundreds of them living in Guiyang, and I’ve had them steal right from my hand! These guys weren’t as aggressive, but I wasn’t entirely trustful of them nonetheless

Most of them spooked easily and ran away when they saw us, but one particularly brave macaque hung around and nabbed some watermelon. I watched as he greedily shoved 1/4 of a melon in his mouth, all while looking over his shoulder, making sure none of his family members had returned to rob him of his trophy!

Soon, we were on our way back through the jungle. We took it a bit more slowly on our second day, with both guides now knowing that I wasn’t at 100%. Sardi found us wild cinnamon (it was disgusting) and we saw plenty more birds and even heard gibbons calling out in the distance.

Sardi disappeared again, and before long, he was calling us over because he’d found me another ‘orange friend’. This time, I got smart, and I filmed our walk to find her. I tried not to shake the camera too much, but I really wanted people back home to see how beautiful the forest was and how exciting it was to get your first glimpse of one of these jungle beauties.

Once I got a closer look, I asked Jimmy why she looked sad. I expected him to laugh at me and tell me I was projecting human emotions onto her, but he replied quite simply “Her baby got sick”.

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Jimmy continue to tell me Juni’s story, while we watched her sit, lethargically in the tree. As I write this, I wonder if she’s been reunited with her young one.

As luck would have it, I caught a video of the only time she moved in the 20 minutes we watched her.

I’ll never forget her, I’ll tell you that much.

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Eventually, we had to move on. We stopped for lunch, and our guides cut up some papaya for me (the only thing that was appetizing at that point), and before long, we were on our way to meet Mawan on the bank of another river.

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Instead of doing more hiking, our trip ended with a rafting ride down the river back into Bukit Lawang! It was a tonne of fun, and it made me VERY happy that we still have our old water proof camera!

I even kept my wits about me and got a video!!

So, in short, if you are reading this because you are considering taking a tour with Bukit Lawang Jungle-trekking, contact Janine NOW! It was the experience of a lifetime, and I would honestly go back and do it all over again tomorrow if given the chance.

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That night, after we’d had a chance to shower and rest, we head back to the clubhouse for Jungle Trivia! We were ‘Team Lao Wei’ (team foreigner), and we even won!

I’ll be back soon with a post about Jogjakarta and our stay on Java Island!
A few more notes about Bukit Lawang-Jungle Trekking:

If you’d like to read more about Bukit Lawang-Jungle Trekking, you can go to their website here, or check out their Facebook page, here.

You can also check out all sorts of cool initiatives they have going on in Bukit Lawang for eco-tourism, environmentally friendly alternatives and the school where they hook up volunteers to teach adorable Indonesian kids!

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Dave and I with our guides and Dodi, the co owner of the business (and Janine’s husband)

Sumatra – Bukit Lawang – Part 1

Ecotourism has become increasingly important to me over the last 4 years. When I know that my money is being put to good (both for the good of locals as well as for the environment), I enjoy myself more. So, when I began planning our holiday in Indonesia, one of the first things I checked for was “Eco-Tourism in Sumatra”. There were quite a few options to see Sumatran wildlife all over the large island, but one company in particular caught my attention.

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Click Here to learn more about this wonderful company! You can also click here to go to their Facebook page!

I sent them a message and within a few hours I’d received a response from Janine, who proceeded to help me plan out our entire stay in Sumatra.

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Visiting with the lovely Janine after our 2-day jungle trek

There were 2 parts to the tour I booked with Janine. Part 1 took us to Samosir Island, which we toured on our own. Part 2 of our trip was an eco-tour we booked in and around Gunung Leuser National Park. We were very happy to have hired a driver for the 7 hour drive to Bukit Lawang; the little jungle town just outside of the national park. Enok was professional, friendly and even made some interesting stops during the 7 hour drive from Lake Toba to Bukit Lawang.

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Including this volcano, which blew up in a pretty major way a few weeks later! (don’t worry, no one was hurt!)

We arrived in Bukit Lawang after dark and in the middle of a massive thunder storm. Our guide, Sardi, arrived with an umbrella for me and a flashlight for Dave and we got our first glimpses of this sweet jungle town.

It seemed like Sardi knew everyone. He greeted people by name as we walked past the restaurants and bars, and everywhere we passed, we heard a chorus of people welcoming us to Bukit Lawang.

It was a fantastic way to start our 4-day Eco-Tour.

Day 1 – Getting To Know the Area

We spent our first day hiking through rubber plantations and visiting some of the area around the Gunung Leuser National Park. We saw some wild life while we were out and about and learned about the locals from Sardi.

There were 2 main activities planned for our first day. The first activity was to visit the Bat Cave. As you may have guessed, it is home to 2 different kinds of bats, who were equally cute and sleepy when we arrived. Sardi informed us that pangolins are sometimes spotted in the Bat Cave, which got me pretty excited!

Pangolins are currently the most illegally trafficked animal in the world. They’re killed for their meat and their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’ve been hunted to the verge of extinction, and up until we reached the bat cave, I didn’t even know there were any of these interesting animals left in Asia!

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any, but it was still exciting to know that there was a possibility (however small). We also got to chat with Sardi about the poaching of pangolins in Indonesia. He told us that several of his family members had been poachers in the past, but was able to get them to understand the importance of protecting these animals and now, those same family members are working to protect them.

Our second big activity for the day happens to be one of my favourite memories of our whole trip. Sardi lead us to a beautiful little spot on the river, where he spent the next hour preparing us an incredible Indonesian-style barbecue. Dave and I spent the time cooling off in the beautiful river, which was much needed after our hike to the cave. We even spotted a family of Thomas Leaf Monkeys while we sat and enjoyed the cool, clean water! It was quite the sight!

Sardi prepared some incredible bbq fish and chicken along with a gorgeous fruit platter. We all sat together beside the river and enjoyed his beautiful meal. We chatted about Sardi’s family and about our lives back in China. It was a gorgeous way to spend a few hours!

After lunch, we made our way to the guesthouse where we were spending our first two nights of the tour. It was a beautiful spot, and with no electronics with us (we left them at our hotel in Bukit Lawang), we were forced to just sit back and enjoy the peacefulness of the area. We walked around a little bit and enjoyed the stream that ran through the property. We spotted some more Thomas Leaf monkeys and laughed at their antics, as they played in the trees. It was the most relaxed I’d felt in months.


Day 2 – Sumtran Culture

Day 2 of our time in Bukit Lawang was spent quite differently from Day 1. The focus was more towards the local culture than the local wild life. It was a nice shift and it provided us with opportunities to try out some things we’d never done before.

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I tried my hand at coconut carving. I didn’t do very well, but you can learn more about that here.

We spent a lot more time with Sardi, walking through the jungle and even taking motorbikes through the trails. At one point, we reached a rather muddy area, and I noticed there was a woman (also on a motorbike), waiting patiently for us to make it through before she went herself. I laughed and told Sardi that if the same situation were to arise in China, everyone would try to go at the same time, and we would have scared any animals away with all the honking that would surely have ensued.

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I took this picture on our way back from coconut carving. I really feel like it’s one of my most representative photos of the whole trip. People in Indonesia were so warm and friendly both to us, and to one another.

My favourite part of day 2 was our cooking class back at the guesthouse. We learned how to make traditional Indonesian dishes, such as Sambal, Tempe and, my personal favourite, Pepes (a way of cooking fish in banana leaf, over a fire).

As good as the meal was, the company is what made it so great. There was quite a mixture of people at the guesthouse that night and we got to know them all a bit. In addition to the Indonesian staff, there was a woman from Switzerland and a woman from Germany, as well as a Dutch man who was about to begin a 7 day jungle hike. We sat around for hours, chatting about our travel experiences. Both of the European women were in the area doing humanitarian work, which was very appealing to me (perhaps, one day…). When it was time to go to bed, I was both sad to see the night end, but excited because the following day…our jungle trek to see wild orangutans would begin!

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Sitting down for dinner at the Guest House. For the most part, the guesthouse goes without electricity (it’s about 5km from town), but at night they have a generator for necessities. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a clearer picture, but I ‘m glad I thought to get one at all! It was such a perfect way to end Day 2.

Next time, I’ll be devoting an entire post about our Jungle experience with the Sumatran Orangutans, so stay tuned!

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Let’s just say… I made good use of my camera!

Sumatra – Samosir Island

Around 75,000 years ago, the world experienced its largest ever volcanic eruption. This event covered all of South Asia in about 15 centimeters of ash, and cooled off our planet for the next 6-10 years.

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Toba is one of our planet’s 3 supervolcanos

The sheer size of this eruption is difficult to understand without comparing it to other large volcanic events. I’ve always been fascinated by volcanos, and the Pompeii eruption in 79AD interested me so much that I ended up with minor in Classical History! But Vesuvius’ eruption had NOTHING on Mt. Toba.

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To put this into context…Mt. Toba’s eruption was 2800x more powerful than Mt. St. Helens’

Our first stop in Indonesia was to see Ground 0 of this disastrous historic event. Like Yellowstone, you wouldn’t necessarily know that you were on a massive volcano. This is because the last time Toba blew, it resulted in a crater lake so big that there is an island the size of SINGAPORE inside it!

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Modern Samosir Island

Samosir island is located in Northern Sumatra, near the city of Medan (about 5 hours away by car). We got in touch with an tour company ahead of time, and arranged for a driver to pick us up from Medan airport. We’re really glad we went this route, because the car was comfortable and safe (as oppose to many of the other vehicles we saw on the road). We arrived in Parapat, a small town across the lake from Samosir, and before long we were on the ferry and on our way to our hotel in the little town of Tuk Tuk.

Samosir is a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Indonesians alike. The island has many attractions, which has allowed beautiful hotels and bungalows to pop up all over the island. We got to see a lot of those bungalows during our ferry-ride.


On the Island

There’s lots to do on the island, especially if you rent a motorbike. We didn’t have much time on our first day, but we did drive into town from our bungalow and see some of the sights.

Our second day on Samosir was more eventful. We took a drive out to the island’s waterfall, but discovered that the trail had been washed away from a mudslide a while back. We tried to climb it anyway (in our flip flops…), but I eventually told Dave I was turning around with or without him, because it just wasn’t safe.

We also dipped our toes into Lake Toba, which is crystal clear and gorgeously warm. Unfortunately, it was quite windy that day and the water was very rough, so we didn’t actually get to go swimming.

There are a tonne of restaurants on the island where you can enjoy some Indonesian food. We found a restaurant that rated well on Trip Advisor and enjoyed a FANTASTIC BBQ meal from Joe and his wife.


Batak Culture

The most popular thing to do on Samosir Island is to see the Batak culture and history. The Batak have lived on Samosir Island for hundreds of years (some say thousands…), and they have heavily influenced the area with their architecture and traditions. There are plenty of modern buildings that have been constructed in Batak style on Samosir Island, and you can see some old artifacts as well.

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You can find Batak architecture all over the island.

We visited 2 Batak historical sights. The Stone Chairs are the island’s biggest cultural draw, so we set out to find them first. We DID find stone chairs, but it turned out they weren’t the ‘right’ ones. Either way, they ended up being my favourite spot on the island. There was something beautiful about them.

We found the ‘real’ Stone Chairs later in the day. Their fame comes from the fact that ritualistic cannibalism was practiced at that particular sight. Criminals were tried and sentenced by the King, who consumed parts of their bodies after they were killed for their crimes. If you take a tour of the area, you are given all sorts of information about the cannibalistic rituals of early Batak people, but we went on our own and were spared the gory details.

The sight was beautiful though, and I’m glad we stopped by.

My only regret about Samosir Island is that we didn’t have enough time there. It’s a gorgeously relaxing place to spend a few days, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in culture or geology.

I’ll be back soon with my second post about our time in Sumatra. Spoiler: Orangutans will be involved!!!

Day 25 – The Post Office

Every year when we go on holiday, I spend time finding beautiful post cards that we can send back to our family and friends. I enjoy the whole process; choosing the cards, choosing who will be sent which, writing them out and even finding a post office to send them from.

That last part can be a bit of a pain. Last year, we had to resort to sending them from a hotel because we couldn’t find an open post office anywhere in Ho Chi Minh City. This year, though, we had a great experience!

I went into a small post office on Lombok island and was met by a smiling young girl who looked both excited and terrified to see me walking towards her.

It takes a long time to put 4 stamps on 25 post cards, so before long, 2 of her co-workers arrived to help. They were hilarious and made a competition of it to see who could get all 4 stamps on the most neatly and the most quickly.

By the time Dave came in to see why we were taking so long, we’d already taken some selfies and had some good laughs. They all thought it was very cool that we send all our friends and family postcards. I don’t think they’d ever seen anyone actually do that before!

Unfortunately, we had to carry onto our hotel for the night, because tomorrow morning, we leave Indonesia.

It’s been an incredible 25 days.