Posts Tagged ‘ATM’

Taman Negara, Pulau Tioman and Singapore

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

It’s been an eventful time since my last post, with no access to internet, so this’ll be a short update on lots of things. šŸ˜‰

I left the Perhentians on my 29th birthday, September 18. The trip to Taman Negara national park turned out to be a long one, due to Hari Raya, the festival marking the end of Ramadan. The most memorable was probably when our bus was driving around the small streets of Jerantut city, looking for an ATM where we could get cash to bring into the chemically ATM-free Taman Negara. I had 69 Ringgit with me, so going without more cash was hardly an option, and I was not the only one in that position. The first ATM was out of cash, since everybody had been stocking up for the Hari Raya bank holiday. The second one wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards. The third one was also empty, but luckily at the forth ATM (the last one in town…) we got our cash.

Several guest houses in Taman Negara were closed because of Hari Raya, but eventually I got myself checked in. The next morning I slept long, before going into the National park itself. I asked about doing the nine day trek to Mount Tahan, the highest mountain in peninsular Malaysia, but all the guides were off for … you guessed it: Hari Raya. šŸ˜‰ Instead I headed out alone on a short trek, that turned into a long trek, and nearly an involuntary overnight trek… I went on the Canopy Walkway, long bridges high up in the trees, and then I continued on to scale at least a small mountain, Bukit Indah. When I came back down, I was five kilometers from the village I came from, Kuala Tahan, and six from Kuala Terrenggan. I decided to go up to Terrenggan instead of going back the same way I’d come. It was a pretty hard trek, up and down small canyons with a creek to be forded in the bottom of each, and fallen trees across the path every few meters, to be climbed over, crawled under or walked around. A wild boar got as surprised as I did, when we were suddenly staring each other in the face a few meters apart, and I don’t know who jumped higher, me or it… Luckily the startled hog decided to head the other direction, because I barely had time to remember how aggressive these tusked animals can be, and look for a tree to climb to get out of the reach of those sharp things before he was gone in the undergrowth.

In the middle of nowhere I walked into a camp of Orang Asli, the aboriginal nomads inhabiting the national park, and they could tell me I was not too far away from Terrenggan. With lifted spirits I pressed on, anxious for a meal and a boat back down the river to Tahan. Imagine my disappointment when Terrengan turned out to be nothing more than a long-abandoned resort, in the process of being reclaimed by the jungle… I was sitting on the old ramshackle pier by the ghost town resort contemplating what to do if no boats came by. I figured I’d have to head back to the Orang Asli, and ask if I could stay the night with them, and head back in the morning. I had a bit of money with me, so at least I could pay them… When I was about to give up, a group of overnight trekkers came down the path, and met with their pre-arranged transport on the very same pier I was sitting! I managed to get a ride down the river, to a shower and a hot meal. The trek that started out as a 45 minute easy walk, turned out to be a gruelling seven-hour adventure that saw me back in my guest house after dark… šŸ˜€

I met a nice German girl called Katharina in the dorm I was staying, and we travelled together from Taman Negara furher down the east coast of Malaysia to Pulau Tioman. She left there a few days ago, and I left this morning. Tioman was like a bigger version of the Perhentians, with more monitor lizards, more monkeys, and more people. šŸ™‚ I dove with Fisherman Divers there, had five dives on three different days. I was only planning to stay there a few days, but it turned into a whole week. šŸ˜›

This morning saw me leaving on the 7:30 boat to Mersing, and then get the bus at noon to Singapore. When I arrived, I spent almost an hour making my way by the subway to Little India, and it turned out I could have walked here in less than half that time… I then strolled around Little India, which is supposed to be the backpacker area, looking for a guest house and asking people, but nobody seemed to think there were anything else than more or less expensive hotels!Ā  Eventually I sat down at an artsy fairtrade restaurant, had an expensive (but organic and fair) meal, and used Singapore’s fantastic free WiFi to find out that there were in fact lots of guesthouses nearby. I chose one that I’d heard of from another traveller on the ferry to Tioman, Ali’s Nest, and so far I am happy about the choice. It’s basically a Chinese family in the middle of the Indian quarter who’ve made a couple of the rooms in their apartment into dorms… The family also lives here, and grandma (looks like she’s at least a hundred years old) is looking over my shoulder as I write this. šŸ™‚

Seven hours to get cash from the ATM

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I am feeling more and more as a part of the staff here at Sunlight, and that feeling was especially strong yesterday. I ran out of cash a while ago, and while I can write everything on my tab at Moonlight, where I’m staying, I don’t have a tab anywhere else yet. Eventually I had to go get some cash, and the island I’m living on is remote enough to not have a single ATM. There’s one place where you can get some cash, but they charge 10 percent for the service, just because they can. šŸ˜‰ In order to get my Divemaster license, I also needed to have a physician’s signature on a paper that says I’m fit for diving, so I really needed to take a trip to the mainland.

Yesterday I organized to not assist any dives, and off I went at eight a.m. First I have to take a taxiboat out to the speedboat, and then the speedboat to Kuala Besut on the mainland. At the jetty in Kuala Besut I found a taxi that could take me the last fifteen kilometers to Jerteh, which is the closest place with an ATM… I had my own cards to withdraw money from, and a handful of other cards from other people working here, so that when I was done, I had about 15 000 NOK in my bag. With the shopping I had to do, my visit to the doctor, and mailing the camera I’ve been using, and which has stopped working, back to Norway, I wasn’t back on Long Beach till three pm.

But, returning to the reason I started writing about this, feeling part of the community here; when I was going to get the boat back out to the island, I didn’t buy a ticket, and when I was stopped and asked for my National Park pass, I just said that I was working at Sunlight, and they waved me past. šŸ˜€ On the boat I paid the “local price” directly to the captain, instead of the more expensive tourist ticket at the ticket office. On the boat I also sat with the crew, and helped out a bit with loading and stuff. It was a bit weird, but a good feeling of belonging anyway šŸ™‚

A more average day on the island starts at a little before eight, because the shop opens at eight. Just about then the first boat from the mainland comes in as well, so people start arriving. It’s quite laidback around here, so the things that need to be done in the morning are just done as people kinda feel like it. There’s sweeping sand off the floors, putting out buckets for people to wash the sand off their feet when they come in off the beach, and emptying, cleaning and refilling the pools that are used for washing the salt off masks, snorkels, fins, regulators, BCDs and computers after every dive. Then during the day, I study dive theory whenever I’m not out assisting on a dive. The shop closes at seven, and in the evenings, I spend time with students and staff, or after a day with too many dives, just lay vegetating in front of the TV in the “lounge.”

As you might see, the time for writing blog updates is limited, and even if I did have time they would probably be more of a dive log than a travel log. šŸ˜‰

Temples of Angkor

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I am now travelling alone again. Annikken and I spent our last night together in Vietnam in the company of Karoline, Jake and Bryan at the GO2 in Saigon. I stayed in a cheap dormitory that night, and Bryan saw what it looked like when he followed me over to get money for the bus to Cambodia. They made fun of it the whole night, but when it came down to it, I slept like a baby. šŸ™‚
Early Monday morning I went to the guest house where our three new friends were staying, had breakfast with them, and got on the bus to Phnom Penh. Later the same day, Annikken got on a plane to go to Hong Kong, then London and finally Oslo, but I didn’t see her that day, as I left too early. This goes out to you Annikken: It was really nice to see you again, and to travel with you, even though I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with anyone in go, ever. The more I think about it, the stranger I find it that we didn’t have more fights!

On the bus, one of the bus company guys collected all our passports, and filled out our Cambodian immigration forms for us. I was going to buy my visa on the border, and the bus guy said he’d fix it for me, the price was seventyfour dollars. I got worried, because I didn’t anticipate such a high price, and told him as much. He kept sticking to his price, but I just didn’t have that much dollars on me, so I couldn’t give it to him. When we got to the border, I fixed the visa myself, for 20 dollars, and it took about five minutes. This is the kind of behavior I’m getting tired of, you ALWAYS have to be worried about getting ripped off.

Before we got to Phnom Penh, we decided to keep going directly to Siem Reap, as the others were flying out of Phnom Penh later, anyway. We arrived there in the evening, really tired, but booked a trip to Angkor the next morning anyway.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Tuesday, and we were off at 5, in our little Tuk-tuk. The one day ticket cost 20 dollars, and was printed with our photo on it, taken at the counter! Around 5:30 we reached Angkor Wat, the temple city, itself, and together with the crowd of tourists, we watched the sun rise over the thousand year old temple complex. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the huge temple, climbing stairs and photographing bas-reliefs and fascinating architectural details. The only disappointment was that the stairs to the upper level had been closed off, because they’re so steep, and some tourists have fallen down and hurt themselves.

At the end of it we met up at the tuk-tuk, and continued to Angkor Thom, the Great City. Angkor Thom was the capitol of the great Khmer empire, and the area housed about a million people around the turn of the last millennium! Much of it was swallowed by the jungle after the fall of the empire, and some claim that there are still undiscovered structures hidden in the dense growth, even though most of the sites are overrun by tourists. We were among them, as we entered through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, over a bridge where statues of men holding the bodies of two great seven-headed Nagas formed the balustrade on each side. Once inside, the jungle still grows, but is kept at a distance, so it more closely resembles a park. The second stop inside the walls, after breakfast, was the Bayon temple, with a stunning 54 towers, each adorned by a smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, in what they say is a great likeness to the face of the king who had it built, King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219. Inside Angkor Thom is also the Baphuon, which was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II who ruled from 1049-65. In the 15th century parts of it was dismantled, and used to build a seventy meters long reclining Buddha, which is still part of the rear of the structure. We went to the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, and to the Elephant terrace, where the kings would watch elephant races and acrobat shows and other entertainment. At the opposite side of the racing ground were big towers, between which long wires used to be fastened, for acrobats to “fly” through the air before the eyes of their audience. We had lunch before we left, and then headed out the east gate of Angkor Thom.

The first place we stopped at once outside, was Ta Keo, which is almost devoid of carvings. Lightning struck the temple before it was finished, and this was considered such a bad omen that construction was just left as it was, and to this day the place looks like it’s almost done, and is only lacking decoration.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple is the only one close to Siem Reap that is still partly overgrown, but even here the growth is kept down, and only the biggest trees with the largest roots are left standing. King Jayavarman VII, who also built Bayon, built this temple dedicated to his mother, and it contained massive treasures. Some of the many Sanskrit inscriptions apparently state that there used to be thousands of pearls and precious stones, and golden dishes weighing more than half a ton each! The one thing that the temple is most known for today, however, is that Angelina Jolie was here as Lara Croft for the filming of a couple of scenes for Tomb Raider… By the time we were done sneaking through dark galleries and climbing over roots and fallen pillars like Indiana Jones, it was getting late, and we headed over to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, where we watched the sunset before heading home for dinner. By the time we got back to our hotel, we’d been walking around for 14 hours, and my feet were sore in my new sneakers.

The last couple of days, I’ve been taking it easy, reading and relaxing. Jake, Bryan and Karol left for Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and went looking for a cheap hotel. I ended up in a place called Sakura Village, where I’m staying in a double room with aircon, my own bathroom, cable TV and minibar for 5 dollars per night. One of the things that are peculiar about Cambodia, is that the ATM machine only dispense US dollars… To change to Riel, the local currency, you need to go to street-side exchange operations or banks! The Riel is used instead of cents, so that one dollar divides into 4000 riel of small change, but price is almost always given in dollars. Across the street from where I stay, is a hotel called Soria Moria. Because of the name, a palace in the clouds from a Norwegian fairy tale, and because it had a Norwegian flag, and promised Scandinavian food, I went there Wednesday night. It was run by a couple from Sandefjord, and I spoke briefly with the wife. It was one dollar night, with tapas at a buck a piece, so I stayed a while, and sampled amongst other things the Swedish meat balls… They also had free Wifi, and when I got online, I found that there was to be a small Couchsurfers’ meeting that night, at a place called… Soria Moria! I kept hanging around, and eventually met up with a group of surfers. After dinner, three of us went to the Bar Street to play pool, and after several rounds eventually ended up playing Wii Sports in a bar until time came to head off to bed. šŸ™‚
Yesterday I sat in a garden restaurant reading all day, just enjoying life, and today I am meeting with a German guy Annikken and I met in Hoi An. First though, I am planning to go see if I can find this place that’s supposed to have some nice miniature landscapes, copies of the Angkor areas, and get some nice bird’s eye view photos. šŸ˜‰

PS: It’s REALLY IS a small world. On my last day in Vietnam, I walked into a restaurant to have an iced coffee, and I started talking to some of the other patrons. Two of them were Swedes, and the third was a Norwegian they’d met and travelled with for a couple of days. His name was Jostein, and he went to school with one of my best friends, Hallgeir…

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! šŸ™‚

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30Ā  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.