Our adventure to Brunei

Recently, we were lucky enough to get a few days off of school for Buddhist lent and it just so happened that we needed to do a border bounce for our visas. So where did we decide to travel? . . . Brunei! Neither of us had heard much about the small county and thought it would be a unique experience and another check-mark on our list to visit all of the ASEAN countries.

Where is Brunei?

Some of you may be wondering, where is Brunei? … maybe even what is Brunei?!?

Brunei is a small country located on the island of Borneo, surrounded by Sarawak, Malaysia. It is the 5th wealthiest country in the world and is home to some of the oldest rainforest in the world! It’s twice the age of the Amazon rainforest.  For the geographers reading this, a lot of it is still primary growth, so yeah, it is definitely a forest lover’s dream! The country is ruled by a Sultan who recently introduced Sharia law as the law of the land. Therefore, alcohol is banned and non-existent (except non-Muslims are allowed to bring in a small amount with many restrictions).

How to get there:

Getting to Brunei can be easy! The airport is trying to market itself with the help of Singapore as a stopover destination for tourists from Australia, New Zealand, and more! We found ourselves a flight out of Krabi to Kuala Lumpur, and then from KL to Brunei.  For those living in Southeast Asia it is typically cheaper to by a second flight out of KL then going straight through.

Our Trip:

Day 1:

Before coming to Brunei, we really did not know what to expect. When we finally arrived in the airport we were greeted by the mother and daughter of the family we were staying with through Airbnb. They picked us up and another girl from Chiang Mai and drove us to their apartment. The drive was quite beautiful, everything was green and there were spurts of giant mansions.  There was almost no traffic, which was quite surprising as everyone in the country pretty much has 1 or more cars because gas is CRAZY cheap ( 53 cents) and cars are also extremely cheap ( someone told us about 5,000 Bruneian Dollars for a very good used car [3700 USD]).

The apartment we stayed in was extremely nice and in a great location within walking distance of many attractions. Our host family had recently moved to Brunei from Indonesia. The mother was a stay at home mom originally from Indonesia and the husband is originally from Sarawak Malaysia, but of Chinese decent (just a few hours away). They have a two year old daughter who was learning English and Chinese and loved to play with us when we were around. The family was extremely nice, helped us out with directions, gave us rides and made an amazing breakfast!  Please check them out on Airbnb if you are planning a trip to Brunei.

For our first night in town we were not really sure what to do. We decided to go downtown. Our first and important stop was to find food!! We were recommended a small stand down the street from where we were dropped off called Nasi Kotak Mama. This is where I learned that Brunei food might just be my all time favorite food. The stand serves different pieces of chicken  and rice, covered in the traditional sambal sauce, and all for $1! It may sound simple, but this sauce was so tasty, I am really upset I can’t find any in Thailand. The lady who worked at the stand was extremely friendly and even gave us a complimentary water when she learned we had just arrived.

Afterwards, we continued walking around in hopes of seeing a mosque and getting some more food, after all we had been traveling all day and starving!!! Nearby, we stumbled upon some food stands that had been set up to celebrate the Sultan’s 70th birthday the day before. Everything, at the stands looked amazing, mainly consisting of different types of roti, chicken, colorful drinks and more. Not too long after we arrived Mike and I noticed the most amazing sign ever…. PIZZA ROLLS! Now this may not sound that exciting to most people, but we almost NEVER eat cheese and pizza so of course we had to check it out. For just  $3.5 we ended up purchasing a massive pizza roll, and several pieces of Naan. The pizza roll was filled with some of the most amazing chicken and cheese and the Naan was just delicious. Everyone at the market was extremely friendly and curious to know where we came from. We ended up enjoying all of our food afterwards down by the waterfront where we watched many families cross over the Kampong Ayer water village in beautiful traditional dress.

After enjoying the water front for awhile we headed over to the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, one of Brunei’s most iconic landmarks. There we unfortunately had just missed the time that tourists were able to enter and decided to just walk around the grounds. The mosque itself was just incredible. The lawns were well manicured, and it felt like we were somewhere from Aladdin, anywhere but South East Asia. Slowly, the sun began to set and it was a sunset like I have never seen before. The sky turned to beautiful shades or orange, and then to vibrant pink and purple, all just hitting the mosque so beautifully. It was truly magical to watch. We spent quite some time just watching the sunset and checking out the iconic mosque, and then decided to just walk around town some more before walking back to our Airbnb.

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Day 2:

The next morning we woke up to a homemade breakfast consisting of chicken burgers, fresh bread, eggs, fresh vegetables, tea, coffee, Milo, peanut butter, jam, coconut jam, and more! After enjoying our food we headed into downtown for a few hours before our trip to the rainforest.  After stumbling across a morning market we decided to take a water taxi across the river to explore Kampong Ayer which is the world’s largest water village. Once you arrive to the village there is a small cultural center explaining the history of the village. There is also a watch tower you can climb to get great views of the area, including a glimpse at the Sultan’s palace, which is restricted for visitation (the only time you can visit is the three days following the end of Ramadan). In the tower we met a very friendly local who we chatted with for quite some time. He explained to us the history and geography of Brunei and the surrounding nations. The man was very high in the social scene of Brunei as he has served in the military and now was in charge of selecting only 5 students from the entire country to study English abroad. Afterwards, we walked around the village on very rickety wooden planks. There we were greeted with friendly smiles from locals and  we even met a man who showed us the strange fish and crabs that he had just caught. The village is very large and we were only able to check out a small part before heading back across the river (Kampong Ayer is actually comprised of 42 villages and is the largest floating village in the world. There are schools, a park and even a fire department).

Next, we headed to a ferry where we met an Australian man named Peter who joined the same tour as us and headed out for our rainforest experience. We took the small cramped ferry from BSB to Bangar, the main town in Temburong District.

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Day 3:

The next late afternoon we arrived back from our rainforest adventure and headed back to our Airbnb to get cleaned up and rest for a bit. There the husband offered to take us drop us off at the Jame ‘Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque, which is the largest in Brunei. Once again we were not able to go in, as tourists can only enter for one hour each day. The mosque itself was beautiful, clean,  and was like straight out of a movie. After walking around for some time we headed over to the nearby night market. There we were overwhelmed by the amount of great food choices. We decided to try a pita, some different meat filled pastries, Tea Tahrik, some local pandan coconut desserts, and a small slice of cake.  The tea itself tasted like a better version of Thai tea, it’s a bit milky, and just downright amazing. I made sure to buy some to take home. The foods were okay, Mike was dissappointed. The pandan was good, unfortunately the cake was not . . . well we thought it was a chocolate cake of some sort but it was DURIAN!!!! After taking a bite Mike insisted that I try it and it was the most disappointing thing ever.

Following the market we decided to walk around a bit more to get a bit more food, and just see the area. We ended up stopping at a local fast-food type chicken place that serves amazing cheap chicken, cheese, and of course even more amazing sambal sauce. Eventually, our lack of sleep from the night before and tired legs began to set in so we decided to head back for relaxation and sleep.

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Day 4:

On our final morning we woke up once again to a delicious homemade breakfast where we were able to chat with the family a bit more and really get to know them. Learning about Brunei and the nearby other cultures is definitely very interesting, especially for two geographers. After breakfast we headed to the nearby rainforest trails. Yes, that’s right, rainforest trails as Bandar Seri Begawan is located within the rainforest. Just off the side of one of the main roads, locals and tourists can enjoy an enormous park full of many trails and a waterfall.  We originally wanted to find the waterfall, but unfortunately it was not very clear where it was located on the map so we just picked a direction and headed up. I’m not sure why, but we choose the steepest hill to climb where we eventually came across a view point tower. There we had a beautiful view of luscious rainforest and the city. Bandar Seri Begawan is very lucky that it has such beauty in it’s downtown. After spending some time at the view point we decided to try and find the waterfall.  Feeling very tired and seeing how much steeper the trail was, we decided to change route and explore more of the park closer to the entrance before heading to the Royal Regalia Museum.

The Royal Regalia Museum was highly recommended to us as worth a visit. It is free to enter and you need to put on slippers to walk around and lock up your bag. The museum showcases the Sultan’s and royal family of Brunei, some history, and some of the many gifts given to the Sultan from around the world. Overall, the museum was very majestic and definitely worth stopping in for.The A/C and soft carpets weren’t so bad either.

Next, we walked around town a bit more and stopped in a restaurant for lunch and tea. We immediately were drawn to the buttermilk sambal chicken dish. It was full of flavor, had a small kick to it, and is officially my favorite dish. I want to head back to Brunei just to eat this dish again.

Lastly, we headed back to the house to pack up, shower, and unfortunately get ready to leave. There we hung out with the daughter for some time and talked with her mother a bit more before driving out to the airport .

More about Brunei:

Everything was super clean, it was just incredible to see

There were almost no motorbikes, the cars NEVER honked, and they always stopped to let you cross the street! I don’t know anywhere else where this occurs.

The people of Brunei are extremely friendly, no matter who you are, and all seem to live harmoniously even if they are of different religions.

The Sultans tries to look after his people to great extents and offers natives free health care. He will even fly them to another country if they need a special procedure or treatment.

There are only a handful of taxi’s, and buses run frequently until 6pm. Otherwise, the streets are very well lit and extremely safe.

The traditional dress is exceptionally beautiful and you can see many well dressed people dressed in traditional wear. Even though the country is quite modest, there were not many women completely covered up, I find there are more in our part of Thailand.

Everything is heavily air conditioned, you need to bring a jacket

FOR MORE PHOTOS, click on our interactive map or check out the hundreds of photos we took at our flickr page HERE!

How To Travel To Cambodia From Bangkok

We have read and heard many horror stories about the crossing the land border from Thailand into Cambodia. Stories about scams and hardships are abundant (we personally know people who have been scammed here at different times). However, we found crossing the border from Aranyaprathet (Thailand) to Poipet (Cambodia) to be quite easy if you have a sense of what you need to do.
We advise you to do a little research about the border crossing to ensure a good experience getting into Cambodia.

 Travel by Bus:

 There are several options when it comes to taking a bus to Cambodia. You can book online or go the Mochit (Northern) bus station in Bangkok.

 When booking a bus you typically have 3 options:

            A: Book a direct bus ticket all the way to Siem Reap.

            B: Book a bus to the border and then get on a different bus across the border.

           C: Book a bus to the border (Aranyaprathet/Poipet) and then grab a taxi or mini van at Poipet to take you to your next destination. *You can also take a bus leaving Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Station (Ekamai).

 We took Nattakan (Transport Co. LTD Company) direct bus to Siem Reap for 750 baht. This bus departs at 8 and 9am each day from Mochit in Bangkok. If you want to book your ticket online, you can only get it at ThaiTicketMajor.com. You can also purchase your ticket at the bus station, but you may need to buy it a few days in advance as this is the only direct bus service from Bangkok and seats can fill up fast.

 It was an okay ride there, we stopped for 30 minute break midway at a gas station complex and were provided some water. However, once we entered into Cambodia it felt as if the driver was constantly honking every second of the drive. Later on we realized this is what most bus drivers tend to do in Cambodia. When you arrive in Siem Reap, the bus go the Nattakan office. They provide “free” tuk tuk service to your hotel however this service is not really free as the drivers expect a tip and really want you to hire them to take you to Angkor and around Siem Reap during your stay. In Cambodia, Tuk Tuk drivers at bus stations will always offer you cheap rides to your hotel, but they then expect you to hire them for your trips later on. We were always upfront with the driver so they would know that we would not be interested in further hiring them.

Non Direct Buses:  

If you do not book a bus all the way through there is a free shuttle after the second immigration office in Poipet that will take you to a transportation hub where you can hop on another bus, mini van or taxi to your destination in Cambodia.

 Approximate Time to Siem Reap: 6-8 hours, can be longer

Price to/From Siem Reap: 750 Baht (if you book online there is a minimal processing fee).

* Avoid various scams offering to take you to Siem Reap from Khao San Road

 Travel by Train:

 A third class trains depart from Hulamphong station in Bangkok daily in the morning. Its a beautiful journey, but beware you are sitting on hard wooden seats without any fan or air-conditioning, that is if you get a seat. The train will only take you to the border at Aranyaprathet. Once you arrive you will need to take a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi to Rong Khlua to go through immigration and customs. Watch out for scams and do not go anywhere else that the driver may try to persuade you to see. Once you walk through customs and immigration you will then have the option of taking a taxi or bus onward to a different destination (take the free shuttle bus in Poipet near immigration to these modes of transportation).

 You can purchase train tickets at the train station, via travel agency, or request them from Thailand Train Ticket.

This is your cheapest option.

 Approximate time: 6-10 hours

Price to/from Aranyaprathet : 47baht

 Travel by Casino Bus:

If you are able to risk it and want to save some money try to catch a casino bus! You can catch the bus at Lumphini Park or Mochit Bus station early in the morning. I am not sure exactly what time to catch the bus as we took this returning from Poipet late in the afternoon. For only 200 baht, hop on a colorful bus with the Thai casino goers heading to Cambodia for the day.

 The Return Journey

If you want to catch a casino bus back to Bangkok, cross the border back into Thailand. The buses are located in the car park around the corner to the right of 711 past the local vans after immigration and customs. It costs 200 baht and the attendants are extremely friendly and happy to have you on board. When it was time for our stop at Lumphini Park returning to Thailand the whole bus somehow knew and made sure we knew when to get off.

Approximate time: 4 hours

Price to/from Poipet: 200 baht

Fly:

 There is always the option to fly to Cambodia if you can afford it.

Visas

 If you are an American Citizen you can either get your Visa at the border or order it online through Evisa beforehand ($37). Personally, we read some horror stories of people getting scammed into buying fake visas at the border so we went ahead and spent the $5 extra to do it before hand. It is important to note, that not all borders accept the EVisa. We are pretty sure that Poipet is the only land border to accept this visa.

 *Other nationalities may be able to get a Visa upon arrival for 15 days

 What to do when you get to Poipet border:

 First check out of Thailand, then walk across border a few minutes until you reach the casinos and cross the road. If you don’t have an evisa, go to immigration building number one to purchase your visa on arrival. You need to have a passport sized photo with you, if you don’t you can just purchase one at the counter. We have also read that sometimes the officials ask for a “fee” to speed up the process but cannot attest to whether this is accurate or not.

If you have an evisa just go further along to building number 2 (you just skip the first building/process), fill out the small slip and get your entrance stamp.

 Overall, this can be simple border crossing if you are aware of the procedures.

 *Avoid any people trying to sell you an visa as it will most likely be a scam. Also we know people that were scammed by men in police uniforms (who were not police).

 Just use your head. We had a little trouble finding the second immigration office but we made sure to ask an official who we determined to be legitimate and he pointed us to the correct building without any issues!

Please let us know if you have any comments or further questions about crossing into Cambodia from Thailand!

One Week in Bali

With some changes in the start date for the upcoming school year Mike and I need to cancel our previously scheduled trip and embark on a new one for one week. Luckily for us traveling in SE Asia last minute is easy and still affordable. We spent a good day or two contemplating where to go as there are so many great options, but our deep desires to visit Bali won and with one day, we booked everything we needed to! 

Don’t feel like reading the rest of this blog? Then check out our video HERE to see our trip to Bali!

How to get to Bali……

 Air Asia  and Malindo Air have crazy cheap flights to Bali from Bangkok! If you are coming from Southern Thailand however, it may be cheaper to fly out of Hat Yai or Krabi and make a stop in Kuala Lumpur first (or travel first to Langkawi or Penang, Malaysia and then take the train down to KL). The flight from Bangkok is an easy four hours from DMK airport, but the cheapest one is at 6am! Being on a tight budget we took the 6am flight. You can either catch a cab around 2am to get to the airport or sleep in the airport the night before (head to the observation deck and you will find plenty of others doing the same thing). If you head there the night before you can take the BTS system to Victory Monument and catch a cheap van to the airport for 30baht! Either way make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and check in…there are MANY MANY tour groups catching 6am flights and if you fly Air Asia they are not adequately staffed that early to handle everyone.

 

Day 1 Bali:

We arrived in Bali early in the morning  and were immediately in awe of the area as the airport is absolutely BEAUTIFUL. We previously had read about catching public Bemos ( minivans) to Ubud for cheap. However, this was not the case as we searched much of the area to no avail until we finally gave up and were able to talk down a taxi driver to 150,000 rupiah. The drive to Ubud was easy, but when we arrived our driver was not able to find our hotel and spent a good 30 minutes pulling over and asking people. Eventually we made it to the Ramaniya House (be sure to read our review below). We were greeted by the friendly staff and taken up to our lovely room overlooking the football field across the street. After settling in for a bit we headed out to find food. We walked down the main road heading to the Royal Palace and saw so many wonderful looking restaurants.  Many were a bit pricier than we are used to, but we finally agreed on a beautiful place for lunch. Food was around 30-50 rupiah and they even had a grilled chicken and avocado salad. As these are two things I miss a lot in Thailand I had to get it while Mike enjoyed a tofu dish. Our meals were great and washed down with delicious sugar cane tea and Balinese coffee.

Next we headed out to Monkey Forest. Yes, its exactly what it sounds like…a beautiful forest with several temples and overrun by monkeys. It cost 40,000 rupiah and is a very nice place to stroll around, well if you don’t mind being bothered by monkeys. Make sure you do NOT have any open bags and have something to put your water bottle in as the monkeys will come and try to take anything they can. We were not bothered by too many monkeys although a few did have fun pulling at my shirt, skirt, and hair, and a couple did reach quickly into my bag to steal something out of my camera case. This is not a place for people afraid of monkeys, but as long as you do not make eye contact or freak out, you will be okay.

Following Monkey forest we decided to just walk around town a bit. We spent quite a bit of time checking out different tours we could do to see more of the area and to book a cheaper Mt. Batur sunrise trek tour. Lastly, we went to Jl Goutama street to find a cheaper dinner and stumbled upon Warung Biah Biah. It was filled with fellow tourists and set up in a community style where everyone shared larger tables. The menu was quite amazing as it was filled with tons of great foods, cheap prices (be aware that most places add an additional 10% to your bill for tax), and had items like tofu, Tempe, and avocado! The service is extremely SLOW, but worth the wait if you have time. We ordered chicken satay and Nasi Campur. The chicken satay was surprisingly a large portion and one of the best I have had. The peanut sauce was basically peanut butter and so delicious. The Nasi Campur consisted of: rice, a chicken wing, tempe with tomatoes, tofu, greens and coconut, and tempe satay. It was GREAT! The flavors and spices were so good and the gateway to our love for Indonesian food. We spent the rest of the night keeping it chill, after all we did sleep in the airport the night before.

 

 

 

 

Day 2:

We were greeted at 8am by the hotel staff delivering us breakfast in bed, well to our door. It consisted of a fruit platter, toast, an egg, and tea/white coffee. This was such a treat especially having my FAVORITE white coffee once again. Shortly after breakfast we were picked up for a tour around the area and were not really sure to to expect for most of the day.  Our tour included us and 5 other people crammed into a car.

Our fist stop was the Elephant Cave Goa Gaja. The cave received its name from its famed carving of an Elephant at the entrance. It’s a beautiful, but small place to stop. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it. Cost: 15,000 rupiah includes sarong and sash.

 Next stop was a Batik Hand Weaving factory in Gianyar. I was previously very excited about this part of the tour. Batik is a common style pattern of fabric that can be found across Indonesia, Malaysia, and southern Thailand. I personally own a skirt that I am completely in love with, and everyone in our old town has many pieces of Batik fabric. However, our visit was a big fail. We had about 15 minutes to watch someone weave and see a very expensive gift shop. Nobody was able to give us much information or anything about the process or history. If you are curious in learning a bit more, ask a local or visit the Fabric Museum at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Cost: Free

Our next place on the tour was the Kehen Temple, which is the second largest in Bali. It cost about 30,000 rupiah to get in and comes with a sarang and sash. The temple itself was absolutely stunning and quite different from the Thai temples that we are used to. I really enjoyed our visit here, although I am not sure I would drive all the way out of my way just to see it if we had not been on a tour.  Cost:30,000 rupiah

After touring around for a bit we headed off to the Coffee Garden , Spice,& Salak Fruit Plantation in Menange.

Dewa Warung. There we learned about Luwak Coffee in which Bali in famous for. Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive coffee’s in the world. *The beans are fed to a civit who digest it before the coffee is made. Recently, there have been many concerns at how ethical the coffee is as some of the animals may be force fed and then kept awake during the day for tourists to see even though they are nocturnal. After a quick tour and lesson on how the coffee is made we all sat down for a coffee and tea tasting. There we tried SOO many drinks. However, you did have to pay ( The tour and regular tastings is free) to try the Luwak coffee. Some of the amazing drinks we tried were: coconut, vanilla, sweet potato and ginseng coffee/ Lemongrass, mangosteen, roselle, and ginger tea. I really wish we had bought more of all of the drinks to take back with us as they were just absolutely amazing.  Cost: Free

 Full from tea and coffee we next went to the Besikah Temple, the largest temple in Bali. It was just WOW. We had just over an hour and that was nowhere enough time to explore and take everything in. When you do arrive the ticket counter will try and have you book a tour through them to enter. You DO NOT need to do this as you can walk freely throughout the complex without any problem. Even though we have plenty of pictures that do not even come close to showing how beautiful the temple was.  Cost 15,000 rupiah does not include a sarong so be sure to bring one with you ladies. We did hear mixed things about if males were required, but Mike walked in without one and no problems occurred.

Last two stops……Finally, hungry as ever we were taken to a resort at the Bukit Jambul rice fields.Luckily I had purchased several cheap passion fruits and mangosteens at the previous temple as we did not want to spend a fortune on food. These two fruits are typically quite expensive, but for some reason were crazy cheap here. We were able to sit back, eat our fruit and enjoy viewing some amazing rice fields. At times depending on the clouds we were also able to see the nearby Mt Agun standing tall in all of its beauty. Cost: Free (if you decide not to eat lunch)

Finally, we headed out for our last stop to the Old Court Justice aka Kertagosa. It was a lovely place to end the tour, especially as it didn’t require climbing anymore steps. It was a beautiful place to see, but once again not a place I would visit if I was not on a tour. Cost: 10-15,000 rupiah

Overall, it was a nice tour and we are glad we went on it as it was a great way to see part of Bali. However, we are not sure that we would recommend it as our driver was not the friendliest and we felt rushed most times. Usually we prefer to do stuff on our own, but we really just wanted to relax and not have to worry about driving or anything else.

 The rest of the night was spent walking around and grabbing dinner at Warung Biah Biah.

 Different types of Nasi Campur: Tofu, Tempe, Chicken, Vegetables! A MUST try!

 

 

Day 3:

Around 1:30am our first alarm went off! Mike and I needed to be out of the door by 2am to await for our ride to Mt. Batur. That’s right, us and many other tourists were on our way to hike an active volcano! Not having many warm clothes with us since we live in southern Thailand we proceeded to layer up with several clothes as we heard the hike could be a bit chilly, especially at the top. We spent quite a bit of the morning driving around picking up other passengers and stopping for tea and banana pancakes! When we go to the mountain we were split up into a group of 8 and each handed flashlights as it was pitch black! Really wish I had two since I have become pretty night blind making the trek up quite the challenge. Around 3:45 we started our journey up. At first the hike seemed pretty simple not so steep, but our guides were basically running exhausting me and several others out quickly. However, this ended up just being the walk to the mountain. EEEk. Finally, we started our climb up…and it was a bit difficult. Mike soared straight up along the steep path while I struggled a bit more, after all I have two horrible knees (with 2 great braces on). At times the path became quite crowded and there was definitely quite a bit of slipping and falling down between me and a couple others from a different group. Eventually, we made it to the half way point, summit, and then the peak! At times I was not sure if I was going to make it or just slide down the whole mountain. The top half was the worst to hike as it was all sandy (it is a volcano) and super slippery to climb up. Yet, WE DID IT! Being that high in the sky was amazing! The sun had still not risen so we found ourselves in a large amount of clouds waiting to see a peak of something in the distance. While we waited we were able to walk by some plumes aka tiny hot holes to warm up and eat our packed breakfast of toast, egg, and a banana. Unfortunately, I watched my egg slip out of my hands and roll down the volcano. After sometime, we finally were able to see a beautiful sunrise, the town below, rice terraces, and the nearby volcano Mt Agur. This was truly was one of the most amazing things we have done while traveling, and I DO highly recommend hiking Mt. Batur or another nearby volcano if you are ever in Bali. Finally, the time came for our decent down. It was beautiful to see everything that we had climbed up in the night and of course we came across several monkeys. The climb for me consisted of consistently sliding down on my butt through the sand ( goodbye my white jacket), but we finally made it to the bottom! What an accomplishment!

 After our climb exhausted as we still had two more stops to go before we could go home and sleep. First we briefly stopped by a coffee tasting , where we were able to sample some, but nothing compared to the day before. Most of the group just stayed by the van and slept, but we were not going to pass up any opportunity to try some of Bali’s amazing drinks.

Lastly for the morning, we made a pit stop at the famous Tegalalang Rice Terrace. Well, these were famous to us as they have been consistently pictured in our previous  geography books in both undergrad and graduate school. The terraces were just stunning! I really hope we can go back one day and explore through them when we have more time and also more awake to take everything in.

The rest of the day we spent resting up, exploring the town and meeting a friend we had made in Thailand for dinner and drinks. Surprisingly we found a bar with an Indonesian band playing cover songs for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Day 4:

Today we decided that we didn’t hike enough yesterday so we embarked on the Campuhan Ridge Walk followed by 8 more kilometers around Ubud. For those of you who want to continue on after the Campuahan Ridge Walk grab a copy of Lonley Planet. The ridge walk was BEAUTIFUL and a great way to see Ubud without all of the tourists. The walk takes you through lush green fields and rice terraces. There are several artists along the way painting and happy to talk and a couple resorts to stop for a bite to eat. We stopped at the Karsa Cafe. They have plenty of advertisements so you won’t miss it. There you can sit overlooking a beautiful lotus pond (come early to see them bloom) and some rice terraces.  The prices were surprisingly not outrageous as dishes cost as low as 20,000 rupiah. We enjoyed a nice large coconut to drink and a black sticky rice pudding with coconut milk and palm sugar. Sounds a bit strange, but it was absolutely delicious!! I have seen it on several other menus for breakfast and dessert if you want to try it a different time. After the cafe you can continue on around small towns and more rice terraces for another couple hours or return back to the center. If you do continue on be prepared for 1 very steep hill, but the rest is flat.

Lunch: Dewa Warung ( Pretty much we ate here or Warung Bia Biah for most every meal)

 Later in the day we ventured off to the Ubud Market. Its located across from the Royal Palace and covers a decent size area. The market has many touristy items, clothes, plenty of beautiful batik fabric, and some tea/coffee that you may have tasted on an excursion in Ubud. My number one tip for anyone here (or any market) is to go at closing time, which is around 6pm. Then you can bargain for the best deal as sellers are desperate to get rid of items. In addition, check out the top floors for better deals. My last tip is when bargaining, slice the price in half and then work your way up from there. We had some great luck here including some tea, and two beautiful pieces of fabric that I can’t wait to have made into a skirt!

Lastly, today we saw our first Balinese traditional dance. If you go to the tourists center in front of the Royal Palace the guys there can show you a list of all the dances, times, and prices going on for the week. You can either buy a ticket there or from one of the people selling it on the streets for the same exact price. There are so many options, but the one that was recommended to us which we saw was the Lagong and Barong Dance at the Royal Palace.  This is a MUST SEE! Originally, we wanted to see the chanting dance that Anthony Bourdain saw on his trip here, but that is mainly done out in Uluwatu. The show cost 80,000 rupiah and starts around 7:30, but come by 7 to get a good seat! *you can even sit on the floor in front of the chairs if you would  like. On the night we saw it the place was pretty packed, but luckily we had front row seats (thank goodness as I did not have my glasses). The show was absolutely AMAZING. I have truly never seen anything like this and the dancers were so on point and great with every single crazy movement including the strange finger bending and sharp eye movements. Unfortunately, we came during the end of rainy season and after not getting hit with any it started to drizzle 20 minutes in. Since the place was not covered we all quickly ran across the street to a new area to finish the show. One of my biggest regrets coming to Bali was not seeing more performances…but hey, guess we have to come back!

Day 5:

After enjoying our morning breakfast in bed of fresh fruit banana pancakes, and white coffee we boarded a van to take us half way to our next destination of Seminyak. We booked the van just down the street from our hotel for 60,000 each person. There are vans that will take you there, but you need to book them more than a day in advance (whoops) or you can splurge a bit and take a taxi. Another great option to get around is to use the app Grab Taxi which is very similar to Uber, but you need to activate it before you arrive or have an Indonesian sim card to use it. The van we took dropped us just outside of Seminyak in the tourist town of Kuta. Before arriving we did some research ahead of time to figure out how much a taxi to Seminyak should be, after all its super close by. We read it was supposed to be 30,000, but after asking MANY drivers we were only able to find someone to take us for 40,000…not too horrible of a price. When we arrived in Seminyak once again our driver could not find our hotel. He refused to call at first, but eventually gave in. By then he was super frustrated and just wanted out, he pulled over made us get out and pointed in the direction of our hostel ( he had to drive that direction anyways). Having no idea where to go we started walking and after asking some other hotels we eventually stumbled upon the ICH hostel. The main reason we were staying here is because a fellow teacher from Thailand had been working there, but was unable to be there during our visit.  The hostel itself is very nice and has the friendliest staff.

After settling in and figuring out some stuff we headed down the street for a Balinese buffet style lunch and to the beach, after all that is why we came to this area. We were about a ten minute walk away, even though it felt like forever as it was a billion degrees outside. Eventually, we reached the beach. It was…uhhh…well great for surfers. There were red flags in the waters and signs warning against swimming, absolutely no shade, and chairs you could pay to lay down on. This would have been great if we were surfers or even wanted a tan, but we are not surfers and all we wanted was some shade if we could not cool off in the water.  After being a bit disappointed ( Thailand beaches aka Koh Lipe has pretty much ruined all other beaches for us) we headed to just walk around town for the night and return back to watch a beautiful sunset.

 

 

Day 6:

Our last day in Bali! Originally, we wanted to head to Uluwatu or another sea temple, but we decided to just save the money and just relax. The day was spent eating amazing frozen yogurt at Frozen yogi ( if you visit the location in Ubud fist you can get a 10% off card), relaxing, and doing a bit of last minute shopping. There are several hotels with pools that you can pay fee to go and use like Ku De Ta or Potato bar, but we just felt like exploring the city.

 Since it was the first night of Passover I had googled around to see if anything was going on and stumbled upon Shana Tovah the local Chabad who was hosting a sedar right next door to our hostel! We decided to attend, I mean when else are we going to go to a Sephardic sedar in BALI! We were immediately greeted by a friendly Israeli and several yeshiva students when we arrived. For the service the men and women did have to sit separate. This was a bit strange for Mike and a few others who were not 100% sure to do during the service as it was Shabbat. Services lasted about an hour, we all had only Hebrew books, and it was kind of a shit show since there were people from all different backgrounds doing different tunes to songs. Majority of the people there though were Israeli or from Australia. For the actual sedar itself we found ourselves sitting with a British couple around our age who had been backpacking South East Asia. The sedar was a bit like services as everyone kept switching from English to Hebrew and just overall talking a lot. The sedar plate was a bit different than the traditional Ashkenazi one and consisted of lettuce and celery for bitter herbs. Dinner itself was surprisingly quite amazing. They hired chefs from a local resort to cook a variety of chicken, fish, veggies, avocado rolls, and more! We quickly shoved food down our throats as it was already quite late in the night and we had to make it to the airport for our 6am flight. Yes, we spent the night our 3 hours in the airport instead of trying to find a cab and pay for a second night at the hostel.

 Day 7:

We woke up SUPER CRAZY EARLY and headed off to Kuala Lumpur for the day! For those of you trying to save some cash it may be cheaper to fly in and out of there, especially if you are heading to southern Thailand.

Check out our Video! Click HERE

A Day in Kuala Lumpur

During our summer break travels we were fortunate enough to spend 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur! If you are heading to Bali from southern Thailand its a great (and cheaper) way to travel there as you can either fly to KL or take the night train from Hat Yai! KL is a great place to stop amidst your Southeast Asian travels. We loved spending time there and already can’t wait to go back.

You can also watch our video on KL HERE!

First stop: Batu Caves

     Head to KL Sentral and on the main level you can purchase tickets at the Komuter stand. Trains run about every 15-25 minutes and cost 2RM. Take the train all the way to Batu. Trains are extremely clean and you can get some great views of the city on your ride there. The ride takes about 20-30 minutes. The caves are right outside of the train station and consist of three sections. Due to time and money we opted to just do the main section. For those who are unfamiliar with the Batu Caves, it is one of the holiest places in the world for Hinduism. You will see many people visiting for religious purposes and just for fun.

A giant statue (which is the largest in Malaysia), of Lord Murugan stands outside the entrance to the main cave.  Take the 300ish steps up into the caves to see small shrines and beautiful limestone. However, watch out for the monkeys, they will try their hardest to take your food and water. On a clear day you can get great views of KL or so we’ve been told. Currently, due to the extreme heat in the area massive wildfires have been occurring, layering the city in a thick smoke.

* There are two other caves you may hike including one that takes you deep into the cave to see  more formations and animals if you are staying in KL longer!

Second Stop: Merdeka Square

     Hop back on the train and head over to Merdeka Square. There you can see many historic buildings and the famous and beautiful Mosque along the way there. Merdeka Square, also known as Independence Square, is the location where the Union Flag was lowered for the last time. It’s a beautiful area to walk around or just relax on the large grassy area and take in the old and new sites of KL.

Third Stop: KL City Gallery

     Steps away from Merdeka Square you can take an iconic I love KL picture and head into this lovely museum. Tickets cost 5RM, but you actually get a coupon for 5RM to use at the cafe and gift shop at the end of your tour. The museum is small, but a great place to go if you are unfamiliar with the history of KL. They also show an unbelievable light show about how the city is growing tremendously. Seriously, KL is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and just keeps adding on the incredible skyscrapers that showcase it’s skyline.

 

 Fourth Stop: Central Market

     Not far from the City Gallery  is the Central Market an inside and outside market with an Art Deco style. It hosts a variety of shops and food stands ( including some amazing looking Indian Food). It’s also a great place to hideout when a storm hits the city (Unfortunately, we got trapped there for a while)!

Fifth Stop: Jalan Alor

      Walk through China Town and some other fun parts of the city and you will find Jalan Alor, an AMAZING street full of tons of street food.This street was mentioned in all of the travel guides and while it was nice to see, we heard there is a better street with tons of street carts that locals frequent (of course we can’t remember the name). It reminded me a lot of Penang, but larger and a couple RM more. There we could not help but get our favorite Wanton Mee. Cost 8RM.

 Sixth Stop: Petronas Towers

      There are so many ways to get to a nice spot to see the towers. We walked over to the Pavilion Mall where you can take their sky walk way to the towers. Head down to the bottom of the towers and hangout with what feels like everyone else in the city. By going at night you not only get to see a wonderful water show, but get beautiful photos and a glimpse at the nearby and even taller KL tower.

 Seventh and Final Stop: KL Sentral

     Since we were taking the train at midnight and a bit exhausted from the day we decided to head back to the train station. There we were able to treat ourselves to 2RM AMAZING Indian Roti and a 1RM lychee ice cream from McDonalds! Not long after we headed off to Hat Yai. For those taking this train ride be sure to bundle up as it was the coldest train ride yet!

 Link to our video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cq84jFhHH4

 

Cambodia: Video

We traveled to Cambodia for 1.5 weeks in March (2016).

Lisa created a video of our trip to Cambodia. Click HERE to watch the video!

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Itinerary:

Phnom Penh

Siem Reap

Battambang

We will create another post detailing our trip soon.

Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUOkA2GZaQE&feature=youtu.be

Preview: Daily life of a kindergarten teacher

Interested what is like to teach Kindergarten and first grade in Trang Thailand? Then check out our latest video, a preview of Lisa’s day at school.

Thai Desserts: Part 1

There are so many amazing and delicious foods throughout Thailand, particularly desserts! Here is just a glimpse at some of these incredible sweets!

Before Thailand, Michael was not a big dessert lover, however much to his dismay and of course his enjoyment he had developed quite the sweet tooth. It has yet to match Lisa’s but we both definitely indulge in dessert most days.

-Found all over, but is large part of Southern Thai cuisine

-Typically filled with an egg, and/or fruit but can also be filled with meat (non-pork). Additional toppings often include chocolate, Ovaltine, Milo, and/or Nutella

-Served with sugar, condensed milk, tomato sauce and/por chilli sauce

-15-50 baht depending on location

Thai Crepes

-Found in most towns at local stands and markets

-Can choose between sweets and some meats as fillings/toppings

-Different then typical crepe, usually large and very crunchy, some can be soft though

-15-30 Baht

Doughnuts

-Thai’s love their doughnuts! Donuts are found everywhere

-Our favorite are the large white ones filled with custard

-Price may vary depending on size and type, usually 10-35 baht depending on location and stall

Waffles 

-Found at most markets and hip cafes

-One of our favorite at the local market in Thung Yao is stuffed with coconut, but there are other options as well

-3-10 Baht for locally made waffle, 40-50 bht for Hong Kong style waffle, 30-50+ bht for cafe waffle that comes with fruit and ice cream

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Waffle from local place in Lipong!

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Amazing waffle from Snack Cafe in Trang with fresh fruit, chocolate, oreos and strawberry ice cream!

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Hong Kong Waffle stuffed with bananas and chocolate chips from the Weekend Market in Trang

 

Trang Cake

-Speciality in Trang, can be found throughout the town

-Wide variety of flavors, a popular option is the three flavor cake: Orange, Coffee and Chocolate

-30-75 baht depending on bakery

-When you see Thais leaving Trang, they always have boxes upon boxes with them