Monday, December 12, 2016

CONVERSATIONS WITH A RINJANI PORTER


If you look to the right of this page, ' Conquer Mt. Rinjani ' is right there on my to-do's. It's an active volcano in Indonesia, with the crater sunken into a lake. I knocked it off the bucketlist a couple months back. 


There are zero facilities on Mt. Rinjani so the only comforts you have are what you can take with you. It's near impossible doing this trek yourself ; you have to hire porters to carry your tents and food. 



Powered by Tim Tam.


***

The night before our trek, we stayed at Senaru - a small village in the highlands just next to Rinjani. It is commonly used as the base for trekkers raring to go up the mountain. Aside from the few hostels and warungs to eat, there really isn't much else to do in Senaru. There is not much emphasis on schooling and there are no ways for teenagers / young adults to and interact and socialize which involves hobbies, learning, leisure, etc. There had been a wedding in the village of Senaru right before we started our expedition, and I was talking about it with my porter (who was born in Senaru).

Me: So how do young adults meet others in Senaru? 
Porter: Well you know, you hang out with your friends around town then you see a girl with her friends. You ask your friends if they know any of her friends, you add her on Facebook and start chatting then you ask her if she wants to hang out. Then over time you guys become a thing and maybe get married after a couple of years.
Me: Lol lol lol lol lol



Quiet highland village of Senaru. 


***
Porter: You know, I used to work an office job in Mataram (the biggest town in Lombok). But I decided to leave and become a porter instead.
Me: Why?
Porter: I prefer working as a porter because unlike the office job I don't have to deduct expenses for food and commute to work. Another plus point is all the interesting people I meet and take up the mountain. Besides that, in an office I used to receive a fixed salary per month of IDR 1,800,000 (RM550~ / USD140~). As a porter, you get paid for each trip you make up the mountain so your salary all depends on how fit you are and how hard you can work. In a month I make an average of 8 trips and receive IDR 3,500,000 (Rm1200~ / USD265~) including tips. 
Me: What do you do with your money? 
Porter: I save it at home. (There are no banks in Senaru)
Me: Yeah, but there's only so much paper notes you can hoard. What do you do when it comes to a certain amount?
Porter: Oh! Hmm, we invest it in assets when we have enough.
Me: Investments and assets? Interesting! Tell me more. What do you invest in?
Porter: We buy a calf, then we rear it for a while and sell it when it's big enough.
Me: How much does a calf cost?
Porter: About IDR 5,000,000 (RM1500~ / USD 400~)
Me: How long does it take to rear it to a fully grown cow and how much can you sell it for?
Porter: It takes about 1.5 years and we sell it for IDR 15,000,000 (RM4500~ / USD1200~)

Me thinking in my head
* So it takes them 1.5 years to generate an ROI of 200%? That's actually a really kickass investment strategy! *


That big red blob is actually me pondering life on the summit of Mt. Rinjani.

Monday, October 31, 2016

MY FIRST BACKPACK: GELERT SHADOW 65L + 10L

All this while, I've been travelling with a 28L pack - sufficient for a weekend away, not so for longer trips with all manner of weather and activities bundled in (winter in Sydney, hiking Mt. Rinjani in Lombok, diving in Koh Tao, etc). 

This has forced me to always take a large separate carry-on, which is truly annoying when you're running through airports, shoving luggage into bus compartments, wading knee-high through waves from the shore to the taxiboat to take you to your next island, or wandering around in a new city trying to find your hostel on foot and walking for up to 3 hours lugging all your stuff around (because if you're anything like me, you'll be too cheap to pay aka get ripped off by a cab driver).

Finally, I said enough was enough and bought myself a proper travelling rucksack. Yes, the massive kind all the backpackers use which look like they could well fit everything plus the kitchen sink.

My rucksack holds 65L + 10L (expandable) with a lightweight aluminium frame (helps distribute weight evenly), comes with a raincoat, and has a nice comfy sturdy belt with buckles (so weight is also portioned on your hips and back instead of solely on your shoulders). It has a special compartment for shoes and I got mine in green! (My favourite colour). 

I tried it on in the store, taking my time to adjust every strap and buckling up fully to have a proper feel of how it would fit me. It did great! 





Pictures are of the Gelert Shadow 55L + 10L as I couldn't find any of the 65L + 10L ; though I do assure you they look just the same with the only difference being size.

I was a bit skeptical as I'd never heard of Gelert. I researched them and turns out they are a long-time established UK owned company which manufacture an entire world of hiking, camping, and backpacking gear. Think tents, hiking poles, sleeping bags, hiking boots, backpacks, raincoats, etc. Several reviews from varied sources give them the thumbs up, so I would assume they are a reliable bet.

Looking forward to many happy travels with this one. :)

***
In case you're wondering, I got mine for Rm119 (marked down from Rm600) from Sports Direct Warehouse in Subang. I would highly recommend them as they have an abundance of options to cater to every budget and preference. Karrimor, Deuter, North Face, and Osprey are the more prominent brands which come at Rm600-800 on average for a 55L.

Sports Direct Warehouse
Address: 8, Jalan SS 13/5, Subang Jaya Industrial Estate, 47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Business hours: 10am - 8pm daily (open on weekends)






Thursday, October 20, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt. 3

This is a recollection of my solo backpacking trip to Laos in July 2014.

Pt. 1 
http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/2016/08/solo-backpacking-series-laos-pt1.html

Pt. 2 
http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/2016/08/solo-backpacking-series-laos-pt2.html

***
Day 4: Vang Vieng Village Walk

I woke up and had a baguette for breakfast.


Crispy chicken baguette. Not bad, but bacon was better.

Maddy and I decided to take a walking tour of Vang Vieng, wandering and pausing wherever we fancied.


Setting off.


Lots of puppies in VV.


I think he likes her.


Interesting that they would have an Israeli restaurant.


The only bank in VV. We went in to see if I could change Malaysian ringgit for Laotian kips, but nope. You can change money in VV but bear in mind there are only one or two dodgy looking moneychangers and their rates aren't the best. Vientiane (the capital) has much better rates and loads of banks and licensed moneychangers to get the most bang for your kips.


Communal well.



Really just a hole in the ground with lots of rubbish.


Wandered into another cafe, apparently has 5-star rating on Tripadvisor


Friendly owner spoke decent enough english to have a conversation with. He told us about the glory days of tubing in VV where drugs were rampant and deaths were commonplace.

Partyers would get wasted on alcohol or high on drugs, then slip off their tubes and drown in the river. The police got a lot stricter on tubing due to the alarming number of deaths, shutting down most of the bars (apparently there used to be some 20 riverside bars ; the number has now dropped to about 4-5 establishments).

I think it's pretty stupid for anyone at all to blame the abundance of drugs and alcohol provided by local bars for the number of deaths on the river. If anything, it's on yourself to be responsible, educated, self-aware and watch out for your own best interests (which means not overdosing and drowning lol).

Anyway on with our village walk.


Street food. 2000kp - 5000kp (Rm1~ - Rm2.50~) per skewer.

 

More street food.


Laotions are really fond of adding chopped mint leaves in everything!


Maddy and I. 

Good gracious I looked so different back then.

***

Day 5: Vang Vieng to Vientiane

Departure to Vientiane was today.


Hung round outside the tubing center, which was where my bus would depart from to Vientiane.


4.5 hour ride to Vientiane.


Finally, civilization!


Roaming the city trying to find my couchsurfing host's house.

Back then when I was young and poor (actually still am), I gathered all my pennies to make my travel goals a reality. In order to stretch my budget and do this as cheaply as I could, I came across this site called 'Couchsurfing.com' which is essentially a culture and hospitality exchange site which allows you to find accommodation for free.

I used it in Sumatera, Indonesia, where my host (another poor student who was renting a room in a student house) gave me her bed while she slept on a mat on the floor.

This time round my host in Vientiane was a French girl who was working for the French embassy and lived in a mansion with a massive garden, 5 bedrooms, balcony, kitchen, dining hall, and movie room.

She showed me around and told me to 

" Pick a room, any room "


Well okay.

And that was how I spent my first night in Vientiane.

***
To be continued in Pt. 4.



Sunday, September 18, 2016

LOVING & LEAVING: WHAT SOLO TRAVEL TAUGHT ME




You are wherever you are in the world - checking into your hostel in Siem Reap, strolling along beside the gentle waves of Hoan Kiem, wandering the quaint towns of Sapa valley, by the shore of Koh Tao when you see them ; in solitude as you are. 

Your gazes collide, you exchange mutual smiles, they come over and introduce themselves. Then a friendly expectant pause, waiting for you to fill the silence and bridge the gap.

You only get this one chance before they drift out of your sight - very likely forever.

So what do you do?

You cut the coy act, drop the games, lean in a little closer, let your touch linger a little longer, words speak a little truer.

You take chances you wouldn't have back home, you don't hmm and haww when they ask you if you want to visit the temples of Angkor, explore the waterfalls of Sumatera, or if you'd like to have a night out in Hanoi.

You don't say " Let me check my schedule ", " I'll have to get back to you ", " Maybe I'll see you around " or whatever other bullshit people say to 'keep their options open' or 'play it cool' when in fact you're actually dying to jump pillion onto a rusty scooter, marvel in awe at the thundering magnificence of a mighty waterfall, or down one too many shots en route a bar crawl to tipsy delirium.

You spend a day (maybe two) together wandering cobbled ruins, scrambling over massive boulders exploring the tropical inland, drinking too many fruit shakes, watching sunset from the rooftops.

You know your time together has an expiry date, but you do not sigh and agonize over it - you simply relish and revel in the presence of this person and the beauty of this very moment for what it is.

You part ways in the end, but there is no crying, no cursing. No tearful name-calling nor hateful blame-shaming. It is done lovingly and gracefully. There are no faults and no flaws. Both of you simply accept that you are heading to different destinations and have different paths to follow. 

Maybe someday you'll find your way back together, maybe you'll never see each other again. Regardless, that does not make your time together any less precious nor cheapen it for anything less than it was.

Loving and leaving on the road is so effortlessly beautiful.

***
I ask myself why we fail so miserably when it comes to the same back home. 

When break ups occur, it is always 
   " I said this you said that "
   " She doesn't act like my mom / he treats me better / insert whatever reason people use to cheat these days "
   " You never put down the toilet seat / do the dishes / feed the cat / insert whatever reason people use to breakup these days "

This is not limited purely to romantic relationships. Friendships are not spared either.

We 'make plans' weeks in advance only to cancel at the last minute citing the pathetic excuse of a 'deadline' or 'something came up' (translation: I just didn't feel like it). We say 'let's hang out' or 'catch up soon!' when we know we're blatantly lying through our teeth.

Is it because we know they'll always be there anyway, floating about in the ever familiar social circles? Because we know we can always 'get back to them' because after all, they'll always be available? 

Whatever it is, I wish we all dared more and did more - just as everyone does when it comes to love on the road.

***
Seize chances. Treasure the moments. Live with unapologetic defiance. Leave with love. Regret nothing.

This is what solo travel has taught me about loving, living, and leaving.










Tuesday, September 6, 2016

REVIEW: MALAYSIA PASSPORT ONLINE RENEWAL 2016

As of 1st September 2016, the immigration office of Malaysia revived their online passport renewal services.

(They used to have this service for a brief while in 2014. However after only a couple of months of being in place, it was discontinued for goodness knows what reasons.)

The premise is that you can fill in all your necessary information required for a passport, then pick it up at any of the valid collection points. This is to bypass the lengthy duration of queuing and waiting which is so synonymous with conventional passport renewal.

This is an account of my experience with the Malaysian online passport renewal system, as well as a review of the service at UTC Kuala Lumpur.

***
Part 1: Malaysia Passport Online Renewal

On 2nd September 2016, I decided to apply for my Malaysian passport renewal online.

You can do so here:

As this system is still in the test phase, passport collection can only be done at selected branches. I opted for UTC KL (the one in Pudu Sentral).

You will be required to digitally upload a passport sized photo as per the following guidelines



After that, you will have to fill in the mandatory typical information i.e. date of birth, expiry date of current passport, etc.

This process is then followed by online payment. I paid Rm200 for a passport with 5-year validity.

It was very seamless and I completed it in less than 10 minutes.
Upon clicking 'submit', a message popped out right away

" Tahniah! Anda adalah calon PERTAMA untuk applikasi myonline passport di UTC KL! "
Well gee, thanks I guess?

I immediately went back to the main page to check on the status of my passport. It stated that I could collect my passport within 1 hour. 

Really? Knowing how our government departments are run, I took this information with a big pinch of salt. Whether it would be ready within an hour or not, it wouldn't have been possible for me to collect it so promptly anyway.

***

Part 2: UTC Kuala Lumpur (Pudu Sentral) Service

I gave it 3 days before I called in to ask if my passport was ready. The person on the other end of the line told me that my image uploaded did not adhere to the requirements so I had to come in to have my photo taken. 

UTC Kuala Lumpur operates from Monday to Sunday, 8.30am - 9.30pm.

I made the assumption that meant I would be able to walk-in during those hours, but the officer informed that since I applied online I could only come between Monday to Friday from 9am - 5pm. How inconvenient!

I tried to argue my logic that since their operation hours are Monday to Sunday from 8.30am - 9.30pm, why should I be bound to Monday to Friday from 9am - 5pm for collection?

All I could get in response was 
" Sorry miss, system macamtu means macamtu miss. I tak boleh buat ape je. "

(Translated:
" Sorry miss, it's the system miss. It's nothing to do with me. " )

I fumed at this, but in the end decided not to risk anything going wrong and comply.

I went to UTC KL in Pudu and found a parking spot with ease. Parking rates are RM4 for the first hour and RM3 every subsequent hour.

Arriving at the immigration office, I immediately got a number upon walk-in at 11.15am. I asked roughly how long I would have to wait and the staff told me that since I applied online, I was a 'special case' and would be attended to very soon. 

True enough, it was my turn in less than 10 minutes. I had my picture taken at the counter and the officer informed me that I would have my passport ready in about an hour.

I took a seat while waiting and started chatting to a lady next to me, who informed me that she had arrived at 7am to queue before the office opened. She finally received her passport at 12.45pm with a 6-hour wait time.

On the other hand, I got mine at 1.05pm, less than 2 hours after I'd arrived.

***

My major conclusions from the whole experience?

On online passport renewal: 
While the online passport renewal system has still to be improved on, I would say it probably wasn't the worst.

On the service at UTC KL:
UTC should allow online applicants to collect their passport within regular operating hours.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt.2

This is a recollection of my solo backpacking trip to Laos in July 2014.


You can read about my first and second day here (http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/2016/08/solo-backpacking-series-laos-pt1.html)

*** 
Vang Vieng is notoriously known for it's river tubing scene, so I decided to get with it. When in Rome, right?

On my second day in VV, I went tubing with Charles and Maddy, a Canadian couple I'd met the day before.


Sign stating the prices and tubing etiquette. It's fine to have swimwear (bikinis / swim bottoms) on the river, but not in town.

You pay 55,000kp (MYR27) together with a 60,000kp deposit (refundable upon tube return), making it 115,000kp in total for your very own giant rubber tube. You then climb into a trundling truck bound for out of town, jump into the river with your tube, and float back to town carried by the lazy current. On the way, riverside bars ply the route, with enthusiastic bar boys flinging ropes out to pull you in hopes of you buying a drink or two. 

Magic mushroom shakes and Happy pizza are common options on the menu, EDM music blares from the speakers, partyers don rainbow paint, and games such as volleyball, bowling, and basketball are played on crude courts and lanes.



(Image taken from Internet)


(Image taken from Internet)

***
There are many stories of people dying while tubing, and looking at the bar menu I can clearly see why. However, this is something that can be easily avoided - know your alcohol tolerance and don't do drugs on the river! 

After the first couple of bar visits, I observed some people barely even able to stand up straight. I really wonder what happens to them.

***
I picked a bad day to go tubing - the sky had been looking gloomy and there had been rumblings of thunder throughout the day. True enough, midway through it started pouring with rain.

I got separated from Charles and Maddy due to the strong current and they drifted out of sight. I knew I'd run into them again along the way, but it was a bit worrying to be all alone on the river during a storm.

I noticed something black and round bobbing near me. Was it a coconut? A ball?
It came nearer and nearer, causing me to be slightly alarmed.

Suddenly, the head of a local guy popped up!
He clung onto my tube, and we stared at each other. 

" Sabaidee! " He said to me (which means 'hello' in Lao) and continued trying to speak to me in Lao, of which a word I did not understand (obviously).

I wondered what on earth was going on. I had a big stick with me which I had been using to paddle, and I decided that if he tried anything funny I'd wack him, kick, bite, and scratch all I could.

Carried by the current, we drifted on for a distance in silence. 

A village came into sight. He gestured towards the riverbank, swimming towards and tugging me together.

" No, no, no! " I protested, strongly paddling my legs in the opposite direction back to the middle of the river.

" Ahhh, kapchai! " he wished me (meaning 'thank you' in Lao) and pushed off, swimming the short distance towards the village and getting out of the river, turning back to wave at me before heading into the village. 

Looking back after the incident, I've come to the conclusion that he probably was swimming in the river when it started raining, got tired, and then conveniently decided to hitch a ride back to village.

***
After an eventful day, I wound down watching Friends and Family Guy at my usual riverside bar before going back to my guesthouse to sleep.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

SOLO BACKPACKING SERIES: LAOS Pt.1

I've been solo backpacking for 3 years now. From my travels, I've encountered many others travelling by themselves. It is the norm for westerners to take a gap year and explore more of the world - even lone females. 

When I recount my experiences to my friends here at home, I am often met with a plethora of responses ; surprise, intrigue, criticism, curiosity, etc. 

Maybe it's just not an Asian (or Malaysian) thing to travel alone, especially as a girl. That being said, many who are considering doing the same have implored me to write about my numerous experiences so they will have a guideline of some sorts of what to expect. I'll be writing about my travels in parts.

***
This is a recollection of my solo backpacking journey to Laos in July 2014. 

I've previously written about my solo backpacking experience in Padang, Sumatra. You can read it here:
http://cherished-me.blogspot.my/search/label/Padang

***
I didn't know where Laos was, what language they spoke, what the topography of the country was like (mountains? coast? desert? forests?), or what currency they used, but one day I saw that AirAsia was having a promo for Laos. 

I immediately went
   " Yup, I'm going to Laos! "

I promptly booked my tickets before even looking it up on the map. (note: my return tickets for KL - Vientiane cost Rm250).

In my defense, I did go and do my research after I'd booked my flight.


Facts about Laos
  • It is bordered by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Myanmar.
  • Most of their population's livelihood revolves around the Mekong ; most if not all of the major towns / cities are located alongside this mighty river.
  • Currency used in Laos is the kip. (When I went mid-2014, MYR:LAK was 1:2500, however it has now dropped to MYR: LAK roughly 1:2000). 
  • The capital of Laos is Vientiane.
  • The old capital / ancient royal dwellings is Luang Prabang.
  • Vang Vieng, a small sleepy town between the former two is a popular stop for backpackers.
  • The south of Laos receives sparse attention from the government with regards to civil infrastructure and support, resulting in lower exposure and interest from the public. Not many backpackers go down this route, preferring instead to head north to Vang Vieng / Luang Prabang.
  • If you ever get out there, try to avoid the months between May-September as this is the rainy season - days are gloomy with the ever imminent threat of a pouring rainstorm happening at any  time. 
***

Day 1: 

I flew in to Vientiane and immediately jumped on a double decker bus to Vang Vieng. The trip from Vientiane to Vang Vieng took 4 hours. The bus stops at a station out of town, then everyone gets onto a truck which takes you into the centre of VV.


Along the way.

First thing I did when I got into town was look for accommodation. I find it's always better to show up and book rather than advance booking for two reasons - 

1) You almost always get cheaper rates.
2) You get to check out the rooms first (internet photos can be so deceptive) before confirming and putting down your money. 

I walked round town a bit and came across this guesthouse. One of the boys hanging round the compound informed me it was LAK35,000 (about RM17) per night for a single room with queen bed and private bathroom.


Souksomboun Guesthouse, owned and run by a Korean couple. I asked to see the room and bathroom first.



Pretty satisfactory, so I agreed and unloaded my stuff.

They had WiFi, free drinking water, hot shower, and the room + bathroom was clean and comfortable. No air conditioning, but I was there during the rainy season anyway and the weather was cool all the while.

Next agenda was to get something to eat as I hadn't eaten that day (not even before my flight out from KL) and it was already early evening.


Lemon chicken chop and rice.

After I'd gotten some sustenance, it was time to walk around and explore Vang Vieng.


Only dirt roads in VV.


Random temple I wandered into.


Serpentine dragonish figurine at the temple entrance.

***
As I was walking around town, I crossed paths with a couple. The girl was a little way ahead and the guy was strumming a ukelele, singing out loud. He gave me a wide friendly smile when our gaze met.

I couldn't help but smile back and enquire where they were from.

They introduced themselves as Charles & Madelyn from Alberta, Canada, and told me they were heading to the Blue Lagoon - would I like to join?


Blue Lagoon, Vang Vieng.
(Image grabbed off the internet, it did not look like this at all when I was there.)

We jumped into a tuktuk, and were off. It was late in the evening and the weather was gloomy when we got there so I didn't get good pictures of the lagoon. Thanks to the rain earlier, the lagoon was more brown than blue.


Sign nearby the lagoon.

After taking a swim in the lagoon, we proceeded to hang out nearby with some other Italian backpackers while waiting to dry off before heading back to town.

A weird local guy came with free alcohol for everyone and tried to get us to drink with him. When we didn't really oblige, he proceeded to drink  himself happy then attempted to get friendly with the girls, but the guys quickly set him straight on that.

Day 2:

Woke up late and had brunch at one of the riverside restaurants. FYI, one thing very interesting about VV is that all the tvs in the bars and restaurants are continuously running episodes of 'Friends' and 'Family Guy'. Apparently they started doing it a number of years ago to cater to all the mostly western backpackers.


Riverside restaurant I ended up frequenting most of the time in VV.


Most restaurants have a river-facing section, which was where I sat most of the time. Ahh the view!

My breakfast, yum yum! Oats, coffee, and poached eggs.


Poached egg looks so good it's almost obscene.


Baguette section of the menu, found number 6 amusing.

Walked round and explored town some more after brunch.


One of the numerous bus services about town.


Flowers.


Friendly little dog crossing the bridge.


 Steps leading down into the river.


Street food.

Oh by the way, one thing I loved dearly about Vang Vieng was their baguettes! Really good, really tasty, and cheap. Every few hundred metres there's a baguette / pancake stand and they are pretty damn yummy.




SO DAMN GOOD.

In case you're wondering why baguettes are so commonly rampant in this under developed Asian country, it is because Laos used to be ruled by the French, which in turn influenced them in this culinary aspect.

***

Alright, here's where I stop. Will continue blogging about VV in another post, bye!