All posts by olenkapriyadarsani

I have nomad toes. They are itchy if I stay at home.

Hey I’m back — with a new blog admin

Akhirnya setelah puasa ngeblog selama hampir setahun, saya kembali lagi. Kali ini dengan janji untuk lebih rajin menilik dan mengupdate blog ini. Tampaknya menikah, pindah rumah, mengurus anak tanpa babysitter, selain juga menjadi kontributor Yahoo! Travel dan menulis buku panduan perjalanan membuat saya seolah “melupakan” blog ini — walau sebenarnya tetap jalan-jalan terus. Nah, sekarang dengan diangkatnya admin baru — adik saya Fadila Adelin — tidak ada alasan lagi untuk mmbuat blog ini terbengkalai.

Saya meminta maaf bila tidak membalas komen-komen yang masuk selama blog mati suri. Untuk ke depannya, saya akan berusaha secepatnya membalas.

Bagi yang ingin tanya langsung tentang jalan-jalan bisa tweet saya di @olenp atau cek terus Yahoo! Indonesia Travel.

Ciao for now but this time I’ll be back soon!


Flashpacking Vietnam-style

This was our honeymoon, so please do not comment on why we did it in style and splurged. Well, actually the splurge part is only the Halong Bay cruise, we dedicated the rest for our usual-budget-backpacking style.

OK. Right after the wedding, avoiding post-wedding disaster (we managed to learn how to do that after successfully avoiding pre-wedding nightmare) we headed to our newly-rented apartment in Jakarta, to head for Ho Chi Minh City the next day

Hup hup hup, leaving Indonesia on AirAsia flight we arrived at Thanh Son Nhat airport  in the evening. Catching a metered cab to downtown HCMC is not very expensive, pretty similar to the taxi fare in Indonesia. It took us 45 minutes. We headed to Dong Khoi. For those who have been to Vietnam, yes Dong Khoi, not Pham Ngu Lao, although it’s within walking distance.

Pham Ngu Lao in Distrct 1 is famous for backpackers as it offers a range of budget up to 3-star hotels, guesthouses, backpacker lodges, dorms, you name it. Nightlife, massage, coffee shops, pho vendors, restaurants, souvenir shops pamper tourists with their bargain prices. Ben Thanh Market is just around the corner.

While Dong Khoi is the hipper side of the city where four and five-star hotels are located, along with fancy malls, consulate offices, and so on.  And I chose to stay in Dong Khoi, because I’ve been to Vietnam and previously chose to stay in a budget hotel in Pham Ngu Lao.

Around Saigon

Whatever you call it, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon, you will see the pictures, statues of Uncle Ho everywhere. As a national hero, the most prominent figure for Vietnamese, Uncle Ho depicts the independence of Vietnam. His statue, in the heart of HCMC is only one evidence. The other is the Dong that you are holding.

Cu Chi Tunnel

As I did not have the chance to go to Cu Chi Tunnel in 2008, this time I must go. Paying equal to Rp 100,000/person we joined for a half day tour. They picked us up in our hotel and we started the 1,5 hour trip. Around a few kilometers from the destination, the minibus taking us there got flat tire. After almost an hour we got a replacement, a better and bigger bus.

Cu Chi Tunnel is complicated networks of extremely small underground tunnels, used by the Vietcong to move around during the Vietnam War in the 1970s. Hundreds of tunnels would cause the inexperience lost. The entrances of the tunnels are very small it’s impossible for American soldiers to enter them. My husband tried to enter one of the tunnels and he could fit in. OK, I should feed him more!

Overall, with a 10-minute experience exploring the tunnels, I enjoyed it. The fact that I’m a fan of history, war history particularly,   may contributed to that. In the tunnel, there were chambers where the VC women cook. They created the tunnels in a certain way so the smoke from the kitchen would go out hundreds of meters from the original chambers. Cooking it during dusk, the enemies would mistaken it as fog.

The site also offers original tanks and traps and weaponry used during the war. And don’t be scared if you hear a loud pam pam pam pam – sounds of fired arms. They want to add an atmosphere of war for the tourists. For those who fancy shooting, a shooting range is provided in site.

Mekong Delta

We did not join this one, because my husband thought that going to weedy river would only remind him of his previous oil rig. But since I went to this tour before, I think I will share whatever I recall from 3 years ago.

It cost around USD 15 for a day trip. At first we went to the pier using minibus. Transferred to a wooden boat, we went along the muddy river. And yes, it may look like a river in Kalimantan. Brownish with some floating villages – I would definitely prefer to see floating villages in Halong Bay where I will tell later in Hanoi part of the story.

We visited coconut candy factory, which tastes like ‘sandal jepit’ or even harder. You cannot chew the candy, the candy will chew you! The best part of the tour is a short trip using very small boat (2-4 persons per boat) across the bushes.

We got back to the city using speedboat (with extra cost). For those don’t want to spend extra money, you can take the minibus back to the city.

The tour provides you with tea and snacks, also lunch (I came during Ramadan, so no comment on the food).

Reunification Palace

It is a five story palace where the President of South Vietnam lived during the Vietnam War. When the Northern Vietnam Army crashed its gate in 1975 marked the victory of the Communist, also the lost of the United States in Vietnam.

The Palace is massive, you can see the presidential suites, war room, radio room, replica of cars used by the president. From the rooftop you can see the life of Saigon.  For you who has children, they maybe like to play on the garden, you can take a break from the hot sun sipping coconut juice. Just don’t get ripped off!

War Remnants Museum

At the first glance, you would see a lot of planes and choppers. If you go inside, there will be weaponry such as bullets, grenades, guns, bombs etc. If you go up, you’d see pictures, a lot of pictures. And you’d have to walk from one side to another – don’t do it the other way around if you want to enrich your knowledge on Vietnam War.

That’s just about it. I kinda enjoy it. First, I got the history, second the planes are great background for my photos.


On one of VN’s Airbus 330s, we flew to Hanoi.  The flight took 2 hours. It’s around 45-one hour drive from the Noi Bai Airport to Old Quarter. For me, walking around Old Quarter and Hoan Kiem Lake is just lovely. In the middle of the lake there is a temple where you can go in through a famous red bridge – one of the landmarks of Hanoi.

The Old Quarter consists of silk shops, restaurants, bars, all with its own style without losing their Vietnamese touches. You can find some halal restaurants in this area. Souvenirs are even cheaper than in Saigon.

Halong Bay

If you go to Hanoi, I know that you will go to Halong Bay. It is 175 km away. And it is stunning!  Halong City is a bit of a drag, an overdeveloped town with some unfinished construction. But when you aboard the junk – a wooden traditional boat – and sail away, you can just forget about your problems.

We took a tour from Handspan, cruising on Indochina Sail which cost us USD 192 2D/1N. Yes it is expensive, but let me remind you once again, it was our honeymoon. The junk was great. A real 5-star. The bedroom and attached bathroom was even better than the most 4-star hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

On that day we sailed to Bat Cave and visiting floating villages nearby. The villages have houses, schools, shops. All is floating. Well, that why they are called floating village. These villages are so far away from the mainland where they can get their basic supplies.

We also visited Titop island where tourists can climbed the step up to the top of the hill and see the breathtaking view of Halong Bay.  It was just magnifique.

The meal – don’t get me start it. They provided us with complete set menu for lunch – appetizer, main course, another main course, dessert. Oh my, let’s forget the wedding dress, it would never fit me again. The dinner was indescribable. CRAB. And clams, and prawns, and fish, and squid, and crabs again. Lots and lots of seafood, along with other menu for buffet dinner.

The second day started with taichi session. It was continued with breakfast while enjoying the misty Halong Bay from the sundeck. The karst was gorgeous, better that Phi Phi islands. The boat was then sailing back to Halong pier and this ended our cruise.

For you who want to do the cruise, you can pick a 1N2D or 2N3D, a fancy or more pocket-friendly cruises. Aloha junk is among the most favoured.

Around the Old Quarter

Bargain down – the phrase that always appears in my blog post!  Generally the price in Hanoi is cheaper than in Saigon. Do buy some silk for your moms. They are good quality and indeed very nice.

You can just stroll around the city or take cyclo to some of its attractions: Perfume Temple, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (I told you that the country is full with Uncle Ho!), One-Pillar Pagoda etc.

Walk around the Lake in the evening, have a sip of Vietnamese coffee with Vietnamese spring rolls. It’s simply heaven!

From Starlets to Starless

Hotels differentiate office budget and your own pocket

I bet many of you have experienced this: moving from a five-star hotel to a no-star or budget hotel, maybe youth hostel or event a backpacker lodge. And certainly I have. Several times.

Usually this begins with a business trip – workshop or meetings, fancy luggage, high heels and make ups, every little thing that I dislike – continued with a short holiday at your own expense.

A drive from the airport to the five stars hotel is most probably taken on a taxi – some people use one of those Chrysler thingy, but soon after the office business is over, you’d start looking for any cheapest means to get around. Whether it’s a bus, MRT, autorickshaw, jeepney, tuk-tuk, anything.

And these are some of my experiences….


I had this 3-day workshop held at Amari Watergate Hotel, in Pratunam area in the heart of Bangkok. Luckily since the beginning, I managed to resist the temptation of bringing suitcase (can be suitcases if you wish). Instead, I packed everything including my laptop, kamera, business clothes, shoes, shorts, into my 55-litres Deuter. And yes I wore my Teva for the trip from Jakarta to Bangkok. This is because I had the plan to skip to Luang Prabang in Laos after the workshop.

The Workshop with multicultural faces

So then the workshop finished. My international friends started to leave the country and I packed my backpack to move to a budget hotel in Khao San Road – famous for backpackers as KSR. I caught a motorcycle taxi just in front of Amari Watergate and bargained it down, hopped on, and there you go…to the first starless followed by another starless in Laos.

The cost of a night stay in Amari Watergate is around USD 80-90, not very expensive but definitely not my choice to stay alone in my own expense. My hotel in KSR, I don’t remember the name cost USD 20. It did not offer a wide range of brekkie as in Amari, but it’s definitely worth the price. You simply get what you pay for.

It was continued with another budget hotel staying in Luang Prabang. Sayo River Guesthouse is not actually a bad choice, since it has Mekong view, a decent room and shower, a veranda and free coffee and tea anytime of the day. It cost around USD 25/night.

Sayo River Guest House


Another story was in Singapore when my husband got a chance to do training in Singapore. He is very lucky since his company allows the staff to choose the hotel, doesn’t matter how much it costs. Marina Bay Sand was fully booked. Raffles was fully booked. So The Fullerton Hotel it was…

The Fullerton

The Hotel once used to be a general post office, so you can wonder how antique and beautiful the building is. It’s overlooking Singapore River and two country’s oldest bridges, the Cavenagh bridge and Anderson bridge. The interior was luxurious so was the heritage room where we were staying in. Banquet was excellent as so was the price, approximately SGD 700-800 for one night. It costs SGD 6 to laundy a pair of panties. But they do have the best hotel toiletries!

Time is up and the story continued with a search of much cheaper hotel. It was NOT very easy to look for a cheap hotel in Singapore especially because we decided not to go to Geylang. We tried one of this chain hotel, 81, that has over 15 hotels all over Singapore. Searched over the Google and booked it over the phone, we jumped on to MRT (yes MRT, no more taxi) to Little India station. The street to the hotel was Indianish…the smell of onions, masala, flowers…

Hotel 81 Dickson is pretty good. A budget (SGD 100) – those kinds of budget will get you to at least a 3-star in Jakarta – it was clean and got newish look. I think it was a newly-built hotel. Compared to the Fullerton (how dare me!), the room was very small but decent and clean enough. It was definitely sufficient for us to have a good night sleep after one day in IKEA Alexandra.

Hotel 81 Dickson

Kuala Lumpur

A recent trip, about a week ago, brought me and my 28-weeks preggy belly to the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Another “nebeng” trip of my husband’s business trip. Flying in with AirAsia, I got to LCCT at midnight. Because my dear beloved husband disregarded my wish to pick me up at the airport, I had to catch SkyBus from LCCT to KL Sentral. He waited me there.

As most of you know, the distance between airport and KL Sentral is around 60 km. I got to the station at almost 2am. My phone was off so I got to walk around (yes with bulging belly and bulging backpack) around the dark and deserted station to look for my husband. There he was reading a magazine with red eyes in McDonald’s.

Jumping on a cab, we drove to Intercontinental Hotel (still famously as Nikko Hotel) in KLCC area. A five-star, I think it has the biggest hotel bathroom I’ve ever seen. But the rest is just like another normal four or five-star with free fruit everyday, two bottles of water, Herald Tribune and so on. It cost around USD 130-150/night.

After a more-than-fulfilling breakfast, we drag the (his) luggage to an LRT station nearby, I think it was Ampang Park. Taking Ampang line to Masjid Jamek, we took a different route and got off in Sultan Ismail station. And there was our new hotel. Tune Hotel.

We had to wait until 2pm because that is the check in time. And Tune sort of has the earliest check out time, 10am. A bunch of not-very-rich tourists from the West, China, and Indonesia were waiting until 2pm.

When we got to our room, my husband said, “It’s so small.” In fact it was tiny. I once stayed here about 3 years ago, it was as tiny but this time it’s not only tiny but needed renovation. For a one night stay, it’s alright, but I think no more than that. It cost RM 95 per night for two. The best feature of Tune Hotel Downtown KL is its location, in between a monorail station and an LRT station. Bus stop is just around the corner. And KLCC, Petronas Tower is just a stone throw away.

So, whether you want to save or splurge, it’s your choice!

Tour to the one of the scariest places I’ve visited – Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (Cambodia)

(And, darn, I stayed just across its gate!)

Arriving at the Phnom Penh International Airport, my friend Yudit and I jumped on a cab to the one of the Lonely Planet’s top pick hotels for Phnom Penh. We yet to find out what in front of us, and I mean it literally.

Bodhi Tree is a great guesthouse, offering a clean room, minimalist yet with Cambodian traditional touch. The staff spoke English very well. We got the last room available. After a little break and lunch, we headed off to the nearest tourism site, just across our hotel gate.

It was late afternoon but there were still some groups of tourists scattered at this museum. I thought it was merely a museum with the usual stuff I encountered in some other countries. But, I was a hundred percent wrong.

It was the most depressing place I’ve ever visited in my 28 years of life. In front of the buildings there were signs forbidding people to laugh. If I can borrow a little bit of JK Rowling’s imagination, I felt like surrounded by dementors, making me feel like I would never be happy again.

Tuol Sleng was originally a high school complex before Khmer Rouge Regime turned it into S-21 prison in 1975. Around 20,000 people detained in this prison with up to 1,500 prisoners at one time. They include activists from Lon Nol regime, doctors, engineers, teachers, whoever suspected to be against Khmer Rouge, including their family members, children, babies.

Laughing and joking is not allowed in this premise

We were lucky to meet a Malaysian gentleman who hired a guide and invited us to join him. The guide explained how the torture happened. There are some torture devices, such as searing metals and electric shocks. Prisoners were often beaten to death, suffocated using plastic bag, hung, or cut with knives. Female were raped although it was against Khmer Rouge policy, and often time the perpetrators executed for raping. Crying babies were thrown into barb wires.

The guide explained how he lost his father and brother during the Pol Pot tenure. His mother secretly caught the frogs to feed him. The security guards would collect everything owned by the people.

One of the most notable thing in this museum is a skull map, consists of 300 human skulls depicting the map of Cambodia. The S-21 also kept an intensive documentation of all prisoners. After arriving at the prison, the guards took their photographs. The photographs of men, women, old people, children, are now showcased in the museum. It was extremely disheartening to see the faces of the people, who knew that they’d be tortured to death.

Among nearly 20,000 S-21 detainees, only seven known survivors. They were kept alive because they had some skills, such as painting or handy work.

The afternoon wore on, and it was getting even more depressing to witness cells with blood splatters, execution devices, skulls, because the Cambodian government kept it original. I would conclude it as the scariest places I’ve ever visited – I might be able to make a comparison if one day I’d visit KZ Nazi camp concentration.

At the hotel, we simply stripped off our clothes, including my belt and sandals, giving them to the bell boy for laundry.  And only the next day we could smile again….(with all night thought that might be our room was also use to torture and kill innocent people)

Tagaytay, the Philippines: My solo adventure to the smallest active volcano in the world

I had a few days to kill on March this year, so I said to myself, I gotta go somewhere. Why the Philippines? My answer is simple, because I’ve never been there! And due to the brief 4 nights I had, I couldn’t go to Bohol or Palawan or other places famous for the beach. Besides, I’m Indonesian, what am I doing looking for a beach in the Philippines?

So I decided to go to Tagaytay, besides Manila of course. Carrying my 55-litres Deuter, I boarded on Cebu Pacific to Manila. The midnight flight got me to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at 06:00 in the morning. Some Filipino friends suggested me to catch yellow metered taxi to Tagaytay. And guess what? The officer told me that they are no longer allowed to take passenger out of Metro Manila. So I tried my luck at white taxi counter for a fixed price. Bad luck! They offered Php 1,000 equals to US$ 80.

And my dearest Lonely Planet saved my life (and wallet), again. It says that I can catch a bus from Pasay City to Tagaytay. So I took yellow cab to Pasay City for around $3, I don’t remember exactly how much in peso. From Pasay City terminal I just climbed on a bus with Tagaytay sign on it. Actually, most of the busses go to Nasugbu and Balayan via Aguinaldo Highway passing Tagaytay.  It was air-con, clean, new, and very comfortable. And, cheap! It cost lest then $3 for 3 hours drive.

The drive was not very much different to bus-ride at hometown. Traffic was bad inside Manila, but getting better as the morning wore on. We passed Dasmarinas and started to enter the province of Cavite. Finally the bus arrived at Plaza Olivarez and I jumped down. I took a tricycle and ask the driver to get me to Estancia Resort, which cost me around $35 a night for a nipa hut with magnifique view of Lake Taal.

Lake Taal and the volcano

on Taal with the crater as background

The volcano is in an island within a lake in Luzon island. Lake Taal can be reached from Tagaytay City using tricycle in 20 minutes. I simply book the tricycle for a day for less than $10. The view to the lake is panoramic. On the lakeside, your tricycle driver (in my case his name is Christopher) will wait for you while you jump on a boat, crossing the lake into the volcano. There, you need to take a horse – most likely an old weak donkey to the crater. If I remember correctly, it cost started from $30. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s a long walk to the crater. The path is rough and very dusty. You will need a hat, sunglasses and a face mask. And a lot of water. It took me an hour to get to the crater. The trip to the volcano takes almost a whole day.

Tagaytay City

The center of the City is Plaza Olivarez and the surroundings. If you need some more familiar taste, go to Chowking or Jolibee. There is also Starbucks, about 500 meters on the road to Nasugbu. Some more top end restaurants also available in the area.

Don’t forget to try buko pie at Collette’s. It’s a young coconut filled pie. And they only have large size. I mean, their smallest size is large. It cost around $3.  Try also Philippines national dish Sinigang – a savoury fish/chicken soup. Try also traditional porridge for breakfast, it contains eggs and meats. Tell the vendor if you don’t want any pork – I think I forgot to do that!

Other attractions

People’s Park in the Sky – An artful blending of natural and man-made attractions, poised on the highest point of Tagaytay City. It stands on a 4,516 sq, meters solid ground and overlooks four bodies of water – Taal Lake, Balayan Bay, Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay. It is located at Dapdap West and Dapdap East, approximately 6 to 7 km away from Silang Crossing.

Tagaytay Picnic Grove – just right on the corner of Silang junction. The cool weather is perfect for lazing, walking and rest your mind for a while.

Other Information

the tricycle and the shorts -- oh how I miss my shorts!!!

ATM is available in this city, as well as money changers. Pharmacies and convenience stores are available. You can go around on jeepney or tricycle. There are busses going to Manila, just wait near the Silang junction.