All posts by olenkapriyadarsani

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

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….

Bangkok

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

Singapore

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!

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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.

F485FSUVBYJA

Batu Karas Beach – Green Canyon: When the green meets the blue, hidden paradiso in West Jawa


A trip to Cijulang, West Java, where Batu Karas beach and Green Canyon are located, takes a good 7-8 hours by private car. The attractions are 31 km away from Pangandaran Beach, a more motable touristic site in the region. Some tourists who want to splurge would probably opt for faster way from Jakarta/Bandung by flying. Information on airlines will be given below.

Green Canyon

A apperation of America’s Grand Canyon, this ‘canyon’ is a group of caves, stalagtits ad stalagmits, hidden by greenery of vegetations. The caves, the trees meet the green water due to algae, welcome you to the Green Canyon of Indonesia.

On the way to the caves of beutiful Green Canyon

To get to the caves, first you need to go to the port and buy a ticket there. The boats to the caves are belongs to the local but are managed by the district government. A boat to go to the cave will cost you Rp 75,000 and can accomodate up to 5 people. If you want to spend time for swimming in the nice, you can ask the crews to wait and it will cost you extra Rp 100,000 for a whole day. Bargain down and you may pay 80,000 during peak season or 50,000 during low season.

Besides enjoying the green view, a lot of people enjoy swimming here. Some locals may only dip their toes into the water, but some braver ones take a jump from higher ground. The sceneray is very photographic when you see the rock at the background and the tourist boats waiting outside the caves.

The drawbacks of Green Canyon is its lack of management, since it is a quite new tourism site. The place provides only 3 toilets and a tiny prayer room. Locals have made it their benefit by providing more decent toilets and prayer room, with a cost of Rp 2,000 per person per visit. Car parking costs Rp 3,000 all day long.

In the carpark, you can find plenty of small food stalls, or warung, that mostly sell rice, baked fish and young coconut drink. You may want to try local dishes, such as lotek and karedok, vegetable salad with peanut dressing. The price of food varies, but within reasonable limit.

Batu Karas Beach

Batu karas beach is only 6 km from Green Canyon port . You have to take your own transport since there is no public transport from and to Batu Karas. The road is fully paved, with some warungs along the way. The entrance fee for a car is Rp 9,200.

Batu Karas is recently popular as surfing destination, although when we get there, the wave is quite small, perfect to be called surfing site for beginners. Yet, this beach offers a lot of things. Besides the scenery of the small and secluded lagoon, blue sea surrounded by green hills, water sports are main attraction for both locals and foreigners. Banana boats, rubber boats, body rafting are among the most popular. If you wish, you can also take surfing lesson at this beach.

The biggest establishment in this area is JavaCove Beach Hotel and the newly built Batu Karas Sunrise Resort which closer to the entrance. Some accomodations line up along the beach. Food stalls and souvenir shops fill the road, with a few internet cafes, tattoo cafes and surf shop. Cafe includes Sederhana Cafe and Jesffa Cafe, mostly provide fresh seafood, pancake and national dish such as Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng and Gado-Gado. Price is reasonable, starting from Rp 15,000 for a plate of Nasi Goreng.

Rujak tumbuk or mashed fruit salad, a special delicacy of West Java

How to get there:

By car: Jakarta via Cipularang toll way to Bandung, exit toll in Cileunyi, follow Ciawi-Nagreg road to Tasikmalaya. Before Rajapolah, Tasikmalaya, turn left to follow Ciamis-banjar Route. From there you would see signage to go to Pangandaran and Batu Karas also Green Canyon.

By Plane: Susi Air fly Jakarta-Pangandaran via Bandung for one hour 7 days a week. Book in advance.

Accomodation:

There is no accomodation in Green Canyon, although about 3 km from the Green Canyon port on the way to Batu Karas, you will find Panimeran Riverside, which offers some traditional nipa cabins by the river. The other accomodations, including the infamous JavaCove Beach Hotel, are located near to  busier Batu Karas beach.

JavaCove Beach: from Rp 450,000++. Telp:256 7082020

Riverside: from IDR 275,000. They are opening new and more economical rooms just across the road.

Bonsai Bungalow: from IDR 200,000 Telp: 085223905106

Batu Karas Sunrise Resort, telp: 256 7029129

Want to trot to unbeaten tracks on an elephant? Go to Tangkahan!


Tangkahan is not as well-known as its sister, Bukit Lawang, but we can assure you, it’s much better! Located in the North Sumatra, about 3 hours drive from Medan. It is the junction of two rivers, Buluh River and Batang River, on the foot of Mount Leuser. If you get lucky, you will meet orangutan there!

The main attraction there is elephant trekking. The elephants are taken care of by Flora and Fauna International Indonesia and everyday they offer elephant trekking or bathing. This is not only a simple elephant ride you’d experience in other parts of Indonesia or Thailand, for example. In Tangkahan, the elephants climb unbeaten routes. So hold tight on your saddle, because your elephant will hike up to 60 degree! Although it is a bit costly – the information on the cost is provided below – you will be sorry if you don’t do it.

There are plenty things to do in Tangkahan. Some people may enjoy swimming and bathing in the river where water is fresh and unpolluted. Some may prefer lazing on a hammock.

You can also go to hot springs nearby by swimming across the stream. Indulge your body with natural hot water.  Just before the Buluh River meets the Batang River there is a small waterfall. You will have to have to walk up a small creek about 100 meters to reach the waterfall. People sit under the pouring waterfall and let the water massage their tired backs!

How to go there

You can go to Tangkahan using public transportation from Medan. Catch the bus “Pembangunan Semesta” from Pinang Baris Terminal. You will be pampered with bumpy road and mostly palm oil plantation view. The bus goes to Tangkahan twice a day, and using Pembangunang Semesta, you would need to allocate 5-6 hours. And yes, what Lonely Planet says is true, you will at least experience flat tire once during the trip. We had one on the way to Tangkahan and two on our way back to Medan. If I remember correctly, it only cost Rp 14,000. The first bus to leave Tangkahan is at 7:00 in the morning. Make sure you are ready in front of the visitor centre at least 15 minutes before.

Renting a car would be an option for a group tour or family with small children, or for you who choose for more comfy trip. With private car, it only takes about 3-hours drive.

Accommodation

There are only a few accommodations in Tangkahan, across the river. Jungle Lodge, owned by a British and Batak couple is the most notable with price starting from Rp 80,000 on low season.  Jungle Lodge offers a basic place to sleep with superb view. The wooden huts provide a comfortable gateway for those who want to escape busy life. From their restaurant you can enjoy the view of the clear river with a cup of hot coffee milk!

A neighboring accommodation is Mega Inn, which also use eco-lodge concept to attract visitor.  There are some other accommodations on the roadside. Mostly basic motels.

Accommodations provide basic food such as nasi goreng, instant noodle, sandwich, coffee and tea, with reasonable price.

Others

There is no ATM in Tangkahan, so you better bring cash from Medan. The cost of the accommodation is cheap, but you will need plenty of rupiah to pay the elephant trekking. When we went there about 3 years ago, it cost 160,000 per hour per person. Recently, we got information and the price has gone up to Rp 300,000 per hour per person. And believe me if I say one hour is not enough!