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)

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Mengunjungi Jejak Kejayaan Islam di India


India merupakan negara yang kompleks dengan lebih dari satu miliar penduduk, wilayah negara yang luas, serta kesenjangan sosial yang tinggi. Beberapa orang menyarankan saya untuk menunda perjalanan, karena saya tengah hamil empat bulan, dan India bukan merupakan tempat yang sesuai karena cenderung kumuh, kotor dan kurangnya prasarana publik.

Humayon’s Tomb

Tapi toh saya dan suami memutuskan untuk berangkat, karena kami memang menggemari travelling, dan backpacking selalu menjadi pilihan. Karena keterbatasan waktu, kami memutuskan untuk mengunjungi Delhi dan Agra. India bulan Januari tahun ini mencapai puncak musim dingin, dengan suhu berkisar antara 4 hingga 17 derajat Celcius.

Beberapa tempat wisata yang kami kunjungi antara lain Taj Mahal, Red Fort atau Lal Qila, Purana Qila, Jama’ Masjid, Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb. Sebagian besar tempat wisata di India bagian utara adalah peninggalan Islam di mana Kekaisaran Mughal atau Mogul mencapai masa keemasan antara tahun 1500-1600 Masehi.

Jama’ Masjid

Hari pertama kami di Delhi merupakan hari Jumat sehingga kami memutuskan untuk mengunjungi Jama’ Masjid atau Masjid-i Jahān-Numā , sehingga suami saya bisa memunaikan ibadah shalat Jumat di masjid tersebut. Jama’ Masjid terletak di Old Delhi, atau kota tua. Masjid ini dibangun oleh kaisar Mogul ke-5, Shah Jahan yang juga membangun Taj Mahal, pada tahun 1650. Pembangunan masjid ini membutuhkan waktu 6 tahun dengan melibatkan lebih dari 5 ribu pekerja.

Jama’ Masjid mampu menampung sekitar 25 ribu jamaah. Bangunan serta pelatarannnya terbuat dari batu paras (sandstone) merah, merupakan bahan bangunan yang umum digunakan pada masa Kekaisaran Mogul. Masjid ini memiligi tiga gerbang besar,  empat buah menara, dan dua buah menara masjid yang masing-masing tingginya 40 meter. Dua menara masjid ini terbuat dari batu paras merah yang diselingi oleh marmer putih.

Shalat Jumat di masjid ini merupakan pengalaman yang cukup unik bagi saya. Kira-kira satu jam sebelum adzan, para petugas sudah menyuruh para turis asing untuk keluar. Ketika kami juga disuruh keluar, kami mengatakan bahwa kami Muslim dan hendak mengikuti namaz sehingga tetap diperbolehkan berada di dalam komplekd masjid.

Adzan dikumandangkan dua kali, yang pertama sekitar pukul 13.30, dilanjutkan dengan khutbah yang seluruhnya dalam bahasa Arab. Perempuan diperbolehkan untuk mengikuti shalat, walau waktu itu hanya ada sekitar 20 orang, dibandingkan dengan ribuan kaum laki-laki.

Masjid ini masih sangat gagah berdiri, dan merupakan masjid terbesar dan paling terkenal di India. Wisatawan mancanegara masih menjadikan Jama’ masjid sebagai ‘must-see’. Tiket untuk masuk ke kompleks masjid ini adalah Rs. 250 per kamera.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, yang juga merupakan salah satu keajaiban dunia, adalah tempat wisata yang paling terkenal di India. Terletak di kota Agra, 195 km dari Delhi, Taj Mahal dapat dicapai dengan kereta, bus, maupun pesawat terbang. Setibanya kami di Taj Mahal, antrian masuk sudah sangat panjang. Mungkin karena hari Sabtu sehingga banyak wisatawan domestik maupun mancanegara mengunjungi tempat ini. Tiket untuk turis internasional adalah Rs. 750 per orang atau sekitar Rp 160.000. Antrian masuk ke kompleks Taj Mahal cukup lama, dibedakan antara laki-laki dan perempuan. Alasannya adalah karena setiap pengunjung akan diperiksa dengan teliti oleh para petugas sebelum masuk. Hanya minuman, tas kecil dan kamera yang diperbolehkan untuk dibawa. Tripod, buku panduan, maupun tas besar harus ditinggalkan di loker yang telah disediakan. Makanan yang ditemukan oleh petugas akan dibuang begitu saja.

Kompleks Taj Mahal memiliki dua buah gerbang masuk, yaitu gerbang barat dan timur. Seperti yang telah banyak diketahui, Taj Mahal dibangun atas perintah Kaisar Shah Jahan untuk istri ketiganya yang telah meninggal, Mumtaz Mahal, sebagai tanda cinta yang abadi. Mulai dibangun pada tahun 1632, dan selesai pada tahun 1653, Taj Mahal dibangun menggunakan material dari India dan Asia. Lebih dari 1.000 gajah digunakan untuk mengangkut bahan bangunan tersebut. Marmer putih diangkut dari Makrana, Rajasthan, jasper dari Punjab, batu jade dan Kristal dari Cina. Batu turquoise dibawa dari Tibet, Lapis lazuli dari Afganistan, safir dari Sri Lanka dan carnelian dari Arab Saudi.

Masjid Taj Mahal terletak di sebelah barat hanya beberapa meter dari bangunan utama. Masjid ini terbuat dari batu paras merah, dibangun oleh Muhammad Isa. Interior masjid tersebut berisi kaligrafi nama-nama Allah serta cuplikan ayat-ayat Quran. Di sebelah timur Taj Mahal terdapat replika masjid dengan ukuran yang sama, namun tidak pernah digunakan untuk shalat.

Kami berkesempatan untuk menunaikan ibadah Slahat Maghrib di Masjid Taj Mahal dengan Imam Masjid. Sayangnya, hanya kami berdua yang menjadi jamaah shalat, padahal pada saat itu masih banyak pengunjung dan petugas yang ada dalam kompleks. Tampaknya seruan adzan yang dilakukan oleh Imam di menara masjid tidak dihiraukan oleh kaum muslim yang masih ada di sekitar Taj Mahal.

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar merupakan tempat wisata sejarah lain yang wajib dikunjungi. Qutub Minar adalah menara masjid paling tinggi sedunia, setinggi 72,5 meter. Menara masjid ini mungkin hanya kalah dengan masjid Nabawi yang sudah direnovasi. Menara Qutub ini dibangun oleh  Qutb-ud-din Aibak dan diselesaikan oleh Iltutmish, menantus erta penerusnya. Qutub Minar juga dibangun dengan batu paras merah berukir kaligrafi dari ayat-ayat Quran.

Di kompleks Qutub Minar juga terdapat masjid tertua di India, Masjid Quwwat-ul-Islam yang didirikan oleh Qutb-ud-din Aibak pada tahun 1198 M.  Masjid ini dibangun dari bekas 27 kuil Jain yang dibangun sebelumnya pada masa Tomar dan Prithvi Raj Chauhan. Beberapa bagian kuil dibiarkan berdiri di bagian luar masjid.  Masjid ini sudah tidak digunakan lagi karena sebagian besar telah runtuh, namun pengunjung dapat menunaikan shalat di Masjid Mughlai yang ada di dekat pintu gerbang.

Di kompleks Qutub terdapat juga Pilar Besi  yang dibangun pada tahun 375 M oleh Chandragupta II. Pilar setinggi 7,25 m dengan berat lebih dari 6 ton. Pilar ini mengundang keingintahuan para arkeolog dan dan ahli metalugi, karena sama sekali tidak berkarat setelah lebih dari 1600 tahun berada di udara terbuka.

Perjalanan ke Qutub Minar merupakan tujuan wisata kami yang terakhir sebelum mengejar pesawat untuk kembali ke Jakarta. India, dengan lebih dari 12 persen penduduk Muslim memiliki kekayaan sejarah Islam yang luar biasa. Suasana kota yang kumuh dan kotor serta berdebu, seakan terlupakan ketika kita menyaksikan berbagai peninggalan sejarah yang sangat hebat ini.

Namun peninggalan sejarah yang hebat ini sekaligus menjadi ironi tersendiri bagi umat muslim. Tidak adanya jamaah saat kami sholat maghrib di Taj Mahal maupun tidak digunakannya lagi Masjid Quwwat-ul-Islam di komplek Qutub Minar menunjukkan rendahnya kesadaran beragama Islam di India. Dengan jumlah muslim lebih dari 12 persen dari 1 milyar lebih penduduk India, seharusnya gairah Islam lebih terasa dengan aktifnya kegiatan di masjid-masjid utama. Apalagi bila dikaitkan dengan kekuasaan Islam di India selama hampir 1000 tahun sampai menghasilkan banyak peninggalan-peninggalan luar biasa, kondisi Islam di India kini terasa sangat ironis. Semoga suatu saat Islam bisa kembali bangkit di India seperti pada masa kejayaannya dulu. Barakallah.

Published in Republika 23 January 2011:

http://republika.co.id:8080/koran/153/127795/Mengunjungi_Jejak_Kejayaan_Islam_di_India

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.

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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

Creating a peace of mind in Luang Prabang, Laos


I went to Luang Prabang and with a broken heart. And this small, quiet and peaceful town healed it! So every time I heard this place, I will remember how this small town mended my broken heart. And do note, that they also have the friendliest immigration officer I’ve ever encountered. Not those ones with robotic faces, but the ones who can actually smile and asked about your trip. There are not very many things to see here in Luang Prabang. It is small. And the life revolves around its main road, Vivasong Rd. But certainly you need to visit this place for 3-4 days.

Kuang Xi Waterfalls

 

 

This is the most picturesque view in Luang Prabang. Located 29 km from the center of the town, this is definitely a must-see. The water falling from the rock creates a series of greenish pools. You can bathe in, in some parts.  During rainy season or even in the mornings, the area surrounding the pools is very slippery, so use proper footwear such as Teva-like sandals. Or do like locals, barefoot, if you feel more comfortable.  If you are in a group, travel to this waterfalls is quite cheap because you can hire a tuk tuk or rickshaw. A return trip to Kuang Xi cost US$14. And like always, do bargain down!

Park Ou Caves

Or the Buddha caves, is about an hour drive or one and a half hour on a boat.  There are two caves – one on the entry level and another – the upper caves – on top of the hill. A very steep climb, but worth the effort. A candle or torch recommended to see the upper cave, as it is dark.

Phou Si

The center of the town is a hill where you have a good view of the whole town. It’s not a very steep climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. Entrance fee 20,000 kip.

Night Market

Night market is there every night along the main road up to Phou Si. You can get any souvenirs from shirts, T-shirts, bed sheet, traditional hand bags. Just make sure that they are not made in Thailand. You can pay in kip, Thai baht or US dollars.  Alms Ceremony  Only for early-rising tourists. It is a very interesting rituals at dawn when the monks collecting alms from kneeling villagers. Stand and take pictures from a far, do not disturb the ritual itself. If you wish to participate, make sure you bring good fruit or food to give to the monks.

How to get there

Bangkok Airways fly Bangkok-Luang Prabang everyday. The air travel takes 1 hours 40 minutes in a 67-seater ATR aircraft. And yes, no need to be so surprise if you see it looks like a toy plane. They fly just fine.  They provides free meal, and on flight from Luang Prabang you would almost certainly get Lao dish i.e. sticky rice.  A lot of people opt to fly from Vientiene using Lao Airlines, or by bus via Vang Vieng.

Accommodation

Hotels line up along the main road and some smaller streets. I stayed in Sayo River Guesthouse which offer a view to Mekong River for $25/night. The place is clean and you get free coffee anytime of the day. It’s a good 10 minutes stroll from the main road and at night you will have to cross a slightly dark bridge. For you who travel in a group, this is no problem. I was travelling alone, and it was also alright. Some people may want to be closer to the party, which is the Vivasong Rd. There are many options. Sayo River has a twin on this road. You don’t have to book in advance as there are always room for you.

Others

I did not remember any ATMs there, but there are a lot of money changers. So bring your dollars or baht and there will be no problem f0r you. Visa on arrival costs from US$ 20 to US$ 40, depending on your country of origin.

An Indonesian travelling family, been to 25+ countries as a family. Author of several travelling books and travelogue. Write travel articles for media. Owner of OmahSelo Family Guest House Jogja. Strongly support family travelling with kids/babies.