Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Amazing Jogja (Part 1)

Day 1

Arrived at Yogyakarta, Adisucipto International Airport at 5.45pm. After clearing immigration counter we were inundated by hordes of taxi drivers. We chose a guy who spoke english and went straight to hotel to check in. The taxi driver offered to take us around Yogya for two days, 12hr per day. We stayed in Oasis Hotel in Prawirotaman street which is teeming with lots of guesthouses and budget hotels. Its quite far from town centre, about 10mins away from the main shopping area of Malioboro. Day 1 ended with dinner at Gading restaurant, Prawirotaman st. and food was good but a little expensive (IDR 200, 000 dinner for 4) and took a long while to arrive.

Day 2

Taman Sari (Water castle)

After a satisfying breakfast of toasted bread and eggs we left for Taman Sari or better known as water castle. Entrance fee for foreigners is IDR 7000. The soft pink thick walls, azure blue pools of water surrounded by stone urns with jasmines and various trees are a delight for eyes. A guide followed us around and explained the various rooms and pools. The palace is surrounded by villagers houses and its quaint and beautiful and a walk arround it was indeed nice. we asked the guide to bring us to the underground mosque near taman sari and he was rather surprised that we knew of the place. Thanks to prior  reading about Jogja we were well equiped about the various hidden treasures. Another 15 mins walk lead us to the hidden mosque built beneath taman sari and right below the villagers houses. It was an amazing architecture which entralled me with its light display. Be sure to ask your guide to bring you to this place. 

the entrance of taman sari- unique structure

carved archway

entering the underground mosque - sumur gemuling

the 5 way steps inside the mosque depicting the five daily prayers for muslims, utterly unique

curved building with many windows

tunnel leading to taman sari, light flow from above

After Taman Sari we headed off to Candi Prambanan, the ancient hindu temple built in 10th century. There's a interesting legend behind this temple of 1000 god statues, a tale of love and betrayal. The entrance fee is IDR 110,000 and students can get a special rate. The temple was flanked by beautiful garden and greenery  I was stunned when I saw the looming structures at the end of a row of red tulip like flowers. In spite of the heat, we enjoyed ourself very much. There were 3 main temples, built for Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma and three slighlty smaller temples for their animal consorts, nandi, garuda and angsa. The temples were a sight to behold, each piece of dark stone has a story to tell. Intricate stone carvings along the temple tells the story of ramayana. We walked up the stairs leading up to the main deity in each temple. The stairs were quite steep and once at the top the surrounding area looked beautiful. There are guides available if you want detailed explanation of the history of Prambanan.

candi prambanan

Impressive main temple of Shiva, on the left, temple of Brahma
Map of Prambanan park, Sewu temple is at the northern corner
Prambanan is quite a large area. After walking up and down each temple, we were quite tired and walked back to the main entrance. After giving some much needed rest for our legs we headed to the Prambanan museum near the entrance. The museum had more description on the founder and history of Prambanan temple, along with many Hindu deity statues extracted from the site of temple. We found quite a lot of headless statues and reason for this is not known. 

Elegant statue of brahma in museum courtyard
Museum compound
Various deity statues placed in museum ground
Candi Sambiseri

Its a smaller Hindu temple near Prambanan and situated in a valley surrounded by villages. Either it sunk or was built to be hidden from view. =)

Mount. Merapi

After getting tantalizing glimpse of the active volcano from a distance, we urged the taxi driver/tour guide to bring us there. Alas, to our disappointment, when we reached the base after about an hour's drive, the peak of Merapi was hidden by dense clouds. So this is all we could snap, up close. So if you are planning to go, the best time is early morning and late evening.

glorious Merapi hiding from view

Plenty of bikes to bring you all the way up for better view of Merapi
Prangritis beach

Guess what, you have to pay to enter the beach area. Its IDR 4000 for entrance. This was our last destination for the day. The beach was not crowded and the weather was slightly cooler here. Unlike the beaches in Malaysia, this beach has greyish black sand and enclosed by hilly terrain. There were horse carts available for rides and also we saw some para gliders. 

cliff side beach with greyish black sand

horse carts 

The day ended with a nice dinner at Via Via restaurant near our hotel and we were very satisfied with the places we visited. A day well spent indeed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

De-stressing in Mataking Island, Semporna

Day 3 of Semporna Trip

From Mabul Island we went back to semporna and spent our third and fourth day there. On the third day, we went for a daytrip to Mataking island. It caused us RM 142 for the return boat transfer, snorkeling equipment, tax to enter the island (RM2 for local) and yes it was inclusive of lunch =). We were lucky that the dive agent had provided a guide for snorkeling as we found that other dive agency do not do that. Mataking was breathtakingly pristine and beautiful. it was a secluded island with only a resort occupying a small corner of it. Therefore, it was so quiet and tranquil. We had fun learning to snorkel for the first time.  
Waiting to collect our snorkeling equipment
We joined a boat heading to Mataking island together with 12 other tourists/snorkeling/diving enthusiasts. On the way to Mataking we passed by other equally majestic islands, Bodgaya and Timba Timba. Semporna is truly blessed with some of the most beautiful islands in Malaysia. Mataking loomed ahead in twin splendor, Mataking Besar and Mataking Kecil separated only by a thin strip of sandy bar. Amazing indeed!!. 
Far left- Mataking kecil, on the right- Mataking besar
Mataking resort, the sole hotel  and accommodation here
Gorgeous blue-green waters of the island with smooth sandy beach framed with  lush tropical forest
Lone snorkeler
secluded paradise
Thus, we ended our third day basking under the sun, swimming and snorkeling and came back to our hotel in Semporna feeling a little seasick. The next morning we were up at about 5.30am and were out of the hotel by 6.30 to take snapshots of the small fisherman town that is Semporna.
the jetty was already a hive of activity
The  town mosque  in the background- Semporna's population is of Muslim  majority
vege and fruits, owwh so colourful
the ever friendly people of Semporna-at the market
Then its time to say goodbye to Semporna. It was such a fulfilling trip, lovely islands, a boon for photography lovers, snorkelers as well as divers. It was made even more memorable by the people of Semporna. 

What to buy as souveniers and where to buy?
  • There's a lot of pearl jewelry being sold, its reasonably priced.
  • Shells are cheaper in Semporna compared to Mabul but the variety is less.
  • The only souvenier shop that had everything and allowed bargain was at Dragon inn (T-shirts RM 25-35, keychains RM 2 each, cheaper if you take more, pearl bracelets ~ RM 20).
  • T-shirts are also being sold in Tawau airport and there is more variety here too (price is not bad, RM 30-35).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


After 6 months of planning and anticipation, me and my friend arrived at Tawau airport from LCCT KL, at 10am under a slightly rainy sky. We were pleasantly surprised to see our hotel rep was waiting for us and we did not waste time waiting at all. I had booked the accommodation at Mabul Island with Billabong Scuba and had arranged for airport transfer. Our journey started from Tawau airport to Semporna and it took an hour's drive through stretches of oil palm trees and village houses.

Tawau airport
Journey by cab from airport to Semporna- narrow roads, green all the way
We arrived at Billabong Scuba's office in Semporna and waited for transfer to jetty. The jetty was rickety and was missing a few planks here and there. For one moment, me and my friend thought we were about to be kidnapped as the guys who came to fetch us were two scrawny kids and we were the only passengers in a remote jetty.=) They were awfully nice and  we had a really nice boat trip to Mabul. The island from afar seemed unassumingly quiet with lots of wooden thatched houses cloistered close. 

Our lodge at Mabul, lovely wooden houses perched atop amazing green waters of Mabul
Our lodge was simple and clean but it was nothing fancy. It was fairly a good price to pay for a 2 day 1 night stay in Mabul when compared to other expensive accommodation in Mabul (Sipadan Water Village and Sipadan-Mabul Resort@SMART) and caused us RM 240 accomodation plus one way airport transfer, two way boat trip and food. The first day at Mabul, we walked around the island and explored the sandy beach. Snorkeling in Mabul is free and you only need to pay for the equipment. However we neither bathed nor snorkeled as most travellers who come here use Mabul as a place to put up for their diving trip to sister islands of Kapalai and Sipadan. We found the island to be a bit crowded as fishermen and their family were living there. Nevertheless, I found Mabul lovely and a must go. The water of Mabul is so crystel clear and you can see fishes swimming beneath the lodge and starfish lounging underwater in a carefree manner.

cloudy sky 

starfish spotted
Some parts of Mabul were so picture perfect that it left us astounded. The sky, the water, and the village environment was just out of this world. There were another part where we found poverty was so striking, the village of Bajau laut people, it was heartbreaking to see. While walking on the beach near the village some children approached us asking for money. We had to turn them down and they just looked so forlorn and sad. Otherwise, everybody in the island, be it old man, young child had a smile for us and a greeting. It was just so heartwarming. 

children of Mabul
Sunset at Mabul
Fishermen coming in with their catch
Lone boat treading the shallow waters during low tide
Paradise- Mabul island
Tips to enjoy your holiday:

  • Bring a book along, there's nothing to do but to relax and enjoy walking around the island
  • You can ask for a guide to go for a walk around the island
  • Book in advance
  • Bring extra money to get those beautiful shells being sold in Mabul
  • There's no electricity from early morning till 5pm (but its cool in the island)