Trip Start Sep 21, 2007
494Trip End Apr 10, 2009
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My last entry was from Bangkok in Thailand and I since then I have been in a few other countries, so it's time again for a new entry.
From Bangkok - as I mentioned before in my last entry - Peony flew back to Guangzhou in China. After a few days with a friend in Guangzhou she took another flight to Sanya. Here she found work immediately (arranged while we were travelling). She is helping young western (rich) kids doing activities like hiking, surfing, snorkelling and kayaking. Also in Sanya she saw many friends again.
In the meantime I travelled south of Bangkok, along roads I've travelled before during this trip (and in 1998). I took a bus to Chumphon, stayed in the same nice guesthouse and continued the next day - together with a Swiss guy - on the local (and enormously cheap) train to Hat Yai (more than 10 hours for about €1,60). From Hat Yai I took a minibus the next day to Tammalang, from where I took a ferry to Kuah on Langkawi in Malaysia.
I had contacted my Swedish friend Inge again and I was lucky enough that I could sail with him from Langkawi to Penang, his first stage in sailing from Malaysia across the Pacific towards South America. Inge picked me up from the ferry jetty by dingy and as soon as we arrived at his yacht we prepared it for sailing and within an hour we were sailing towards Penang. I had never sailed before.
The first bit out of the harbour we used the engine a bit as well but as soon as we hit open water we turned off the engine and were really sailing... but due to the lack of wind we were actually more drifting than sailing. After a tropical early evening shower the wind picked up big time and we had the wind in our sails. Inge likes to sail at night for various reasons, but at night it is a little bit more difficult to spot fishing boats or to be more precise, the location and direction of the fishing boats. In the early night I slept a little bit and after that Inge did the same and I sailed the yacht alone for a few hours (I had only one close encounter with a fishing boat and I managed to steer safely passed it). Halfway Langkawi and Penang we saw sunrise and more and more other boats. A few hours later we saw Georgetown on Penang. We passed Georgetown, went under the enormous Penang Bridge and after a small island we made a sort of U-turn to get to the marina (we had to do this because of shallow waters). During this U-turn we had a massive tropical downpour with very low visibility. Eventually we arrived at the marina safely. A great (but tiring) 25 hour trip!
The next day I explored Georgetown - as I had done 11 years before and it changed quite a bit. But Georgetown is still a fascinating mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and colonial buildings (and people). I walked around for a few hours and then took the bus to the Kek Lok Si temple, a huge Buddhist temple complex - where I arrived too late to go inside. Luckily enough there were still a few places from where I could get an appreciation of this temple. After that I returned to Inge and the marina.
Next midday I said goodbye to Inge and wished him well on his future sailing. I took the bus to Kuala Lumpur, where I arrived late afternoon. I checked into a room and slept early.
Kuala Lumpur is another place I visited in 1998 and at that time the Petronas Twin Towers were built but not yet completed, so my goal now was to have a closer look at these magnificent office towers. Everyday there are limited free tickets for a visit to the Skybridge, the bridge in between the twin towers, and I started queuing up quite early - as did many other people, so I finally got my free ticket for a visit about two hours later. In the meantime I wandered around the huge shopping mall and in a bookshop. The view from the Skybridge was nice although not so spectacular because the bridge is not even halfway up these 452 m high towers. After the Petronas Twin Towers I wanted a better view at the KL Tower, but after I saw the steep entry fee I continued to downtown to check out some beautiful colonial buildings.
From Kuala Lumpur I took a bus to Singapore the next day. In Singapore I stayed the night in a dormitory (only affordable thing). I also sorted out my flight to Colombo in Sri Lanka. Because of having trouble with the website of Air India Express (not accepting my credit card) - I went to the STA travel agency, where they offered me an even better ticket (no stopover, cheaper (only about €90 instead of €175) and flying with Emirates).
The next day I took the 2 hour ferry ride to Tanjung Pinang on Bintan in Indonesia, where I checked in into a affordable and quite comfortable hotel, which - as many places here in Indonesia close to Singapore - doubles as a brothel as well. Many Indonesians locals asked me if I came here for "the girls"? Of course that was not my reason to visit, it was more to have an escape from Singapore, which is expensive and quite boring (and yes, I had been there 11 years ago as well).
Tanjung Pinang was new for me and the next day I visited nearby Penyengat Island with a colourful mosque and walked around half the island. It wasn't all that special, but it was nice enough.
After two nights in Tanjung Pinang I took the early morning ferry back to Singapore. I went to the airport and left my big backpack at the left luggage - which was really decently priced. The airport itself was impressive and yes, I dare say, beautiful. From the airport I took a subway to downtown, where I had a look around. I especially liked the new durian-shaped Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. It was very hot and I was quite tired. Early evening I took the subway back to the airport, from where I enjoyed free wireless internet for a while before my midnight flight to Colombo.
The flight itself was almost 4 hours and this was one of those flights I wished lasted a little longer, for a few reasons: the airline company was Emirates (very nice with on-demand entertainment via your private TV screen: hundreds of movies, TV shows and games), excellent food (salmon) and my local arrival time at Colombo Airport was about 2 o'clock in the morning.
After having arrived at Colombo Airport (in Katunayake) and cleared immigration and customs I waited until sunrise to leave the airport. I took a local bus to Negombo and checked into a hotel. In Negombo itself I visited ruins of an old Dutch fortress (almost nothing to see except a gate), a dirty beach and saw oruvas (outrigger fishing boats) sail out the harbour. Back in my guesthouse I slept quite early and long.
From Negombo I took a bus to Chilaw, where I changed for a bus to Puttalam. Here I had to wait almost two hours for a bus with space in the heat of the day. I arrived at my final destination Anuradhapura late afternoon. The buses are really cheap in Sri Lanka, for one 3 hour ride I paid about €0,70! On the downside the buses are crowded, cramped and almost without any luggage space.
In Anuradhapura (the first great capital of Sri Lanka) I visited a lot of (Unesco protected) ruins and temples the next day. Sri Lanka is almost king of overcharging foreigners and charges a hefty US$50 for the so-called Cultural Triangle Ticket (which entitles you to visit a few sites around the country). The first temple I visited was the Sri Maha Bodhi - a temple around a very sacred tree: this tree has grown from a cutting from the original bodhi tree from under which Buddha got his enlightenment. A very sacred tree indeed. After that I visited some more temples, amongst which the huge Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba (stupa), the Thuparama Dagoba (oldest in Sri Lanka, probably in the world) and the Twin Ponds were the most impressive.
The next day I rented a bicycle and cycled to Mihintale, about 12 kilometers away. Mihintale is a hill and the place where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka. There were a few nice buildings and ruins and the view over the African savannah-like countryside was beautiful. In the late afternoon in Anuradhapura I visited another nice dagoba, the Mirisavatiya Dagoba.
After a few days in Anuradhapura I took the bus to Polonnaruwa (the second great capital of Sri Lanka). The temples and ruins here were quite beautiful too. I woke up really early and had the first ruins to myself. Around midday I was finished exploring Polonnaruwa and I decided to continue, to Dambulla. In Dambulla I was picked up by a Sri Lankan-Swedish young couple - and the Sri Lankan guy's mom had a guesthouse next to the temple. After dropping my stuff I then went to the temple. There is a very tacky Golden Temple at the bottom and the much more interesting Cave Temples on the top of the hill. Here they charge foreigners another hefty US$10, because it is not included in the Cultural Triangle ticket (it is free for Sri Lankans). The caves were quite beautiful, full with Buddha statues and frescoes, but after 20 minutes or so I was finished exploring it. That night we (the Sri Lankan-Swedish couple and a German couple) had a few drinks and laughs until around midnight.
The next day I woke up late and had a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast (quite nice). After that I took the bus to Sigiriya, a rock fortress about an hour northeast of Dambulla. This rock fortress was included in the Cultural Triangle ticket. The first thing one sees is the landscaped Royal Gardens, with the huge solitary rock in the background: quite a sight. On the way to the top of the rock I saw a boulder garden, beautiful frescoes, a 'mirror' wall with ancient graffiti and two enormous Lion's Paws before steeply ascending to the top. On the top were merely ruins, but the views were great.
Back in Dambulla the five of us met again and had a few more drinks, especially arrack (a strong alcoholic drink made from coconut).
The next I had quite an unpleasant surprise when they showed me the bill. Apart from the room price I didn't know anything about the prices for food and drinks. I should have asked of course and at the same time they should have mentioned it, but when you meet socially near their room (the Sri Lankan-Swedish couple stayed at the Sri Lankan guy's mom's guesthouse) and are asked "Do you want a beer?" then you think why not and don't actually think they are going to charge for it - after a few more beers you feel you want to at least tip in the bill, of course. But the next day they charged commercial prices for the beers, arrack and food - so the friendliness was finished on my side. It now seemed to me they kind of lured you into drinking with them socially just to make money - although I don't really believe this myself, but I couldn't help wondering... They also charged for more beers than I drank as well - which I didn't pay. But in the end I learned (again) and know you always have to ask for the price beforehand - even if they acts as 'friends'.
After this I took the bus to Kandy. Just before Kandy the bus was stuck in a tremendous traffic jam and I soon found out why: for the last few days the holy Tooth Relic (an original tooth of Buddha) was on display, attracting hundreds of thousands pilgrims to Kandy. My government's travel advice says basically don't go north and east of Sri Lanka, don't travel by public transport (that's hard on a budget - so I dismiss that one) and stay clear from large crowds! This crowd was one of the largest possible in Sri Lanka, and I heard a figure of 800,000 pilgrims on the day I arrived! Strangely enough it was easy enough to find accommodation (I assume most pilgrims are day trippers).
The next day I heard the display of the Tooth was cancelled, because the police couldn't control the crowds anymore. Luckily enough there had been no Tamil Tiger suicide attacks. The cancellation was good for another two reasons: the first one was that I - who really doesn't like large crowds - could walk quickly around town again, and second it stopped raining. Stopped raining you might say, what do you mean with that? Well, there is a legend that whenever they showed the Tooth is always rains, and to be honest, the last few days (when they showed the Tooth) it did rain, and it hasn't rained since. And it isn't even the rainy season. That afternoon I went to the Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya, not far from Kandy. Locals pay 30 rupees to visit the gardens, foreigners pay 600 rupees (20 times more!). I acted as if I was a foreign student and got my ticket for 300 rupees (about €2). The gardens were beautiful though, with some nice avenues lined with different palms, very weird cannonball trees and beautiful orchids.
Two days ago I visited the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, a very touristy place where foreigners are charged about €8. The fact of seeing all these elephants so close by and in a semi-natural setting still made it worth it though. Especially the walk from the orphanage through the village to the river is quite a sight.
Yesterday I visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, but of course didn't get to see the tooth. I talked quite a while with a local young monk who explained quite a few things about Buddhism and Sri Lankan history - and he didn't even expected a tip! This last remark I made because in Sri Lanka you are really seen as a very rich person and a lot of people bother you (hey mister, my friend, excuse me sir, do you remember me?, where are you going?, taxi?), overcharge you and expect tips all the time. So I am sad to say that Sri Lanka is one of those countries which would be a nice country without Sri Lankans in it. I am not saying that I am not meeting the occasional nice person - I do, but you don't go to Sri Lanka for its people, like you do to so many other countries. And all the seriously overcharging by the government doesn't really make you feel welcome either. Needless to say, Sri Lanka is definitely not one of my favourite countries.
Here in Kandy I also made a big decision and that is the date (and time) when I will return home. I will return to Amsterdam on the 100th day of the year, the day of the Austrian Anschluss with Germany, the day Paul McCartney announced to leave The Beatles and the day The Titanic left Southampton on its fateful journey. It also known as Good Friday. The date is the 10th of April 2009. The time is 16h36 and the location will be Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Before that date however I plan to explore some more of Sri Lanka, fly to the United Arab Emirates, explore both the United Arab Emirates and Oman, before flying to Paris with a two day stopover in Bahrain. In Paris I will take the Thalys train back to Amsterdam: I left Amsterdam by train, so it seems reasonable that I should return by train.
This is not my last, but one of my last entries for this trip. I am not sure whether I will make a new entry before I will reach home, but I will at least try to update pictures whenever I have the chance.
This has probably become my longest entry so far, so if you have read it all: bravo! I will finish it now and all that is left for me to say is: take care and enjoy yourselves! And of course to many of you: see you soon!