KL to Bali and on…

Bed for the night at Denpasar Airport, Bali #lp
Not exactly five star…

Right now I’m in Bali again, and last night decided just to sleep at the Ngurah Rai Airport International Departures area. It’s a little loud (the tanoy announcements are disjointed bits of separately recorded phrases and some are yelled out), but the hassle of getting into Kuta and finding somewhere only to get a few hours’ sleep, turn round and come back just didn’t seem worth it.

KL was the usual – too many McDonald’s and cheap accommodation. I saw State of Play (decent adaptation of the BBC series) and Ice Age 3 (far better than the second one) at the cinema (not in 3D regrettably as the times of the performances didn’t suit), and sorted out my US currency for East Timor.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the ATMs in the city decided to refuse to serve me at the time I was planning on withdrawing the cash. Checking my balance was fine, but forget getting money out. No idea why it happened, but I was able to “buy” the cash at the bank using my debit card so it worked out OK.

Leah turned up safe, sound and teary-eyed on the night of the 7th without any luggage. Due to a security scare at Edinburgh, she was delayed four hours and missed her long-haul from Heathrow. She was shoehorned onto a QANTAS replacement (and upgraded) but her bags didn’t make it.

Fortunately, they were at the airport when she went back on the 8th for her flight to Perth. Let’s just hope they make it to Oz on the same plane as her.

Immigration in Bali was a slow, painful nightmare. The one good thing was a complete lack of interrogation over my choice of 7-day visa. It’s $10 rather than $25 which suits me as I’ll be in Indonesia for at most three nights. I was expecting to have to show travel plans and tickets and stuff, but no need. The queues, however, were abysmally slow. From touchdown to reaching the luggage carousel was about an hour.

I dodged the taxi drivers and the “cheap hotel” merchants (the cheapest on offer was 120,000 Rupiah when I was paying less than half that last year) and found myself a nice bench. For a brief period I had free wifi on my mobile, but not the laptop. Hopefully some of you will have caught the Twitter posts. I have since discovered (and am using) a wifi simply labelled “3com” over near the domestic departures. There’s also a lounge nearby (Indosat) which is offering free wifi.

Of note is that the ATM to the right of the exit (as you walk out) from International Arrivals charges for both balance checks and withdrawals (2000 and 3900 Rupiah respectively). Not a lot compared to the extortionate new Thai fees, but you can dodge it by using another machine. The one just outside International Departures charges no fee.

I’m not as tired as I expected though how people sleep on hard wooden surfaces all the time is beyond me. My check-in is in around 90 minutes, and battery on my netbook down to 2 hours. Time to grab some breakfast I think. With luck I should be at my guesthouse in Kupang by 5pm.

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Update infrequency

Back to one of those times when I’ll be updating quite sporadically, I fear.

I’m currently in KL awaiting the (4-hour delayed) arrival of Leah from the UK courtesy of a security scare at Edinburgh Airport yesterday. We’re both here one night then I depart for Bali and she for Perth. Her luggage will hopefully follow soon after.

I arrive in Bali at 22:00 local time, have to find somewhere to stay and depart for Kupang the next afternoon around 15:00. One or two nights there then on to Dili. I’ll be there somewhere between seven and ten nights before flying back to Bali. During that time I have no idea what my net access will be like, so I’ll be tapping stuff up on the netbook for the next time I get online.

Similarly in Bali, Leah and I will be island-hopping and so forth for a fortnight. I’ll try to get updates done, but likely it’ll be a huge deluge once I get to Bangkok around the 6th of August.

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Suritthani to Kuala Lumpur

A heaving bus depo in Thailand

A heaving bus depo in Thailand

The boat pulled into Surit Thani on time and we were greeted by various bus companies. I checked my ticket and was hussled onto a van for transfer to the travel shop. We kicked our heels until our minibus and driver appeared, then all bundled aboard. We were full to the gunnels as we set off towards the border at Hat Yai.

One quick stop for some breakfast and we arrived at Hat Yai around 12:30. First we had to check out of Thailand and were delayed by three Indian guys on our bus – not their fault, as they didn’t realise that people with an Indian passport need to pay a departure tax from Thailand. They were telling us it was 30 Ringgit, which is bizarre as this is the Malaysian currency. I would have expected a Thai border to demand Baht.

All the same, we re-boarded and drove to the Malaysian border where the queues were even larger. We also had to undergo an in-ear temperature test as they scanned for signs of H1N1 Swine Flu. I can categorically state that I am medically “cool”. My body temperature is a chilly 36.5 degrees C – the bottom end of the accepted average. It also means I’ve not been snogging any dirty porcines recently.

The immigration queue was horrendous and it took us almost an hour to pass through. Then we waited for the Indians. And waited. And waited.

Finally, our driver went in to check – they’d been refused entry. Apparently a large number of Indians come into Malaysia and choose not to go home again. I assume these guys didn’t have onward tickets or something and on these grounds they were bounced back into Thailand.

So we continued our journey, somewhat delayed. Three of our group were heading for Penang and the minibus took us there where the other three (including myself) were dropped off to change onto a KL-bound bus. Unfortunately, due to the delay we’d missed the connection we should have got and had a 2½ hour wait for the next one. This also meant we’d be arriving in KL at 2am instead of 10:30pm.

I never seem to get to KL when I’m supposed to.

To kill time, we searched for free wi-fi (amazingly with no luck, given this is Malaysia) and I introduced my new Swedish friends to KFC which they had never tried before.

Eventually, our bus arrived and I’m sat on it now tapping this lot up. With luck we’ll not be later than 2am into KL as promised, but we’ve been sat at a terminus near Panang for almost fifteen minutes now so I don’t hold out much hope!

Fingers crossed my second hostel doesn’t baulk at me. I did check mails in Penang and they hadn’t sent anything detailing a problem. I’ve also emailed to ask if they could reserve two more beds for my companions as they have nowhere organised.

[update – we arrived at 3am, and thankfully my hostel (Trekker Lodge) took all three of us]

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More plotting – Ko Tao to Kuala Lumpur

When I travel places, I often hit the same cities. One thing I do like to try and vary is how I get between them. As such, I’ve been trying to suss out how to get from Ko Tao to Kuala Lumpur by bus and I finally found a web page with instructions.

I need to decide when I need to get to KL. I have friends there I’d like to see, but that would mean getting there before the night of July 6th. However, the bus journey arrives at 5am which would mean spending another entire day in a city I’m not a huge fan of and have seen everything in. Pre-dawn is never a good time to arrive anywhere!

I might, instead, opt for getting there early on the 7th instead and enjoy an extra day on Ko Tao – or a stop-off on Ko Phang Nga. Decisions, decision! Either way, around £13 for a 22-hour journey isn’t that bad.

The route is roughly thus:

  • Get a ferry from Ko Tao to Koh Samui in the afternoon or evening
  • Spend the night in Koh Samui
  • Set off on a bus from Nathon at 7:30am
  • Cross on a ferry, with the bus, to Don Sak on the mainland
  • Continue on down to Hat Yai
  • Wait around two hours and board a second bus at 6pm
  • Arrive in KL at 5am

Better start booking…

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Aussie catch-up

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Hualamphong Station, Bangkok

Fair bit of travelling since the last post, but I’ll try to breeze through it all. My flight from Yangon to Bangkok was on time, but I had some “fun” at the departure tax kiosk trying to convince them to accept a torn $5 bill and a $1 with the tiniest little rip in it. Two other passengers swapped the bills for me, stating how ridiculous the system was in Mynmar where the condition of the notes is so important. Their own currency can be battered, torn, ripped, covered in grease… and still accepted.

At Bangkok, I hooked up with another guy and two girls and we shared a taxi into the city. The chap and I were both getting off at Hualamphong while the girls were going on to Khao San Road. That involved a lot of haggling with the driver, but overall it worked out at around 50 baht each cheaper than getting the bus, and far faster.

At the train station I loafed in the KFC for an hour or so until my train was ready for boarding. A menu was provided for dinner and breakfast on the train, which would cost me 250 baht in total. You can take your own (non strong-smelling) food on board if you prefer, but the grub on board wasn’t too bad for the price.

The journey was quite long – departing at roughly 3pm and arriving at Butterworth in Malaysia around 2pm the next day (an hour ahead due to the time difference). It’s fairly comfy with large seats for the start of the journey. Around 10pm, the staff wander down and convert the seated areas into berths – one upper, one lower.  The upper ones are slightly cheaper and – apparently – slightly smaller, but certainly not cramped.

I enjoyed some brief conversation on the trip with two Japanese people travelling independantly of each other. I still find it unusual to see Japanese who aren’t on package/coach tours but they’re always very nice to chat with.

No hippies allowed!

No hippies allowed!

The customs stopoff as we crossed the border at Padang Besar was fairly casual, very much like the one coming from Singapore and heading north into Malaysia. However, here there are no x-ray machines. You still have to disembark with all your luggage, stamp out of Thailand, into Malaysia and then open your luggage. The check was cursory and polite with my bag being waved on after a quick prod and a query of “clothes?”

I did spot one sign as I queued at immigration giving details on how to spot a “hippie”. Click the thumbnail for the full details. I’m hoping this dates back to the 60’s and isn’t used these days!

At Butterworth, I haggled my bus fare down from 32RM to 28 (saving about 80p…) but had to find an ATM. If you’re arriving there off the train, go to the end of the platform to the station and look to the right. You’ll see a big glass building – the dental college. It’s about a five minute walk on the other side of the freeway. There are three banks located around the bottom with ATMs.

My 14:30 bus departed at 15:45 which wasn’t great. It was very comfy, though, with fully reclining seats and just the right level of aircon. It took quite some time to get to KL – over five hours – so it was rather late when I arrived.

The stage is set...

The stage is set...

I tried to find my guesthouse – Haven – but couldn’t spot it. As I stood looking puzzled, a man walked up and identified himself as one of the staff. Due to the heavy rain in KL recently, the ceiling had sprung a leak and they’d had to close down for repairs. He then walked me to another hostel nearby where they’d made arrangements for some of their guests to be houses. It was more expensive, but they were covering the difference. Nice place, too. So next time I’m in KL, I will be booking with Haven again and hoping their ceiling’s working!

I didn’t do much in KL apart from use the internet a lot and eat too much McD’s. I had some good company in the hostel, though, with Kiki from Vietnam, a German guy who’s name I didn’t get, James from England and a chap from Sri Lanka (now living in India) who I talked to for ages.

Then the usual Skytrain/bus combo to the airport (another McDs) and late flight to Perth where the lovely Mel picked me up after midnight. Immigration was a little hiccupy as I didn’t know Mel’s address. The usual rule – if it’s got an address space on it, fill it in. Even if you don’t know one, put any old nonsense in. The immigration guy was fine about it, to be fair, but it’s still one of those daft niggles. Back at her place I was introduced to Mason – 11 months old and cute as a button. He wasn’t around the last time I was in Perth!

Again, not a lot to do in Perth except lay back and chill out with Mel, Matt, Mason and Jezza. I bought a bundle of second hand books from an OpShop (charity place) for $4. The bill only came to $2.50 (a pound!) for about 12 books, but I don’t mind giving a charity shop a bit extra. My plan’s not to use aeroplanes so the extra bulk/weight shouldn’t be a problem.

Rocking hard!

Rocking hard!

The guys also had a gig in a nearby bar on Saturday night which I went to. They’re Matt drums, Mel sings and Jezza plays guitar. There’s also a bassist and another vocalist/guitarist who I met. The band’s called Crimson Ink and they’re pretty good! The sound was a little squelchy on their first set, but by the second and third they had a decent sized crowd up and dancing.

After the gig, there was a little altercation outside. Kids who couldn’t hold their beer – same all over the world. I helped break it up and ended up with blood down my arm and on my shirt. Not my blood, I hasten to add! And I don’t even know how it got there as I didn’t see anyone actually bleeding. Still, it all ended more or less peacefully and the venue seemed to like Crimson Ink – with luck it could mean a residency.

And that’s me up to date. I’m currently trying to get a lift to Adelaide ASAP. Failing that I’ll bite the bullet and get a flight. Tiger have one for the ridiculously low sum of $88 at 1:45am on Wednesday although I have to worry about those books. Hum.

Oh, I also have an Aussie mobile. If you need the number, contact me through the link on the right and I’ll give you it. It took me an age to register it as – like in the UK now or soon or planned – you have to register with a valid Australian address. Which is pointless as it’s not checked. The online registration refused to recognise Mel and Matt’s address, so I had to go through the voice recognition system over the phone. In an area with a really dodgy signal. Somehow I got it working though.

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