Posts Tagged With: mosque

Brunei Darussalam

Leaving Labuan we hopped the ferry to go to Brunei Darussalam. The main reason for this was to tick up another country…we were only a 90 minute ferry ride away so why wouldn’t you. The first thing that must be said is that Brunei is strictly Muslim and is dry…the whole nation…no alcohol to be bought…anywhere. It would be a short visit. The next most important fact is that Brunei has the largest oilfields in Southeast Asia…so Brunei hasn’t turned its rainforests into palm plantations. Darussalam in Arabic apparently means ‘abode of peace’.

So we hopped a ferry and headed to the capital Bandar Seri Begawan or BSB for most. The ferry ride was fine and clearing customs and immigration was a relative breeze…other than the visa cost was 4 times that which was quoted in the travel guide…but hey it was about $20 each so no real damage done. We hopped off the ferry and headed to the bus stop for the shuttle to take us to town. We knew that this was an infrequent service but talking to the locals it had not run for the last 2 days. No reason given…it just didn’t turn up.

We decided to cut our losses and caught a black list taxi (the only guy nearby offering to take anyone even near town). And $35 later we arrived at our accommodation. This place was GOOD, VERY GOOD…and the staff were possibly the nicest we have encountered in all of our travels thus far…this is high praise after a year of hotels. For those planning a trip you honestly can not go better than the Capital Residence Suites which are a 300 metre walk from the Royal Regalia Museum and 700 metres from the mosque.

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As we arrived in the late afternoon we hit the road walking to the main tourist spots. Stopping at the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque cruising along past the Kampong Ayer (the water village) and stopping for icy cold (non-alcoholic) beverages as this place is hot. January is Brunei’s coldest month when it gets down to a frigid 30.4 degrees. We zipped around and made it back to the hotel for its nighttime free shuttle to the Tamu Kianggeh (food night market). We cruised the market where almost everything cost a dollar. We ate, we looked and happily sampled the local delicacies.

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On the drive to the market we passed the Jame’asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque which is the largest in Brunei and was built to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the sultan’s reign. It is massive. On the way back we conned the shuttle driver into stopping for photos. Upon returning to the hotel we then got the hotel staff to tell the driver to take us to the Istana Nurul Iman which is the residential palace of the Sultan. Alas you can only really get decent aerial photos of the palace but the hotel was happy to allow us to use their driver and van as our own personal tour guides…at no cost.

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The next day we would leave but in the morning we headed to the Royal Regalia Museum (Bangunan Alat Kebesaran Diraja) which displays the royal accessories used during the coronation, and the various gifts received by the Sultan from all dignitaries etc from around the world. Now this is a fascinating concept…what do you give to the man who has (or can afford) everything. The entire museum is filled with gifts and trinkets from all over the world along with the carriages, uniforms, and regalia used during various official functions.

From here the hotel once again offered us the shuttle bus to take us back to the ferry terminal…at no cost. These guys were lovely, every staff member from the desk, driver, restaurant and the cleaners were incredibly nice and were genuinely interested that we had enjoyed our stay. Luckily I met with the general manager of the hotel over breakfast and was able to tell him how good his staff were. We have not previously recommended anywhere to stay as this trip is not about that…but these guys were so far and above everything else we had encountered that we had to give it the wraps.

Oh…and all this was for about $50 a night…breakfast included.

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Penang

 

We arrived back in Malaysia for about the 5th or 6th time during the last year. Up until now we had not made it away from KLIA2 (the airport)…add to this two previous times and we had been to Malaysia about 7-8 times without ever having been outside of Kuala Lumpur. Alas we arrived at a time when smoke from Indonesian forest fires shrouded Singapore and Malaysia in a thick haze. We spent a night at the airport hotel then headed to Penang.

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I immediately fell in love with this place. I had always held Malaysia relatively high on my list of nice places but this early foray has placed it VERY high on my list of favourite countries. Based in no small part to the excellence of the food available here…you can get anything you like here…add to this the happy and friendly nature of everyone you meet…how could you not love the joint.

Malaysia has been recorded as a major trading hub on the spice route going back as far as the 1st century AD. It seems to have had for almost all of its time a multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multilingual society…which continues up to this day. Malaysia’s foreign policy and apparently the populations policy is “officially based on the principle of neutrality and maintaining peaceful relations with all countries, regardless of their political system.” This means that they pick no fights and generally try to resolve issues pragmatically. As such there is very little disharmony and the place is a pleasure to be in.

We set up camp in the old town section of Georgetown which is the heart of the tourist district. On our first day our hotel owner sat with us for about 30 mins and on a map pointed out all of the tourist sites and identified the lesser known ones that were not to be missed. For the ones with a bit of distance he added the bus numbers, where to catch them, how long it would take and how much it should cost. All of this at no cost and with no benefit to him other than making sure that our stay was as pleasant and fulfilling as it could be…WOW…

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The main thing you see when you hit the old town section of Penang is the street art. It is everywhere. It started from small beginnings in an attempt not to lose the history of the neighbourhoods but has grown a life of its own. Every street, every corner, any spare bit of wall is fair game for what has become roaming gangs of artists. Not graffiti…actual art. And some of it is incredibly clever and it adds a whole level of character to old crumbling buildings…so much so that the crumbling etc is incorporated into the art. The street art here is a beast in its own right so I will do an extra sideline for this alone.

On the first night we migrated into little India in search of a feed and a beer (which we thought may be a little challenging in an overtly Muslim country). No issue. We wandered through typically (sort of) Indian streets and markets with spices, trinkets, saris, tailors, food and gram everywhere you looked. I say sort of…because it was clean here…no urine and faeces (human or cow) on the road. The water was clean and running (not in a rusty, filthy drum) and all the scary bits about India were removed leaving only the best bits.

With this knowledge we happily settled in for a meal. Alas it had been too long between curries for me and I went crazy with the ordering. I absolutely love the concept of having a bit of everything…thali style…but for two of us spraying orders across the menu is less than ideal. Either way I ordered about 6 mains for the two of us…plus breads and beers. What was delivered was authentic Indian…it was good. I however have been reminded of the two dish ordering rule…in my defence…we ate it all…and it was fantastic.

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The next day we hit the road following the map suggestions of our hotel owner which were spot on. The first port of call was the local Yum Cha (Dim Sum) joint about 150 metres down the road. We then wandered up “Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling” commonly known as harmony street…why harmony street…Because the Kapitan Keling mosque, Kuan Yun Chinese temple, Saint Georges church, Hindu Sri Maha Mariamman temple, Cathedral of Assumption, Acheen street mosque, Nagore shrine and the Khoo Khongsi clan temple are all located side by side within a 5 minute walk. As they have done for the past 180 years.

So we wandered the street hitting the end where we found Fort Cornwallis, town hall, city hall, and a bit further on and around the corner the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion for the guided tour. All of this was on the recommendation of our little dude and it was all awesome. The only detractor of this was that the town was still choked with smoke from the Indonesian fires, it was about 34 degrees and high humidity…and we both had bellies full of curry and yum cha making it a touch uncomfortable.

We hid In the air conditioning for a few hours before heading out to the red garden food court which is a brilliant food court style eatery surrounded by almost every type of hawker stall you can think of. We got our seat, ordered our beers and off I went in search of food. Alas I completely forgot (or disregarded) the 2 dish rule…I cannot be trusted with so many delicious food options. We had Chinese roast duck, Syrian schwarma, Asian braised pork belly, some Malaysian noodles and German beers and got change from a $20. Oh my…we would be back.

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The next day we got up late and missed our yum cha and had to settle with coffees and scones for Jill. We then hit the art trail using the well appointed map supplied by our little hotel dude. Another high temp high humidity day but 4-5 hrs of walking and checking out and photographing the street art…followed by another night at the hawker stall for another spray of delicious goodies from across the region.

The next day was day 365…our 12 month anniversary since departing Australia. We had a day in…blogging, this and our 365 post followed by a revisit to little India for more curries. My god I love this place. The next day was sushi train, some assignment prep for Jill and back to the food court for our last meal in Penang as we would be leaving early in the morning to head to Borneo.

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Colombo – Sri Lanka

While travelling through China we met a lovely Sri Lankan couple who spoke highly of the place and our visiting. We had kept in touch through Facebook and when we decided to come they could not have been more helpful.even to the point of getting cricket tickets for us for the second day in town. Alas our journey to Sri Lanka started with disappointment before we even arrived. The original plan was to attend a ODI cricket match in Colombo between Sri Lanka and Pakistan but weather set in and they moved the date forward and changed the venue meaning that we missed out.

We arrived in Colombo after a 22 hour transit from Beijing via Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Air Asia X provided a good cheap flight option that was very enjoyable but sadly was ruined by Jill’s bag being all but destroyed, when she went to complain she was told it was minor damage that they would not even take a report for…and that she should claim it on travel insurance. After a rant about customer service she left unsatisfied and ignored.

We got in to Sri Lanka and were immediately struck by how unlike India this place is. It is clean, tidy and people have pride in their surroundings and the environment in general. We were picked up, driven to the hotel, got our local phone, had a meal and some local beers and met up with Ruwan (our Sri Lankan mate from China) all within 90 minutes of being in country. A bunch of tuk tuk rides later and a foray into local street food (shrimp including the shells and heads etc mashed into a paste, made into a rissole, deep fried, smothered in chilli, topped with onion) we had seen Colombo by night and plans were made for the next day.

The day started with meeting up with Ruhan outside Town Hall near the Buddha statue and a walk through Viharamahadevi park which is opposite. This was a really pleasant walk in the shade. Sri Lanka is hot but not excessively so…Colombo is blessed by awesome sea breezes almost all day so the heat is immediately bearable. We hit the National museum which was ok content wise by museum standards but the building and the grounds were spectacular. There were massive Banyan trees throughout the grounds that must have been many centuries old and even for a botanical heathen like myself they were the highlight.

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Having headed out we did the tourist schlepp chauffeured by our mate and hit Independence Square, Beira Lake, slave island, the lighthouse, Sambodhi Chaitiya dagoba, a market for some shopping and a massive lunch, Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, old Dutch hospital, Hindu temple, grand mosque, Parliament House. We stopped for cold drinks and fresh juices throughout the day and generally had a really pleasant time. No harassment, no filth, no drama.

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At sunset we headed to Galle face green which is a magnificent stretch of green lawn directly fronting onto the beach, with sea breezes and throngs of people day or night. The place has the Sri Lankan flagpole and at sunset the military ceremony of the flag lowering, combined with the sun going down over the Indian Ocean is not to be missed. As the breeze blows permanently off the ocean the area is full of parents flying kites of all varieties with their kids.

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On the food front we have been absolutely spoilt. The main dish is Kottu or “Koththu Roti” which is a Sri Lankan version of left overs in a fried rice. While notionally leftovers it is made fresh almost everywhere with your choices of fillings but vegetables, egg, shredded roti, onions and rice are the staples and you pick and add the bits you want added. This is generally done on a flat BBQ plate and the clatter of flying metal scrapers as they chop and mix the concoction is both mesmerising and deafening.

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My favourite both before I came and since being here is the egg hoppers. Wiki tells me that “hoppers are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy”. The unique part is that hoppers are cooked in small “wok” like rounded pans so the dough cooks thick and soft on the bottom, and thin and crunchy around the edges. Add to this the string hoppers and the plain hoppers with some of the ever present pickles, chutneys and sambol and you have for yourself a great feed.

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We headed out to Livinia Beach for a flash feed with Ruwan and his wife. It was a Chinese restaurant (of all things) right on the sand. The setting was spectacular with the lapping of the waves but the food was trash. This may be an ongoing issue for us as we cannot go to Chinese restaurants anymore as they will not be authentic. We already have our doubts about how authentic the Australian version of Indian is…we are now adding Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to the mix…we may be screwed on future take out options. Now the food at this restaurant was tasty enough but nothing like what we expected when we ordered.

 

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Yinchuan

After leaving the desert of Dunhuang on an overnight train we landed in Yinchuan having slept very little and checked into a cheapie hotel (which was about five times better than our supposed 4 star number a few towns back). On the way in we spotted the wet market directly opposite and food stalls aplenty along the way…we were clearly in the right part of town.

The place is close to the Ningxia section of the Great Wall and is yet another of our stops along the Great Wall of China. In addition to the wall, there are mosques, drum towers, monasteries, pagodas and the normal Chinese parks and gardens etc. The real reason for the stop was to break the journey as we head to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia to get our visas to go to Mongolia proper.

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We basically did not see any westerners the whole time here but the place was great. On our first night we headed out for a meal and on our walk back we came across about 1000 locals dancing in the park and guys giving shoulder massages in the park near the drum tower…a 20 minute massage for $3.40…bring it on…walking about 100 metres further we came across a free Chinese acrobatic show with all the flipping, jumping, human towers and pyramids that you would expect from a highly priced show. Watch this with a gelato from across the road and a good evening was had by all. Two days later and our Acrobatic show was replaced with free Chinese opera and all the squawking and discordant noise your ears could handle.

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The next day we were off…we had been fairly sedentary post Tibet…but apparently we needed to get moving and make up for our lazy days in one hit. So it started…a wander to the bell and drum towers, past the old gate, to the monastery and pagoda…up the pagoda…because all things with stairs must be climbed (the gospel according to Jill). The pagoda was 11 tiers high but each tier was about 2 storeys high…so we basically climbed the stairs of a 18-22 storey building…both ways…but the staircase was only one person wide, dodgy wood and the head height meant that you sconned yourself at every turn if you were not careful.

Having emerged from the pagoda we found the rain had started…so we embarked on an 8 kilometre walk in the rain to get to the museum. Needless to say I did not know that it was that far or I would have boycotted or at least got a bus or a taxi. Walking past the parks and squares was quite nice (if a little long) but the museum at the other end was worth the hike. I had never really gotten into museums etc before this trip but I am a convert…the information, displays, exhibits and histories are fascinating.

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Sanity (Richard) prevailed and we caught a bus back most of the way to our hotel. A fantastic lucky dip meal down the road next to the park…followed by another $3.40 massage (for me) and home to bed. We found possibly the best coffee shop in all of China… it is called ego coffee and has good coffee at (relatively) reasonable prices and has an awesome menu…we have slotted into a morning ritual of bao zi (pronounced bowser…which are steamed bready meat buns…dipped in chilli and vinegar) and followed by our coffee at ego. Sadly we get 20 bao zi for 12 yuan ($2) and 2 coffees for 58 yuan ($10). In fact the food that we have encountered the entire time we have been in Yinchuan has been incredible. The pick had to be the Duck Pancakes…which we have always loved…but there was a mushroom and chilli salad, that was too heavy on the coriander for my tastes, but Jill just simply inhaled while I picked around the evil weed that is coriander.

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Bao zi and Jiao zi (bowser and jowzer) are our staple breakfast foods since arriving in China…the bao zi is the bready one and the Jiao zi is the dumpling (pastaish) one…every now and then you can find these both done on a sizzling plate with beaten (scrambled) egg poured in between them…these are awesome. The bao zi in Shanghai are filled with soup so add a whole new level of difficulty to the uninitiated (as Jill found out when I bit into one sending a stream of hot soup shooting across the table and onto her…she was very happy). Each area has their own versions of both of these…but so far they have all been excellent… and are cheap. Add to this the occasional Gem Bean (Phonetic) which is an eggy thing.

We have actually found our feet when it comes to most of the foods in China…however ordering still poses the various “lucky dip” problems that it did in the beginning. Jill downloaded a child’s game that gives you the name and symbols of various meats so we can sometimes make sense of those. Add to this the rice and noodle symbols and we at least wont starve…nirvana is still a picture menu… Street food is king…it is cheap as chips and awesome tasting…we have progressed from our early meat on a stick forays to being educated pointers…Alas the key issue with china and its provinces…is that the yummy local delicacy may never be seen again which sadly has happened more than once.

The next day we found ourselves (after our breakfast ritual) riding the short bus…we hopped bus #1 and followed it to the end…then got back on and followed it to the other end…then we got on #3 and did pretty much the same thing…after arriving at the largest while elephant of a shopping centre on the planet we decided that we were feeling like special school kids…no more licking of bus windows and off we got…a cold beer and a coffee then back for a cheapie dinner. The last day was spent wiling away our time in the coffee shop as we waited for our 8pm departure on a 10 hr overnight train to Hohhot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chinese New Year

Having left India we landed in Kunming in China’s south for Chinese New Year. The first thing we noticed was the cleanliness, the streets are 3-4 lanes wide, they are fully paved to the edge where they meet with a footpath, there is no litter and people are not urinating in the streets. I put us in a black list taxi that took us directly where we needed to be with no fuss and for the agreed upon price.

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The hostel was neat clean and slotted us into a bed straight away. This allowed us to sleep off the fact that we had been awake for 44 of the previous 48 hrs (mostly due to the Kolkata hovel). A few hours nap, up for lunch, down for a nap, up for dinner, sleep overnight…the world is good again.

Hit the few tourist things that there was to do in Kunming, lake, pagodas, mosque etc…got photos. The most had conversation was us revelling in how clean China was and the inevitable response of…REALLY…from every westerner that we met. For all of the dirt in China, the spitting, the smog, the fires, the fossil fuels being burnt every 15 feet…it is spotless compared to India.

Our gastronomic enterprises were not deep fried or curried and surprisingly the chilli content was higher. There truly is something to be said for simple food well executed. A dumpling, some noodles with simple sauce, steamed vegetables with a touch of chilli or sauce. We are loving this break from the curries. There is a local delicacy called across the bridge noodles. This is a huge bowl of steaming broth and a range of raw ingredients that you quickly dump in the bowl in whatever proportions you wish, to cook. A few minutes on and tuck in. It is a great meal but a little bland. It benefits greatly from a dollop (or two) of the chilli that is on every Chinese table.

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For those who have not experienced Chinese New year in China then suffice to say it is feral. It goes for weeks and up to a month in some places. We picked a small (ish) town so got the abridged version, but by all accounts Beijing and Shanghai are crazy. The fireworks start very early and finish very late every day. The daytime ones are generally set off by mischievous chefs who run out of the kitchen, stand around like giggling schoolgirls and let off massive bangs…scaring the life out of the waitresses…and then running back to the kitchens giggling madly.

We hooked up with a Brit and a Canadian who speak Chinese and along with a Melbourne girl we all headed out for Chinese New Year’s Eve. Having linguists meant we were not limited in our choice of venue and away we went. After a quite few drinks we left the hostel at 8pm in search of a meal…found a joint and ordered up a storm. We ate, drank, sang, got adopted by the staff…the owner heard we were there and came from his other restaurant to join us…armed with Baijiu (triple distilled rice wine). Anyway…well after 2 am we left after having had fantastic night.

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Categories: China | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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