Wednesday, September 16, 2009

wrapping things up

My last two days in KL were great. On Monday, we walked around the Golden Triangle area and had a ridiculously awesome spa treatment at our hotel - foot bath, body scrub, 50 minute Balinese massage, and facial. In the evening we went up the Menara KL (KL Tower), the 4th tallest freestanding tower in the world. The view was good, but I think we should have gone up in the daytime since KL is not as big as it feels from the street.

Tuesday we walked around the downtown area and colonial quarter and then had Chinese for lunch. We also visited the Islamic Arts museum, which had some really nice tapestries, calligraphy, and inlaid wood objects.

Our KL - Tokyo flight on Japan Airlines was ass. The fight was delayed for almost 3 hours; the given explanation was that the plane was overloaded. If that was true, I do not know what took 3 hours to unload. Also, we sat on the plane for most of the delay. And there was a screaming baby.

Our original plan was to use our scheduled 11 hour layover to venture into the city of Tokyo, but since our layover ended up being only 8 hours, we decided to just venture into the town of Narita, which is very close to the airport. We saw a really cool 1,000 year old Buddhist temple, had lunch, and then headed back to the airport. I am now battling a Japanese keyboard in the free Yahoo! cafe that does not serve food or drinks.

This has been a great trip, and I am excited to return to the U.S. of A. to see my fam, my dog, and my peeps. I am not looking forward to the mechanics of the very stressful week before me, and I just might find my mind drifting off to a Javanese temple or one of the dive sites on Pulau Weh.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

eating my way through Kuala Lumpur

KL is a great city for eating. I binged on Chinese food Friday night, Middle Eastern and Indian on Saturday, and this morning I ate enough dim sum to last me until mid-afternoon. I'm not sure what is on the menu for this evening, but Thai is set for tomorrow night.

In addition to eating, there are lots of sights to see. We went to one of KL's fancy-schmancy shopping malls on Friday and another on Saturday, and we visited the Hindu temples at Batu Caves on Saturday. We've also been to several outdoor markets and to the orchid garden and bird park.

This afternoon after a late lunch, we were checking out the exhibit for the Petronas towers when one of the people who worked there asked if we wanted to go up to the skybridge on the 42nd floor. We hadn't planned to b/c you have to get there early in the morning for tickets, but it just so happened that they had two no-shows. So up we went. The view was very nice even though it was a little cloudy after a rain shower, but the coolest part was being able to see the sides of the towers up close. This evening, if it clears up, we will go to the top of the Menara KL (KL tower) for what are supposed to be great views of the city since you are much higher up and can see the twin towers.

Our hotel is great. After eating so much since arrival, I felt like a fat ass and swam laps this morning for about 30 minutes. I'll swim again tomorrow, and the kilometers of walking we are doing also helps. Although KL is a city of about 3 million, the central part is fairly compact and walkable. There is also a good metro and a more interesting but not as good monorail.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Banda Aceh

I'm whiling away my last few hours in Indonesia in an internet cafe in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province. We checked out the city's gorgeous mosque and walked around a bit, but after that there isn't a whole lot to do here. There are some nice beaches a few hours away, but they are a little difficult to get to and haven't had lodging since the 2004 tsunami devastated the area.

Last night after our arrival, I had tasty chicken sate (chicken shish kabob without the veggies but with peanut sauce). I also had an avocado shake that came with some chocolate syrup in the glass. Not so tasty, but still interesting to try. Later, I tried a soft drink by the brand name of "Bird's Nest". It tasted like popcorn, looked like urine, and contained about a half cup of tapioca pellets. As you might imagine, it was disgusting.

We head to Kuala Lumpur this afternoon. I'm looking forward to exploring the city and seeing a friend from law school who lives there. I'm also looking forward to our swank hotel with a giant swimming pool.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pulau Weh, Part II

The diving here is really good. Not Sipadan (Malaysian Borneo) awesome, but still really good. The substrate consists of volcanic boulders and coral, and the reefs are very healthy. Lots of fish and small critters to look at, not so many big things but I still saw some barracuda, a couple of giant moray eels, and a turtle. The visibility has ranged from not so great the first day to excellent this morning.

Speaking of this morning, the dive was one of my most enjoyable to date. We descended through a canyon into a cold current and then drifted up along a wall. The dive was simply beautiful.

One great thing about Pulau Weh is that there are very few divers on the island. There are only two dive shops open right now, one in each village. The dive boat holds about 12, and we have had each day's dive site to ourselves, so there aren't walls of bubbles from other divers or many people to bang into.

This place is very relaxing. It feels like I have been here for much longer than the three days I have. All I have to do each day is get on the boat at 9:30 and again at 2. There are two restaurants, and they serve pretty much the same thing. Thankfully the food has been good, and even more thankfully we've been able to get food during the day despite it being Ramadan in this predominatly Muslim country. We've also been able to find beer - more Bintang!

We decided to cut our time in Pulau Weh short by two days, so we leave tomorrow afternoon for Banda Aceh and then Friday afternoon for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. KL has loads of stuff to fill the remaining 4 days of this so far great vacation.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Pulau Weh

We left Danau Toba yesterday morning and made excellent time to Medan, so excelllent that we had 6 hours to kill in the Medan airport. Fortunately, the Dunkin Donuts empire extends to Sumatra, so we set up shop in the A/C'ed donut stop. The coffee was delicious as expected, and we sampled jelly filled donuts with exotic flavors such as durian and lychee.

Our flight was delayed due to a torrential downpour. The airport's roof sprung a couple of leaks, and some of the check in counters had miniwaterfalls over them.

We arrived in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, without incident. Banda Aceh was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, and many areas have been rebuilt. On our taxi ride to the port this morning the driver with questionable driving experience pointed out a number of areas that were destroyed by the tsunami.

By 10:30, we were in Sabang, the main town on Pulau Weh, which is off the northwestern tip of Sumatra. We're staying in Gapang, and the village has a few restaurants and a nice, professional, monopolistic dive shop that also offers pricey but nice accomodation. This is where we are staying. I went on two dives this afternoon. The first was a shallow wreck in the harbor of Sabang, the second was an area of underwater hot springs. The surface of the ocean near the hot springs stank of sulfur, and under the waves there were jets of bubbles and very warm water pouring into the cooler (but still warm) ocean. The hot springs were super awesome.

The lack of non-dive options isn't a problem for me but is for my travelling companion. We may cut our stay in Pulau Weh short by 2 days, but I'll still have 4 days here and at least 7 dives.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Quick updates

I didn't feel the Java earthquake in northern Sumatra. I'm about 1,500 miles away.

The beer here, Bintang, is okay. It is an ale that reminds me of 33 in Cameroon.

Danau Toba

Danau Toba is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the highest in the world, and also really, really big. It was created when a gigantic volcano exploded 100,000 years ago. The caldera is now Samosir island (really a peninsula), which is about the same size as Singapore.

We're staying in Tuk-tuk, the peninsula on a peninsula. Our hotel is very nice and has great views and a great swimming area. The lake water is cool but not cold, but if you go below the shallow thermocline then it is quite chilly. Yesterday we sat on our butts and read. I had a delicious lunch of sak-sang, a traditional Batak dish that is pork in a spicy coconut ginger sauce. I'd like to learn how to make it, but apparently the pepper that gives the dish its spice only grows along the shores of Lake Toba.

Today we walked to a village called Ambarita that has a circle of stone chairs where the village council used to meet and sometimes behead people. But all that remains today are the stone chairs and a string of tacky tourist stalls selling "Lake Toba" t-shirts.

Tomorrow we are walking to another village in a different direction. If I can convince myself that the beautiful carvings I see won't break in my backpack during the rest of the trip, I might get some of those too.