Sabang, Palawan

May 8, 2015

From Manila I travelled to Palawan, one of the bigger islands in the Philippines. I arrived at the airport in Puerto Princesa where I took a tricycle to the hostel I had booked. Tricycles are what they call this mode of transportation in the Philippines and it’s the main way to get around as a tourist in Palawan, I don’t think I saw any normal taxis while I was there.

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Of course the drivers at the airport tried to overcharge me, as they do everywhere in Asia, but in the end I got an alright price (80 pesos down from 150…) and was driven to my hostel in the outskirts of the city. I spent the evening making a rough plan for my Palawan stay, I had 11 days and there were a few places I wanted to visit. I decided to leave the next morning for Sabang to see the underground river. There were tours arranged for the river i PP, but they were expensive so I settled on taking cheap local transport the next day and spend two nights in Sabang in a cheap hotel and get the permit and ticket for the underground river myself.

To go to the underground river you need to get a permit from their office in Puerto Princesa, they only allow 900 or so visitors each day which is why it can be good to get the permit in advance. In the morning I walked the 1km from my hostel to the office intent on getting the permit for the next day, but it turned out to be closed until later that afternoon because of some holiday. I knew I could probably get the permit in Sabang and the security guard in the office building seem to think so too, so I made my way to the bus terminal on another tricycle.

The long distance transport in Palawan consists of expensive but fast and comfortable vans or cheap local buses and jeepneys. As I’ve been trying not to spend too much money I decided to skip the vans and headed to the jeepney terminal. I got there and was directed to the correct vehicle and managed to find someone who spoke English enough to tell me what time it was leaving. Turned out it wasn’t until 2pm, and it was currently 11 in the morning.. I decided to stick it out and spent three hours in the car reading while waiting for it to leave. I actually didn’t mind too much; it was a good chance for me to start reading 1984 that I had picked up in a hostel in Malaysia weeks ago.

When we finally started the jeepney was packed with people, but we still stopped a lot on the way letting more people on. The whole journey took about 3 hours, including a short stop for food in the middle of nowhere.

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When I reached Sabang I was planning on looking up the Green Verde travel agency and hotel as I had read they can help you get the underground river permit. I got off the jeepney and asked a man waiting outside where I could find Green Verde, and it turned out it was him. His name was Miguel and I my guidebook had actually specifically recommended him so I was happy to have found him. He told me I could just go down the the pier in the morning and get the permit and I didn’t need to go through Green Verde at all. He asked if I was coming to their hotel but I wanted something cheaper and was going to check out another place called Blue Bamboo. Because it was a bit of a walk and I had heavy bags Miguel was really nice and drove me there on his bike. I’d really recommend going to Green Verde for their hotel, restaurant and travel agency in Sabang, they’re super nice and helpful and have good, cheap food.

Blue bamboo first wanted me to get one of their cottages, but when I asked for something cheaper they showed me to their “dorm” which was these three rooms divided by thin walls.

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It was very basic, a mattress on the floor and a bathroom outside in a small hut crawling with ants, no proper shower just a bucket, but very cheap; I managed to get it for 250 pesos (£3.50) / night.

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Also, technically I had a balcony with sea view.

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In the evening I went for a walk back towards the “center” and the beach. Sabang is a very small village with some houses and hotels along the sea front, but not much else. I went to the Green Verde restaurant for dinner, it seemed to be one of the cheaper places to eat (everywhere else I saw had expensive tourist prices) and the food was good. I went back home to sleep early so that I could get up in time to get my permit the next day. I actually slept really well in that little room, falling asleep to the sounds of the sea.

The next day I went down to the pier, got my permit and paid the boat and environment fee for the underground river. It wasn’t too pricy and I spent a lot less on my whole Sabang trip than I would have done on a one day tour from Puerto Princesa. After getting the permit I went to Green Verde and had a delicious mango pancake for breakfast. Then I went back to the pier and joined the queue for the boat to the underground river.

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Every boat took 6 people so I was put on one together with a Filipino family.

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After a short journey we boarded on a small, beautiful beach where there were already a lot of other boats of people visiting the river.

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We walked a short distance through the forest and reached the end of the river, a small lake that flows out into the sea.

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Here we got on another boat and went into the cave following the river. The guide told us the river is 7km long but we’re only allowed to go 3km (or 4?) in and then turn around. It was very dark in the caves, but the boatman/guide had a torch and talked a lot about the different formations. Once we reached a big opening he told us this part was called the church and pointed out different formations that were supposed to resemble various Christian symbols… I guess you can see what you want to in there.

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Everyone had to wear helmets in addition to the life vests. There were a lot of bats in the cave resting in the ceilings and we were told to close our mouths while looking up at the caves in case of bat droppings…

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When we returned from the underground river I went for a walk along the beach and stopped for a swim when I felt like it.

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I also had a massage the beach, mostly cause I had nothing else to do.

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Then I just took it easy, read and had dinner at Green Verde. It was a really nice day and I really enjoyed just being on my own again.

 

Back in Ubud

April 19, 2015

After Gili T I went back to Ubud in Bali, mostly because I had to book a destination in Bali and I couldn’t decided where I wanted to go. I had planned to stay in Ubud for a couple of days and then continue on maybe to Lovina or somewhere else in Bali. But once I got there I had a cold and just felt generally exhausted so I decided to just stay in Ubud for a while and relax. I had my own bungalow for only 150 000 rupiah (£7.50) / night including breakfast and it was a good place to just be on my own for a bit. The house was set in a Balinese garden and run by a lovely family.

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They also had a small restaurant at the front with good, cheap food where I had many meals.

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I had a few quite days just walking around Ubud, looking in the shops and the market.

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I also spent a lot of time on my laptop in my favourite cafe, Coffe&, from the last time I was here.

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One night I decided to go buy a pirated dvd (there’re lots of those around) and watch it on my laptop. I got Eat Pray Love, which I hadn’t seen yet, because I knew it was filmed partly in Ubud. I really liked it.

After a few days it was time for Balinese new year. Their new years day is called nyepi, “Day of Silence”. This basically means everyone has to stay inside and stay quite. The power for the whole island is turned off, however most people have their own backup generators, you can’t use lights, no one should work and the only people allowed on the streets are medical staff and police patrolling to make sure no one comes out and disturbs the quite. For tourists this means you have to stay in your hotel/hostel area, though the hotel staff still tend to work and keep their restaurants open.

Before nyepi, on new years eve, I decided to move back to the hostel I stayed at last time I was in Ubud. I had started feeling better and felt ready to be around people again. On new years eve in Bali, they create demon statues, ogoh-ogoh, and parade them through town. Later in the evening they take them back to their villages and burn them. I went down to see the parade with a couple of people I met in the hostel.

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After the parade there were some performances going on, but it was so packed with people it was hard to see anything.

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I didn’t stay too long, there were just too many people and so hot.

The next day was nyepi which meant no one could leave the hostel grounds. We had known the hostel bar/restaurant would stay open, but they had limited their menu and increased all their prices, a bit mean. I mostly spent the day reading and playing a game on my iPad.

The next day I went out for lunch with an American girl to a restaurant with a really nice view over this garden and temple.

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Unfortunately the food wasn’t that great and we felt like we were paying for the view since it was quite expensive.

After lunch we walked around town for a bit looking at spas and their prices and she wanted to get a massage at some point. I found this awesome cat shop.

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The next day the Kiwi girls from Gili T had made it to Ubud. I knew they were coming to stay in the same hostel as me and it was nice to see them again. We spent the day walking around town, having lunch and a couple of drinks. In the evening the New York girl from Gilis came there too and we went out for sushi for dinner.

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After dinner we went to a fire dance show. We were a bit disappointed, I think we expected dancing with fire, but it was basically just a male choir sitting around a big candle with the occasional dressed up dancers coming in to tell some story. We couldn’t really follow the story, but I recognised it as one of the hindu stories me and Olivia were told when we visited the Prambanan temple in Java.

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We spent the rest of the night having some drinks in the hostel. The next morning I left early for my flight to Manila.

 

Gili Trawangan

April 10, 2015

I reached Gili Trawangan after 1.5 hours boat journey from Padang Bai in Bali. Gili Trawangan is the bigger of the three Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok. It’s still a very small island, you can walk around it in an hour or two, it’s got no motor traffic, only horse carriages and bikes. When I got there it had been raining (it’s rainy season in Indonesia) and I waded through muddy puddles looking for my hostel. I lost my flipflops on the way, they’d been falling apart for weeks and finally gave up in the puddles. I stayed in La Boheme, a really cool hostel. They’ve got good hang out areas, a small tv room and 24/7 make-your-own pancakes. I did have a lot of pancakes and at the end of my stay I was very sick of them.

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Once I had checked in I met some people who were going out for lunch so I joined them to Le Petit Gili restaurant where I had a sandwich. Later that night we went back for their happy hour before going to the food market for dinner. The market was great, I had tuna and beef bbq sticks with rice and veggies.

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After food we went back to the hostel to have some drinks and later on we went out to a bar. Every night is a party night in Gili T and every night a different bar stays open late so everyone will gather in the same place. It was a good night and it was nice to be out since I didn’t have a night out since I left Malaysia.

The next day I went to a cafe to use their internet connection for a bit as it was very bad in the hostel. I spent most of the day just relaxing, it was raining a bit as well so it wasn’t a good day to go do things outside. In the evening we watched a bit of The Interview, it actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, it had some funny moments but mostly it was just stupid.

The next day me and five girls I had met in the hostel walked around the island. We started with a drink and lunch at a restaurant next to the sea. After walking for a bit we stopped for a swim and then continued onto the beach on the other side of the island where we went on the “sunset swing” (though we didn’t stick around for the actual sunset).

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Later we went for dinner and happy hour and then went back to the hostel where we had some drinks before we went to bed.

The next day was sunny so we decided to go to the beach. We went to a restaurant that had beds on the beach and stayed there for a few of hours.

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In the afternoon I went on my first every yoga class. Next to our hostel was The Yoga Place, a really cool place that also served food. The class was cheap and we got a discount for staying in the hostel. I quite enjoyed it and I might try yoga gain. I went for dinner with one New York and two Kiwi girls I’d been hanging out with. We went to Regina Pizzeria which we had heard amazing things about. It lived up to our expectations, the pizza was delicious.

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In the evening we stayed in and watched Birdman and Maleficent.

The day after we had planned to make a day trip to Gili Air where but when we woke up it was raining so we decided not to go after all. Though later the sun came out anyway so we went down to the beach restaurants and tried a few of them for food and drinks. We ordered dinner to the hostel, pasta, and later that night I went out with NY and NZ girls. We ended up and a small bar on the street next to the packed club that was staying open this night.

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The next day was my last one in Gili T and I was very tired and didn’t do too much. I went to a restaurant, Scallywags, that had a good internet connection and spent a while there. I also started reading more while I was in Gili T (Tales of Dunk and Egg series) which was great and since then I’ve kept the reading up.

The next morning I was leaving to go back to Bali where I had a flight leaving for Manila in one week. I couldn’t decided where in the island I wanted to go so I just went back to Ubud. I wish I stayed a little bit longer in the Gilis cause the day I was leaving was the sunniest I had there so far.

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In total I spend one week in Gili Trawangan.

 

Ubud, Bali

April 5, 2015

From Yogyakarta I travelled on a bus for about 20 hours to Bali. I had decided to start my Bali trip in Ubud and from the bus terminal I had to take bemo, their version of buses (sort of like a van with all the seats ripped out and replaced by benches along the walls instead), to reach the city. I had booked myself into a hostel called In Da Lodge and first went there to check in. Then I went to a clinic to pick up something for insect bites because on the bus journey I, and the guy next to me, were badly bitten by some bugs in the seats. The woman in the clinic was very helpful and gave me two different sets of pills to take and a cream to use on the bites. After that I walked down to the city to a cafe called Juice Ja Cafe that I had read about. I had a healthy fruit and veg shake and a meal, I was very hungry after the long journey; we had only stopped for dinner.

The next day I did a walk called Campuhan ridge walk. Campuhan is a village a few kilometres from Ubud and the walk there was very nice.

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Once i reached the village I stopped for a juice at a really nice cafe.

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It was surrounded by rice fields and I passed many more on the way back to Ubud.

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The next day I walked to another village: Penestanan. It started with these stairs up to a nice small road.

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I stopped for a meal at Mades Warung that was recommended in my guide book. The food was great and the setting was nice too.

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I reached Penestanan and then walked back to Ubud.

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This walk was shorter than the one to Campuhan and I spent the afternoon on my laptop in a cafe called “Coffee &” where they had great coffee and wifi. The rest of my time in Ubud I just walked around the town, looked at the market and shops and visited nice cafes. I really liked Ubud, it felt a lot nicer and very different to Java. It’s very touristy in comparison and of course there are always people trying to sell you stuff, and every 10 meters on the street there are men trying to get you to buy their taxi services.

After three days in Ubud I decided to leave to Gili Trawangan, a small island off the coast of Lombok, the island east of Bali. While I loved Ubud I had been inland for too long and wanted to see the sea and relax on a beach. I found a good price and one of the tour agents in Ubud with a transfer to Padang Bai and from there a speedboat to Gili T.

 

Yogyakarta, Java

March 30, 2015

The final day of our tour only had one activity scheduled, a guided tour of the sultans palace. In the morning we checked out of our hotel and moved our bags to Duta Guesthouse before we drove the short distance to the palace. There Bambang got us a guide before he left for a long drive back to Carita.

We started the tour with a traditional puppet show. We only stayed for a short time as we couldn’t follow the story at all but it was cool to have seen it as we had read about the puppet shows in Yogya. Behind the puppets were a big orchestra playing music throughout the show.

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Then we walked around the temple complex. There were some areas we couldn’t go as they were the living quarters of the sultan and his family. The sultan seemed pretty important to the people there, or it could just have been our guide doing her job. She said he was a very good sultan and his praying had helped protect Yogya in Merapis last eruption.

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We spent an our or two in the palace and then we tried walking into town, but had trouble finding the way. All the time the becak (trishaw) drivers were bugging us wanting to drive us somewhere even when we kept telling them no and “jalan jalan” which kind of means “walking walking” in Indonesian. In general in Java, people can be quite annoying trying to sell you items or transport. In the end we got talking to a man who was working in the tourist office. He recommended us a few places to go in Yogya, one was this batik workshop where some students showed people how they worked with batik. It was free and sounded interesting so we finally got a becak and went there. We got there and were greeted by a guy who took us to see this girl working on a batik painting while he explained the process of batik to us.

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They had a lot of paintings for sale there, made by both professionals and students, the latter being a lot cheaper. We spent quite a long time looking through them all and in the end I bought a student painting I liked. Since it’s batik it’s made on a fabric that can easily be folded and washed so I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to carry with me on the rest of my travels.

We then walked to a mall where we visited another branch of Bread Talk and bought maybe a few too many cakes… We brought them to a nearby cafe where they gave us each a free donut with our coffee on top of all the cakes.

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After that we walked around the city center for a bit. It’s definitely the nicest city on Java I’ve been too and I wouldn’t mind visiting Yogya again. We walked back to our hotel, it turned out to be pretty far and we agreed not to do that walk again. Being a nicer city it’s still not that nice to walk longer distances through.

In the evening Olivia had a massage and I went and got a pizza at a recommended Italian place close to our hotel. I brought it back and watched some Swedish television in front of the pool. After I finished my food the lovely staff brought me a cake and a tea.

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The rest of the evening we spent in the hotel. For a while we tried streaming a movie but the internet connection just wasn’t good enough.

 

The Java Tour – day 5, Dieng plateau and Borobodur

March 30, 2015

After leaving Papandayan we drove about nine hours to the Dieng Plateau where we spent one night in a very basic hotel in Dieng Village. The Dieng Plateau is 2093 meters above the sea, has an active volcano and many plantation terraces.

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We got up early in the morning and went to see an old hindu temple complex, the Arjuna complex, just outside the village. The temples are some of the oldest Hindu temples in Java and are mostly in ruins, but they were partly restored when they were rediscovered by the Dutch in the 1800’s. It was set in the midst of (mainly) potato plantations and when we got there people were just starting to work in the fields.

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After the temple we drove to the volcanic caldera, I had to use google to define what this means: “A caldera is a cauldron-like volcanic feature usually formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. They are sometimes confused with volcanic craters”. It was a big hole with boiling goo and lots of smoke rising from it.

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Then we were off to Telaga Warna to see Cebong Lake. Telaga Warna is a small nature park with a couple of lakes. Cebong Lake is famous for it’s colour which it gets from sulphurous deposits.

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When we got there me and Olivia went on a walk around the lakes. We climbed up to a view point and got amazing views of a valley and the park’s second lake: Talaga Pengilon.

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After rounding the lakes there was this small island you could walk out to that was meant to have some attractions on it. There was the “writing stone” and some tiny caves with gates around them and small statues outside that I think had some religious value at some point in time. But to be honest it wasn’t that much to see and it felt like they only advertised it to try and justify the entrance price for the park (which of course was already included in our tour anyway).

When we were finished in the park we got back in the car and drove for another three hours to Borobudur, the biggest Buddhist temple in Java. We got a guided tour around the complex.

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We spent an hour or two around the temple before we left for Yogyakarta. We decided to stay in the Prawirotaman area, there were a couple of streets there with lots of hotels and nice bars and restaurants mostly aimed at tourists. At first we thought we’d walk down the street and check out the hotels and their prices, so Bambang drove to the hotel he was gonna stay at on the same street. The hotel seemed ok so we had a look at a room there and got a good deal for it, 200 000 rupiah/night (£10), and decided to stay there. After checking in we went out for dinner and a cocktail at Easy Going, just next to our hotel. It was nice to eat in a restaurant again and not just a warung or food stall. The prices were of course a bit higher, this being a touristy area, but the food was very nice and so worth it. We spent a couple of hours there using their wifi and then went back to the hotel to sleep.

 

The Java Tour – day 2, Tangkuban Perahu

March 20, 2015

In Bandung we stayed at Hunny Hostel. It was good; the staff were helpful, the dorm had normal beds, not bunks, and for the first night me and Olivia had the room to ourselves. We woke up early in the morning and had the usual hostel breakfast; toast with jam, butter or peanut butter. Not really what I want in the morning but at least it’s free. We met up with Bambang, our driver, and set off to the volcano Tangkuban Perahu.

We reached the top in about two hours (maybe, I really can’t remember, I’ve left it too long to actually write this). There were a lot of stalls and people trying to sell us things, but when they realised we weren’t interested in buying we were left alone. This is where I saw my first volcanic crater, there would be many more to come in the following week.

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This was also my first experience with having random people ask to take a photo with me, this as well would happen a lot more to me and Olivia during our Java trip. (West) Java doesn’t have many tourists or white people, so when we go here we become a tourist attraction ourselves.

After seeing the main crater we had a guided tour down to Domas crater through a forest. We really didn’t need a guide for it, there was just one path, but they wouldn’t let us go without a guide. It’s all part of Indonesias trying to get as much money out of every foreign visitor as possible. We were told all entry permits for the volcanos and other attractions had recently gone up in price (from about 50 000Rp to 200 000Rp per person, though these were all included in our tour) with the new government. The locals seemed pretty displeased with this, saying it decreased the number of tourists and their income from their restaurants, shops etc. There are also some things that are priced differently to locals and foreigners, I don’t really like it but I get it, we make a lot more money than the people living here.

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On the way down we saw some monkeys in the trees. These were a lot wilder than the ones I’d seen previously in Malaysia and stayed far away from us.

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The forest walk was nice, we reached the crater pretty quickly.

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This is where the famous hot springs were. We had no intention of going in, but were told the water and mud is good for the skin. Some of them were literally boiling (obviously these ones were not for bathing).

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Bambang met us at the bottom entrance for the crater and we set off in the car again. In our guide book, me and Olivia had read about a walk, The Dago Teahouse walk, nearby that we wanted to do. We drove there and Bambang left us to again meet us at the other end. We walked down 5km through a forest.

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On the way we spotted the biggest leaches on the path, they must have been 10cm long. I’ve never seen a leech before but have heard about them before I travelled to Asia. Apparently if one gets on you the best thing to do in to leave it until it’s finished eating your blood and lets go by itself, ewww. However you can also burn it off with a lighter… Anyway, we managed to get through the forest with nothing worse than mosquitoes eating us.

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Close to the end there were some tunnels used by the Japanese in World War II. We walked in for a bit with our torches, but there wasn’t much to see and it was pretty creepy so we left quickly.

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We got back to Bandung in the late afternoon. Bandung is another big, Indonesian city that isn’t very nice to walk around, so we decided we wanted to find a nice cafe with decent wifi to stay in for a while. The hostel owner pointed us towards a mall, about a 10 minute walk from the hostel. When we got there and saw all the signs for fast food chains we recognised, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC, we instantly craved some Western food. Though when we entered Olivia spotted Bread Talk, a cake shop she had come across earlier on her travels and, seeing all the amazing cakes they sold, we quickly changed our mind about food. We left with two cakes each and went to a cafe close by where we had a coffee with our pastries. We spent a couple of hours there and then went back to the hostel to sleep. Some more people had arrived and the hostel wasn’t as quite as it was earlier. There were only two more girls in our dorm though and we got another good nights sleep, which we needed as the next day would include a lot of walking, climbing and camping.